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My understanding of Mahjong is that you need four players. Is that right? Or is it possible to play with 2 or 3? If so, can anyone assist with a link to the rules.

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  • Not just 2 & 4 I've played it under house rules for 5 players.
    – Chenmunka
    Nov 30, 2022 at 20:27

3 Answers 3

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These rules have 2 and 3 person variant rules.

So yes you can play with 2 or 3 people as well.

Here's the relevant rule changes:

Two-Player Mah Jong

This is good practice for beginners although not quite such a good game as the more typical version with 4 players. One player plays East, the other West. The preliminaries are conducted in the same way as for the 4 player game, 4 walls are built and the game starts with East's discard. The game continues as with the standard game but with the following differences:

No chows are allowed and therefore before either player can go Mah Jong, the player must gather four doubles or be entitled to the limit or half-limit score. When scoring, East Wind neither pays nor receives double. When scoring, the player going Mah Jong has a lower score than the player's opponent, the player with the Mah Jong receives the normal total score plus the difference between the scores.

Three-Player Mah Jong

There are two main ways to play three-player Mah Jong. One common way to play is with four walls but to have the North wind position as a 'dummy'. The alternative is to play with 3 walls in a triangle. The 'dummy' method results in a satisfactory game but there are a number of special rules that are required and Masters Traditional Games believes that the triangular game for three players is simpler and more elegant and so that is our recommendation.

In South East Asia, Triangular Mah Jong is so popular that there are companies who make special triangular Mah Jong tables.

Triangular Mah Jong for 3 players eliminates the North position completely and the 4 North wind tiles are removed from the set before starting so that a set of 132 tiles are used.

The walls therefore consist of 22 stacks (44 tiles) in a triangle shape and there are 3 hands in each round and 3 or 4 rounds as agreed. Other than that, the game is played in the same way as for 4 player Mah Jong.

If flowers and seasons are included, one season and one flower is removed, usually Winter and Bamboo tiles so that 138 tiles are used and each wall consists of 23 stacks (46 tiles).

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We have a mahjong set and regularly play with only three people but using the same rules as the four-player game. The only difference is that it is often slightly easier for someone to win with three players. That said, we still goulash every so often. The two player game is also possible using different rules, usually with making all pairs in a hand, however I find this method a bit boring so we still play normal rules with two players. That way someone always wins a hand, just more quickly.

One piece of advice I have is to treat the game as fun! I have met many people who are so serious about what is or isnt 'allowed' in playing mahjong that it can be a bit off putting. Why not try the usual play with fewer people--it's just as much fun even if you aren't changing the rules to suit fewer than four...

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I don't know much about two-player mahjong, but three-player riichi mahjong is extremely popular online (about as popular as four-player mahjong, at least on some sites). It's often known by its Japanese name, sanma. It usually has the following rule adjustments:

  1. The 2 through 8 of characters are removed. This increases the frequency of pairs, triplets, and honor tiles, makes tan'yao (a.k.a. All Simples) harder to get, and generally increases the pace of play.
  2. Players cannot call "chi" (a.k.a. "chow").
  3. Rounds are 3 hands (plus any repeats) instead of 4, since there's one fewer player. So a South game might be as short as six hands even if nobody gets eliminated.
  4. Since North will never be a valid round wind or seat wind, it can act rather like flower tiles in other forms of mahjong: you call "Pei!" (or "Kita!"), set it aside face-up, and draw a replacement tile. Each pei call adds 1 han to your hand.

Pei calls are considered a form of dora and don't count as a yaku for the scoring minimum. You don't have to call pei, though; you can still use your north as ordinary tiles to complete your hand. You can also discard them if you need a safe tile late in the hand.

If north is a dora tile as shown by the dora indicator and you call pei, it counts double: 1 han from the pei call and 1 han from the dora indicator. (A previous version of this post incorrectly claimed that pei tiles only count for 1 han when called whether they're dora or not. Oops!)

Finally, it is possible to call ron on another player's pei, similar to robbing a kan, though you don't gain any han for it. But you do get 1 han if you tsumo immediately after a pei call, just as you would after making a kan.

Also be aware that you get fewer points for tsumo than for ron, because the payouts are the same as for 4-player mahjong but there is one fewer player to collect points from.

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