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The first thing done at the beginning of a player's turn is to draw a tile from the wall.
If a flower or season tile is drawn, it is immediately placed face up on the table or rack, and a replacement is taken from the loose tiles at the end of the wall, just as was done during the initial deal.
After drawing the tile, a player considers what tiles will be needed to complete a Mahjong or other winning hand, and chooses a tile to discard. Discarded tiles are placed in the middle of the table, in the space surrounded by the wall.
The object is to select tiles in the following combinations:
When a player has a hand consisting of five of any of the above sets of tiles, plus a pair of any tile, he or she calls out húle (húle), meaning "I'm finished", and has won the hand.
An example Mahjong hand containing four triples, a run of three, and a pair:
Since it is required that a hand always consist of 16 tiles, a four-of-a-kind would potentially violate that rule (since you need five combinations of tiles plus a pair to win). To compensate for this, when you draw a tile which is identical to three others already in your hand, and you wish to score those four tiles as a gàng (four-of-a-kind), which would be wise, then you must lay the four tiles face-down on the table surface together, to show to the other players that you have a gàng, and therefore are allowed to have that extra tile in your hand.
Since the tiles are placed face-down, this is called a "hidden gàng" (àngàng).
Further, to keep to the 16-tile-per-hand rule, the fourth tile in the gàng doesn't count when figuring how many tiles you have in your hand. Therefore, the fourth tile is stacked on top of the others.
Once you have placed the hidden gàng on the table, draw another tile from the end of the wall and proceed to play in the normal manner (i.e., the fourth tile in a gàng doesn't even count as if you played it and you get to draw another tile).
If you do not do any of the above, then the four tiles will not count as a gàng when you score your hand; rather, they will be a three-of-a-kind and an extra tile.
When a player has discarded an unwanted tile at the end of his turn, that tile just discarded is up for grabs for another player who needs that specific tile to complete one of the combinations listed above.
In any of these cases, the combination so formed must be placed face-up on the table surface, so the other players see that the piece was legitimately taken to complete the sequence.
In the case of a chi, the piece "eaten" from the other player is traditionally placed in the middle of the three tiles, regardless of its numeric value in the sequence.
In the case of a gàng, the four tiles are placed on the table exactly as outlined for hidden gàng (see above), except that they are placed face up.
This is called an "exposed gàng" (mínggàng). You draw an additional tile from the "dead" stack just as with hidden gàng.
After the tiles are exposed on the table, the player who took the discarded piece must then discard one of his or her own (to bring the hand total back to 16 tiles).
Play then continues with the person to their right, as if it were their turn, which may force some players to miss their turns.
This out-of-turn action must be done before the next player draws to begin her turn. After that, the discarded tile is forever dead and cannot be used again.
The exception to this rule is that the final tile needed to go out with a Mahjong or other special hand may be taken from the discard of any player.
If two players try to take the same discarded tile, the one who needs it for a pùng has precedence over one needing it for a chi, regardless of who called "pùng" or "chi" first.
A gàng has precedence over either of the former two.
A tile needed to go out (winning the hand) has precedence over all.
If a player has an exposed pùng, she may call out jya gàng (jiagàng), take the discarded tile, and add it to the already-exposed pòng, turning it into a gàng. This is an exposed gàng, and all tiles remain face-up on the table. A replacement tile is taken from the end of the wall, as usual with gàng, before discarding.
During your normal turn, you may also add to an already-exposed gàng in the same way, using the tile you drew from the wall.
It is important to maintain 16 tiles in your hand at all times (except between draw and discard during your turn, when you'll have 17). Failure to do so can make you ineligible to win the hand.
Flower tiles and the fourth tile in a gàng don't count.
If you are waiting for a particular piece to go out, and an opposing player places that piece on the table in an exposed gàng, you can immediately take that piece out of his gàng, and use it to win the hand. This is only legal if you are ready to win immediately with that piece at the time the gàng is placed on the table.
When the current player finishes her turn, the player to her right (i.e., counterclockwise) draws a tile from the wall and begins his turn.
The hand ends when a player wins by assembling a Mahjong (as described above). The player calls out húle (húle, meaning "I'm done"), and exposes their entire hand.
The tiles in the winner's hand are scored, and the scores paid as follows:
If all but the "dead" tiles in the wall are consumed before anyone wins, the game is considered a "draw". The dealer remains dealer for the next round, and the tiles are shuffled and re-dealt.
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