Mahjong is a game that originated in China thousands of years ago and is played throughout Asia, with regional variations that differ from country to country. The history of mahjong dates back to around 500 BC, many people believe that Confucius, the great ancient Chinese philosopher, first developed the game.
Mahjong is played by hundreds of millions of people throughout Asia and has recently become more popular in other countries as well. The traditional style of Mahjong is played as a board game, with 144 tiles with traditional Chinese characters and symbols. Mahjong is a game of skill, strategy and luck. When played at a multi-player table, the game of Mahjong proceeds much like the card game Rummy - there is a dealer, and each player draws and discards tiles until they can form a "hand" that contains four sets of acceptably combined tiles plus a pair of tiles.
But for most people who play mahjong online, the question “What is mahjong?” is answered with: solitaire.
Mahjong can also be played online in solitaire form, also known as “Shanghai solitaire.” With mahjong solitaire, the objective is to match tiles into pairs, and gradually remove tiles from the board – each time a pair is formed, those tiles can be removed – but tiles can only be removed when each tile of the pair has a blank space to the left or right. This makes it more challenging for the player – the objective of mahjong solitaire is not only to find matching pairs of tiles as quickly as possible, but also to strategically remove tiles in a way that will “free up” the most tiles, without blocking future options to match pairs.
In mahjong solitaire, the 144 tiles are arranged in a special pattern of stacks known as “turtle formation.” All of the tiles face upwards – mahjong is not a “memory” game. The titles are fully visible, but the challenge comes from figuring out which tiles are available to be matched and removed. The only tiles that are “open” (or able to be matched and removed) are the ones that can be moved either left or right – so at first, the only tiles that can be matched are the ones at the outer edges of the “turtle” or in the upper stacks of the turtle.
The objective of Mahjong solitaire is to match all the tiles in pairs without losing the ability to make moves. The game is successful when the player can completely match all pairs of tiles – but not all Mahjong games can be solved. According to a mathematical analysis of Mahjong solitaire, out of 10 million possible configurations of the Mahjong turtle, approximately 2.95 - 2.96% of the turtles were unable to be solved.
Mahjong is a fun and mind-stimulating game of skill and chance – the reward is finding the right tiles and it requires visual acuity and strategic sense to spot the patterns in unique tile arrangements.
Mahjong has come a long way, from ancient China, through the tables of city parks and living rooms across Asia, to the Internet of the 21st century. As more people around the world become interested in Asian culture, Mahjong will likely continue to grow in popularity.