This is a Spanish game, whose name literally means "killing" or bull fighter. However, you will also see the same game called "Russian Dominoes" in some books and "Kardinal domino" in Germany; I have no idea why. This game differs from other games by having a special set of rules for matching the ends of the tiles in a train.

This game is normally played with a standard set of Western double-six dominoes - 28 tiles in all. Dominoes are played so that the spots on touching ends add up to 7, and the object is to be the first to play all your dominoes to the layout. The 0-0, 1-6, 2-5 and 3-4 are the matadors - they can be played on any free end, but the person adding the next domino to a matador must play so that the ends add to 7 as usual (or play another matador). If there is a blank at either end of the layout the only dominoes that can be played there are the matadors.

It is possible to play matador with a double-9 set of dominoes (55 tiles) in which case the touching ends have to add up to 10 and the matadors are the 0-0 and the dominoes whose ends add up to 10. In the same way, if using a double-12 set (91 tiles) the touching ends must add to 13 and the matadors are the 0-0 and the dominoes whose ends add up to 13.

The Deal

Each player gets a hand of 7 tiles each.

The Play

The four handed game can be played in partnerships or as individuals. The players draw for lead (or set) and take turns placing tiles on either end of the train. Some people require that the leader set the highest double in his hand.

There are four special tiles called matadors, which total seven pips each ([1-6], [2-5], [3-4]) or to zero ([0-0]), which I will discuss shortly.

Tiles are played on either end of a train, but the rule for adding a tile to the end of the train is that the of the train and the end of the played tile must total to seven (1 and 6, 2 and 5, or 3 and 4). Doubles are played in line, and not across the train, and have no special rules as in other games.

A matador can be played on any end of the train without regard to the rule of seven. A matador can be placed with either end of the tile in line, and the end of the train is the open end of the matador. For example the train ends in [4-0], and the next player adds the [2-5] matador. If played as [4-0][2-5] the next tile at that end must have a 2 facing inward; if played as [4-0][5-2] the next tile must have a 5 facing inward.

Note that if there is a zero at the end of the train, the only way to continue the train at that end is with a matador.

A player does not have to play a matador and can choose to draw a tile instead.

The game ends when someone dominoes, the game blocks or all the players pass in one round.

There is disagreement on other rules. Some sources allow a player to pass his turn, while others require him to draw from the boneyard until he has a tile which will play or the boneyard is reduced to two remaining tiles.


At the end of the hand, each player gets the total number of pips in his hands. The lowest scoring player is the winner and is credited with the sum of the scores of the losers, minus his own total. If there is a tie for lowest score, then nobody gets a score.

The game is played for 100 points.

Comments and Strategy

The strategy is to try to hold two strong suits which total to seven, such as the 2' and the 5's. The blanks are important because they can be used to force opponent's matadors or to block off one end of the train. This makes the [0-0] the most valuable piece, since it gives you both a guaranteed play and can be used to block one end of the train.

The matadors can change the end of the train to any value, so it is a good idea to hold them until you either wish to block an opponent by making the end of the train something he does not have in his hand, or to give yourself a way to place tiles that do not match to one of the ends of the train.


There are some versions of the game that allow matadors to be played crosswise rather than in line. There are several alternative rules for this:

  1. matador placement 1Any matador may be played across the line, after which the end of the train is either of the ends of the matador at the choice of the next player. At first sight it may seem that there would be no point in doing this, since it would normally give the next player more options. However, in a two-player game, if the opponent is unable to match either end of the matador, it can be used to give the player of the matador an extra option on the next turn. Obviously, there is no reason to play the [0-0] across the line of the train. And with a little thought, you will realize that the next tile placed after a matador must be played in line. This version was reported by Joe Celko and is also given in The Domino Book by Frederick Berndt (Bantam, 1975).
  2. matador placement 2When a matador is played on a blank, it must played crosswise. The next tile played on that end of the line must have another blank as its inward end. This version is given in several books, and is said to be played in Anglo-Saxon countries.
  3. matador placementSome books say that matadors must be played crosswise but with one end in line and the other sticking out of the line. In this case the in-line end has to be matched according to the normal matador rules. This practice, said to be used in Central Europe, is tactically the same as playing the matador in line with the end that has to be matched facing outwards.

The game can be played with other size sets, but the matching number for the Matadors has to change.

If you play with a Double Nine set:

  • The matching number is ten.
  • The six matadors are those tiles which total to zero or ten ([1-9], [2-8], [3-7], [4-6], [5-5] and [0-0]).

If you play with a Double Twelve set:

  • The matching number is thirteen.
  • The seven matadors are those tiles which total to zero or thirteen ([1-12], [2-11], [3-10], [4-9], [5-8], [6-7] and [0-0]).

And in general, if you play with a Double (n) set:

  • The matching number is (n+1)
  • The matadors are those tiles which total to zero or the matching number.

Other Matador web pages and software

Rules of Matador can be found on the Domino Plaza site.

Mike Perry's Allgood Software publishes a Dominoes program for the Macintosh, which plays a wide variety of domino games, including Matador.

This page was contributed by Joe Celko ( and is maintained by John McLeod (   © Joe Celko, John McLeod 2001, 2008. Last updated: 22nd October 2011

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