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Setting up the Game (Article ID 143)
Abstract: Before the commencement of the game, East is determined by all players’ rolling the dice. The player with the highest number shown on the dice becomes East. Once East is defined here the steps are:
- All tiles are placed faced down in the center and thoroughly mixed.
- All players build a two-tier wall in front of themselves, with each tier being 19 tiles across.
- East rolls the dice again, pushes out his wall, breaks the wall, and counts the number shown on East’s dice from both tiers.
- The portion of the broken wall is held back again East’s wall and are the last tiles to be used should the game not end before needing them.
- Each player picks a grouping of 4 tiles from the top and bottom tier in a counterclockwise (to the right) manner until all players’ have three sets of 4 tiles for a total of 12 tiles.
- East then picks their last two tiles, the 1st and third tiles from the top tier, and all other players’ take the next tile available. East now has 14 tiles, and all other players’ have 13.
- East begins the game discarding their 14th tile but does not pick. Now all players have the same number of tiles as does East.
Question from a player: How is the game started?
Answer from the NMJL: “All tiles are placed face down in the center of the table and thoroughly mixed. The one hundred and fifty-two tiles are divided into four walls, two tiers high, in front of each rack. The wall of tiles is pushed forward with the aid of the rack to enable each player, starting with East, to reach for the tiles.”
“In most games, the host or hostess is East first. In games away from home, a pair of dice is used at the beginning of the game to determine which player will be East. The dice are rolled and the player receiving the highest total of the two dice is East. The only advantage in being East is that East starts the game with fourteen tiles. When the game is completed, the player to the right of East becomes East for the next game.”
“After the walls are built, East throws the dice. The number designated on the dice shows East how many piles on the double-tiered wall to count, moving from the extreme right to the left. East makes a break in the wall by taking the next four tiles to the left of the last tile counted. For example, if East throws a total of four, East counts the double-tiered tiles in front of East’s rack from right to left, 1-2-3-4, and stops at this point. East then makes an opening and takes the first four tiles, two each from the upper and lower tiers, from the left of the opening.”
“The player to the right of East takes the next four tiles, the third player the next four tiles and the fourth player takes the next four tiles. This procedure is repeated for three rounds, until each player has 12 tiles.”
“East now takes the first and third tile from the top tier. The other three players, each in turn, take one tile. Right of East takes the first tile on the bottom row. Across from East takes the next top tile and the player to the left of East takes the next bottom tile. We recommend that each player pick their own tiles and that these tiles be left in stacks as shown above until all of the tiles are picked. The broken wall now remains with one loose bottom tile. Each player should now have 13 tiles, except East, who has 14.”
“During play, after East’s wall has been depleted, the player to the left pushes out their wall. Picking from the Walls goes to the left. PLAY TO THE RIGHT, PICK FROM THE LEFT. “
Source: Mah Jongg Made Easy (2020 page 9 para. 2, 10, 11 para. 1)
Other answers from the NMJL:
“East rolls dice to determine where to break the wall. East makes a break in the wall after the number of stacks specified by the dice. East takes the first two stacks (4 tiles) to the left of the break. Then the player to the right of the East takes the next two stacks and picking continues to the right. Each player should have 13 tiles, except East, who should have 14. NOTE: Players take tiles counter clockwise (to the right).”
“East breaks wall according to the total number indicated on the rolled dice, count right to left and take the next four tiles to the left of the first tile counted. The player to the right of East takes the next four tiles. This procedure is repeated for three rounds. East then picks first and third tile and the other players pick one tile each in rotation. East then discards the 14th tile, players to the right pick and discard in turn.”
Sources for other answers: National Mah Jongg League Bulletin Q&A (1967 page 5, 1968 page 5, 1969 page 5, 1984, 1998 page 5, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) https://www.nationalmahjonggleague.org