Mahjong, sometimes spelled Mah Jongg, is a game that originated in China, commonly played by four players with some three-player variations found in Korea and Japan. The four player table version should not be confused with the popular Western single player tile matching computer game Mahjong solitaire, which is a recent invention and completely different from the table game. Similar to the Western card game rummy, mahjong is a game of skill, strategy and calculation and involves a certain degree of chance. In Asia, mahjong is also popularly played as a gambling game though it may just as easily be played recreationally.

The game is played with a set of 136 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, although some regional variations use a different number of tiles. In most variations, each player begins by receiving thirteen tiles. In turn players draw and discard tiles until they complete a legal hand using the fourteenth drawn tile to form four groups melds and a pair head. There are fairly standard rules about how a piece is drawn, stolen from another player melded, the use of basic numbered tiles and honours winds and dragons, the kinds of melds, and the order of dealing and play. However there are many regional variations in the rules; in addition, the scoring system, the minimum hand necessary to win varies significantly based on the local rules being used.

All tiles are placed face down on the table and are shuffled. By convention all players should participate in shuffling using both hands moving the pieces around the table, loudly, for a lengthy period. There is no fixed rule on how to deal or how to treat tiles which flip over during shuffle, though possible solutions include turning back over the pieces at the moment they are seen, turning over all revealed pieces at intervals or doing so at the end of the shuffling and forming of the wall.

Each player then stacks a row of 18 tiles two tiles high in front of him for a total of 36 tiles. Players then push each side of their tiles together to form a square wall.

The dealer throws three dice and sums up the total. Counting counterclockwise so that the dealer is 1 or 5, 9, 13, 17, so that south is 2 or 6, 10, 14, 18, etc., a player’s quarter of the wall is chosen. Using the same total on the dice, the player then counts the stacks of tiles from right to left. Starting from the left of the stacks counted, the dealer takes four tiles to himself, and players in counterclockwise order take blocks of four tiles until all players have 12 tiles, so that the stacks decrease clockwise. Each player then takes one last tile to make a 13-tile hand. Dealing does not have to be this formal and may be done quite differently based on house rules.

Each player now sets aside any flowers or seasons they may have drawn and takes replacement pieces from the wall.

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The dealer takes the next piece from the wall, adds it to his hand. If this does not complete a legal hand, he then discards a piece throwing it into the middle of the wall with no particular order in mind.

Local play on the street in Lanzhou

Each player takes a turn picking up a tile from the wall and then discarding a tile by throwing it into the centre and, if desired, announcing out loud what the piece is. Play continues this way until one player has a legal hand. At this point a player will call out mahjong and reveal their hand. There are four different ways that this order of play can be interrupted which is mentioned below.

During play, the number of tiles maintained by each player should always be thirteen tiles meaning in each turn a tile must be picked up and another discarded. Not included in the count of thirteen tiles are flowers and seasons set to the side and the fourth added piece of a kong mentioned below. If a player is seen to have more or less than thirteen tiles in their hand outside of their turn they are penalised.

Gambling is the wagering of money or something of material value as the stakes on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning additional money and or material goods. Typically, the outcome of the wager is evident within a short period. Gaming refers to instances in which the law permits the type of gambling. Gaming and gambling are not mutually exclusive. A gaming company offers legal gambling activities to the public and a gaming control board may regulate the gaming company, like the Nevada Gaming Control Board. However, the English-speaking world does not acknowledge this distinction often. For instance, in the UK, the regulator of gambling activities is called the Gambling Commission not the Gaming Commission. In addition, the word gaming describes activities that do not involve wagering, especially online. Gambling is also a major international commercial activity, with the legal gambling market totaling an estimated $335 billion in 2009. Under United States federal law, gambling is legal in the country and states are free to regulate or prohibit the practice. Gambling has been legal in Nevada since 1931, forming the backbone of the economy of the state. The city of Las Vegas is perhaps the best known gambling destination in the world. In 1976, gambling became legal in Atlantic City, New Jersey and in 1990, under state law, gambling became permissible in Tunica, Mississippi; both of those cities have developed extensive casino and resort areas since then. Since a favorable United State Supreme Court decision in 1987, many American Indian tribes have built their own casinos on tribal lands as a way to provide revenue for the tribe. Because the tribes are sovereign nations, they are often exempt from state laws that restrict gambling and are instead regulated under federal law.

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