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Is Mahjong hard? How to learn the tricky game

Knowing whether to try playing Mahjong is often made difficult by the question, “Is Mahjong hard?” The answer to any such question is, naturally, somewhat subjective, and so it’s difficult to answer in an absolute way. In any case, the simple answer is that the game is relatively simple to pick up and learn, but can be difficult to master. Our guide will help you understand the challenges of the game when asking is this game hard.

Author: Jianyu Wang Li
Checked by: Felix Martins

Mahjong Tiles

Mahjong basics

When asking if the game is difficult, you have to start at the beginning. Let’s look at whether Mahjong is hard by covering the rules and objectives. This will help to answer if Mahjong is difficult to learn.

Rules and objectives in Mahjong

Mahjong is a tile-based game in which you must draw and discard tiles to and from your hand to build a legal winning hand. In terms of the basics, then, the answer to Mahjong difficulty is basically no. The rules are simple and can be picked up easily. “Is Mahjong hard to play” is a different question.

In part, it is the complex composition of a set that makes the question is this game hard a bit different.

Composition of a set

If you want to know if Mahjong not easy, consider the composition of a set:

1. Suited tiles

The suited tiles in a Mahjong set comprise most of the 144 tiles. The three suits are the bamboo, dots, and character tiles.

2. Honors tiles

The honors tiles are made up of the dragon tiles and the wind tiles. There are a total of 28 of these tiles, with 16 winds and 12 dragons.

3. Bonus tiles

Finally, there are a total of eight bonus tiles in a Mahjong set. These are the flower and seasons tiles. There are four flower tiles and four seasons tiles.

Tile typeDescriptionNumber of tiles

Suited tiles

Bamboo, stones/dots, characters


Honors tiles

Winds and dragons


Bonus tiles

Flowers and seasons


Challenges for beginners

Knowing the answer to “is Mahjong difficult” is naturally a question of your own level of experience. Let’s look at some challenges for beginners to see whether Mahjong is hard. Is Mahjong easy to learn?

Understanding the tiles — is it hard to learn Mahjong?

With so many tiles in a set, there are innumerable combinations to form hands. At first, this is doubtless the most daunting thing and certainly makes people ask is Mahjong hard. Playing many games is the best way to get over this difficulty—it will soon become second nature.

Gameplay and strategy — how hard is Mahjong?

While, as we’ll see, there’s an element of luck in the question of is Mahjong hard, strategy is still absolutely vital. You must always have a clear direction in mind for how you will win, and be able to adapt that strategy if it is not working. Again, this comes more easily with time and experience.

Skill and luck

While it is far from a game of chance, if you want to know is Mahjong hard to learn, you must understand the balance of luck and skill.

Role of chance

In any such game with randomly drawn tiles, you must answer the question “is Mahjong hard” by addressing this. You must have a strategy, but you can never be sure it is going to work out based on the draw you get.

Importance of strategy

If you want to know “is Mahjong difficult”, then, you’ve got to understand that you must balance the role of luck with your own strategy. Have a clear plan for how you want to win a round or a game, but recognize that chance will not always be on your side.


Ultimately, the answer to “is Mahjong hard” is subjective. Difficulty is always subjective to some degree. Mahjong is an old game which some people dedicate their lives to, and like anything, with experience it becomes much more natural. The only way, in the end, that you can answer “is Mahjong hard” is by playing it for yourself and taking the time to learn the game. Few things that are worthwhile are all that easy, after all.

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