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Mahjong Solitaire

Mahjong solitaire is a very popular game, most often played on a computer with a single player. The goal is to match up tiles in various pairs and patterns, and to unlock all the tiles you need in order to be able to clear the whole board of tiles. It’s a fascinating and understandably popular game, and has been for some time now. 

Today, we’re going to look at everything you need to know to get started playing Mahjong solitaire. Let’s jump into it.

What is Mahjong Solitaire? 

Mahjong solitaire is a single player game, the aim of which is to match up tiles in order to eventually clear the board of all tiles. The game starts with 144 tiles arranged into a pattern of four layers, with every tile facing upwards. Certain tiles are open and available to play based on some rules, but the vast majority are not until the player frees them by removing other tiles. 

It is a single-player matching game, more commonly played on a computer than a physical tabletop. It is based on the older, traditional Chinese game Mahjong, which was played with four players. With the basics out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the rules. 

Mahjong Solitaire Rules 

The rules of Mahjong are simple. The tiles will start in what is called a “turtle formation”, typically. There is a large spread of tiles, with more tiles piled on top of each other into four piles. The complete board consists of 144 tiles, and while there may be slight variations in formation, the turtle formation is the most common. 

You must match pairs of tiles with the same image on the front, and these can be tricky to spot. The most important rules to be aware of are which tiles you can and cannot move. A tile can only be moved if it has no tile blocking it to either the left or the right. So, a tile which could be shifted left but not right could be moved, and vice versa. 

As you clear more tiles you will expose the ones beneath them or adjacent to them and make them available to play. Most of the tiles are part of a pair, but there are also two series, each with sets of four tiles: these are the flowers and the seasons. 

That covers everything you really need to know about the rules. Let’s turn now to strategies. 

Strategy for setting up Mahjong Solitaire 

In terms of the physical set up of the game, as mentioned, Mahjong solitaire tends to be a game played on a computer as opposed to on a physical tabletop. That said, you can buy sets to play physically, and setting up the game can be done in a few different ways.

The “turtle” formation is considered the default formation. You arrange the tiles in one layer at the bottom consisting of varying lengths of tile rows, then three more uniform squares sitting on top of this bottom spread and finally a single tile perched on the final four squares. 

Trying this default formation is a good idea for new players, but you can really arrange the tiles anyway you want as long as they are stacked on top of each other. 

Again, though, for beginners it’s a good idea just to try it online — let’s look at some more tips for beginner players of Mahjong solitaire. 

Tips for beginners: how to play Mahjong Solitaire

  1. The most important general thing to remember is that Mahjong solitaire is not entirely a game of luck. There is strategy involved, and if you don’t think carefully about your moves, you can become stuck. One careless move could be all it takes to lock the whole puzzle. Computer simulations have shown around 3% of turtle formation Mahjong solitaire spreads are not solvable, even if you can look under the tiles. 
  2. Try and pay attention to where matching tiles are. This can get confusing as there are many tiles to keep track of, but that’s part of the game. The better you are able to keep track of where tiles are, the more quickly and efficiently you’ll be able to clear the board. 
  3. Don’t make a move without thinking a few steps ahead. You want to prioritize freeing up tiles you need, so don’t just go ahead and make any old pair that you see you can. 
  4. Focus primarily on the high stacks and the long rows. As mentioned, you can only move a tile if it could be moved to its left or right without disturbing other tiles. These long rows and high stacks will be the most problematic part, so you want to free them up as quickly as you can. 

Best tricks to win Mahjong Solitaire 

There are a number of things you can do to win Mahjong Solitaire, but the best tricks you should use are the simple ones. Make every move carefully. As mentioned, the vast majority of Mahjong games using the default setup are solvable, mathematically — around 97%. But any game can instantly be lost if you aren’t careful, and you can easily lock yourself out of winning. 

Always match tiles that will free up new tiles — avoid just matching any old tiles that you can see available. This is how players get stuck. There can be nothing more frustrating with making good progress with a spread, only to get stuck at the last stretch. Patience is one of the most important tricks for winning Mahjong solitaire — if you aren’t patient, you will end up losing every time! 

Mahjong is meant to be a game of memory, so in terms of how you approach the game, this is what you should try to hone. You may find a matching pair which wouldn’t be the ideal move for you to make right now — however, you want to be able to remember that pair for when you do need it. 

There’s luck and strategy involved in Mahjong solitaire — if you remember that, you’ll have no trouble winning even as a beginner! 

Which is more difficult: Spider Solitaire or Mahjong Solitaire? 

Spider solitaire is generally agreed to be the more difficult game, though Mahjong Solitaire is very different from what we would more typically consider “solitaire”. Mahjong, of course, is not played with a deck of cards. Further, you are only trying to make pairs, whereas card-based solitaire games are about making long sequences. 

Spider solitaire is a variation of solitaire played with two decks of cards, which makes it one of the more challenging forms of the game. This is not to say that Mahjong solitaire is not difficult, but you are mathematically in with a much better chance of winning Mahjong than you are spider solitaire. 


So, Mahjong solitaire is a fascinating and engaging game which you can play both casually or competitively. It’s been extremely popular in many parts of the world for decades as a single player game and far longer as a multiplayer game. If you’re only familiar with card solitaire games, such as Klondike or Spider, then Mahjong may take a bit of getting used to, but the principle is more or less the same. Have fun!