top of page
Beginner's Lesson 25


In this lesson, we will cover some of the penalties in riichi mahjong.


From time to time, it is possible for players to inadvertently drop a tile from their hand or reveal a tile from the wall. These small accidents are generally not penalized. However, major rule infractions will result in severe penalties.


The first penalty is called a “dead hand”. If a player is penalized with a dead hand, they are no longer allowed to win their hand at all. They are not allowed to make any calls, and their hand is considered to be noten.


A dead hand penalty can be the result of many things. Here is a list of infractions that would commonly result in a dead hand:


  • Having too many or too few tiles in your hand

  • Making a wrong call (chi, pon, or kan)

  • Making a wrong win (tsumo or ron) but not revealing your hand (because you realized the mistake before opening your hand)

  • Swap calling in rulesets that disallow it (this will be covered in the next lesson!)


Having a dead hand is serious, but not game-ending. If you had not declared riichi before being penalized with a dead hand, you can still choose what tile to discard from your hand each turn and avoid dealing into another player’s hand.


However, the second penalty we will cover is much harsher. It is called a “chombo”. A chombo is reserved for infractions that prevent the current hand from continuing. If a player is penalized with a chombo, then that player loses a large amount of points (the amount depends on the ruleset). Then, the hand is redealt with no additional honba, and any riichi bets from that hand are returned to their respective players.


Here is a list of infractions that would commonly result in a chombo:


  • Making any kind of call with a dead hand

  • Making a wrong win and revealing your hand (e.g. winning without yaku or declaring ron while furiten)

  • Declaring riichi while noten (this will only be revealed in the case of an exhaustive draw; being penalized with a dead hand after riichi does not cause this penalty)

  • Revealing several tiles from the wall, your own hand, or another player’s hand


For a chombo, the player will often lose at least 8000 points. These points may be paid to the other players as a “reverse mangan tsumo”. However, another common way to handle this (so that the dealer does not get any extra benefit or punishment) is to pay each other player 3000 points. However, in a tournament setting with cumulative points, the point deduction from a chombo is usually applied to that player’s overall score. In competitive rulesets, the penalty for a chombo is usually 20000 points or more.


Here is a video explaining these penalties by Light Grunty:


Dead Hand and Chombo

It is important to pay attention while playing and to have a firm grasp on the rules to avoid these penalties. However, if you happen to incur a dead hand or chombo, do not be discouraged; everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Make an effort to learn from your mistakes so that you can improve as a player.


In the next and final lesson, we will cover some optional rules in riichi mahjong.

bottom of page