The Winds and the Oya
A game of mahjong is divided into rounds. One Wind is predominant for each round of play and is called the Table Wind. The round continues until each player has had a turn as the Oya or “Parent” player. When every player has completed a turn as Oya a new round of play commences and another Wind is allocated “Table Wind”. The choice of Table Wind is not random but follows in sequence:
Establishing the Oya
During the course of a round of Mahjong each player has a turn as the Oya, or Parent Player. The role of Oya (Senior Player, a.k.a. Parent, Eldest Player, Table Boss, Teacher according to your whim) is important because the Oya always starts the round and opens play. Moreover, the Oya winss a 50% Bonus each time he completes a hand.
After the walls have been built the player in the temporary-East seat rolls a die and, starting with himself, he counts round anticlockwise from player to player. The selected player rolls the die again and repeats the procedure. This time, the selected player becomes the Oya.
Allocating the Winds
The Oya is always allocated the East Wind.
The player to the right of the Oya is allocated the South Wind, and the third player is allocated the West Wind. These players continue to play under the Winds that were allotted to them until the Oya changes.
In any given round of play one player will be allotted the same Wind as the current Table Wind. In that case he is referred to as “Double East” or “Double South” (or “Double West”) and if he collects a set of this particular Wind it is counted twice in the scoring.
Changing the Oya
When a Ko, or Junior Player (i.e. one of the players who is not the Oya), completes a hand the role of Oya passes to the right.
In hands with no winner during the East round, the current Oya may retain his role of Oya only if he is Tenpai – waiting for one more tile to go out – or if no player is Tenpai. Otherwise the role of Oya passes to the right.
However, in the South round of play the procedure is slightly different. The role of Oya only passes to the next player when a Ko player completes a hand. In other words, when nobody is able to complete a hand the current Oya retains his role as Oya even if his hand was No-Tenpai.1 The same applies if a West round is played. In other words, the East round is always stricter on the Oya than the other rounds.
Changing the Allocated Winds
When there is a change of Oya the Winds change accordingly:
- South changes to East and becomes the Oya
- West changes to South
- East changes to West.1
The Tachioya (Starting Boss) and the East/South Tessera
The first player to become Oya is referred to more correctly as “Tachioya“, or “Starting Boss”, because he opens the first round of play which continues until all the players have received and lost the title of Oya.
The Tachioya takes the plastic tessera with East on one side and South on the other and places it to his right in the corner of the table with East upwards. This indicates that the Table Wind is East.
At the beginning of the South round the Oya turns over the East/South tessera so that the South side is uppermost.
The tessera also serves to indicate who the Tachioya is and where play started. It remains in that same corner of the table for the duration of the game (i.e. for all three rounds). This is because the Tachioya of the East Round will also be the first Oya for the South and the West rounds of the game.
At the beginning of the West round the Oya turns over the East/South tessera so that the East side is uppermost. It is to be hoped that the players will remember that they have already played the East and the South round and that therefore they are in the West round.
Breaking the Wall
The Oya rolls the die to determine which wall is to be broken and where in the wall the break is to be made. Beginning with himself, the Oya counts round each player anticlockwise according to the number on the die to arrive at the player whose wall is to be broken. That player then breaks his wall by countingfrom the right-hand end of his wall leftwards, tile by tile according to the number shown on the die which the Oya threw to the to arrive at the point where the break is to be made and makes a break in the wall by separating the counted tiles from the ones further to the left that were not counted. (Point “C” in the photo below.)
As he threw a 4 (A), the Oya now counts four tiles (B) in from the right hand end of the East Wall (the East/South corner) and makes a small gap in the wall so as to separate the fourth from the fifth tile.
(C) Finally, the Oya counts back five anti-clockwise from the gap he has made in the wall and turns over the fifth tile – i.e. the end tile on the South wall in this example – so that it is face up in the wall.
The tile that the Oya turns over is the Mekuri-pai. It indicates which tile will be the extra Bonus tile (Dora) for the game. In the Three-Player game the Mekuri Pai is always the fifth tile back from the break in the wall. It indicates which tile is to be the Bonus tile.
Supplementary Notes on the Winds
The Table Wind
It has already been noted that a Mahjong set includes tiles called East, South, West and North Winds. These tiles play a special role in the game because during each round of play a particular Wind is allotted to the table and has an affect on the course of play.
Furthermore, during the course of each round of play each player plays under the aegis of one particular wind: East, South or West. This will affect the choices that each player makes during any given hand.
The Table Wind also serves to indicate which round of play the game has reached. One game of Three-Player Mahjong typically lasts two rounds. After each round the Table Wind changes:
Round 1 – Table Wind is East (Ton)
Round 2 – Table Wind is South (Nan)
Round 3 – Table Wind is West (Sha)
1 Note: A West round is usually only played if everybody finishes the South round with less than 51,000 points in his tray.
In the three-player game there is no North round. The North tiles are used as Bonus tiles (see Dora).
Why The Winds Are Important
The allocation of winds affects the way in which the players score their hands:
i. A player who collects three tiles of the table wind enjoys certain privileges and also scores extra points if he completes his hand as will be explained later.
ii. A player who collects three tiles of the wind that is allocated to him enjoys certain privileges and also scores extra points if he completes his hand, as will be explained later.
iii. Each North tile that is collected may be counted as a Bonus score by that player if he completes his hand, as just described.
iv. Knowing the allocation of winds helps players keep track of the progress of the game.