Playing the game

OVERVIEW:  ChowsPungsKongsPairsDiscarded tilesConcealed and exposed setsWindsKong boxDrawn gamePlaying dirtySpecial hands And pairsAnd exposed tilesAnd discardsPurityAll pair honoursKnittingTriple knittingBuried treasureImperial JadeAll Winds and DragonsThe wriggling snakeHeaven’s blessingFishingGoing Mah-JongNumbers of tilesShowing your tilesAnd East WindPrecedenceRobbing the kong The goulashWild tilesOrigin of “goulash”

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Chows

Q. How many chows can I make?

A. Only one in the normal game.

If there are only 2 or 3 players, no chows are allowed
Also no chows are allowed when you are playing the goulash
Note: When chows are not allowed you cannot claim a double for “No chows”

Q. Are there any conceivable conditions when I could have more than one chow in a Mah-Jong hand?

A. No

The runs in special hands are not really chows. And you cannot use an exposed chow to make a special hand, like “The wriggling snake” or “The gates of heaven”.

Q. Can I call “Chow” for any discarded tile?

A. Not normally

You can only call “Chow” if the discard is made by the player to your left, unless you are claiming it to go Mah-Jong

Q. Are there other occasions when you cannot call “Chow” for a discarded tile?

A. Yes, when you are playing the goulash or there are only 2 or 3 players

In consequence, you also cannot claim an extra double if you go Mah-Jong with no chows.

Q. How are concealed chows displayed?

A. With all three tiles facing upwards

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Pungs

Q. How should you show an exposed pung?

A. All 3 tiles are shown face up

Q. How should you show a concealed pung?

A. The middle tile is shown face down

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Kongs

Q. How should you show an exposed kong?

A. An end tile is shown face down

Q. How should you show a concealed kong?

A. The two end tiles are shown face down.

Q. When you make a kong (with 4 tiles) this reduces the number of tiles in your hand. How can you then make 4 sets and a pair?

A. Whenever you declare a kong (i.e. lay it down for others to see) you take another tile from the kong box.

Q. Must I always show a kong that I have in my hand?

A. Only if you intend to keep the kong

If you pick up a tile from the wall to make a concealed kong you must then lay that down and get a tile from the kong box. However, you are not forced to declare a concealed kong if you decide that you don’t want to keep it or if you are saving pairs for the special hand “All pair honours”.
Note: A concealed kong has 2 tiles face up and 2 face down

Q. Can I add a tile to an exposed pung to make a kong?

A. Yes, but only if you pick it up from the wall

You cannot claim a discarded tile to add to an exposed pung

Q. If the tiles you are dealt with contain a kong, do you expose it and claim the extra tile from the kong box at the same time as you would a bonus tile?

A. No, it should be when it is your turn of play

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Pairs

Q. If you claim a pair (from a discard) and thereby go Mah-Jong, does that destroy an otherwise concealed hand?

A. Yes.

The pair in a concealed hand must be obtained directly from the deal or from the wall.
But claiming a pair from a discard would NOT destroy an attempt to go Mah-Jong with the special hand of “Buried treasure”.
Note: A concealed hand gives a double to the player who goes Mah-Jong

Q. Should you show a concealed pair with one tile face down in order to demonstrate that you have a concealed hand?

A. No

There is, I believe, no precedent for this. And it would be obvious to the other players that the hand is a concealed

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Discarded tiles

Q. Should a discarded tile be placed face-up?

A. Yes

If a discarded tile is accidentally placed on its side or face-down then this should be corrected.

Q. What is a dead tile?

A. A dead tile is one that has been discarded and not immediately chowed, punged or konged. It takes no further part in the game, aside from helping players decide what tiles to collect and discard.

Q. At what point is a discarded tile considered to be “dead” and so not claimable?

A. This needs to be agreed between the players.

The speed of play (and sometimes unclear calls) can often leave little time for a player to decide to claim the discarded tile. So one needs to agree on the rules to be applied when (say) a “Pung” clashes with the next player picking up a tile from the wall. 
I would suggest that once this next tile has been seen, the previously discarded tile is considered “dead” and the pung is disallowed. So a tile that has been taken from the wall but not turned over when the pung is called would need to be returned and the pung allowed to stand.
A less lenient rule might be to consider the discarded tile to be “dead” once the next tile in the wall has been touched.
If the player made a mistake when describing the discarded tile (e.g. calling it a 6 Bamboos, when it was a 9) then I would suggest that some discretion is required.

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Concealed and exposed sets

Q. What is the meaning of “exposed” and “concealed”

A. See the two questions below for the quick answer

If you have to call “Chow!”, “Pung!” or “Kong!” to claim a tile that someone else has discarded then the set that you thereby make is an “exposed” one. You have to lay it down in front of your rack so that others can see it.
However, if you are able to make a chow, pung or kong from the tiles that you obtain from the deal or from picking up from the wall then that set is “concealed”. You keep that in your hand (so that others cannot see it) unless it is a kong, whereupon you (usually) lay the four tiles in front of you and claim a tile from the kong box to make up for the extra tile in the set.
You do not have to lay the kong down immediately as you may decide to use the four tiles differently, for example to help make the special hand of All pair honours (e.g. with two pairs of green dragons). You can still claim points for a concealed kong in your hand if someone else goes Mah-Jong.

Q. What is a concealed set?

A. A chow, pung or kong that has been collected without claiming any tiles from a discard.

Q. What is an exposed set?

A. The opposite of a concealed one i.e. one of the tiles has been claimed from a discard

Q. Can I change my mind about an exposed set once I have laid it down?

A. No

There is a general rule, which is that once a set has been exposed it cannot be incorporated back into the hand, for example to make a special hand.
e.g.
An exposed kong of a major tile cannot be used to make “All pair honours” .
A chow cannot be used to make “The wriggling snake”.

Q. If you go Mah-Jong by claiming a tile to make a pung, is that pung exposed or concealed?

A. It is exposed and will destroy an otherwise concealed hand

Note that this does NOT apply to the special hands of “Buried treasure” and “The gates of heaven”.

Q. If you go Mah-Jong by claiming a tile to make a pair, is that pair exposed or concealed?

A. It is exposed and will destroy an otherwise concealed hand

Note that this does NOT apply to the special hand of “Buried treasure”

Q. If I have to expose a Flower or Season tile does this stop me creating a concealed hand?

A. No

Flower and Season tiles are always revealed and set aside. You need to replace them with tiles from the kong box to keep sufficient tiles to go Mah-Jong. This doesn’t stop you collecting a concealed hand – Flower and Season tiles are not part of this.
A concealed hand is one where you haven’t konged or punged a tile in order to go Mah-Jong. However, if you have an concealed kong in your hand, you need to lay it down (end tiles facing downward, middle tiles upwards) so that you can claim a tile from the kong box.
See pungs/kongs and playing dirty for more information.

Q. Must I always show a kong that I have in my hand?

A. Only if you intend to keep the kong

If you pick up a tile from the wall to make a concealed kong you must then lay that down and get a tile from the kong box. However, you are not forced to declare a concealed kong if you decide that you don’t want to keep it or if you are saving pairs for the special hand “All pair honours”. If you have the kong in your hand when someone else goes Mah-Jong, it still counts towards your score.

Q. Do I have to lay down a concealed kong with the two middle tiles facing upwards, as this lets other players know what your kong consists of?

A. Yes, you must lay a concealed kong with the two middle tiles facing upwards.

I think not revealing the kong tiles would only affect someone who is trying to collect one of a limited number of special hands, like “The thirteen unique wonders” and “The wriggling snake”.

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Winds

Q. Why is being East Wind important?

A. Because East Wind always pays and receives double his score

Q. When does East Wind move to another player?

A. When the player who is East Wind does not go Mah-Jong.

Note: If the game is drawn, East Wind doesn’t change

Q. If I am West Wind and go Mah-Jong, do I then become East Wind?

A. No. The person who was South Wind becomes East Wind.

Q. When does the prevailing Wind change?

A. When the first player who was East Wind, becomes East Wind again.

So this takes at least 4 games, and more if East Wind goes Mah-Jong.

Q. What effect does a change in the prevailing Wind have?

A. It only affects the scoring in 2 ways. If the prevailing Wind is South:

A pung/kong of South Wind gives a double for any player
A pair of South Wind tiles scores 2 points for any player
NB: The following statement in “Mah-Jong (Know the Game)” (3rd Edition, page 28) is incorrect:

“The prevailing Wind player always scores double and pays double to all the other players”

See statement on page 24 (2nd Edition) and page 34 (3rd Edition):

“There are two points to remember: every player, no what his score, pays the player who goes Mah-Jong, and East Wind always pays and receives double.”

Note:
If the player who is South Wind has a pung/kong of South Wind then he gets 2 doubles (one for his own Wind and one for the prevailing Wind)
If the player who is South Wind has a pair of South Wind tiles then he gets 4 points (2 points for his own Wind and 2 points for the prevailing Wind)
A change in the prevailing Wind doesn’t stop East Wind paying and receiving double

Q. Do the Flower/Season designations (i.e. East Wind – 1, South Wind – 2, West Wind – 3, North Wind – 4) change when the prevailing Wind changes?

A. No

Q. What effect does playing the game with 3 players have on the Winds?

A. East Wind always exists. The other players take the Winds associated with their positions relative to East Wind.

i.e. Opposite – West Wind, to left – North Wind, to right – South Wind.

Q. What is the difference between Wind of the round and the prevailing Wind?

A. Nothing. They are just different names for the same thing.

Q. Does the prevailing Wind always go first?

A. No. East Wind always goes first, even if it is not the prevailing Wind.

East Wind always receives 14 tiles (one more than the other players) and so starts the game by discarding the extra tile.

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Kong box

Q. Is the kong box ever replenished from the live wall?

A. No

Q. What happens when the kong box is empty?

A. It’s a drawn game

More precisely, when the kong box is empty and a player requires another tile because of a kong or a bonus tile then the game is drawn and the goulash is played next.

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Drawn game

Q. What happens if there is a drawn game?

A. No one scores anything. East stays as East. The goulash is played next game.

This can happen in two ways before somone has gone Mah-Jong:
   (1) No more tiles are left in the live wall
   (2) No more tiles are left in the kong box when a tile is required

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Playing dirty

Q. What is “playing dirty”?

A. It’s when you play to collect pung/kongs or a chow/pair from more than one suit.

Q. What effect does a dirty hand have on the scoring?

A. It deprives you of a double that you would otherwise get

e.g.
Going Mah-Jong with the following exposed pungs: Red Dragon, 3 Characters, 5 Characters, 4 Bamboos, plus a pair of 2 Characters, gives a basic score of [ 20 for MJ + 4 + 2 + 2 + 2 = ] 30. You then have 1 double for no chows and 1 double for a pung of Dragons – giving a final score of 120  (A DIRTY HAND)
Going Mah-Jong with the following exposed pungs: Red Dragon, 3 Characters, 5 Characters, 4 Characters plus a pair of 2 Characters, gives a basic score of [ 20 for MJ + 4 + 2 + 2 + 2 = ] 30. You then have 1 double for no chows, 1 double for a pung of Dragons and another double for all the same suit – giving a final score of 240

Q. Can I claim a double if I have a clean hand when somebody else went Mah-Jong?

A. No.

Q. Is there anything in the rules to stop you playing dirty?

A. No

There is nothing within the BMJA rules to say that you cannot play dirty.
There is also no requirement to agree on how to play, although I find a tacit agreement to play for a high score (and so try to avoid dirty hands and quick pungs) helps one to enjoy the game better.
Sometimes, when you are dealt a particular hand, it’s the only option.
Note: A clean hand gives you a double (which is good to go for), but there are other combinations which also give you a double (all majors, all concealed, Dragons, your own Wind, your own bonus tiles.). So if you have one or more of these, the loss of a clean hand is not so important.

Q. Does a chow prevent a clean hand?

A. No, provided it is in the same suit as the pungs/kongs in your hand.

Q. Can I play a special hand dirty?

A. No.

Playing dirty doesn’t apply to special hands as their composition is defined and there is no doubling involved (apart from that applied to bonus tiles).

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Special hands

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And pairs

Q. What does a pair refer to exactly in the various special hands?

A. The pair must (where possible) be from the tiles that would qualify for a pung or a kong in that particular special hand.

In “Triple knitting” it’s a pair with different suits, but the same numbers.

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And exposed tiles

Q. Can you make a special hand when you have exposed tiles?

A. Only for special hands which are made of up pungs or kongs

Special hands which are made up of pungs or kongs can use exposed kongs. These are: “Purity”, “Imperial jade”, “Heads and tails”, “Three great scholars”, “All Winds and Dragons”, “Four blessings hovering over the door” and “Fourfold plenty”.
The other special hands must be kept concealed until you go Mah-Jong.
If you have exposed a chow, pung or kong, that cannot be used in one of these hands.
e.g.
   An exposed chow cannot be used to make “The wriggling snake”.
   An exposed kong cannot be used to make two major pairs for “All pair honours”.
However, you can pung the last set to go Mah-Jong for “Buried treasure” and “The gates of heaven” – hands which, until that point, need to be concealed.

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And discards

Q. Can you claim a discard when you are saving for a special hand?

A. You can pung and kong tiles when the special hand is composed of these, but for other types of special hands you can only claim the final tile to go Mah-Jong. You can never claim a previously discarded tile.

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Purity

Q. Can you have a chow in the special hand of “Purity”?

A. No

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All pair honours

Q. In “All pair honours” can you have 2 pairs of the same tile – i.e. 2 pairs of Red Dragons?

A. Yes

Note, however, that you need to have kept them in your hand and not declared them as a kong.

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Q. Does “All pair honours” have to include a pair of 1s, a pair of 9s, a pair of Winds and a pair of Dragons?

A. No. It just has to consist of pairs of any of the major tiles.

Honour tiles are also classified as major tiles.

Q. “All pair honours” can include 1s and 9s, but these tiles are not honour tiles. So why is this special hand given this name?

A. I assume that the name used for the “All pair honours” special hand is there by convention, rather than being strictly logical.

Answer from Gwyn Headley and Yvonne Seeley:

“The hand called “All pair honours” does indeed include 1s and 9s. I agree they are major tiles rather than honour tiles, but the traditional name for this hand has been used for a good long time and, by spelling out the use of Winds, Dragons, 1s and 9s, I don’t believe there is any confusion.”

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Knitting

Q. Can you have more than one set that uses the same tiles ?

A. Yes.

You can replicate a set as many times as you like, provided you are not using tiles from exposed pungs or kongs.

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Triple knitting

Q. Can you have duplicate triplets (i.e. two sets of three that use the same tiles) ?

A. Yes

Q. Can the odd pair needed for “Triple knitting” be the same tile (e.g. a pair of 9s)?

A. No. It must be a pair of the same number in different suits.

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Buried treasure

Q. Can you have a concealed chow in “Buried treasure”?

A. No

Q. Can you have a concealed kong in “Buried treasure”?

A. No

The hand would be valued in the normal fashion and would qualify for a double because it was concealed.

Q. Is the hand “Buried treasure” if the honour tiles are only in the pair?

A. Yes

Q. Is the hand “Buried treasure” if  the suit tiles are only in the pair?

A. Yes

Authors’ comment: “The main point about Buried Treasure is that it is concealed until the point of declaring Mah-Jong. All Winds and or Dragons is fine, as is the use of just a pair of suit tiles. What’s not allowed is the use of more that one suit.”

Q. If you wanted to make a pair to go Mah-Jong with “Buried treasure” what would happen if you claimed the required tile from a discard?

A. It would NOT destroy the “Buried treasure” hand

Q. Can you pung the last tile to go Mah-Jong with “Buried treasure”?

A. Yes

The last pung is thereby exposed, but it is allowed.

Q. If you have laid a concealed kong down (and so claimed an extra tile) would it be possible to discard the extra tile later in order to go Mah-Jong with “Buried treasure” or to try for this??

A. No

A “Buried treasure” hand has to be kept completely concealed until going Mah-Jong, so you can’t use the fourth tile in a set to create a kong – you have to discard this and retain the pung in your hand. By necessity, this is a pung only hand, plus a pair of course.

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Imperial jade

Q. My tiles don’t have the usual green coloration. What tiles qualify for Imperial Jade?

A. The “Green” tiles are the 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s and 8s of Bamboo and the Green Dragons.

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All Winds and Dragons

Q. Could “All Winds and Dragons” consist of all Winds and no Dragons?

A. You cannot form a Mah-Jong with just Winds as you need a pair to complete the hand.

Pungs/Kongs of all the Winds and no Dragons would be “Four blessings hovering over the door”.
Pungs/Kongs of all the Winds and a pair of Dragons could be “All Winds and Dragons” or even “Four blessings hovering over the door”. It would make no difference to the score.

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The wriggling snake

Q. Can I claim a chow to make part of “The wriggling snake”?

A. No. The only claim you can make is for the final tile that you require

This is one of those special hands that need to be kept concealed

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Heaven’s blessing

Q. Can “Heaven’s blessing” be one of the other special hands?

A. Yes, as well as a normal Mah-Jong hand

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Fishing

Q. If a player declares that he is “fishing”, can he subsequently include a tile in his hand which would mean he is no longer fishing?

A. Yes. He can decide to go for a higher scoring hand. But would then need to say that he is no longer fishing.

Q. If a player is fishing for a special hand, but is unable to realise that hand because the tile he wants is dead, would he still be able to claim the fishing points when another player goes Mah-Jong?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you have to say what you are fishing for?

A. No.

Q. Can you go Mah-Jong if you have NOT said you are fishing in a previous move?

A. Yes.

There are some penalties for not following the rules – described in Mah-Jong (Know the Game) – but none for failing to call “fishing”.
If you want to introduce a penalty for this offence, it should be agreed before you play.
I’ve generally been of the mind that penalties are best avoided and that one takes a generous view of genuine mistakes. So I would say that one should allow someone who hasn’t called “fishing” to go Mah-Jong, but with some tut-tutting.
The authors view on this: 

“We concur with Peter on this – discuss penalties if you want before play starts and, as long as one player is not a serial offender, make your feelings clear when they go out without a prior declaration!”

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Going Mah-Jong

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Numbers of tiles

Q. How can you go Mah-Jong with 4 sets of 3 and a pair (requiring 14 tiles) when you only have 13 tiles in your hand?

A. When you go Mah-Jong, the last tile you pick up, or claim, is not discarded

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Showing your tiles

Q. Is it true that only tiles which have been laid down count towards the score of players who haven’t gone Mah-Jong?

A. No. All concealed sets are counted, as well as concealed pairs (if they are Dragons or a Wind which is the prevailing Wind or an own Wind).

Q. How should you show a concealed pung?

A. The middle tile is shown face down

Q. How should you show a concealed kong?

A. The two end tiles are shown face down.

Q. How should you show a concealed pair?

A. Both tiles face up

Note: There is no need to distinguish between a concealed and exposed pair as it doesn’t affect the scoring

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And East Wind

Q. If you go Mah-Jong, do you then become East Wind?

A. No

If East Wind doesn’t go Mah-Jong, South Wind becomes East Wind. The other Winds change accordingly – West becomes South, North becomes West and East becomes North.

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Precedence

Q. If two people are trying to go Mah-Jong by claiming a discarded tile, who takes precedence?

A. The nearest player to the right of the discarder (i.e. going in an anti-clockwise direction)

Common misconception: “The player nearest to East Wind”

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Robbing the kong

Q. Can you rob the kong from an already exposed kong or a concealed kong?

A. No.

You can only “rob the kong” to go Mah-Jong when another player takes a tile from the wall and adds it to an exposed pung.

Q. Can I rob the kong for any Mah-Jong hand?

A. No. You can only rob the kong to make a chow or a special hand.

Q. Can I rob the kong to make a chow from any player?

A. Yes. The player discarding doesn’t have to be to your immediate left.

Q. When you rob the kong to create a half-limit special hand would it be double to 1,000 points?

A. No.

A reading of “MahJong: Know the Game” (page 26) might suggest this to be the case, but it is incorrect. This was confirmed by the authors: “the special hand with a maximum score of 500 points would not double to 1000 even if the player robbed a kong.”

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The goulash

Q. In the goulash, are you allowed to set aside (and replace) any Season or Flower tiles before the tile exchange?

A. Yes

Q. How do the rules of play differ for the goulash?

A. Tiles are exchanged before you start, wild tiles are used and no chows are allowed

See The Game, Variations of Play, The goulash

Q. What happens if we play the goulash and no-one goes Mah-Jong?

A. You keep on playing until someone wins

Note: It’s very unusual. But I have been told of one session where three goulashes were played before anyone won!

Q. What happens if East Wind has Mah-Jong hand before or during the swapping process?

A. He is able to declare Mah-Jong with the special hand of “Earth’s blessing”

Q. What happens if a player needs only one tile to go Mah-Jong before or during the swapping process?

A. He can declare that he is fishing and can withdraw from the exchanges

However, he must keep to his hand for the remainder of the game. The other players can (if they wish) continue with the exchanges.

Q. Can you clarify how the “no chows” rule for the goulash relates to special hands?

A. Chows are allowed in special hands when playing the goulash. There are two special hands that might contain a chow, namely Heaven’s blessing and Earth’s blessing

The wriggling snake and The gates of heaven contain sequences – not, strictly speaking, chows.

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Wild tiles

Q. What is a wild tile?

A. One that can stand for any other type of tile (except bonus tiles). They are only used when playing the goulash.

Q. What do wild tiles look like?

A. In some sets there are special joker tiles. These are the wild tiles. When there are no joker tiles the 2 Bamboos is used.

When you use the joker tiles you need to remove the 2 Bamboos from play.

Q. When an exposed pung/kong has a wild tile is one allowed to exchange the wild tile with what it is representing should it be picked from the wall at a later stage?

A. No

As a general rule, once a set has been exposed it cannot be touched or incorporated into another combination of tiles.

Q. Could the wild tiles in a goulash hand be used to duplicate a set?
For example, could you use 3 joker tiles to create a pung of East Winds (when, perhaps, you already have a pung of genuine East Wind tiles in your hand)?

A. No

Q. Can you use a wild tile in your hand to make an exposed pung into an exposed kong?

A. Yes

Though it is unlikely that you would want to do this during the game, you may want to do this if someone else has gone Mah-Jong.

Q. How many wild tiles can I use to make a chow?

A. One, unless you are picking up a wild tile to go Mah-Jong

Q. How many wild tiles can I use to make a pung?

A. One, unless you are picking up a wild tile to go Mah-Jong

You cannot use wild tiles to make two versions of the same pung.

Q. How many wild tiles can I use to make a kong?

A. One or two, unless you are picking up a wild tile to go Mah-Jong

You cannot use wild tiles to make two versions of the same kong.

Q. How many wild tiles can I use to make a pair?

A. One, unless you are picking up a wild tile to go Mah-Jong

Q. How can you use wild tiles in special hands?

A. In special hands that contain pungs or kongs the same (above) rules apply

For other types of special hands you can use as many wild tiles as you wish provided each wild tile stands for a different tile. This rules out using 2 wild tiles for the two 1s in “The wriggling snake”, unless you are picking it up to go Mah-Jong.

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Origin of “goulash”

Q. Where does the term “goulash” come from?

A. There doesn’t seem to be a definite answer to this.

One suggestion is that it comes from the culinary “goulash”, which involved a mixing up of ingredients that happened to be around. But it seems more likely that it comes from the goulash (or Ghoulie) used in Bridge where a lightly shuffled hand is dealt after a round has been played. The Ely Culbertson’s Contract Bridge Blue Book on “goulash”, describes a “Passing goulash” which can entail a three time swap of cards.
I am obliged to Stella McCowen (an Australian teacher of Mah-Jong) for asking this question and following up my suggestion that she contact Tom Sloper (the American Mah-Jong guru). He came up with the culinary explanation, but then received a comment from Ray H. suggesting the link to Bridge.

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