42 and Variations
This is an archive copy of a page from the former website cardsanddominoes.com, with thanks to Howard Fosdick for permission to republish it here.
Sometimes called the national game of Texas, 42 is one of the truly great trick-taking games. Texas family gatherings often involve day-long 42 games, and it’s no wonder as you’ll find once you try it. The game is addictive. Somehow it seems that a trick-taking game with only 28 playing pieces should be easier to master!
This page gives you the rules to 42 and all its variations. We start with the rules for standard or “straight 42.” Then we give rules to our favorite variation, called The Big Game. After this we provide rules to other games in the “42 family,” and we list the bidding variations outside of standard 42 you may sometimes encounter. Last are the rules for Moon, a 3-person game that is usually considered part of the 42 family, and partnership Moon.
The goal is to win the bid for a hand, then fulfill the bid by scoring at least the number of points stated in the bid. The first partnership to win at least 250 points across hands wins the sitting.
The Deck and Deal
Four players pair off into two opposing partnerships. Use a standard 6-6 set of dominoes.
After shuffling all tiles face-down, each player takes 7. Thus all dominoes are in the players’ hands and none are left over.
Since 42 is a “card game played with dominoes,” it requires a suit system. There are 7 suits in 42. Each tile is a member of the two suits on its face, except for the doubles, which are only members of the single suit number on their face. The doublets rank highest in each suit--
|---Suit---||<--Highest Members Lowest-->|
|6’s||6-6 6-5 6-4 6-3 6-2 6-1 6-0|
|5’s||5-5 5-6 5-4 5-3 5-2 5-1 5-0|
|4’s||4-4 4-6 4-5 4-3 4-2 4-1 4-0|
|3’s||3-3 3-6 3-5 3-4 3-2 3-1 3-0|
|2’s||2-2 2-6 2-5 2-4 2-3 2-1 2-0|
|1’s||1-1 1-6 1-5 1-4 1-3 1-2 1-0|
|Blanks||0-0 0-6 0-5 0-4 0-3 0-2 0-1|
Each player has 7 tiles in hand, so 7 tricks are played in a 42 hand. Each trick is worth one point. Five special tiles called counters are worth extra points when won in tricks--
|0-5 1-4 2-3||5|
So the two tiles whose spots total 5 are worth 5 points each when won in tricks. The two tiles whose spots total 10 are worth 10 points each when won in tricks.
The game is called “42” because there are 42 points to win in each hand -- 7 points for the tricks, 15 points for the three 5-point tiles, and 20 points for the two 10-point tiles.
After all players have their tiles, bidding begins. The person to the left of the shuffler or “dealer” bids first. Bidding then proceeds clockwise around the table.
Each person has only one chance to bid. So you’ll go around the table clockwise, and each person in turn will either make a single bid or pass. The minimum bid is 30 points. After a bid is made, the person(s) following the bidder must either (1) make a higher bid or (2) pass.
If no one bids, the hand is thrown in and the role of shuffler or “dealer” goes clockwise to the next person.
If there is a bid winner, this person announces the trump suit. The trump suit may be any of the suits in the first table above: 6’s, 5’s, 4’s, 3’s, 2’s, 1’s, or blanks.
The bid winner may also declare that there will be no trump suit. This is called a no trump or follow-me bid. In this case there is no trump suit for this hand as the tricks are played.
Finally, the bid winner may declare that doubles are trump. This means that all doublets are a suit of their own, and that this suit is trump. The doubles in the doubles suit rank in this order, from highest to lowest: 6-6, 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 1-1, 0-0.
Every domino that has the trump suit number on its face is a member of the trump suit for this hand -- and not a member of any other suit. For example, if 4’s are trump, the rank of all tiles in the trump suit is: 4-4, 4-6, 4-5, 4-3, 4-2, 4-1, 4-0. These tiles are only members of the trump suit for this hand.
The bid winner leads any tile he likes to the first trick. If the tile is a member of the trump suit, then all others must play a trump to the trick if possible. Otherwise, they can play any tile.
If the tile led is not a trump, then the higher number on the tile dictates the suit of the lead. So leading a 6-4 domino, for example, means leading the third highest 6-suit tile (ranking after the 6-6 and 6-5, assuming none of these are trump suit tiles).
Unless the doubles suit is trump, leading a double is a lead of the suit number shown on the doublet. If the doubles suit is trump, then leading a doublet means leading a trump suit tile.
Each trick is won by the highest-ranking trump tile played, if any. If no trump is played to the trick, the trick is won by the highest tile of the suit led.
If a player can not follow suit to the lead, he may play any tile.
As tricks are won, they are moved to the side of the player who won them. Unlike many card and domino games, these tiles are all left face-up.
Scoring the Hand
Each side totals the number of tricks they won (at 1 point per trick), plus their 5 and 10 point counter tiles. If the bidding team made at least the number of points they bid, they score those points. Their opponents score whatever points they have won.
If the bidding team does not make their bid, they get no points for the hand. Their opponents score both the value of the original bid plus the points they scored in the hand.
The first team to attain at least 250 points across hands wins the sitting.
More on Bidding
If you think you can win every trick, you can bid 84 (instead of 42). This gives you 84 points if you win every trick in the hand, but doubles your opponent’s score -- and your loss -- if they win even a single trick in that hand.
If someone bids 84, others are allowed to follow with bids of 126, 168, and Game. For the bid of Game, the entire game rides on this single hand.
Instead of totaling points, some players prefer to score 1 mark for each hand won. The first team to 7 marks across hands wins the sitting. An 84 bid would be 2 marks, a 126 bid is 3 marks, and a 168 bid is 4 marks.
In bidding, identify your potential trump suit simply by looking for the suit number that appears on the most tiles in your hand. Doublets are like Aces in card games -- high tiles that typically win tricks if led early in the hand.
Carefully analyze whether you can expect to win each of the counter tiles: the 6-4, 5-5, 0-5, 1-4, and 3-2.
You have only one chance to bid. You must acquire the skill to make a single, accurate bid. Winning the bid but not the hand is a disaster, as the penalty for missing a bid is severe. On the other hand, if you don’t win some bids you won’t win the Game.
During play, your goals are straightforward:
- Try to win a trick to get the lead
- Play your doubles or high trumps when you have the lead
- Feed your count dominoes to your partner whenever it appears certain he will win the trick
These rules conform to those given in the standard reference book on the game, Winning 42 by Dennis Roberson. Some 42 rules state that the bid winner must lead a trump suit tile to the first trick. This is incorrect and artificially restricts play. You may also hear of special bids (bidding variations) such as Nell-o, Sevens, Plunge, and others. These degenerate the game, though experienced players sometimes enjoy them for variety. We recommend The Big Game instead, described below.
See the book Winning 42: Strategy and Lore of the National Game of Texas by Dennis Roberson. It’s got strategy and fascinating historical trivia, in addition to authoritative game rules. Also visit Texas42.net.
The Big Game
42 players sometimes play special bids to liven up their game. Here's a better way. This 42 variant uses a larger domino set. This leads to a game with 11 tricks (instead of 7) and two more counters. This makes for a longer, more interesting and complex game. Unlike other 42 variants, The Big Game is a perfect mathematical extension of 42.
Please distribute these rules however you like, in return we ask only that you label the game as "Invented by Howard Fosdick".
All rules in The Big Game are the same as standard 42 (as explained above) except
- Play with an 8-8 set of dominoes.
You can create an 8-8 set by taking a 9-9 set and removing the ten tiles with 9s on them.
This leaves a 45-tile 8-8 set.
- The counters are still all tiles of weight 5 or 10.
(This adds 2 more counters worth ten each: the 7-3 and 8-2).
Counters are thus: 0-5, 1-4, 2-3, 4-6, 5-5, 7-3, 8-2.
- In the deal, each of the four players takes 11 tiles each. One tile is not dealt and is left face-down.
- The minimum starting bid is 42. Bidding proceeds clockwise, and players continue in the bidding process until they pass. (Unlike 42, players may make more than one bid, until they pass.) A Game is 400 points across hands.
- The bid winner looks at the one tile left over face-down from the deal. If it is a Counter, he must take it into his hand. If it is not a Counter, he may take it into his hand. If the bid winner takes the tile into his hand, he discards face-down some other non-counter tile to take his hand back down to 11 tiles. Thus all counters are always in play.
- If either of the "new" counter tiles are led to a
trick (the 3-7 or the 2-8), the person who leads the tile may optionally
announce that the lower number on the tile is the suit of the trick. So you can lead the 3-7
to the trick as a 3-suit tile (the third highest tile in the 3’s suit), and lead the 2-8 as the second
highest tile in the 2’s suit.
This rule only applies to leads of the 3-7 or 2-8, only when announced by the trick leader, and only when these tiles are not members of the trump suit.
Strategy and Analysis
Strategy in the Big Game is the same as in 42. The difference is that you have 11 tricks instead of 7, and two more counters are out. This makes the game more complex.
If you are clever, you may be able to lead the 3-7 and 2-8 in mid- game and win tricks with them by declaring them 3’s suit and 2’s suit tiles, respectively (see rule (6) above).
Since tricks are worth 1 point each, 66 total points are out in the Big Game--
|11 tricks at 1 point each =||11 points in Tricks|
|(3 * 5) + (4 * 10) =||55 points in Counters|
This statistical analysis of the Big Game shows that its point distribution is the same as 42’s--
|---42---||---The Big Game---|
|Number of tiles||28||44|
|Number of counters||5||7|
|Points per trick||1||1|
|Counter pts / trick pts||5||5|
|Tiles / counter points||0.8||0.8|
|Tiles / trick points||4||4|
|Points to win Game||250||400|
Since 42 is often played at Texas family gatherings, there are a number of variants that attempt to allow more people to play together. These are less popular than standard 42 (rules above), but they are lots of fun in group settings--
|---Game---||---Teams & Draw--||---Set Used---||--Scoring---|
|80 (4 players)||2 teams of 2. Draw 10 each, 2 tiles in boneyard.||Two 6-6 sets with blanks removed (42 tiles total).||Min. bid is 60. There are 10 tricks, each trick scores 2 pts. 80 points are winnable.|
|88 (6 players)||2 teams of 3. Draw 9 each, 2 tiles in boneyard.||Two 6-6 sets (56 tiles).||Min. bid is 60. There are 9 tricks, each trick scores 2 pts. 88 points are winnable.|
|79 (6 players)||2 teams of 3. Draw 9 each, 2 tiles in boneyard.||Two 6-6 sets (56 tiles).||Min. bid is 50. There are 9 tricks, each trick scores 1 pt. 79 points are winnable.|
|84 (6 player version)||2 teams of 3. Draw 9 each, 2 tiles in boneyard.||Two 6-6 sets (56 tiles).||Min. bid is 60. There are 9 tricks, each trick scores 2 pts. 84 points are winnable.|
|84 (8 player version)||2 teams of 4. Draw 7 each, no boneyard.||Two 6-6 sets (56 tiles).||Min. bid is 60. There are 7 tricks, each trick scores 2 pts. 84 points are winnable.|
In these 42 variations, many play that the bid winner can look at any tiles in the boneyard after winning the bid and before leading the first trick. He may exchange one, both, or neither of the boneyard tiles with pieces from his hand, but he must replace any counter in the kitty with non-count tiles from his hand.
You’ll sometimes hear about special bids in 42. The most common are Nel-O, Plunge, and Sevens. While these can be entertaining, we agree with 42 expert Dennis Roberson that they really detract from the pure beauty of the standard game. We recommend The Big Game if you feel the need for something beyond standard 42.
Moon is usually considered part of the “42 family” of domino games, but it’s really a bit different because there are no counter tiles in Moon. Instead, each trick is valued at 1 point.
Moon is for three players. They use a 6-6 set of dominoes with all tiles having blanks stripped out, except for the 0-0 tile. So you use 22 tiles (all non-blank tiles plus the 0-0). ach of the three players takes 7 tiles, leaving one face down for the widow.
The suit system in Moon is the same as in 42. As in 42, each player has one chance to bid or pass. Bidding starts at 4 and can go as high as 7 (since each trick counts for 1 point and there will be 7 tricks played). You can also bid 21 for Game. A bid to take all tricks is called shooting the moon.
The bid winner announces the trump suit and optionally discards one tile and picks up the widow. He then leads any tile to the first trick. Rules of following and play are the same as in 42 (see above).
If the bidder makes his bid or more, he scores his bid. If he does not make his bid, he is set and subtracts the bid from his score. Each opponent always scores the number of tricks he or she takes.
Moon differs from 42 in that there are no counters and all tricks are worth 1 point each. The two players opposing the bid winner form a natural, temporary alliance for the hand.
The purpose to winning the bid is to drive the hand by your leads that force suit control on your opponents. The same hand can be powerful or weak depending on the suits the tricks are played in.
Moon (for 4 Players)
Moon can also be played by four players in two opposing partnerships. Use the full double six dominoes deck. Three tricks is the lowest permissible bid.
If the partnership that wins the bid makes their bid, they win the hand and score points for all the tricks they took. If they fail to make their bid, they score minus the amount of their bid. Note that scores can go negative on losing bids. The players opposing the bidders always score the number of tricks they take.
The first partnership to 21 points wins the game. Best of three games wins the match.