Across Pass
The second and fifth pass of The Charleston. The across pass is obligatory and each must contain three tiles.
American Mah Jongg
A variation of Mah Jongg played in the United States. There are different rules depending on whether you play in accordance with the National Mah Jongg League or the American Mah Jongg Association.
Backup Hand
A hand into which you can switch if the current hand you are playing is no longer a possibility (see also Dead Hand).
One of the three suits in mah jongg, also referred to as Sticks or Bams. The Bams numbered 2-9 are green in color and resemble the stalk of a bamboo tree. The exception is the 1 Bam, which is often mistaken for a Flower but is a bird.
What you do when you play for money and have a fifth player. The winning hand is paid the value shown all the way to the right of the hand on the card. There are variations of betting, making those variations Table Rules.
Betting Device
A device used to bet. There are at least two types of betting devices, one with a rolling face and one with a dial that turns.
The fifth person who sits out during a game and picks who he or she thinks will make mah jongg.
The fifth person who sits out during a game and picks who he or she thinks will make mah jongg.
Blind Pass
A move allowed on the first left pass and last right pass of The Charleston.
Breaking the Wall
A move done by rolling the dice to determine how many tiles to hold back. This is similar to cutting a deck of cards and will be understood more during game play instruction.
Indicates a concealed hand, sometimes referred to as a closed hand, present on the card to the right of the Hand. When playing a concealed hand, a tile cannot be called by any player unless that tile being called is the tile that gives a player mah jongg. See also Concealed Hand.
A move in which you are able to pick up a player’s thrown tile to complete an exposure by, exposing a pung, kong, quint, or sextet. The proper way to call a tile is to announce in a timely m anner, “Call,” “I’ll take that”, “Take,” as audibly as possible, without shouting. It doesn’t matter how you say it, but you must make your intentions know by verbalizing your interest in the discarded tile.
Titled the Official Standard Hands and Rules, which has all the hands with noted variations in parentheses that a player must choose from to make mah jongg. It is issued once a year, usually received by April 1st if ordered early in the year at nationalmahjonggleague.org.
One of the three suits in mah jongg, also referred to as Cracks. The symbol on the top is the Chinese character for a number in the 1-9 sequence. The red symbol on the bottom of the tile translates as “ten thousand” or “Wan”.
Charleston, The
A succession of six or seven moves during which you pass three tiles at a time in order to get rid of tiles you do not need and get tiles you do need. The Charleston is done before the game begins.
Cold Wall
A a table rule where the part of the wall held back after breaking the wall at the beginning of the game. While picking from the cold wall, you must make mah jongg by picking your own tile. You cannot call mah jongg if another player discards your winning tile. While there is a disadvantage because another player discards your winning tile, there is an advantage because you do not have to worry about what you are discarding toward the end of the game. Table rules are not sanctioned by the league.
Colors on the Card
Indicate how many suits are needed in that hand. The colors do not in any way match the colors of the suits or colors of the dragons on the tiles, so you decide which suit represents the color on the card. In other words, a change in color on the card means that there is a change in suit in your hand.
Concealed Hand
Indicated on the card as a “C” and located at the end of a hand just before the money value. When playing a concealed hand, a Tile cannot be called by any player unless that tile being called is the tile that gives a player mah jongg.
Corresponding Dragon
Each of the numbered suits corresponds to one of the Dragons. The Dots correspond to the White Dragon, the Bams correspond to the Green Dragon, and the Cracks correspond to the Red Dragon.
Dead Hand
Occurs when another player calls a person’s hand dead due to an incorrect number of tiles on his or her rack, an incorrect exposure, or by a miscalled mah jongg. When this occurs, the player who has been declared dead no longer participates in the game, and the game continues with the remaining players. Your own hand might also go dead, but if this is the case you need not disclose it to any of the other players and should try to find a backup hand. Another way to call a player’s hand dead is to say, “your hand is no longer viable” or “your hand is invalid”.
Dealing the Tiles
The process by which all four players pick in succession a set of four tiles each until all four players have 12 tiles. Once all four players have their 12 tiles, East (player 1) picks the first and third tile off the top row, and all others pick the very next one available.
Defensive Play
One of many strategic moves to prevent another player from getting mah jongg.
Dice are rolled to determine the number of tiles held back when you break the wall which is like cutting the deck when playing cards (see Wall.)
Dice are rolled to determine the number of tiles held back when you break the wall (see Breaking the Wall.)
A Tile taken from your rack that you do not want. The tile is placed face up on the table in front of your rack and must be named correctly.
One of the three suits numbered 1-9 in mah jongg. Also referred to as Balls or Circles. This is the the easiest suit to remember because the circles look like Dots.
There are three types of Dragons: Red, Green, and White (sometimes referred to as a Soap). There are four of each Dragon, making a total of 12 Dragons in all. They are properly named Red, Green, and White or Soap when discarded as opposed to Red Dragon, Green Dragon, and White or Soap Dragon.
The player that begins the game. East will also have one extra tile before game play begins. Once game play begins, East discards the first tile but does not pick another, making his or her rack of tiles equal to all other players. East is also the name used when you discard the Wind tiles with an E on them.
The word used when you either pick a tile or already have a tile on your rack that matches a tile in your own exposure or in another player’s exposure. Players can only exchange a symbol tile for a joker after their turn begins. Actions that mark the beginning of a player’s turn is either when they call a discard and make an exposure or they pick a tile from the wall.
A move after you call a tile and expose the completed pung, kong, quint, or sextet face up on the top of the rack for everyone to see. An exposure also occurs after a player declares mah jongg, whereby the player is required to reveal his or her mah jongg to all others.
First Left
The third pass of The Charleston. It is on this pass that a player can do a blind pass as well as announce that he or she is stopping The Charleston.
Fresh Tile
A tile that has not yet been in an exposure or discarded.
What the Green Dragon is named when discarded (see Dragons).
Any one of the combinations on the mah jongg card, or variations as noted in the parentheses on the card.
Hot Tile
A tile that has not already been thrown on the table, indicating that it might be needed by another player.
Hot Wall
Playing with a Hot Wall is a house or table rule in which you must account for three of the tiles you are about to throw (either in an exposure, on the board, or in your hand), before discarding it. If you cannot account for three tiles and the tile you discard gives someone mah jongg, depending on your house or table rule, he or she might have to pay everyone out of his or her own pocket (and not out of your game purse). See also Cold Wall.
House Rules
Rules that do not adhere to the NMJL but are adopted by your group of players to make the game more challenging or to add some interesting twists. A few examples are Playing with Futures, Hot Wall, and Cold Wall.
A tile that can be used in the same way a wild card is used in cards. In mah jongg, it can be used with any suit, Dragon, or Flower that is a part of a pung, kong, quint, or sextet. Either one or all jokers can be used to make a pung or kong. A joker may never be used for a single tile or in a pair. There are eight jokers in all. Jokers can also be exchanged for a like tile from an exposed pung, kong, quint, or sextet by you or any other player after a tile is picked at the beginning of a turn.
Jokerless Hand
A hand that can use jokers but is void of them when a player declares mah jongg. A jokerless hand is rewarded by doubling the value of the hand.
Four of a kind or any matching set of four tiles.
Last Right
The sixth pass of The Charleston. Any player can opt to do a blind pass on the last right.
Mah Jongg
The name of the game you are learning, and also what is declared when you have won a hand.
Misnamed Tile
A tile that has been discarded and named incorrectly.
After each game, all the tiles are placed in the center of the table and players mix them before building the walls for the next game. This is similar to shuffling in traditional card games.
Money Purse
The place where you hold the amount of money with which you will play if you decide to have some fun playing for money as opposed to points. It will also hold your winnings during the game. Some groups play with a table rule that establishes a loss limit to keep the stakes low. Common amounts are: $3.00, $5.00, $7.00 or $10.00.
Naming a Tile
When a tile is discarded from your hand, it must be named properly. For example, when a Green Dragon is discarded, it is named, “Green”. Another example could be when a Flower is discarded it is named, “Flower” even though at times the Flowers have numbers or words on them.
National Mah Jongg League
An organization formed in 1937 to standardize the game and rules for the American mah jongg version. The National Mah Jongg League is also referred to as the NMJL or simply, “the league”.
The name used when you discard the Wind tile with an N on it.
Official Mah Jongg Tournament
A certified tournament that complies with all standards, rules, and scoring of the Mah Jongg Master Points System created by Gladys Grad of Mah Jongg Madness. The Tournament Director/Host/ Manager conducts the tournament as they see appropriate, as long as it falls within the guidelines of the Mah Jongg Master Points System.
On Call
When you are waiting for one tile to complete a hand on the card. When that tile is discarded or picked from the wall, you declare, “mah jongg”!
Optional Across
The seventh and last pass in The Charleston. It is considered optional because you are not required to pass any tiles. If both players want to pass, the player with the lower number of tiles dictates how many tiles will be passed.
The term used when you play for money and all your money has run out. Players call this a pie because it stands for “Purse Is Empty”. For unknown reasons, the league calls this a “PY”.
Two identical tiles (i.e., FF, DD, 44, SS). Jokers can never be one of the tiles in a pair.
What you do during The Charleston, whereby players pass three unwanted tiles in a series of moves.
Pick a Tile
What you do when it is your turn and it is time to pick a tile from the wall that has been pushed out to the middle of the table.
An individual at a table where a game of mah jongg is to be played. The ideal number of players if four. See entries in the knowledge base for Two-Player Mah Jongg, Three-Player Mah Jongg, and Five-Player Mah Jongg versions.
Playing for Money
The winning player is paid the value (penny a point) shown all the way to the right on the card.
Three identical tiles. Any number of jokers can be used.
Push Out the Wall
When one wall of tiles has been depleted, the next wall in clockwise order is pushed out.
Tools used to move the wall forward so all the players can easily reach it. Most new racks come with pushers attached. There are pushers that are designed to fit over coin pegs on the end of old racks.
Tiles are presented with two tiles on the bottom with the third tile on top to indicate the second left in The Charleston.
Five of a kind or any matching set of five tiles. Hands with Quints are harder to make because you need to use jokers since there are only four of each number in a suit, Dragon, or Wind.
Rack ‘Em

The term used after you pick the 13 tiles (14 for East) and then place them onto the rack facing you.
Used to hold your tiles and place to expose tiles during the game.
What the Red Dragon is named when discarded (see Dragons)
Safe Tile
A tile that a player discards knowing that it either cannot be called (joker) or one that will likely not be called. based on exposures or previously discarded tiles.
What you name a tile if you are discarding the same tile as the one previously discarded. This is also commonly used to name a discarded joker.
Second Left
The third pass in The Charleston. The second left is stacked in a Pyramid shape, where there are two tiles on the bottom and one on the top. The reason this was adopted is to differentiate between the first Left and second Left and to indicate you are starting the second part of The Charleston. It is also helpful in keeping track of what move everyone is currently passing.
A group of hands that share the same theme. Also know as “category” or “family”.
Self-Picked Mah Jongg
When the tile you picked from the wall completes the hand you are playing.
Six identical tiles, including at least two jokers because there are only four tiles of each suit, Wind, or Dragon.
Single Tile
A unique tile in a hand on the card (i.e., NEWS). Some of the hands in the last category on the third panel of the card have single tiles. Jokers can never be used in place of a single tile. Also, single tiles cannot be called unless you are on call or ready to win.
Another name for a White Dragon.
The name used when you discard a Wind tile with an S on it.
Stopping the Charleston
During the Charleston, it is permissible to stop the passing after the first Left and before the second Left. A player might do this if his or her hand is really good, but he or she does not have enough tiles to oass.
Stopping the Passing
When someone stops The Charleston before the second left is picked up. It is important to let everyone know that you are stopping The Charleston before anyone picks up the second left or it’s too late and you must participate.
Strategic Move
One of many strategic moves to prevent another player from declaring mah jongg.
Tiles in three sets: Bamboos (i.e., Bams), Characters (i.e., Cracks), and Dots. Each suit consists of nine consecutive numbers and there are four of each number, totaling 36 tiles.
Table Rules
Rules that do not adhere to the NMJL but are adopted by your group of players to make the game more challenging or to add some interesting twists. A few examples are Playing with Futures, Hot Wall, and Cold Wall.
Throw a Tile
After you have called a discard to make an exposure or you picked a tile from the wall, you discard an unwanted tile from your hand to end your turn.
Game pieces used to play Mah Jongg. Similar to specially made papers used in card games.
Value of the Hand
The value of the hand is shown all the way to the right of the hand. 25, represents 25 points or, if playing for money, cents. The value of the hand is directly related to the difficulty of the hand.
Consists of two rows of 19 tiles that are stacked against each player’s rack from where tiles are drawn during the game.
Wall Game
A completed game where no one has declared mah jongg.
The name used when you discard a Wind tile with a W on it.
Win by Discard
When you declare mah jongg after a player at the table discards your the tile you need to complete your hand.
A tile marked with an N, E, W, or S. They are called Winds because, when thrown, they are properly named by wind direction: North, East, West, and South.
The first player to complete a hand and declare mah jongg.
To the right of the hand, indicates an exposed hand. An exposed hand is a hand where you can call a discarded tile to expose a pung (three of a kind), kong (four of a kind), quint (five of a kind, at least one joker required), or sextet (six of a kind, at least two jokers required).
The White Dragon, also referred to as Soap, becomes a Zero when used as a number (see Dragons).