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Beginner's Lesson 16

A Game of Riichi Mahjong

In this lesson, we will cover a few of the things that go into a full game of riichi mahjong.


So far, most of what we have discussed is about how to play a single hand. However, riichi mahjong is usually played as a hanchan (“east-south game”) or tonpuusen (“east only game”). These refer to how many rounds there are and how many times each player gets to be the “oya” or “dealer”. In a hanchan, there are 2 rounds and each player gets to be dealer at least twice; in a tonpuusen, there is 1 round and each player gets to be dealer at least once.


These rounds correspond to winds. As you may have guessed, a hanchan has an east round and a south round, whereas a tonpuusen only has an east round. As mentioned in an earlier lesson, the wind tile that matches the round wind is considered yakuhai, so knowing the round wind while playing is important. Generally, there are no west or north rounds in riichi mahjong, although there are exceptions depending on where you play.


Also mentioned in an earlier lesson was the concept of a “seat wind”. Each player has a seat wind that is determined relative to their position to the dealer. The dealer is east, the player to the right of the dealer is south, the player across from the dealer is west, and the player to the left of the dealer is north. Again, the wind tile that matches your seat wind is considered your yakuhai, so knowing your seat wind each hand is important.


In each round, each player will have each seat wind at least once. Each hand also has a name; the first hand in the east round is called, “East 1”. Similarly, the last hand in the south round is called, “South 4”. The player who is the first dealer will be dealer in East 1; the player who started as south will be dealer in East 2, and so on. Once the seat winds make a full rotation and the player who was dealer in East 1 gets to be dealer again, it would become South 1 in a hanchan, or the game would end in a tonpuusen.


The winds can rotate after each hand, but there are usually conditions that can cause the dealer to get “renchan”, an extra turn as dealer. In most rulesets, these conditions are if the dealer wins their hand or is in tenpai in the case of an exhaustive draw. An exhaustive draw is the most common type of “ryuukyoku” (drawn hand). If the dealer is “noten” (not in tenpai) after an exhaustive draw, then the winds rotate as normal.


An exhaustive draw occurs if no one has won the hand once the last tile (houtei) is discarded. The player(s) who are noten at this point have to pay the player(s) who are tenpai a small amount of points, usually a total of 3000 points. If 1 player were tenpai, they would receive 1000 points from each other player for a total of 3000 points. If 2 players were tenpai, then they would each receive 1500 points from the other 2 players. If 3 players were tenpai, then each of them would receive 1000 points from the remaining player. If all 4 players are either tenpai or noten, then no points change hands. Any 1000 point sticks from a riichi declaration stay on the table and are placed on the right side of the dealer of the next hand.


Whenever a renchan or ryuukyoku occurs, the dealer of the next hand must place a 100-point stick on their right side. The 100-point sticks placed in this way are called, “honba”. They are used to mark “bonus rounds”. For example, if the dealer wins a hand in East 1, the next hand would be East 1-1. Each honba increases the value of the next winning hand by 300 points (the way this factors into scoring will be explained in the next lesson). The number of honba can keep increasing if dealer wins and/or ryuukyoku continue to occur. The honba are only removed from the table once a non-dealer wins a hand. To be clear, these 100-point sticks are simply markers placed by the dealer to indicate the number of honba; they still count as being the dealer’s point sticks.


Here are some videos by Light Grunty that explain a few of these concepts:

Rotation of Winds
Ryuukyoku and Honba

As you might expect, when the last dealer passes their dealership, then the game ends. In a hanchan, the game ends after South 4; in a tonpuusen, the game ends after East 4. It is at that point that the winner is decided based on the number of points each player ended up with.

In the next lesson, we will cover the basics of the scoring system in riichi mahjong.

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