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CantonesePhotoLast week, I shared a brief introduction of mahjong. Now that you are aware of the basics and know that there many ways to play the game, I’ll highlight Cantonese with Hong Kong Old Style (HKOS) scoring.

HKOS is very close to the original game and it’s the most commonly played worldwide. This style requires each player to gather four sets (three in a sequence [chow] and/or three of a kind [pung] or four of a kind [kong]) and a pair to win. There are two exceptions to this configuration and those are seven unique pairs and a hand called Thirteen Orphans, my personal favorite!

The combination of sets determines a player’s score. In many cases, the closer the combination gets to all one suit, the better the score. For example, all chows with mixed suits is only worth one point but if all of the chows are in one suit with honors the hand would be worth four points and, better yet, if the hand consists of only one suit it would be worth seven points. Honor tiles tend to be coveted because they have a one point value for a pung of dragons and in some cases a pung of winds.

The goal of every player is to be the first to complete a winning combination of these sets. The point structure is short and simple and there is typically a two or four point minimum to be eligible to win.

Some players have house rules that include playing with two jokers. The jokers can be used in place of any tile. If jokers are part of an exposure, another player can take that joker on their turn if they have the tile that it represents.

There are few restrictions with HKOS so it’s the easiest to learn and the most flexible way to play. If you are new to mahjong, this is the best place to start – most people can play independently after an hour or so. If you learn this style first, you should be able to quickly learn how to play other Asian styles with a fairly short learning curve. Because this style is so simple, players tend to tire of it and move on to more complex styles after a playing for a couple of years.

Learning Curve: 2
Sustainability: 2

Come back next week for highlights of Japanese Modern, also known as Riichi. This style of play is quickly gaining worldwide popularity because of its novelty and emphasis on strategy.