I have received a request to explain the rules for tournament play and how they differ from social games. I think you will see that the two types of games are not all that different although social games allow for table rules as well as a bit more relaxed type of play.


  1. THE CARD:  Players are required to display the NMJL card during tournament play.  The CARD is considered necessary equipment; and further, it is a sign of courtesy to display the card during the official games.
  1. COURTESYWe sincerely value the quality and nature of our tournaments – played in a gracious and courteous mannerWe have instituted a “ZERO TOLERANCE CODE” as it applies to inconsiderate, rude, or abusive players:

● Upon the first complaint the offending player will be asked to refrain from discourteous activity;

● If there is a 2nd complaint, the offending player will be disqualified, expelled from the tournament andbarred from participation in future tournaments.

  1. THE GAME BEGINS:  Each player rotates roll of dice and breaking of wall, starting with player who rolls highest number – who is then designated as EAST.  (VARIATION:  A Player is pre-designated as EAST [or PLAYER- A, or PIVOT who starts the game as EAST], and rolls the dice to break the wall.)
    1. In the event of a game-table with 3 players, on the fourth (4th)-and-last-game in the round, each player at the table will roll the dice again to determine who is EAST for the last game.
    2. The game does NOT BEGIN UNTIL EAST THROWS THE FIRST TILE.  If another player throws a tile before East discards the 14th tile, the other player returns the tile to their rack and is not penalized.
  1. VERIFYING SCORES:  “A” (EAST) will verify “C’s” (WEST) scores and initial official computer score card (or score sheet) and vice-versa. “B” (NORTH) will verify “D’s” (SOUTH) scores and initial the official computer score card (or score sheet) and vice-versa. The scorekeeper will not accept any unverified scorecards or score sheets.

VARIATION:  In games/tournaments where there is a designated EAST-SCOREKEEPER, then all game-scores will be verified by EAST.


a. The First Charleston of 3 passes is compulsory; the Second Charleston then proceeds if all players agree.

b. Any player may stop the passing after the first Charleston is completed.  A player who wishes to stop theCharleston after the first pass should caution the other players in a timely manner, to not make the 2ndleft-pass.  If no other player has racked any tiles from the 2nd left-pass of the Charleston, then the 2ndleft-pass may be re-called by the player who wishes to stop the passing.  The Optional “across-Pass” may be completed.

c. There is NO Charleston at a game-table of 3 players.

  1. PICKING AHEAD:  Positively NO PICKING AHEAD.  Each Player picks before discarding. A player should be declared “Dead” for picking ahead.  Player’s turn begins when they pick a tile or call a tile for exposure.
  1. STEALING A TILE (BLIND PASS):  If you steal a tile you may not look at it. If you look at it, you will be   penalized ten (-10) points at the end of that game.
  1. WRONG END OF THE WALL:  If a player picks from the wrong wall –or- from the wrong end of the wall, that player is “dead.”  However, if the mistake is not discovered until after more than one player has picked from the wrong wall or the wrong end of the wall, then the game continues and players continue picking from that wall.
  1. A DISCARDED TILE may be called for Mah Jongg or exposure, until such time as the subsequent player either DISCARDS OR RACKS the next tile.  A tile is considered RACKED when it is placed within the rack, not on top of or in front of the rack.  Once a discarded tile has been “covered” by another discarded tile (even a JOKER), it cannot be claimed for an exposure or Mah Jongg,
  1. SCORING:  SCORING for each hand is same as on the current National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) Standard Hands and Rules card.
  2. PICK OWN MAH JONGG:  Add Ten points (+10 POINTS) to score when player picks own Mah Jongg
  3. NO-JOKER BONUS HAND:  Add Twenty Points (+20 points) to score when player declares Mah Jongg and there are no Jokers in the hand. Exception: There is no bonus given on any of the hands listed under the Singles – Pairs Group.
  4. WALL GAME:  Add ten points (+10 points )to each player’s score for a “Wall” game.
  5. INCOMPLETE GAME:  If a game is not completed within designated time, each player receives “ZERO.” NO POINTS GIVEN. If a player’s hand goes “dead”, or is declared “dead”, player does not get ten points even if it is a “Wall” game.
  6. PENALTY: Minus -10 points (-10 POINTS)  to a player who throws winning tile to player who hasno exposures on rack or who has one (1) exposure on rack.
  7. PENALTY: Minus -20 points (-20 POINTS) to player who throws winning tile to player who has two (2) exposures on rack.
  8. PENALTY: Minus -25 points (-25 POINTS) to player who throws winning tile to player who has three (3) exposures on rack.
  9. “DEAD” PLAYER In the event of a Wall Game – Dead players get “0” (Zero).   “DEAD” PLAYER” receives Zero (0) points, applies even in the event of being called “dead” on the last discard.  NO TABLE TALK (whether hand is “dead”). If you think a hand is “dead”, declare it!  However, if you declare a hand “dead” in error, your hand is “dead”.
  1. MIS-NAMING A TILE:  There is NO scoring penalty for misnaming a tile.  However…
    1. If the discarder has the correct tile in their hand, the correct tile must be discarded in place of the incorrect tile.  If necessary, contact the Director to ascertain that the correct tile is/is not in the discarder’s hand. (This rule specifically applies to a tile that is claimed for an exposure.)
    2. If the discarder does not have the correct tile in their hand, the game proceeds, following the correct naming of the tile.
    3. A MIS-NAMED discarded tile may be claimed for MAH JONGG.  The discarder is penalized PENALY:  Minus 25 (-25) POINTS.
  2. If a tile is claimed for an exposure, and it is touched or moved by the player who claims the tile, it MUST be used in an exposure.
  3. If a misnamed tile is claimed for an exposure, the discarder must provide the correct tile if it is the discarder’s hand.  If the discarder does not have the correct tile in their hand, the game proceeds.
  4. If the claimer has exposed tiles on the claimer’s rack (prior to verifying that the discarded tile was misnamed), then the exposer must use the tile that was discarded in an exposure.  If unable to use the tile, then claimer is “dead.”
  5. Incorrect exposures may be corrected, until such time as the exposer has discarded a tile to end their turn.
  2. There is no penalty for claiming Mah Jongg in error.
  3. If player claims Mah Jongg in error, and displays or exposes any of the tiles in the hand, then player is “dead,” and receives ZERO points.
  4. If a player who has been playing an exposed hand calls Mah Jongg or exposes in error, any exposures made BEFORE the error stay on top of rack, and any player may redeem and JOKER or Jokers when it is their turn. Player with erring hand is dead and stops picking and discarding.
  5. If Mah Jongg is called in error, and three other players expose their hands, all get “ZERO” (0) points. If one person does not expose hand, that player gets ten (10) points… everyone else gets “ZERO” (0) points. If Mah Jongg is called in error and two or more hands are intact, game continues.
  6. If a concealed hand is incorrectly exposed for Mah Jongg, tiles must be returned to rack. Joker or Jokers cannot be redeemed and player stops picking and discarding.
  1. CLAIMING A TILE FOR EXPOSURES OR FOR MAH JONGG: Player claiming a tile for an exposure or Mah Jongg must place the claimed discarded tile on TOP of the rack, NOT IN the rack.  The player shall be called “dead,” for putting the claimed tile in the rack.  This rule does not apply to picking your tile from the wall for Mah Jongg; in this case you may place the picked Mah Jongg tile into your rack.
  1. JOKERS:  Player must pick a tile from the wall to start their turn, prior to exchanging a tile for an exposed joker on another player’s rack.  Exposed JOKERS from a “dead” hand may be exchanged, provided the exposure was a correct exposure that was made prior to the exposed player being declared “dead;” in other words, that Joker-exposure was not the reason for the exposed-player being declared “dead.”
  1. MIS-CLAIMING A TILE:  A player may “call” a tile and then decide not to claim a tile, provided they have not touched or exposed the tile, or have not exposed any tiles from their hand.  They may change their mind with no penalty.
  1. DISPLAYING MAH JONGG HAND:  When declaring Mah Jongg, the hand should be displayed as it appears on the Mah Jongg Card. If you do not display the hand in proper order, and another player asks you to do so….you must do so.  If you refuse, your hand may be declared dead and the game will continue.
  1. SIMULTANEOUS SITUATIONS:  Sometimes a tile may be claimed at the same time as another player racks or discards their next tile.  This comes under the “Mah Jongg Rule of Simultaneous Occurrence,” also known as “Interception,” “Precedence of Claims,” and “Concurrency.” In this event, the claimant will receive the benefit of the doubt.  Please contact the Director for the official ruling in this matter.
  1. TIME LIMIT:  Approximately one (1) hour is allotted for each round.  At the discretion of the Tournament Director, some tournaments may allow 50-55 minutes.  After four (4) games (a round), one player collects score cards and brings all four (4) of them to Director’s table.  All four score cards or sheets must be handed in together.
  1. TABLE ROTATION:  Rotating to a new table after every four (4) games is a standard process for tournament play.  PLAYER MOVEMENT:

If you are sitting in an “A” (EAST) Seat – Go UP 1 table after each round

If you are sitting in a “B” (NORTH) Seat – Go DOWN 1 table after each round

If you are sitting in a “C” (WEST) Seat – Go UP 2 tables after each round

If you are sitting in a “D” (SOUTH) seat – Go DOWN 2 tables after each round



In the first session player “A” (EAST) will collect ALL 4 CARDS or sheets and turn them in to the official scorekeeper. 
In the second session player “B” (NORTH) will collect ALL 4 CARDS or sheets and turn them in to the official scorekeeper. 
In the third session player “C” (WEST) will collect ALL 4 CARDS or sheets and turn them in to the official scorekeeper. 
In the final session player “D” (SOUTH) will collect ALL 4 CARDS or sheets and turn them in to the official scorekeeper.



VARIATION:  Table-score-keeper (sometimes EAST) will          submit all scores to the Director.

  1. CHANGES to scores will not be made once the cards have been accepted for scoring by the computer.  In the event of dispute, all four (4) players must be present for verification with the Director.
  1. At the end of each round, please do not sit around and talk. Please leave the room until the next round is ready to begin. Players who stay in the room and disturb those still playing may be penalized 50 points.
  2. TOURNAMENTS by their very nature are notably more structured than social games; standards and rulings are closely adhered to, in order to avoid errors.  If a question arises during play, DIRECTOR’S RULING will be final. All decisions made by the Director shall be based on these rules and the Director’s personal judgment.  Arguing with the Director may be grounds for immediate disqualification. Any question about scoring or rules should be addressed by the Director and not by the players. Do not attempt to make rulings that are within the purview of the Director.   Remember, if you resolve a question of rules or scoring at your table, there can be no recourse to the Director. Only the Director is authorized to arbitrate any dispute as to rules or scoring.



All of this is thanks to Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American-Style Mah Jongg Tournaments.