There is no single way to play mahjong! Many similar yet different versions are played throughout the world. Attempts to modify the game have been undertaken by custom and practice in many Far Eastern nations, and even the British and the Americans thought they could do a better job than the game’s oriental originators.
In Europe, two rule sets prevail as far as organised events are concerned, thanks to the work of the World Mahjong Organisation (WMO) and the European Mahjong Association (EMA):
Modern Competition Rules (MCR) and Riichi Mahjong (RCR).
The origins of MCR are interesting in their own right. In 1998, mahjong was officially recognised in China as the “255th sport”, and to facilitate mutual participation by the many thousands (indeed millions) of players worldwide, the WMO consulted extensively among foremost experts of the game to achieve a harmonised rule set that would be used in the first World Championship. More than 400 potential scoring patterns were boiled down to the more manageable 81 that form the basis of the rule set now widely adopted throughout the world.
The success of that enterprise stimulated a similar effort, led this time by the European Association to harmonise the rules of Riich Mahjong where many regional differences had previously existed. In Riichi Mahjong, scoring options are fewer than in MCR, but the key differentiator of this fast-paced, (and some say, more exciting) game is the delicate balance that must be struck between attack (attempting to win the hand) and defence (avoiding being the player who allows an opponent to complete his hand). This leads to a game of fine judgement and tactical play that vary dramatically from hand to hand, and from situation to situation. This is the game most widely played in organised events in the UK. Groups of enthusiasts have sprung up in a variety of locations all around the country. Contact us to find a group near you, or to publicise your own group. Both MCR and Riichi formats are also supported in online play, on dedicated websites that automate dealing and scoring, run leagues and ladders, and various competitions from time to time. Mahjongtime, Tenho, Mahjongsoul and Ron2 are all examples. There is also a generic site, Mahjong&Friends, that enables the playing of any other set of mahjong rules but leaves the scoring, regulations and protocols up to the participants.
The growth in organised events in Europe in recent years has been spectacular. Inspection of the EMA website (mahjong-europe.org) reveals that as recently as in 2006, there were just half a dozen officially recognised competitions for MCR, and none for Riichi. By 2019 there were over seventy – evenly split between the two rule sets – including to date six European Championships for MCR and five for Riichi.
Below are the scoring patterns for Riichi and MCR. Remember you need a minimum of one Yaku in Riichi and 8 points in MCR to constitute a legitimate winning hand 🙂