Desktop/laptop users: please click here if you do not see a Nav Frame at left
 Mobile users: click here to display only this frame.

FAQ #21. How To Run A Mah-Jongg Tournament

: I want to run a mah-jongg tournament. Where do I start and what do I need to do?

: Let me state that I have never run a tournament myself. But I've participated in several of them. Have you ever been to a mah-jongg tournament? If you have, you've got a head start. If you haven't (if you live in the American heartland, or a country where tournaments aren't common), then I hope I can give you a few clues from my observations.

No matter what kind of mah-jongg you play (or, if you aren't a player yourself, what kind of mah-jongg the tournament attendees play), the basics of running a tournament are pretty much the same. The following is written based on a one-day tournament (one that begins in the morning and ends that afternoon), but you can apply the same principles to a multi-day tournament. The longest tournaments I've attended have been 3-day events. Anything beyond that is probably overkill.

For starters: you have to find a location, with enough tables, tablecloths, and chairs. And of course you need mah-jongg sets. What a lot of American tournament organizers do is have players bring sets. It's probable that at least 25% of the players own (and can bring) a mah-jongg set. If you want players to bring sets, make sure that their promise to bring a set is included in their application to join the tournament. Make sure to plan to have extra sets, because sometimes a player who'd promised to bring one forgets!

If your tournament uses American rules, you may need to have extra NMJL cards available (inevitably, somebody forgets hers). If your tournament uses Japanese rules, you probably need to arrange to have enough special automatic tables that shuffle the tiles.

You will need to reach enough players to make it an exciting event, so you'll need to think about how to advertise to them (maybe FAQ 15 will be helpful in reaching them).

And every attendee of the tournament must play the same kind of mah-jongg (it wouldn't do to have some people playing by American rules, and others playing Chinese Official rules, etc. - that would be a disaster!). So make sure that in your advertising efforts, you make it clear which mah-jongg rules will be used in the tournament.

You'll need to think about what prizes to offer, how much it will cost to run the tournament, how much you want to raise, thus how much to charge players for the event.

I assume you yourself play mah-jongg (if not, you need to bring in at least two experienced players to act as judges to rule on those annoying little things that are bound to come up).

Make sure you have a copy of the printed rules on hand.

Tournament rules are pretty simple. Score points rather than coins or chips. With points, a winner's payment can come from thin air (rather than from other players' purses).

You will need to make score cards - one person at each table should be table scorekeeper, and each player must initial her score to verify that it's accurate. You also need a tournament scorekeeper, who collects the score cards and determines tournament scores by simply adding them all up, then sorting from highest to lowest. This is a function done easily in a spreadsheet program like Excel. But don't think you can just download an Excel file somewhere - the tournament organizers listed in FAQ 4a had to create their own. You'll have to create your own too, just like everybody else.

You need an East marker on the east wall of the room, and you need to number the tables. You should also mark the other walls of the room. Chinese and Japanese tournaments have S to the right of E, but Americans are confused by that, so they typically label the room walls according to the actual compass instead (putting N to the right of E).

You also need to come up with a table/seat-rotation mechanism. The table rotation used by Bill and Judi Nachenberg (pictured here - their website is is that East stays stationary (she sits at the same seat and the same table throughout the day's games) - South moves down 1 table each round - North moves up 1 table - West moves up 2 tables. A player who goes beyond the highest-number table goes down to the lowest-number table (just as the Ace is both lower than the Deuce and higher than the King in a deck of cards).

Wikipedia has a nice description of how a round-robin tournament should be rotated. See See emails below for more information about how to make a round-robin rotation that minimizes player placement repetitions, especially for small groups (groups smaller than, oh, say 16 tables). No matter what solution you use for your table rotations, you have to thicken your skin and let complaints bounce off you.

Under Bill & Judi's rotation mechanism, East is more a permanent seat location than a permanent player designation. At the beginning of the round, the player in the East seat deals first. After that game is finished, the dice pass around the table as is normally done. When the dice come back to the East seat again, the round has been completed (she doesn't deal again with that group of players).

In a Chinese Official tournament, you'll want a seat rotation policy as well as a table rotation policy. After the deal has moved back around the table to the East seat, E switches with N, W with S - then after the next round, E switches with S, and before the final round E switches with W... (for example).

Each player has to be assigned a starting seat and table upon arrival (usually on a name badge, either stuck on or pinned on or hanging on a neck lanyard). Give each player an individual rule sheet, self-scoring sheet, and pencil.

Plan the tournament's schedule.

Allow time off for lunch in the middle of the tournament, and allow time at the beginning for announcements and rule-setting. Allow time at the end for the awards ceremony. Random door prizes (picked from a fishbowl) help keep people from leaving before the prizes/awards are given out.

Speaking of time: If you'll be using a computer projection system and laptop, and if your play sessions have to stop when time runs out, Stephan Hilchenbach has created a useful countdown timer which can be downloaded at

You may also want an audio amplification system if the crowd is large enough.

Hopefully, this FAQ has given you a starting list. You and your organizing committee can now sit down and brainstorm the details. If you have questions, you can always ask on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board. Like this, for instance...

© 2004-2016 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.

See who's visiting this page. View Page Stats
See who's visiting this page.