Like most Chinese kids, I learned to play mah jong at a young age, mostly from watching my grandma play on the weekends with her floral sweater clad gang of senior sistas from around the block.
But even with this ‘intense’ training, my mah jong skills never really progressed over the years, since I usually played with fellow ‘fake Chinese’ or non-Chinese friends (which automatically made me the expert, oh yeaah). In Hong Kong, I’ve definitely had to up my game when playing against locals or anyone more Chinese than me, but my preference is still to win with the easiest and most hated hand, the worthless chicken, or let fate run its course (read: no strategy whatsoever).
Of course, some people are more competitive than others, as evidenced by a notice in my apartment block about an internal mah jong competition coming up. I forget how much the prize was, but I’m pretty sure the participants are more interested in winning the title of Mah Jong Master of our apartment block than anything else.
Not that I was thinking of entering or anything, but my curiosity got me googling for any guaranteed strategies at winning at mah jong, and turns out there are a ton! Like:
When you first get your tiles, make an immediate evaluation of how many tiles you are away from victory.
- If it’s under 4, play to WIN.
- If it’s 5, it really depends on whether you draw good tiles.
- And if you need 6 or more to win, just give up and play defensively (or to sabotage the others, if you prefer).
If you’re playing to win, take lots of chances and discard anything you don’t need. If you’re playing for a draw, never discard a dragon (white board, green veggie or red centre) or wind (North, South, East, West) except your own, never show your tiles by calling ‘seung’ or ‘pong’, and discard tiles in the following order: isolated winds, numerals, dragons and special winds.
Another good thing to know is what to say when you actually win. Although it doesn’t happen often, I thought I could just shout “HAHA! I WIN!” (哈哈, 我赢!) but apparently that doesn’t quite work in Cantonese. What you’re supposed to say is “SIK-WU! 食糊!” (lit. “EAT CONGEE!”), which can also be replaced by “JI-MOH!” (lit. “SELF TOUCH!”) if you drew the winning tile yourself. Pretty kinky stuff, huh?