Five Up

Introduction

This game is a member of the Fives Family. Dominic C. Armanino made this game extremely popular in California and the Southwestern United States with a series of books and tournaments. In this game, all doubles are spinners, so the math can get tricky.

Please note that the name Five Up is also often used for other related domino games, especially the games here known as All Fives (in which only the initial double is a spinner) and Muggins (in which there is no spinner).

Equipment

The game uses a double six domino set. The game can be played by two to four players, but it is best as a four handed partnership game. A cribbage board is useful for scoring, since scores are totaled as they are made and not at the end of the hand.

The Deal

The players get five tiles each and the rest of the tiles form the boneyard.

The Play

The first player in the first hand is determined by lot. In the following hands, the player who dominoed in the previous hand plays first. If the last hand was blocked, then the lead is determined by lot again. The lead can play any tile in his hand.

The next players must match the ends of the tiles on the table. As usual, doubles are played crosswise on the train, with one side touching the open end on which they are played. As long as one side is free, doubles count as the total of their pips on both exposed ends for scoring purposes.

All doubles are played as spinners. The usual rules for placing tiles on a spinner apply. That is, the first and second tiles played against a spinner must be placed against the two sides, before the third tile can be placed against the exposed end. When tiles have been played against both sides of a double, the double ceases to count towards the pip total, even though the two ends remain open.

If a player cannot play a tile, he must draw tiles from the boneyard until he has a tile which will play or the boneyard is empty. When he draws a tile which will play, it goes on the table immediately and his turn ends. If he empties the boneyard and still cannot play, he passes and the next player takes his turn.

The hand continues until one player dominoes or until all players are blocked. An empty boneyard does not stop play.

Scoring

After a player has set a tile, the arms of the layout are totaled. If this pip total is a multiple of five (5, 10, 15, 20, and so forth), the player immediately scores that number, divided by five. Remember that an exposed double scores the total of its pips. For example the [5-5] is worth ten pips, on the end of an arm.

Once the arm that ended in a double is extended further, so that there are tiles on both sides of the spinner, the double no longer counts. This is can be confusing because the ends of the spinner are open for setting other tiles. This is the difference between Five-up and a version of Sniff, another game in the Fives family.

When the hand is finished, either by being dominoed or by being blocked, the pips on the tiles remaining in each hand are totaled and the total is rounded up or down to the nearest multiple of five and divided by five. For example, a hand with the [1-2] tile would round to five and score 1 point, while the [1-1] tile would round down to zero points. These points are then subtracted from that player's score.

The game is played for 61 points, making a cribbage board very useful. The final hand must be played to the end, and if one or more players or teams have 61 or more, the highest score wins. In the event of a tie for highest, further hands are played until the tie is broken.

Variations

Armanino gives a more complex method of scoring at the end of a hand, as follows.

  • The winning player or team scores the total pip count of the opponents, rounded to the nearest multiple of five and divided by five, and added to the winner's score.
  • In a three-player game, when one player dominoes, whichever of the other players has the lower pip count also scores the difference between the pip counts of the two players with tiles, rounded to the nearest five and divided by five.
  • In case of a blocked game between two players or two teams, the winning player or team's score is based on the total pips held by the opponents, not the difference. However, if the pip totals are equal there is no score.
  • In a blocked three-player game, only the player with the fewest pips scores. The winner's score is the difference between the opponents' total pips and his own pips, rounded to the nearest 5 and divided by 5. If there is a tie for fewest pips, no one scores.

You will find many local variations as to how to pick the first player for a hand, what tiles can be lead, what score to play to, and the size of the hands. These are not significant changes in the basic game.

Comments & Strategy

This is one of the best domino games, because the strategy is complicated, but play is fast. Here are some general hints:

As in any domino game, the player who can count the outstanding tiles has a strong advantage.

Beginning players have trouble doing the required math in their heads. They will tend to think in terms of arms which end in 5, instead of looking for other combinations that give a multiple of five. Also, beginners do not think of reducing the previous total to a multiple of five.

When you have the lead, play a tile worth ten points ([5-5] or [4-6]) if possible to score early. Otherwise, play a double that gives you control the arms of the layout.

When another player draws a tile, you have information as to what was missing in his hand. If he draws one tile and plays it, you know that if you can force the layout to end in the values he was missing, you will force him to draw more tiles.

The smaller the total you leave to the next player, the smaller the total he can make from it.

You can play to score, to block or to domino. In the scoring game, you attempt to get the largest score without regard to who dominoes. The scoring game is the obvious strategy and it is probably what you will pursue at the start of the game when you do not know the distribution of the tiles.

In the blocking game, you try to force a blocked game with the intent that you will get the lowest negative score. The blocking game is an end game strategy which depends on counting suits to see that there are no tiles outstanding in the suits on the arms of the layout.

Playing to domino is really a version of the blocking strategy, since you will have the lowest negative score, namely zero. However, it also has the advantage of giving you the lead in the following hand. That lead can be important if you are close to winning the game.

Remember that being the one to domino is not always the same thing as getting the most points in a hand. Look for a suit where you are heavy or have control of the remaining tiles and try to get that suit exposed on one or more of the arms of the layout to guarantee you have a play on your next turn.