Mahjong Terminology

Etymology of the name

There is a theory about the etymology of the name Mahjong that the first name for Mahjong in Chinese was sparrow (麻雀, máquè). This was because the sound of tiles during the shuffling resembles the chattering of sparrows. Another theory is that the name comes from the card game Madiao, on which the mahjong tiles are based.

Mahjong is pronounced as maa·jaang in US English, and as maa.zhong in British English.

Mahjong vs Mahjong Solitaire

The original Mahjong game is a tile-based multiplayer game for 3 or 4 players that originated in China. The tile-matching games on our website use the same tiles but they are for one player only. That's why they are referred to as Mahjong Solitaire games. Another name for Mahjong Solitaire is Shanghai Solitaire.


Shisen-Sho is a Japanese tile-based game, also using the Mahjong tiles. It's also commonly referred to as Mahjong Connect, because its main game mechanic is connecting pairs of similar tiles.


At the start of a Mahjong game, the 144 tiles are laid out in a certain multi-layer arrangement called a layout. There are many arrangements possible, each having a different difficulty. The most used layout is the Turtle layout, which resembles a pyramid.

Mahjong Turtle Layout
Mahjong Turtle Layout.


Once the tiles are dealt, you can start matching pairs of identical tiles that are open.

  • Identical tiles: Identical tiles are tiles with the same image on them, or tiles from the same category (Season or Flower tiles). Read our guide to mahjong tiles for more info.
  • Open tiles: Open tiles (or exposed tiles) are tiles in the layout that don't have a tile to their left or to their right. A quick way to check whether a tile is open is whether the tile can be moved left or right without disturbing other tiles. When you play mahjong online, the computer will help you identify open tiles and only allow matching open tiles.
  • Blocked tiles: Blocked tiles are tiles that are not open. They cannot be used in matching until they are exposed by removing the tiles on top of them, and the tiles to their left or to their right.
Open and blocked tiles in Mahjong
Illustration for Open tiles (green) and Blocked tiles (red).

Game features

Computerized versions of Mahjong often include various features such as a time limit and the ability to shuffle the board.

  • Time limit: Some of the mahjong games on our website have a time limit, either for finding a single match or for completing the whole layout. Some games also make the score you get for making a match depend on how much time it took you to find the match.
  • Hint: If you are stuck you can use the hint feature to find out a possible match you might not have spotted.
  • Shuffle: If you are still stuck after the hint, you can use the shuffle feature to shuffle all the remaining tiles on the board.
  • Undo: If you made a move you are not happy about, you can use the undo feature to go back one move.