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Domino games are enthusiastically played on many Caribbean islands. Typically the style of play is boisterous, and the pieces are slammed down on the table rather than placed gently. Most often there are four players, playing in fixed partnerships.
The rules vary from place to place. Often the objective is for one team to win several times in a row, for example 4 or 6 times, and this page is mainly about this type of game, which is characteristic of the Caribbean. Other types of game, in which points are scored according to the unplayed tiles held by the losing team, are also played. Some of these are described on the pages for Partnership Dominoes, Cuban Dominoes. and French Dominoes.
This section is mainly based on contributions from Robert Ebanks and from Sean Thomas of JamDom.com.
There are two main types of domino game played in Jamaica: Partner (most favoured and played in world tournaments) and Cut Throat (in which each player plays for himself). A variation known as French is also described on this page.
Only four persons can play. Sitting around a square table, your partner is the person directly in front of you. Each person plays to help his partner and himself while trying to pass the opponent.
The game uses a double six domino set of 28 tiles, known as bones.
Each player receives 7 bones.
The first hand begins with the individual who has the double six bone. Playing the first bone is known as "posing". In tournament play, the first player must begin by posing the [6-6]. In informal games the holder of the [6-6] is allowed to announce that he is "sporting" and begin with a different bone.
In the second and subsequent hands, the team that won the previous hand plays first. Having seen their bones the players of this team may discuss which of them will pose (but are not allowed to tell each other what bones they hold), and the player who starts may begin with any bone. If the previous hand was tied, the holder of the [6-6] poses it.
Play continues anti-clockwise. As usual, a turn consists of playing one bone to extend one of the two ends of the layout, and the touching ends of adjacent dominoes must match. Doubles are traditionally played at right angles across the line. If a player cannot play then he passes his turn.
Apart from the discussion about who should pose at the start of a hand, players are not allowed to pass information by talking or gestures during the play. They must not tell each other what bones they have or what they would like their partner to play. It is of course possible to make inferences about the bones held by the other players from the bones they choose to play. It is also permissible for a player to hesitate to indicate that he has a choice of plays or to play immediately to indicate that he has only one playable bone.
Note that there are eight occurrences of each number in the set: two on the double and six on non-double bones. If this number appears seven times on the layout, one appearance must be at an end of the line and this is known as a hard end. There is only one remaining bone that can be played on that end. For example in the diagram below the 6 on the right is a hard end where only the [6-2] can be played.
The play ends when an individual manages to play all his bones, or when the game becomes blocked so that no one is able to play a bone.
- If a player manages to play all his bones, that player's team wins.
- If the game is blocked, the hand is won by the team of the player whose remaining bones have the least spots. It does not matter what bones the winner's partner has. Example: the game is blocked and North has [5-5] & [5-3], South [1-1], East [2-2], West [5-2] & [2-3], North-South win because of South's [1-1], even though North-South have more spots in total than East-West.
- If the game is blocked and two opponents tie for least spots then the hand is a tie, no matter what the other two players have.
At the end of the play, the winning team normally scores one point.
However, if both ends of the layout are hard ends with different numbers so that there is only one remaining bone that can legally be played on the layout, that last playable bone is known as the key bone. A player who wins by playing the key bone as his last bone scores an extra point for his team - so 2 points rather than 1. It is also possible for a double to be the only playable bone if the other six bones with that number have been played and both open ends of the line match the final double, but the double does not count as a key bone in that case, and winning with that double scores the usual 1 point only.
The aim is to win 6 points while the opponents win none - to "give your opponent six love (6 - 0)". So long as one side keeps winning, they add points to their total. If the other side wins a hand, the score returns to 0 - 0, and the next hand is begun by the holder of the double six.
If there is a tie neither team scores and the holder of the [6-6] begins the next hand.
Many play the variation in which, when the game reaches 1 - 1, instead of starting over, there is a play-off hand. The team that wins the play-off hand then has a score of 2 - 0 and starts the next hand.
Some play that in the case of a tie, the hand is replayed. If the score was 0 - 0, the holder of the [6-6] starts the replay, but the replay is worth 2 points, taking the winning team to a 2 - 0 score. If one team already has a score, that team starts, and if they win the replay they add two points. If the leading team loses the replay, the score is reset to 0 - 0. If the first replay is also a tie, there will be a second replay for 3 points, and if that is also a tie, the third replay is for 4 points, and so on. That is to say, if the score was 0 - 0 or the leading team wins, the winners add the appropriate number of points (one for the current deal and one for each tied deal that preceded it), but if the leading team loses the score is simply reset to 0 - 0.
Cut Throat Dominoes
When playing "cut throat" the size of the hand varies with the number of players:
- 2 players get 14 bones each (It may be stipulated before the start of the game that 7 bones are used and the rest stay in the boneyard to be drawn when needed)
- 3 players get 9 bones each (double blank is taken out)
- 4 players get 7 bones each
The Play and Scoring
The play is the same as in the partner game. Each player keeps a score of games won and the first player to achieve 6 wins is the overall winner, provided that another player has zero. If everyone wins a hand before anyone reaches 6, the score returns to zero points each.
This section is based on information from Steve Fleurant.
In Haiti the most usual game is for four players in fixed partnerships using a [6:6] set of 28 dominoes. These are shuffled face down and each player takes 7. Any player who draws five or more doubles is entitled to demand a reshuffle: all the dominoes are mixed again and each player draws a new hand of 7.
In the first round the holder of the [6:6] starts by playing it. Subsequent rounds are started by a member of the team that won the previous round. The winning team can discuss after the deal which of them will start the play, but in doing so they are not allowed to give any information about the specific dominoes they hold.
The direction of play is anti-clockwise. The play is similar to the Jamaican partner game: each player in turn must if possible extend one of the two ends of the line by playing a domino that matches the end where it is played. The round ends when a player wins by playing their last domino or if the game becomes blocked so that no one can play another domino.
During the play, players are allowed to communicate with their partners through gestures. These are used when playing a domino to indicate the player's strength in the number on the free end. The usual system of meanings is as follows.
- Hit the table with the fist: the player is strong in this number, and has plenty more dominoes that match it.
- Slide one finger over the table: the player has at least one more domino with this number.
- Show the palm of the hand: the player has no more of this number.
It is accepted that partners may secretly agree before the start of the game to alter the meanings of these gestures in order to confuse the opponents.
- If a player manages to play all their dominoes, they win and their team normally scores one point.
- Dekabès. If a player wins by playing their last domino which is not a double, and the two ends of that final domino match the two open ends of the line, the winning team scores two points. Note that in Haiti, unlike Jamaica, these do not have to be 'hard ends'.
- If the game is blocked, the individual player with the fewest spots on their unplayed dominoes wins, and their team scores one point.
- If the game is blocked and two opponents tie for least points, there is no score for the tied round. The next round is started by the same team that started the tied round, and scores two points instead of one for the winning team. If there are two or more consecutive tied blocked rounds, the score for the next round with a winner is not further increased: it is still two points.
- If the round after a tied blocked round is won with Dekabès (the winning domino is not a double and can be played on either end), the winners will score four points instead of two, which is sufficient to win the whole game.
Both teams start at zero. At the end of each round the winning team adds their points to their score and the losing team's score is reset to zero. The first team that achieves a cumulative score of 4 or more points wins the game.
Traditionally, the loser(s) suffer various penalties, such as having to wear a clothespin (clothes peg) attached to their body for each game they have lost. See for example this article from WeHaitians.
Some details may vary from place to place - for example the number of doubles needed to demand a redeal, or the number of points needed to win the game.
Some play that a Dekabès after a tied blocked round scores only 3 points rather than 4.
In some championship games, gestures are not allowed. Also some players may agree before that start of the game to play without gestures.
There are three ways that the game may be played by two players:
- A draw game, in which each player draws 7 dominoes. The remaining 14 dominoes are placed face down in a 'boneyard'. A player who has no domino to play at their turn must draw dominoes one at a time from the boneyard until they obtain a playable domino and then play it. If the boneyard becomes empty a player who cannot play must pass.
- A block game, in which each player draws 7 dominoes, the remaining 14 dominoes are out of play, and a player who has no domino to play must pass.
- A game in which each player draws 14 dominoes, and a player who is unable to play must pass.
The first round of the game is begun by the holder of the highest double. If neither player has a double the holder of the domino with the highest pip-count starts.
The scoring is the same as in the 4-player partner game, A player needs to score 4 or more points consecutively to win: a player who loses a round has their score reset to zero.
The double blank is removed from the set and each player draws 9 tiles. The play and scoring are the same as in the partnership game, except of course that players do not use gestures to signal their strength. A player needs to score 4 or more points consecutively to win and the losers of a round have their scores reset to zero. After a tied blocked round (see below), if the player that started the round was involved in the tie, the same player starts the next round; if not, the holder of the [6:6] starts the next round by playing the [6:6].
Four-Player Individual Game
Each player draws 7 dominoes. The play and scoring are the same as in the three-player game: a player needs to score 4 or more points consecutively to win and the losers of a round have their scores reset to zero. It is quite rare to play this way - four players normally play the partner game.
This Puerto Rican game, also known as Shutout, is described on Jose Carrillo's page. The 4-player game is similar to the Jamaican partner game described above, except that only 4 games in a row are needed to win a match. Blocked games are normally won by the team having the lower score, the player of this team with the lower count starting the next hand.
The 2- and 3-player versions of Chiva are played as a draw games, each player receiving 7 tiles. A player who cannot play draws tiles from the boneyard until able to play or until the boneyard is empty. In the 3-player game the object is to win 4 games while one of the other players has none. If all three players win a game before anyone has reached 4 wins, all three players' scores are reset to zero and the match begins again.
Software and Online Games
With Steve Fleurant's domino app for iOS or Android you can play several Haitian domino games.