Mah Jongg Through the Years

For this newsletter we are exploring how Mah Jongg has changed over the previous decades. As you can see below, many changes have been incorporated by the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) since our mothers and grandmothers played the game! Many thanks to The Mahjong Collector for the use of their list.

There have been changes to the number of Jokers and Flowers, and changes to the Charleston. There have also been adjustments to when and how much money is paid for declaring Mah Jongg.

Casual assortment of MahJongg tiles on tableIn addition to these changes, with the advent of computers and fame of online games, interest in Mah Jongg has been rising steadily. While the NMJL card is the most popular, other Mah Jongg organizations publish their own cards, including the American Mah Jongg League, Destination Mah Jongg, and many others. Burgeoning social media has helped fuel numerous sites on the internet and Facebook, such as Where the Winds Blow, Mah Jongg, That’s It, and MahJongg and Me. Mah Jongg fanatics can lament an “almost” Mah Jongg, post pictures of their winning hands, or ask questions about game rules or etiquette.

Questions and comments can be posted from homes or cars 24/7. No longer are games scheduled by phone call. We now can plan Mah Jongg games by way of email, text, or online sites such as Meet Up. There are several online games available, where one can play with others or against computer bots.

Yes, Mah Jongg certainly has changed. Who knows what other changes are yet to come!


Mah Jongg Changes Through the Years


1937: First year of National Mah Jongg League. Game is played with 6 Flowers and no Jokers. Flowers are “Wild Cards” that can be used for any tile in any hand.
1938-39: Number of Flowers increases to 8. East receives/pays double
1941: Courtesy pass is eliminated from Charleston
1943: Flowers increased to 12. Each player takes one Flower before building wall.
1944: Flowers increased to 14. “Ration” category is added for this year only; hands are based on numbers used in WWII Ration Books
1946 and 1947: Flowers increased to 16 and then 18
1948: Flower bonus (for this year only)
1949: Flowers increased to 20
1950: Flowers increased to 24. Charleston eliminated.
1951: One round of Charleston added back. First appearance of “Octette” hands.
1956: Flowers reduced to 22. Taking free Flowers before deal is eliminated.
1958: Flowers reduced to 20. Second optional Charleston is added.
1960-61: Two jokers added; they may replace any tile in any hand, even singles and pairs, but may not be replaced in exposures. Flowers are no longer considered “Wild Cards”.
1961-62: First appearance of annual hands based on current year
1962-63: Jokers increased to 4; Flowers reduced to 12.
1963-64: Jokers may be placed in exposure, but only when picked by that player
1964-65: Jokers may be replaced in an exposure by any player, whether picked from the wall or the player’s hand
1965-66: “No Jokers” hands appear
1966-67: Jokers increased to 6, Flowers reduced to 8. Any hand made without Big Jokers pays double
1967-68: Flowers are increased to 10
1968-69: Jokers increased to 8, Flowers reduced to 6
1970-71: East no longer receives or pays double. When a player picks own MJongg tile, all players pay double. When player uses discarded tile for MJ, only discarder pays double. For this year only, a “Patriotic” category is added; hands are based on years 1492 and 1776
1971-72: Flower and Jokers are standardized at 8 each. A hand made without a Joker does not pay double.
1984-85: Jokers can now never be used for Singles or Pairs
1994-95: Modern version of game begins: A hand made without Jokers pays double, except for Singles and Pairs category. Rules clarifies that there can be 4X paid by discarder of final MJ tile in jokerless hand