Texas 42

Winning 42

Dennis Roberson's classic book 'Winning 42'
provides a thorough introduction to the game,
and an excellent guide to its strategy and lore.
You can order 'Winning 42' from amazon.com

Introduction

Forty-two is a trick taking game played with dominoes. It is especially popular in Texas, USA. The following description is based on information from David Dailey, Kit McKormick, John Rhodes, Adam Hauerwas, David Fimble and others.

There are basically two forms of 42: it can be played for points or for marks. The version for marks will be described first. The version for points is similar except in the bidding and scoring - the differences are described later.

Players and equipment

There are four players in fixed partnerships - players sit opposite their partner.

A double-six set of dominoes is used - that is 28 dominoes, one for each possible pair of numbers from 0 (blank) to 6. A domino with the same number at each end is called a double.

Rank and suit of dominoes

There are 7 suits: blanks, ones, twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes. The highest domino of each suit is the double.

Normally one suit is trumps. Every domino containing that number is exclusively a trump, and apart from the double, they rank in order of the other number on the domino. For example if threes are trumps, the trump suit from high to low is:
3-3 6-3 5-3 4-3 3-2 3-1 3-0

The remaining dominoes, apart from the doubles, belong to the two suits corresponding to the two numbers on them. Within each suit they rank in order of the other number on the domino. So if threes are trump, the members of the fives suit from highest to lowest are:
5-5 6-5 5-4 5-2 5-1 5-0

Values of Dominoes

Each domino with 10 pips - 6-4 5-5 - is worth 10 points to the side that wins it in their tricks.

Each domino with 5 pips - 5-0 4-1 3-2 - is worth 5 points to the side that wins it in their tricks.

In addition each of the seven tricks is worth one point to the side that wins it.

There are therefore 42 points available in each hand.

The Deal

The first dealer is selected at random. Thereafter the turn to deal passes clockwise. The dealer "shuffles" the dominoes by mixing them thoroughly face down on the table. Then each player takes seven dominoes and sets them on edge so that the owner can see their values, but the other players cannot see them. The dealer's opponents should take their dominoes first, then the dealer's partner, and finally the dealer.

The Bidding

Each player has just one chance to bid or pass, starting with the player to dealer's left and going clockwise round the table. Each bid must be higher than the previous one.

The lowest possible bid is 30, meaning that the bidder's team undertakes to win at least 30 points in tricks. Then come 31, 32, 33, etc. up to 41, then 1 mark (which is equivalent to 42), 2 marks, 3 marks etc.

Bids of 1 mark and above require the bidder's side to win all the tricks (i.e. all 42 points) or take on one of the special contracts (Nello, Plunge, Sevens) described below.

The highest opening bid allowed is 2 marks (unless the declarer intends to play a Plunge). Once someone has bid 2 marks a subsequent player can bid 3 marks, and so on. To play Plunge it is necessary to bid 4 marks, or 5 if the bidding had already reached 4.

If all four players pass, the dominoes are thrown in and the next player deals.

The Play

The highest bidder (the declarer) names trumps, or may name one of the special contracts if the bid is 1 mark or more.

The declarer leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if possible. A player unable to follow suit may play any domino. The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trump, by the highest domino of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

When a non-trump domino is led, it counts as a member of the higher numbered suit, but when you are required to follow suit, each non-trump domino you hold counts as belonging to both suits. For example if threes are trump and the 6-5 is led, it counts as a 6 rather than a 5. But when following suit the 6-5 can be used to follow to a lead of either sixes or fives. If threes are trumps then the 5-3 when led counts as a 3 not a 5, because trumps are trumps and nothing else.

Notice for example that if blanks are not trump, and you hold the double blank, although it is the highest card of its suit the only way it can win a trick is if you lead it. Any other blank which is led counts as the lowest domino of some other suit.

Tricks are kept face up to the right of one member of each team, in the order that they were played, and can be viewed by all the players. For example after two tricks one side's captures might look like this:
6-6 6-4 6-1 4-3 this trick is worth 11 points, and was won by the 6-6 (sixes are trump)

5-5 5-0 6-2 5-3 this trick is worth 16 points and was won by the 6-2, a trump.

When playing a contract to win all the tricks, declarer can elect to stack the tricks. In this case the third trick is stored on top of the first, the fourth on top of the second, and so on, leaving only two previous tricks visible at one time. This saves space and reduces the players' opportunity to check back to see what has already been played.

Special Contracts

A player who wants to play a special contract does not name their contract as part of their bid; they simply bid the appropriate number of marks. Only after everyone has bid, the high bidder names the contract.

Nello

A declarer who has bid 1 mark (42) or higher can announce Nello, which is a contract to lose every trick. Declarer's partner turns all her dominoes face down and takes no part in the play. The declarer leads to the first trick, and there are no trumps. Doubles form a suit of their own ranking from 6-6 (highest) to 0-0 (lowest). Rules of play are as usual, and a lead of a double calls for doubles. If a non-double is led the larger number determines the suit to be followed, and a double cannot be played to the trick unless no dominoes of the suit led are held.

Plunge

The declarer must hold at least 4 doubles to announce Plunge. Declarer's partner chooses trump: the partner must make this choice on the basis of his own hand, without any hints from the Plunge bidder. When the partner has announced the trump suit, the declarer leads. The declarer's team must take all seven tricks to win.

To play a Plunge, the bidder must have bid at least 4 marks. In order to play a plunge, you are allowed to open the bidding with 4 marks, or jump to 4 marks over any lower bid, or bid 5 marks over a previous bid of 4. This is the only case where a jump bid or opening bid higher than 2 marks is allowed. A subsequent player could overcall 4 marks with 5 marks, and play a normal contract to win all the tricks, or Nello. 5 marks can be overcalled by 6 marks, and so on.

The Scoring

The scoring is in marks. For any bid from 30 to 42 (1 mark), the declarer's team score 1 mark if they win. For higher bids they score the number of marks bid. If the declarer is unsuccessful, the contract is set, and the declarer's opponents score as many marks as the declarer's team would have scored. The game ends when one team reaches a total of seven marks or more.

The marks are drawn to form the word "ALL" - the first mark is drawn as the left side of the "A", the second is the right side, the third the crossbar, the fourth the vertical of the first "L", etc. The winning team is thus the first to complete the word "ALL". Some players like to say: ""That's it, that's ALL, there ain't no more" at the end of a game.

When playing for money, the winners are paid an agreed amount for each mark the losers were short of 7, plus an amount for each time the losers were set. If the winners end up with more than 7 marks any excess over 7 is ignored. Also it does not matter how many times the winners were set - they lose nothing for this. For example if A & C agree to play B & D for $0.25 per mark and $1.00 per set, and A & C win 7 - 4, with each team set once, then B & D pay A & C $1.75.

Variations

No Trump (Follow Me)

The high bidder, instead of naming a trump suit, can choose to play without trumps, and has the choice between two versions:

  • Doubles high - the double is the highest domino of each suit (as usual)
  • Doubles low - the double is lowest in each suit (so for example the double 6 is beaten by all dominoes of the six suit, even the 6-0)
The rules of play are as usual, except that as there are no trumps, a trick is always won by the highest domino of the suit led.

Some players only allow the bidder to choose No Trump when playing for all the tricks - that is, having bid 42 (one mark) or higher. Others allow any bid from 30 up to be played in No Trumps.

Doubles trump

Instead of naming a suit as trump, the bidder can choose doubles as trumps. In that case doubles are a separate suit of their own, ranking from 6-6 (high) down to 0-0 (low). If a double is led, the other players must play doubles if they have them; a player who has no doubles is allowed to discard any tile - for example if you have no double you can throw your 3-2 on partner's 6-6, even if you also have sixes. If a non-double is led, you cannot trump with a double unless you have no dominoes of the suit led. For example if the 6-5 is led and you have the 6-6 and the 6-4 but no other sixes, you have to follow suit with the 6-4; you cannot trump with a double. If the 6-5 is led and you have no sixes, you can trump if you wish using any double (not necessarily the 6-6).

Rank of Doubles in Nello

In Nello, some people give the bidder several options as to how doubles are treated. The bidder chooses and announces one of these before leading to the first trick.

  1. doubles high - the double is the highest domino of each suit
  2. doubles low - the double is the lowest domino of each suit
  3. doubles take doubles - doubles are a suit of their own ranking from 6-6 (high) down to 0-0 (low)
  4. doubles take doubles, inverted - doubles are a suit of their own with 0-0 highest followed by 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6 (lowest)
In options 1 and 2 the rules of play are as in No Trumps (Follow Me). In options 3 and 4 if a double is led doubles must be played, but again there are no trumps.

Some players allow option 3 only, some allow options 1 and 3, some allow 1, 2 and 3, and some allow all four.

Sevens

This is another special contract, which can be played by a declarer who has bid 1 mark or more. Declarer leads, and each player must play a domino whose pip total is as close as possible to 7. The trick is won by the closest domino to 7, or if several are equally close by the first of these which was played. The winner of a trick leads to the next. The declarer's team have to take all seven tricks to win.

There is no strategy in sevens - the play is forced throughout.

Plunge and Splash

David Fimble reports a version in which Plunge is worth 3 marks, not 4, and it is the partner of the declarer who leads to the first trick, having named trumps. In this version there is additional special contract called Splash, which is worth 2 marks. A Splash is the same as a Plunge, except that the bidder must have 3 doubles, rather than 4; the partner of the declarer names trumps and leads, and all 7 tricks are required to win.

Some players allow the declarer's partner in a Plunge or Splash to choose No Trump, Sevens or any of the varieties of Nello instead of naming trumps. If Nello is chosen (a rather desperate move, I would have thought), the bidder leads and the bidder's partner puts their dominoes face down and does not take part.

Forced Bid

Many people play that if the first three players pass, the declarer must bid. The hand cannot be thrown in.

Without special contracts

Some players do not allow the special contracts Nello, Plunge and Sevens.

Some players only allow Nello in the situation where the dealer was forced to bid because the other three players passed.

Opening lead

Some people allow small end opening. In this case, in the first trick only, the bidder can lead a non-trump domino and specify that it belongs to the suit of the small end. For example holding the 1-1 and the 6-1 you could name fives as trump and lead the 6-1 as a one, which cannot be beaten unless someone can trump it.

Most 42 players agree that the bidder is allowed to lead a non-trump to the first trick. However, there are a few people who play that the opening lead must be a trump.

42 with bidding and scoring by points

The information on this form of 42 was supplied by Adam Hauerwas.

In this version the bids are the numbers from 30 to 42, then 84 and 168. You cannot bid 168 unless someone has bid 84.

For bids below 42, if declarer's team make their bid, both sides score the points they take. If not, the declarer's team score zero, and the opponents score the points they take plus declarer's bid.

For bids of 42, 84 and 168, declarer's team score the bid if successful. If declarer is set the opponents score declarer's bid but nothing for their tricks.

It is not possible for all four players to pass. After three passes the dealer must bid.

Low-No is a game equivalent to Nello in the game for marks. Low-No can only be bid by the dealer and only when the other three players all passed. The declarer's side score 42 points if successful, and the other side score 42 points if the declarer is forced to take a trick.

The special contracts Plunge and Sevens are not allowed.

Instead of naming a trump suit, the winner of the bidding has two other options (in either case the object remains to win at least as many points as were bid - or all the tricks if the bid is 42 or more):

  1. No trumps: Exactly what it says. The double is the highest domino of each suit as usual and every other domino belongs to two suits.
  2. Doubles: There is a trump suit consisting of all the doubles, ranking from high to low: 6-6, 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 1-1, 0-0. When a double is led everyone must follow suit with a double if possible. The doubles don't belong to their normal suits so for example if the 4-2 is led you can't trump with the 4-4 unless you are out of 4's, in which case you could play anything.

Remarks on bidding strategy

Three passes might leave the dealer in an incredibly awkward situation without having a bid to make; that's part of the game. Note, though, that this gives the dealer's partner incentive to bid 30 on a somewhat mediocre hand, because they could be saving the dealer from an awkward situation.

If the dealer gets "stuck" with the bid after three passes, note that Low-No could be bid by the dealer in order to avoid going set on a 30 bid. Since the opponents get the bidding teams bid PLUS whatever points they catch, if you go set on a 30 bid the opponents would receive 30 + (at least 13 points required catch for the set) A dealer might bid low-no on a terrible hand if only to restrict the opponents to catching 42 points (instead of more from a bid of 30 which is set).

No-Trump may be bid on a hand with a lot of control but short on long suits. The problem here is regaining the lead once it is lost. Example no-trump hand: 6-6, 6-5, 5-5, 3-3, 3-2, 3-1, 1-1. Tricks might be played in order from left to right, and one would hope that one or two "threes" would fall on the first three tricks so that the double-three could pull in the remaining threes -- making the 3-2 and 3-1 good.

Hands on which it is right to make doubles trump are rather rare. One possible hand where it would make sense to bid doubles would be the following: 6-6, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 1-1, 6-5, 5-4. Note if the double-five falls on the first trick, you gain ten points and make your 5-4 good.

Other 42 Web Sites

  • Joe Celko's Texas 42 page provides another description of 42.
  • Paul Proft's Texas 42 site has rules, advice, puzzles, example games, a blog and various other resources.
  • Howard Fosdick's description of 42
  • Here is an archive copy of Tony Sanders' 42 page, which is comprehensive, and includes a lot of helpful advice on strategy.
  • An archive copy of the Official Lechner Hall 42 Rules (1992/93).
  • Kent Newsome's 42 page is based on an early version of this page, with some amusing comments inserted.
  • The Dominoes, Moon n 42 Hall has on-line 42 games, ladders, tournament calendars and equipment.
  • Here are archive copies of Will Richardson's 42 page and Glynn Hill's 42 page.
  • 42players.com is an online directory of 42 players by local area zip code, to help players to meet up with others nearby.

42 Software and On-line games

Curtis Cameron has written a shareware 42 program for Windows. You can download it from his Windows Dominoes Games page.