Special Hands are arrangements of tiles that can be used to declare Mahjong but which do not necessarily conform to the ‘four sets and a pair’ format and are scored differently. They usually go by rather fanciful names, some of which no doubt have deep cultural or traditional significance, and some of which perhaps just sound as though they do.
British Rules have evidently adopted the recognised Chinese hands and added some more, so all the Special Hands listed as Chinese are also legal according to British Rules. Real Mahjong essentially recognises both sets but with a few minor restrictions.
Chinese Special Hands
The following special hands are recognised in Chinese rules and have also been adopted as part of the official Mahjong British Rules.
Buried Treasure is made up up of four concealed Pungs and a pair, where every tile is in the same suit or is a Wind or a Dragon.
Heads and Tails
Heads and Tails is a hand made up of four sets and a pair, in which every tile is either a One or a Nine.
The Wriggling Snake
The Wriggling Snake contains all of the following:
- All four Winds
- A Pair of Ones in some suit
- Tiles Two to Nine in the same suit as the Pair
Three Great Scholars
Three Great Scholars contains four sets and a pair, made up as follows:
- A Pung or Kong of each of the three Dragons
- A Pung or Kong of any suit or Wind
- A Pair of any suit or Wind.
Four Blessings Hovering over the Door
This Special Hand consists of four sets and a Pair, where each set is a Pung or Kong of a Wind. The pair can be of any denomination.
Thirteen Unique Wonders
This contains all the following:
- All three Dragons
- All four Winds
- All three Ones
- All three Nines
- Any Pair.
More succinctly, it contains all the Honour tiles and a Pair. (An Honour tile is a Wind, a Dragon, a One or a Nine.)
If East’s initial hand of 14 tiles forms a Mahjong hand (four sets and a Pair, or a Special Hand other than Heaven’s Blessing) and East calls Mahjong with that hand, it defined as Heaven’s Blessing and scored accordingly, regardless of the tiles it contains.
East cannot have called One-for-Mahjong before claiming Heaven's Blessing since it is the first move of the game and therefore cannot be required to.
If Mahjong is called using East’s first discard it is defined as Earth’s Blessing and scored accordingly, regardless of the tiles it contains.
I have been unable to find anything in either Chinese or British Rules to indicate whether a player must have called One-for-Mahjong before calling Mahjong for Earth's Blessing. Real Mahjong only allows One-for-Mahjong to be called when a player is about to discard, which leaves no opportunity to do so before Earth's Blessing, and therefore does not require One-for-Mahjong to have been called in this situation.
Gathering the Plum Blossom from the Roof
If a player draws a Five Circles from the Kong Box and immediately (on the same turn) calls Mahjong with the resulting hand he or she is said to be ‘gathering the plum blossom from the roof’ and the hand is scored accordingly, regardless of the tiles it contains.
Plucking the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea
If a player goes Mahjong with the last tile drawn from the Wall and that tile is a One Circle (i.e. the moon) he or she is said to be plucking the moon from the bottom of the sea and the hand is scored accordingly, regardless of the tiles it contains.
British Rules Special Hands
British Rules allow the following Special Hands in addition to those recognised by Chinese rules.
All Pair Honours
This is a hand made up of seven Pairs, but contains only Ones, Nines, Winds and Dragons (Honour tiles).
A Hand containing four Kongs and a Pair.
This is a hand containing seven Pairs but only two suits (and no Winds or Dragons). Duplicate Pairs are allowed.
This is a hand containing four ‘sets’ and a Pair, but each ‘set’ must contain three tiles of the same rank, one in each of the suits. (No Winds or Dragons.)
The Gates of Heaven
This contains all of the following, where the tiles are all in the same suit.
- A concealed Pung of Ones
- A concealed Pung of Nines
- A run from Two to Eight
- A Pair.
‘Green’ tiles are defined for British Rules as:
- Green Dragons
- Two, Three, Four, Six and Eight Bamboos.
Imperial Jade is defined on the Mahjong British Rules website as containing Pungs and Kongs of Green tiles and a Pair. This seems to imply that the Pair need not be a Pair of Green tiles, but the accompanying illustration shows just such a Pair. Players in a real game should therefore decide whether to impose this constraint or not, before a game starts. If you are playing online you should consult the documentation for the online game you are using.
Real Mahjong requires all the tiles, including the Pair, to be Green.
If a player declares a Kong, draws a tile from the Kong Box and immediately declares another Kong, then draws another tile from the Kong Box and immediately declares Mahjong, the hand is said to be a Twofold Fortune hand and is scored accordingly, regardless of the tiles it contains.
All Winds and Dragons
This is a hand containing four sets and a pair where every tile is a Wind or a Dragon.
This is a hand containing four sets and a pair where every tile is in the same suit. As with Imperial Jade the official British Rules website does not actually stipulate that the Pair must be in the same suit as the other sets, but this may be an oversight. It seems sensible to treat it as such and Real Mahjong does so.
Real Mahjong Special Hands
Real Mahjong allows all the Special Hands defined in the official British Rules (including those adopted from the Chinese rules), with the following exceptions.
- Gathering Plum Blossom from the Roof
- Plucking the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea
- Twofold Fortune
There’s also a quirk in Real Mahjong that allows you to complete Mahjong as Buried Treasure using a discard. Strictly this is incorrect as all the tiles in Buried Treasure must be concealed, but the final set is actually exposed if it’s completed using the discard. No doub this will be changed in due course, but in the mean time it should be regarded as a Real Mahjong exception.