Jamaican and Caribbean Dominoes

This page is partly based on contributions from Robert Ebanks and from Sean Thomas of JamDom.com.

Introduction

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.

Partner Dominoes

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.

Equipment

The game uses a double six domino set of 28 tiles.

The Deal

Each player receives 7 tiles.

The Play

The first hand begins with the individual who has the double six tile. Playing the first tile 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 tile.

In the second and subsequent hands, the team that won the previous hand plays first. Having seen their tiles the players of this team may discuss which of them will pose (but are not allowed to tell each other what tiles they hold), and the player who starts may begin with any tile. 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 tile 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 tiles they have or what they would like their partner to play. It is of course possible to make inferences about the tiles held by the other players from the tiles they choose to play. It is also permissible for a player to hestitate to indicate that he has a choice of plays or to play immediately to indicate that he has only one playable tile.

Note that there are eight occurrences of each number in the set: two on the double and six on non-double tiles. 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 tile 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.

hard end 6

The play ends when an individual manages to play all his tiles, or when the game becomes blocked so that no one is able to play a tile.

  • If a player manages to play all his tiles, that player's team wins.
  • If the game is blocked, the hand is won by the team of the player whose remaining tiles have the least spots. It does not matter what tiles 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.

Scoring

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 tile that can legally be played on the layout, that last playable tile is known as the key tile. A player who wins by playing the key tile as his last tile 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 tile if the other six tiles 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 tile in that case, and winning with that double scores the ususal 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.

Variations

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

The Deal

When playing "cut throat" the size of the hand varies with the number of players:

  • 2 players get 14 tiles each (It may be stipulated before the start of the game that 7 tiles are used and the rest stay in the boneyard to be drawn when needed)
  • 3 players get 9 tiles each (double blank is taken out)
  • 4 players get 7 tiles 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.

French Dominoes

There are four players, each playing for himself (cut throat). The players draw 7 tiles each from the boneyard and in the first hand the holder of the double zero plays it first. In subsequent hands the winner of the previous hand poses a double of his choice or passes if he does not hold any doubles. In case of a tie in the previous hand, the holder of the double zero poses it.

The hand is played anti-clockwise. Four tiles with a blank must be played against the four sides of the posed double before any other tiles can be played. This creates a layout with four arms. The next tile played on each of these arms must be the matching double. An arm can be further extended by matching the number at its end provided that the double of that number has been played. However, whenever a new number appears at the end of an arm, it cannot be extended further until the double has been played.

Example. In the diagram below the [2-1] can be played on the top arm since the [2-2] has been played, but cannot be played on the left arm since the [1-1] has not yet been played. The [4-4] can be played on the bottom arm, but nothing else can be played at the bottom or the right until the [4-4] is in place.

French dominoes example

In French Dominoes a player must play if able to do so. Passing when able to play incurs a penalty.

The hand is won when an individual finishes the tiles in his hand, or by the player with the lowest point total when the game is blocked.

Scoring

At the end of each hand the total number of spots on the tiles in each person's hand are added to his running score. A player who ends the play by playing his last tile scores zero points. The aim is to score as few points as possible.

If any player who still holds one or more double tiles when the play ends, that player's score for that hand is doubled.

If a player wins by playing a double as his last tile the scores of the other three players for the hand are doubled. If any of the other three players is holding a double, both doubles apply and that players' score is therefore multiplied by 4.

During the play any player who passes 3 times in succession has 10 points added to his score. After this the player's count of consecutive passes is reset to zero. In the unlikely event of a further 3 consecutive passes, another 10 points would be added.

If a player plays a tile in such a way that no other player can play, so that all the other three players have to pass before the same player plays again, then the three passing players each score 10 points. This is known as a board pass.

There is also a 10-point penalty for a player who passes when able to play or tries to make an illegal play.

The game ends when one or more players reach a cumulative score of 100 or more. The player with the lowest score at that point is the winner. In case of a tie for lowest score an additional hand is played to decide the winner. Players with scores of 100 or more are losers and players other than the winner whose scores are below 100 neither win nor lose.

Variation

Since the [0-0] has no pips it scores no points. A player who had the [0-0] as their only remaining tile when the play ended would therefore score twice zero, which is still zero, the same as the winner. To avoid this anomaly, some count the [0-0] as worth 10 points rather than 0, so that a player ending with the [0-0] alone would score 20 (2×10).

Chiva

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.

Jose Carrillo's page also describes other Puerto Rican domino games: Quinientos, Doscientos and Gallinazo.

Software and Online Games

At JamDom.com you can play several styles of Jamaican dominoes online. Videos on the Cut Throat and French styles are available.