Mah Jong originated in China in the 19th century, and has become one of the most popular games in China and Japan. It is usually played with tiles, though it can also be played with cards of equivalent design.
Sets traditionally consist of 144 cards or tiles as follows:
In the traditional game, 13 tiles are dealt to each player, and the object is, by a draw and discard mechanism, to form a winning hand of 14 tiles. This normally consists of four sets of three and a pair. A set of three can be three identical tiles or three tiles of the same suit in numerical sequence. Depending on the variation played, the game can also be won with various special hands containing other combinations of tiles. There are numerous extra bonuses for feats such as winning with a single suit, or with a hand consisting entirely of winds and dragons.
There are several versions of the rules. Mah Jong is played differently in China, Taiwan and Japan, and when the game was brought to the USA yet more variations were invented there.
Probably the best starting point for exploration is Tom Slopers's Mah Jong FAQ, which is the FAQ of the newsgroup rec.games.mahjong
The Mahjong Wiki provides rules and information on several versions of Mah Jong: Chinees, Japanese, Korean and others.
Here are a few other useful links for Mahjong information:
Readers interested in solitaire tile matching games using Mah Jong or other tiles should visit the Tile Matching page of this web site.
Some places to play Mah Jong on line: