Domino Loo

Introduction

This is an adaption of the playing card game Loo to dominoes. Joe Celko's description was based on the incomplete account in THE EVERYTHING GAMES BOOK by Tracy Fitzsimmons and Pamela Liflander (Adams Media Corporation, Holbrook, MA; ISBN 1-55850-643-8); it has been revised by John McLeod using the more thorough description in DOMINOES AND SOLITAIRE by "Berkeley" (George Bell & Sons, London, 1899).

Equipment

The game uses a double six domino set. You might also need gaming chips for the pool or pot (we have used the British term "pool" in preference to the American term "pot" in this description). The game can be played by two, three or four players.

The Deal

One player is designated as the first dealer and the deal will pass to the left after each round.

If the game is being played for a pool rather than points, which is usual when there are more than two players, the players will need to place a stake in the pool before the deal begins. This is explained under the scoring section.

Each player receives a hand of five tiles either from the dealer or by drawing their own from the boneyard, as is their custom. Once everyone has their hands, the dealer draws one tile, called the "turn-up", from the boneyard and exposes it face up to determine trump for the round. The trump suit is the higher end of this tile and the tile is left exposed for the rest of the hand.

If a player does not like his tiles, he may replace them with a new hand; this is known as taking the miss.

  • In a two- or three-player game, the player discards his original hand out of the game, face down, takes six new tiles from the boneyard, and discards one of these tiles face down. The discarded tiles must be kept separate from the boneyard - if a second player takes the miss, he would draw fresh tiles from the boneyard, not tiles discarded by a previous player.
  • In a four player game, a player taking the miss discards his hand, draws all seven remaining tiles from the boneyard, and discards two of them.

In a three- or four-player game, a player who does not like his hand can simply discard it out of the game, without taking any replacement, and drop out of the play of that hand. In this case the player cannot win any of the pool in this hand, but also cannot be looed (penalised for taking no tricks). A player who has taken the miss cannot then discard the new hand - he must play with it.

Starting to the left of the dealer, the players must decide in turn whether to

  1. play with the tiles that were dealt to them, or
  2. take the miss, or
  3. drop out of the play (if there are three or four players).
Note that if there are three players, only two of them can take the miss, and if there are four players only one can do so.

When it comes to the dealer's turn, if he chooses to keep his original hand, he has the right to take the tile that was turned up to determine the trump suit and discard one tile in its place. However, he cannot do this if he takes the miss.

If all the players other than the dealer throw in their hands, the dealer takes the whole pool without any further play.

In a four-player game, if a player other than the dealer takes the miss, and the other players drop out, the dealer may play his hand "for the pool". This must be announced clearly, otherwise it will be assumed that the dealer is playing "for himself". When playing for the pool, the dealer does not win anything for tricks taken, but suffers no penalty if he fails to take a trick. The purpose of playing for the pool is to prevent the player who took the miss from winning five tricks by default. Note that the option of playing for the pool is not available if more than one player other than the dealer is playing, or if a miss is available for the dealer to take.

The Play

The tiles are ranked by their suit number from blank (low) thru 6 (high), with the double being the highest in its suit.

As in most of these card game adapted to dominoes, the trump suit tiles must be played as trumps and not as tiles in their other suit.

The eldest hand plays the first tile and if it is not a trump or double announces to what suit it belongs. Much of the player is pre-determined by the rules, which are executed in this order:

  1. A player must lead a trump if they have two or more trumps in their hand.
  2. A player must lead a trump after winning a trick.
  3. A player must follow suit if able.
  4. A player who is unable to follow suit must trump.
  5. A player who has no trumps and cannot follow suit may play any tile from his hand.
  6. Unlike the card game, in this version of Loo a player is not obligated to beat the tiles previously played to the trick, provided that he follows the above rules.

A trick is won by the highest tile of the suit that was led, unless a trump was played to the trick, in which case it is won by the highest trump. The winner of the trick leads to the next. When leading to a trick, the player announces the value of the tile led, with the suit to be followed first. For example a player leading the [6-3] could announce "6-3" in which case everyone would have to follow with sixes if possible, or "3-6", in which case everyone would have to follow with threes. But since tiles containing the trump suit are always trumps, if 3's were trumps the leader would have no choice - the announcement must be "3-6" in this case.

Scoring

The chip system, which is generally used when there are three or four players, starts with a pool consisting of five chips contributed by each player and an additional 5 chips from the dealer. Whenever the pool is empty, the players again contribute this amount.

At the end of the play, players remove one-fifth the total number of chips in the pool for each trick that they took. (The number of chips is always divisible evenly by five.)

A player who stays in the game but takes no tricks is said to be looed, and incurs a penalty. He must pay as many chips as were in the pool at the start of the round in which he was looed into the pool for the next hand. The dealer of the next hand adds five chips to the pool, but players who were not looed contribute nothing further. This is how it got to be a vicious gambling game, as when several players are looed, the size of the pool can grow rapidly. For example, in a game with four players:

  • Hand 1: Dealer contributes 10 chips, the others 5 each, total 25 in the pool. A takes 3 tricks (15 from the pool), B and C are looed (each pays 25 to the new pool), D takes 2 tricks (10 from the pool).
  • Hand 2: Dealer adds 5 to the pool, making 55. A is looed (55 to new pool), B drops out, C takes all five tricks (takes pool of 55), D is looed (55 to new pool).
  • Hand 3: Dealer adds 5 to pool, making 115. Each trick is now worth 23 chips, already more than four times the stake in the first hand.

To avoid limitless escalation, players may put a limit on how many chips a player can be penalized to avoid an exponential pool requirement. For example, the penalty might be set to a constant amount of 5 chips multiplied by the number of players, or subject to a maximum of 10 or 20 chips times the number of players.

If the dealer plays "for the pool", he cannot be looed, even if he took no tricks. The payment for any tricks he took remains in the pool for the next deal.

Variations

An alternative, more often used when there are two players, is to play for points. Players score 1 point for each trick taken, and a player who is looed (takes no tricks in a hand) loses 5 points. The game is 15 points.

Domino Rounce

This game, described in several American books, is quite similar to Domino Loo, but with slightly less strict rules of play. The differences are as follows:

  • It is the player to the right of the dealer who turns a domino to set the trump suit.
  • The misses are called "dummies" (or "dumbies") and are set out at the time of the deal: two 6-tile dummies if there are 2 or 3 players or one 7-tile dummy if there are four.
  • A player who is unable to follow suit is not forced to trump: he may play any tile.
  • Everyone starts with a score of 15. Players subtract 1 for each trick they win. If all players other than the dealer pass, the dealer subtracts 5 without play. A player who stays in and takes no tricks is "rounced" and adds 5 to his score. A player who drops out neither gains nor loses points. The first to reach or pass zero points is the winner.

Comments & Strategy

The original card game started in the 17th century as an upper class gambling game and had faded by the 19-th century into a lower class gambling game, mutating into many variations along the way. Nevertheless, versions of it are still popular today. An example is Boo-Ray, which is sometimes used in America as an option in dealer's choice Poker games.