In 1998 the China State Sports Commission, in the interest of changing mahjong from an illegal gambling game to an approved ‘healthy sport’, published a new set of rules, now generally referred to as Chinese Official rules or International Tournament rules. The principles of the new, ‘healthy’ mahjong are: no gambling – no drinking – no smoking. On international tournaments, players are often grouped in teams to emphasize that mahjong from now on is considered a sport.
The new rules are highly pattern-based. The rulebook contains 80 combinations, based on patterns and scoring elements popular in both classic and modern regional Chinese variants. Some table practices of Japan have also been adopted. In order to go out, players must score at least 8 points. Points for flower tiles (each flower is worth 1 point) may not be added until the player has scored 8 points. The winner of a game receives the score of his winning hand in points from the player who discarded the winning tile, plus 8 basic points from each player; in the case of zimo (self drawn win), he receives the value of his winning hand plus 8 points from all players.
The new rules were used in an international tournament first in Tokyo, where in 2002 the first World Championship in Mahjong was organized by the Mahjong Museum, the Japan Mahjong Organizing Committee and the city council of Ningbo, China, the town where it is believed mahjong most likely originated. One hundred players participated, mainly from Japan and China, but also from Europe and the United States. Miss Mai Hatsune from Japan became the first world champion. The following year saw the first annual China Majiang Championship, held in Hainan. The next two annual tournaments were held in Hong Kong and Beijing. Most players were Chinese, but players from other nations attended as well.
In 2005, in the Netherlands, the first Open European Mahjong Championship was held, with 108 players. The first prize was won by Masato Chiba from Japan.
Critics say that these new rules are unlikely to achieve great popularity outside of tournaments, since regional variations are well-entrenched. They also complain that the game is excessively complex, even by normal mahjong standards. But those who advocate the New Mahjong claim that it is not meant to replace existing rules, but only to act as a standard for international mahjong events.