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Updated on January 3, 2010

Dominoes is a series of games played with rectangular tiles about 1 1/2 or 2 inches long, called dominoes or bones. The dominoes are usually black and are divided into halves marked with white dots in all the number combinations that can be rolled with two dice.

Seven additional combinations are made possible by the addition of blanks. Dominoes that have the same value in both units are called doubles or doublets. A standard set contains 28 pieces.

Photo by Ruth Livingstone
Photo by Ruth Livingstone

General Rules

At the start of a game the dominoes are first shuffled facedown on the table, and each player draws a specified number of bones at random. The remaining dominoes are called the boneyard.

The player either holds his dominoes in his hand or stands them on edge facing him. In the first play a bone is laid faceup on the table. In subsequent plays the bones played must be matched with those already down and are placed so that like ends touch.

For example, if a 3-2 is played, the next domino must have a 3 or a 2 and must be placed with the corresponding halves touching. Play is limited to open ends, or the sides of the layout on which it is legal to play. These vary with the particular game and the circumstances.

Usually the object of the game is for a player to get rid of all his dominoes first and score the number of points left in his opponent's hand.

In some games, players may score during play by making certain combinations of numbers.

Domino Games

The block game may be played by two, three, or four persons. With two players each draws seven bones, and with three or four players, each draws five bones. The player with the highest doublet sets it, or lays it down, as the first play. Each player, in turn, then adds to an open end by matching bones. The block game has two open ends, which branch out from the center of either side of the doublet. Doublets are always placed crosswise in play. A player who cannot play in turn passes. The player who first gets rid of all his dominoes wins. If both players are blocked and neither can play, the winner is the one with the fewest points left in his hand. The winner scores the total points left in the other hands. Game is usually 100.

The draw game is the same as the block game, except that a player who has no playable bone draws from the boneyard until he gets one.

Bergen is a draw game in which 2 points are scored for making both ends alike in number and 3 points are scored, if, in addition, one of the ends is a doublet. Game is 15 points.

Matador is a draw game in which touching dominoes do not match but total 7. For example, a 2 would be played on an open 5. A blank is a block except to a matador, or a domino with values of 0-0, 6-1, 5-2, 4-3. Matadors may also be played at any other stage of the game. Doublets count singly and are therefore placed endwise.

Sniff may be played by two, three, or four people. With two players, each draws seven bones, and with three or four players, each draws five. First turn is decided by lot, and the player may play any bone. Only two ends are open until the first doublet, or sniff, is played. The sniff is open on all four sides. Scoring during play is of primary importance, and getting rid of the hand is only a secondary object. Players score the total of the ends whenever their play makes the ends equal to 5 or multiples of 5. The sniff may be placed crosswise or endwise. A doublet other than the sniff must be placed crosswise, and both its ends count in the total until another play cancels them. A player who is unable to play in turn must draw from the boneyard until he can play. He may also draw even if he can play. An optional rule stipulates that the last two bones may not be drawn from the boneyard. The hand that goes out or has the lowest count in the event of a block adds to its own score the total points from the other hands, rounded off to the nearest multiple of 5. WIth two players, game is 200. With more players, game is usually 100.


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