By Neal Taparia - 12/14/2022
You’ve probably heard of Mahjong (or Mah-Jongg), the four-player tile-based game developed in China in the 19th century that has grown in popularity worldwide. Today, you can play several variants to Mahjong, like Hong Kong Mahjong and American Mah Jongg.
However, you don’t have to be a member of the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) or gather a group of friends to play Mahjong because you can play this tile game on your own with Mahjong. The four-person version requires a lot of time, the right equipment, intricate Mahjong rules, and understanding all the special hands, but Mahjong Solitaire keeps it simple yet challenging with an easily accessible online format—no equipment needed.
With the traditional version, each player discards tiles, trying to create a good hand. Then play begins, where a player’s hand is kept private while everyone tries to match tiles in melds or sets of identical tiles, such as three (a pung) or four (a kong), as well as other combinations like three in a row (a chow).
Unlike the traditional version, where you try to match several tiles in different combinations, you simply match two identical tiles in Mahjong Solitaire. Making a match removes the tiles from the Mahjong table, and you keep matching until all tiles are matched and have been removed. While that may seem easy, you can only match tiles that are open on the left or the right, so you have to work outward to inward.
In this guide, we break down what Mahjong Solitaire is, provide some Mahjong tips, and offer the best strategies to increase your chances of winning.
Both the Mahjong rules and the tiles keep it simple in Mahjong Solitaire. Although both versions use the same number of tiles for a complete set (144), the Solitaire version doesn’t assign different values to tiles. For example, the white dragon is zero points on traditional mahjongg tiles and some versions even use jokers, but the single-player version simply has five suits of tiles (stones, characters, bamboos, honor, and bonus). All tiles are equal, and since you’re just matching identical tiles, taking time to scout out their locations can help you start the game off right.
Mahjong players begin by memorizing where all the exposed tiles are and by checking out where other matching tiles might be located in a few moves. For example, if you remember where the wind tiles are, you can strategize on moves to unlock each of them. Because some tiles may look similar to others, make sure you know which tiles you can match and which you can’t.
Try to match identical Mahjong tiles in the high piles and horizontal rows. You can't match tiles that have tiles to the left or right of them, meaning you must work outwards to inwards. Gradually, you should be able to free tiles that are stacked, which allows you to match more tiles.
You won't be able to see beneath high piles, so it helps to start working on those right away, along with the long rows. Revealing tile options early in the Mahjong game will help you know what is available to match. It's a good idea to match tiles on high piles and horizontal rows at an even pace because if all the tiles are on the same level, or in long rows, you might get stuck.
After matching a tile, you are then able to free up a tile either next to it or below it, which exposes it for future matches. Just remember that when you expose a tile underneath, it still needs to be on an end to be matched. As a result, you need to think ahead so that you match tiles with the next move in mind so that you don’t run out of moves. Any time it is possible, you should be exposing hidden tiles that will give you a move for the next play.
Just because a match is available doesn’t mean you should take it. If you match two tiles that don’t give you future moves, this could actually be a negative move that could cause you to become stuck. If that happens, you’ll either have to hit the undo button to add the discarded tiles back or do a full reshuffle.
Since you can see parts of tiles stacked under other ones, you can see matching tiles that might be stacked. Prioritize getting to tiles that are stacked on high piles as the game progresses so that you can match them. For instance, if you spot a flower tile that is open and then see another flower tile peeking out underneath a tile, work toward revealing that second flower tile.
Keep an even pace as you match stacked tiles and horizontal rows so you avoid locking the game. If you get to the end of the game, and the winning tile for a two-of-a-kind match remains stacked under another, you will lose because you cannot match two stacked tiles together.
Often you will be presented with multiple matching options and will need to make a choice. You should examine these options carefully, as they are pivotal moments in the game. Think ahead a move or two to determine which match is most likely to further open up new tiles.
For example, you could prioritize two tiles that are on stacks, or you could prioritize matching two tiles in such a way that will enable another match in the next move. The goal is to keep the play moving. Keep in mind that in the digital version of the game, it may be hard to determine which tiles of the same pattern are stacked.
If you’re playing the online version and get stuck, you have a couple of options: You can undo, or reshuffle. If you made a move or a few moves that got you stuck, hit the undo button until you get back to a point where you can try a different approach. You can reshuffle the playing area if you just want to see the tiles in different locations to help you get unstuck.
For beginners and experienced players alike, when you understand Mahjong Solitaire strategies, gameplay is a lot more fun and less random. Although the best strategy to use changes with each move, you can employ various Mahjong strategies, and with time, repetition, and practice, you can learn to master the game.
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