Riichi is played with a set of rectangular tiles. Below you find a list of the tiles used in the game. Each of the tiles shown, occurs four times in a complete mahjong set, except for the bonus tiles of which there are only one copy of each type.
Riichi is played as a series of hands. The objective of each hand is to collect tiles to get at least one yaku, which is achieved through form one of the scoring patterns described later. A mahjong hand normally consists of four sets of the form detailed below plus a pair of tiles.
A set consist of either three identical tiles (called a pon),
or four identical tiles (called a kan),
or three Suit tiles in numerical sequence and of the same suit (called a chii).
A pon or a kan must be made up of identical tiles. Note also that a chii must consist of exactly three tiles, no more and no less, and of the same suit.
The pair may be any pair, as long as it consists of two identical tiles.
Note that there are also two special mahjong hands: Seven Pairs and Thirteen Orphans, which do not conform to the “four sets, one pair” rule above! Go to the Special Hands section to see a description of these special hands.
In riichi, the four players sit at a table facing each other, as when playing bridge or whist. Unlike in these card games, however, riichi players do NOT play in teams: rather, it is every player for himself.
Each deal begins by shuffling and arranging the 136 tiles in a square 2×17 tiles long on every side, called “the Wall”. Then each player draws (according to a certain ritual) 13 tiles each; the exception is the player in the East seat, who draws 14 tiles. (Here, this entire process is taken care of by the software.)
The players, starting with East who must first discard one of his/her tiles, now in counterclockwise order take turns to draw tiles: either the last one discarded by a previous player (provided certain conditions are met), or the next available one from the Wall. After drawing, that same player must immediately discard a tile, after which it is the next player’s turn.
While drawing and discarding, each player tries to exchange and arrange his/her tiles so as to form them into a mahjong hand. The first player to accomplish this declares mahjong, upon which the game immediately stops. Note that a player declaring mahjong and thereby going out, does not discard a tile in that same turn.
The winning player is then paid by the player who throws the winning tile, or by all the players if the the winner draws the winning tile from the wall: the more valuable the hand, the more points he/she gets. Then all the tiles are shuffled together again and another deal begins.
Riichi is also playable with two or three players instead of four (though the game works best with four), following the same principles as above.
As soon as you choose a table here, the software will take you to it and randomly assign you a seat. If you enter a tournament, the software will assign you both a table and a seat at it.
Each player’s seat is designated by a name, the same as for the cardinal directions. Going counterclockwise, the seats are referred to as East-South-West-North. Note that this order is the customary one among the Chinese, from where the game of mahjong and also riichi originates. It is NOT the same as on a compass!
As soon as a new deal begins, the 136 tiles are shuffled and then arranged in a square: each side is 17 tiles long, and 2 tiles high. This arrangement is called “the Wall”.
With the help of dice, the spot where you “break the Wall” and start drawing tiles is randomly chosen. The fourteen tiles counterclockwise from this position are reserved as the “dead wall”. The remaining tiles are called the “live wall”. All this is automatically handled by the software.
After the wall has been arranged, the third tile of the dead wall is turned over. This tile is called the dora indicator, and points out which tile is dora during this hand. The dora is a bonus tile, and for each dora tile in the winning hand, one fan is rewarded. A fan has the same value as a yaku, but doesn’t make it possible to go out.
If the dora indicator is a suit tile, the dora will be the next higher tile in the same suit; the number wraps around so if the dora indicator is a nine, the dora will be a one in the same suit.
If the dora indicator is a wind tile, the dora is the next wind in the sequence: east, south, west, north.
If the dora indicator is a dragon, the dora is the next dragon in the sequence: red, white, green.
Starting with East taking the first 4 tiles, each player eventually draws 13 tiles from the live wall; the exception is the player in the East seat, who draws 14 tiles. Again, here the entire process is automatically taken care of by the software.
When the tiles are dealt, you will see your own tiles face up on the screen, while those of the other players are seen standing on edge and are hidden from you.
During the game you will draw “normal” tiles from the live wall in clockwise fashion. Replacement tiles for kans are drawn from the dead wall. The dead wall is always kept at the size of 14 tiles.
Play stops when the live wall is exhausted and only 14 tiles in the dead wall remains. This is called a “washout” or a “exhaustive draw” (see below).
The East player always takes the first turn, by discarding any of the 14 tiles in his hand, face up within the area of the Wall. If none of the other players claims this tile, South now draws the next tile from the Wall and then discards any of his tiles in the same manner, followed by West, North, East again, and so on in counterclockwise order around the table, drawing and discarding each time in turn.
Note that the tiles from the Wall are drawn in clockwise fashion, while the turn order among the players goes counterclockwise!
The only time that you do not draw a tile from the Wall during your turn, is when you instead claim another player’s recently discarded tile.
If any of the other players discards a tile which you need to complete a pon (three identical tiles), you may say “Pon!” and then pick up this tile. Any player/-s sitting between you and he/she who discarded the tile, are skipped over in turn order.
You must then at once, during that same turn, expose and put on the table (face up) the set you claimed for. After this you as usual discard a tile, and the turn then passes to the next player counterclockwise.
Example: North has two White Dragons in hand, when East discards another White Dragon. North immediately shouts “Pon!”, picks up the tile, and exposes and places his three White Dragons as a set beside him on the table. Then North discards one of the tiles in his hand, and it is East’s turn again. Note that South and West were skipped over in the turn sequence!
If no player claims a newly discarded tile, it is considered “dead”, remains face up on the table, and may NOT be claimed at a later point in the game.
The claimed tile is put sideways in the exposed set, so as to show which of the other players discarded it.
Claiming a tile for a kan (four identical tiles) is performed exactly as when claiming a tile for a pon – see above. The only difference is that the player claiming and exposing the kan must then immediately draw a replacement tile from the Dead Wall, before discarding one of the tiles in hand. (This replacement is done for mathematical reasons: if you do not draw a replacement tile after putting down a kan, it is impossible to form four sets and a pair with the tiles you have in hand!)
Example: North has three tiles of the Four of Bamboos in hand, when West discards another Four of Bamboos. North immediately shouts “Kan!”, picks up the discarded tile, exposes and puts down her set of four identical tiles, draws a replacement tile, and finally discards one of her tiles, after which it is East’s turn. Note that in this example, none of the other players were skipped over in the turn sequence.
As when claiming a tile for a pon, the claimed tile is put sideways in the exposed set, so as to show which of the other players discarded it.
Each time a player declares a kan, an additional dora indicator is turned over in the dead wall. These extra dora are called kan dora.
Only four kans are allowed during a single hand. If all of them are declared by the same player, the game continues, but no further kans can be declared. However, if more than one player have declared kan, the hand is ended as an abortive draw.
Claiming a tile for a chii may ONLY be done by the next player in turn. South may only claim such a tile if it is discarded by East; West may only claim such a tile if it is discarded by South; and so on around the table. Apart from this, the procedure is the same as when claiming a tile for a pon.
Example: South discards the Eight of Characters. West, who is next in turn, happens to have both the Six and the Seven of Characters and therefore immediately shouts “Chii!” and picks up the discarded tile. He exposes his set, puts it on the table, and discards one of his tiles in hand. Now it is North’s turn.
As when claiming a tile for a chii, the claimed tile is put sideways in the exposed set, so as to show which of the other players discarded it.
This may only be done on one condition: that the player claiming the tile thereby immediately can finish his mahjong hand and go out. Under no other circumstances may a player claim a discard to complete the pair (any pair) needed in a mahjong hand.
Note: you are NEVER forced to claim a suitable tile! Instead, you may if you wish just draw the next tile from the Wall, even if you could have claimed the previous discard.
What happens if two players both claim the same tile? Then the claim priority rules come into effect:
Claiming a tile for a pon or a kan has priority over claiming for a chii.
Claiming a tile for mahjong has priority over any other claim.
If two or three players both claim the same tile for mahjong, all of these players will be awarded with points for their mahjongs.
When playing at this site, any claiming options on your turn are clearly indicated on the screen by the software – just click to claim, within the set time limit.
If you do not claim a possible tile before the next player in turn draws a tile from the Wall, you have forfeited your opportunity and may not claim the discarded tile later in the game; this is also the custom in a live game!
If drawing a tile from the Wall completes a pon in your hand, or a chii, or if you are dealt such a set at the start of the game, it is considered concealed and you do NOT need to declare this set before you go out by achieving your mahjong hand: when this occurs, such sets are shown but still considered concealed. Keeping your opponents from knowing whatever combinations of tiles you have in hand during play is a tactical advantage!
Any tiles in concealed sets in hand may of course be rearranged in new combinations, whenever you wish. However, exposed sets may never be touched.
If you already have a concealed pon (three identical tiles) in hand, and draw the fourth identical tile from the Wall, you have a concealed kan. You declare this set by putting it on the table in that same turn. You must then immediately draw a replacement tile from the Dead Wall, after which you as usual discard a tile. It is then the next player’s turn.
If you are dealt a concealed kan at the start of the game, you also declare it in the same way, and draw a replacement tile.
Note that you are not required to declare a concealed kan! You may if you wish keep your concealed pon, and use the fourth identical tile in a chii set instead.
If you have previously claimed a tile to complete a pon, having the exposed pon beside you on the table, and you later yourself draw the fourth identical tile from the Wall, you may add this tile to your exposed pon: this turns it into an exposed kan instead.
Note that you may NOT claim this fourth tile to an already exposed pon, if it is discarded by another player!
When drawing and adding the fourth identical tile, you must as with any declared kan draw a replacement tile from the Dead Wall before discarding.
If another player extends a pon to a kan, with a tile that you need to go mahjong, it is possible to steal that fourth tile, just as if it was discarded. This is called robbing the kan, and not only let you go out, but also gives you an extra yaku. You can only rob a kan if you go out directly on that tile.
When you only need one more tile for a complete mahjong hand, you are said to be waiting, or tenpai. If you are waiting with a concealed hand, you can declare riichi, which will award you one yaku if you manage to go out with mahjong.
You declare riichi by saying “Riichi!” and discarding a tile that leaves you with a waiting hand. The discarded tile is placed sideways and you have to put a 1000-point stick at the table. After you have declared riichi, you may no longer change your hand. Each tile you draw must immediately be discarded until you go mahjong.
Besides the yaku you gain from having declared riichi, you will also be rewarded with additional dora tiles, called ura-dora. Each of the tiles beneath a dora or kan-dora tile in the dead wall, will be revealed after you’ve gone out, and for each of the tiles in your hand pointed out by these ura-dora indicators you will receive another fan.
If you draw the last tile you need to complete your mahjong hand from the wall, you say “Tsumo!”. Show the tiles you have in hand, taking care to mark concealed sets.
You may also claim the last tile you need to complete your mahjong hand, regardless of whether for a pon, a chii, or the pair, and regardless of which of the other players discards it. If you claim a tile from your opponent to go mahjong you call out “Ron!”.
As soon as a player calls out “Tsumo” or “Ron”, play immediately stops after that player has shown his or her hand.
Note that when going out with a mahjong hand, you draw or claim a tile – but this is the only time you do NOT discard a tile during your move!
Now the scoring begins, for the winning hand – see the Scoring section for information on this.
If you are one tile short of forming a mahjong hand, the tiles that can complete the hand is called your waiting pattern. The rule of furiten, or sacred discards, says that you may not go mahjong on a discard from another player, if you have earlier discarded a tile in your waiting pattern. The only ways to go mahjong when you are furiten is to either go out on self-draw from the wall, or change your hand so that your waiting pattern no longer includes any of your discards. Note that scorring patterns are not taken into account when determining your waiting pattern.
As an example of a furiten situation, consider the following hand:
and let us say that you have earlier discarded a Bamboo 4. Then you are furiten because the waiting pattern is Bamboo 1 and 4, and you have discarded the Bamboo 4. Note also that this is true even if only a Bamboo 1 will let you go out (with an outside hand), since yakus are not taken into account when determining furiten.
There is also a related concept called temporary furiten, which states that if a player discards a tile that you can go mahjong with, and you choose not to, you are temporary furiten. This means that you have forsaken your chance of going mahjong on a discard until your next turn.
After you have declared riichi, the rule of temporary furiten works a bit differently. Since you can no longer change your hand, you will stay “temporary” furiten for the rest of the hand if you decline a discard that lets you go mahjong. Just like for normal furiten, you are still allowed to go out with a self-drawn tile.
Play continues until a player goes out, or until no tiles remain in the live wall, i.e., only the 14 tiles of the dead wall remains. If the last allowable tile is drawn from the live Wall and no player goes out on either this tile or the discard from the player who drew the last available tile, it is known as an “exhaustive draw”.
In an exhaustive draw, each player that is only waiting for one additional tile, is said to be “tenpai” (waiting). The remaining players are said to be “noten”. If any players are tenpai, they are awarded a total of 3000 points distributed evenly among them, which is paid together by the noten players. In three and two player games, the point pool is reduced to 2000 and 1000 points respectively.
In addition to exhaustive draw, the game can also be aborted at an earlier stage if any of the following conditions are met:
Four kans have been declared, and they are not declared by the same player, and noone can go mahjong on the discard of the player claiming the fourth kan.
All players discard the same wind tile in the first uninterrupted go-around.
All players have declared riichi, and no player was able to mahjong on the discard of the last player.
After an abortive draw east puts a dealer-repeat counter on the table, in form of a 100-points stick, and a new hand is dealt, with the players continue playing with the same wind. No points are paid between the players.
In single hand games, the seating positions are rotated one step counterclockwise after each hand: the East player now becomes North, the South player becomes East, and so on. This is the case even if the hand was an exhaustive draw or an abortive draw, and regardless of who won.
For multi-hand games, i.e., full game and multi-table tournaments, the dealer rotation is more complex:
If east wins or is tenpai, that player continues in the east position for the next hand.
If the hand ends with an abortive draw, the deal is repeated with the same seating.
Otherwise, the deal is rotated.
Each time a hand is ended and no dealer rotation occurs, a 100-point stick is placed on the table. For each such stick, an extra bonus of 300 points is paid to the winner. If the winner goes out on a discart, the bonus is paid by the discarding players, otherwise, each of the loosing players pay 100 points each.