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How to Bet in American Mah Jongg

Abby Slutsky has been playing Mah Jongg for more than 25 years and has been teaching it for 12 years. She has also organized tournaments.

Get your change ready before you play.

Get your change ready before you play.

Why Bet When You Play Mah Jongg With American Rules?

Many new Mah Jongg players are reluctant to bet. They either do not know how Mah Jongg betting works or feel they are not experienced enough to bet. If they learned to play during the Covid-19 era, they may not have bothered to learn about betting because they were playing online.

As more individuals get vaccinated, they may want to meet with their existing Mah Jongg groups and learn how to bet, because betting will naturally help elevate their level of play. They will not want to lose money, even if it is only a small amount. Betting reinforces that it is important to play defensively.

Initially, novice players focus on trying to get one of the sequences on the card to win. When players bet, they are more likely to break up their hands to avoid throwing a tile they think someone needs for Mah Jongg. If no one wins, you will have the satisfaction of keeping your money. Therefore, betting reminds the novice player that not winning in Mah Jongg is not the same as losing.

Most Common Outcomes of Betting

ResultYour PaymentPayment of Others

You throw the Mah Jongg tile.

You pay the winner double.

Other players pay face value.

Another player throws the Mah Jongg tile.

You pay the winner face value.

The Mah Jongg discarder pays double. All other players pay face value.

There is a wall game (no one wins).

You pay nothing.

Other players pay nothing.

Necessary Knowledge for Understanding Betting

The best way to learn how to bet is to understand the topics listed below:

  1. Preparing to Bet
  2. Payment Amounts
  3. Double Payments
  4. Lose, but No Need to Pay Situations
  5. Fifth Player Betting
  6. Wall Game Table Rules

1. Preparing to Bet

If you decide to bet, ask your Mah Jongg group the dollar amount they want to bet each week. Many groups bet a maximum of $5.00. For the most part, if you deplete your money, you will not pay any additional cash. Plan on bringing your Mah Jongg money in coins. Many players keep a small change purse for their Mah Jongg money. In fact, I keep my purse with my Mah Jongg card, change, and glasses in my car. This prevents change from getting all over my car, and I am Mah Jongg ready at a moments notice.

When choosing a Mah Jongg purse look for roomy pockets. It is nice to have one that has more than one pocket, so you can keep your winnings in one pocket and your betting money in the other. One of the first Mah jongg purses I owned was the Three Zipper Mah Jongg Purse made by Mah Jongg Direct. Another nice aspect of this purse is that it is deep enough to hold a Mah Jongg card and reading glasses, so (except for the set) you can store everything you need to play in one purse. The exterior is easy to clean too.

2. Payment Amounts

Look at your Mah Jongg card, and you will notice that there is a value next to each sequence. The value is based on the difficulty of the hand. The easiest sequences will earn the winner $0.25, and more challenging hands will have higher payouts. Pairs and quints tend to be the highest paying sequences.

If you decide to increase the betting stakes, it is common to double or triple the hand values. However, beginners usually start with low stakes.

Winning this hand earns you twice as much money.

Winning this hand earns you twice as much money.

3. Situations When You Pay or Win Double

At the beginning of the Mah Jongg game, the dealer rolls the dice. If he rolls doubles, the winner receives double the value of the winning hand from every player. In this situation, everyone is aware at the beginning of the hand that they will pay double if someone wins. This should alert you to play more defensively than usual.

If the dealer does not roll doubles, the player who discards the Mah Jongg tile is the only person who pays the winner double. All others pay the designated value printed on the card. Keep in mind that if the dealer rolls doubles, and you throw the Mah Jongg tile, the amount you owe is doubled twice. So, if you throw Mah Jongg allowing a player to win a $0.25 hand, you will pay $1.00 ($0.25 x 2 for the doubles roll and $0.50 x 2 for throwing Mah Jongg).

Everyone knows the hands being played with these exposures. Throw Mah Jongg, and you will pay for everyone at the table.

Everyone knows the hands being played with these exposures. Throw Mah Jongg, and you will pay for everyone at the table.

4. Lose, but No Need to Pay Situations

When players expose hands, which they must do when they complete part of their sequence with a discarded tile, you will be able to narrow down which hands they are playing. If a player has three exposures on their rack, or two exposures if they are playing a quints hand, all players should be able to identify that hand. Therefore, if someone throws a Mah Jongg tile in this situation, he must pay for all players at the table. This happens rarely, and most groups play that this is the only time that the discarder must pay for the table with extra money beyond the designated dollar amount the group has agreed upon.

Additionally, If you run out of money while playing, you are not required to pay the winner. The one exception is if you are the one who throws a Mah Jongg tile when someone has three or more exposures, as mentioned above.

5. Fifth Player Betting

Although most Mah Jongg groups have four players, some people like to have five in their group. If you have some unreliable players, a fifth player ensures that your game is consistent. When playing with a fifth player, one person usually rotates out after he is the dealer.

When he is not playing, the fifth person looks at the other players’ hands during the Charelston and bets on the player he believes will win. He also may bet on the wall if he believes that no one will win. In the games that I play in, the fifth person writes down the name of the person he thinks will win or the word "wall" and does not reveal his bet untill the hand is over.

If the fifth person’s bet is correct, he will receive the same amount of money earned by the winner. A winning wall game bet earns the same payout as the lowest valued hands on the card. If the dealer rolled doubles, the fifth player receives double the amount from each player.

6. Wall Game Table Rules

Only a fifth person can win cash on a wall game. However, some groups have table rules requiring all players to contribute money when a wall game occurs. Most players collect $0.25 per wall game form each player or $0.50 if they are playing a doubles hand.

If you decide to collect wall money, your group can use it for a variety of purposes. Some groups use the wall game money to provide money to a winner if another player loses all his money and cannot pay. Other groups choose to accumulate the wall game money to donate at the end of the year or to help fund an end-of-the-year meal.

© 2020 Abby Slutsky

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