Mahjong (Chinese: 麻將; pinyin: má jiàng) is a game for four players that originated in China. A Korean variation allows for three players as well as some variations in Japan and Malaysia. It is known as three player mahjong, however by far the most common is for no more nor less than four players.
Mahjong involves skill, strategy, and calculation, as well as a certain degree of luck (depending on the variation played, luck can be anything from a minor to a dominant factor in winning). In Asia, mahjong is also popularly played as a gambling game. In the game, each player is dealt either thirteen or sixteen tiles in a hand, depending on the variation being played. On their turn, players draw a tile and discard one, with the goal of making four or five melds (also depending on the variation) and one pair, or “head”. Winning comes “on the draw” by drawing a new or discarded tile that completes the hand. Thus, a winning hand actually contains fourteen (or seventeen) tiles.
The game was called 麻雀 (pinyin: má què), meaning sparrow in Chinese, which is still the name most commonly used in some southern Chinese dialects such as Cantonese and Min Nan, as well as in Japanese. However, most Mandarin-speaking Chinese now call the game má jiàng (麻將). In Northern Wu Chinese (Shanghainese and its relatives), it is pronounced as 麻將 [mu tsiaŋ], but in actuality, 麻將 is the diminutive form of 麻雀, written as 麻雀兒 [mu ʦiaʔ ŋ], due to an erhua event. It is through the Wu Chinese pronunciation of 麻雀兒 that the diminutive form of 麻雀 in Northern Wu dialect became known as 麻將 in both Mandarin and Wu.
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