Jenn’s Corner #5: Mahjong History

Mahjong of Yesterday, Mahjong of Today, Mahjong of Tomorrow?
So Mahjong has come a long way from what was rumored to be an illegal card game waaaaaay back in the mountains of China. It has changed with each place it has gone to throughout the world, but the basics are still the same for everyone. No matter how you say it, the way you get tiles is by drawing (tsumo), bumping (pon, pung) and chowing (chi) and you have to throw away one tile for each one you get.

So what is Reach Mahjong like now? What has changed about it? Well, in Japan there is another type of Mahjong called Boo Mahjong. It is not very common to find now, but it used to be the mainstream, especially in Western Japan.

In Boo Mahjong, everyone starts with the same amount of points. I usually hear of starting with 2000. There are many local variations, but some of the common ones are like this. The game stops when someone doubles their starting points or loses all of their points. In order to continue as the dealer, the dealer has to win. In the event of a draw, no points are exchanged, even for ready hands. If you missed your win? Forgetting winning that hand. You can’t win on any tile, even a draw, if you have already discarded one of your winning tiles. Ok, so when can you win? Well, if you win on a hand that pushes someone under zero, you better make sure you have more than 2000, otherwise you get a foul! If you bring someone else under 2000 even though you still end up with less than 2000, foul again! So it’s ok to push and scratch past people, but you can pull them down into your drowning whirlpool.

The scoring is obviously counted differently than in Reach Mahjong and the final score too. Boo Mahjong got its name because the points are counted using Base Points (fu = Boo). One person with more than 2000 points is A-Top, two people floating is B-Top and three people with more than they started? Possibly another foul. When money is exchanged, the final score doesn’t matter and each person receives money according to their place in line. One other interesting thing is that at least in some places, the Drag Indicator (dora hyouji) was the very last of the King’s tiles. If you Quaded, you got that very tile and the Drag would actually change to the next of the King’s Tiles! Now we use the 4th one which allows for only 4 Quads on the table.

Besides rules changing, manners have changed as well. With more and more Casino-style Mahjong parlors, a new culture of manners and conduct has emerged.

In current Mahjong Parlors the following will get you a warning or out of the game:

  • Talking about your hand during play (true or bluff)
  • Drawing your next tile before the player before you has discarded
  • Throwing tiles away too hard
  • Throwing bones when paying someone
  • Humming or Singing
  • Talking on the phone for too long during play

There are more, but these are the big ones. In my opinion, to make Mahjong more popular in the world, things like bluffing and humming should be allowed. Strong players won’t be phased by the bluffing and humming and the whole experience will be more human. I guess it is a question of wanting to go more in the way of poker or more in the way of shogi and chess. I think that Mahjong is 4 people, not 1 on 1 and that makes it more like poker. The fact that there is a deal and that there is luck involved with the deal and the draw also makes me want to lean toward poker.

In the future, just like the past, many things in Mahjong will change as it evolves from a simple form of home entertainment to a world-wide popular game. Let’s start by simpling up the scoring system!

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