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A game of Dominoes
Dominoes (or "dominos") generally refers to the individual or collective gaming pieces making up a domino set (sometimes called a deck or pack) or to the games played with these pieces. Standard domino sets consist of 28 pieces called bones, tiles, stones or dominoes. Each bone is a rectangular tile with a line dividing its face into two square ends. Each end is marked with a number of black spots (also called pips) or is blank. The spots are generally arranged as they are on six-sided dice, but because there are also blank ends having no spots there are normally seven possible faces. Standard domino sets have ends ranging from zero spots to six spots (double six set), but specialized sets might range from zero to nine (double nine set) or zero to twelve (double twelve set). The back side of a domino is generally plain. Dominoes have been made of bone, ivory, plastic, and wood, and occasionally are made of cardstock like that for playing cards. Dominoes are rather generic gaming devices--just as are playing cards. Many different games can be played with a set of dominoes.

Table of contents

Domino tiles and suits

Bones are generally named for the number of spots on the two ends of the bone. A bone with a 2 on one end and a 5 on the other end is called the 2-5, for example. Bones that have different numbers on the two ends are called singles, and bones that have the same number on both ends are called doublets or doubles. Bones that share a common number of spots on one end are said to be of the same suit. In a double-six set, for example, 1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, and 1-6 all belong to the suit of one. All singles belong to two suits. The 1-2, for example, belongs to the suit of one and the suit of two. All doubles belong to one suit only.

The ranks of domino pieces

The value of each end of a bone is determined by the number of spots on the end, with zero (blank) being the lowest and six being the highest. The rank of a bone is determined by the combined number of pips on the two ends. This rank is sometimes referred to as the bone's weight so that a higher ranking bone is called a heavier bone while a lower ranking bone is called lighter.

Playing a domino piece

4-6 played on 4-5

The bones that are face up in play are called the layout, chain, or line. The layout will have one or more open ends that are available to be played upon. In most games, there are two open ends--one at each end of a line of bones. In some games there may be more, or there may be varying numbers depending upon the circumstances of play. In some games, the first doublet of each hand, often called the "sniff", forms the intersection of a cross in the layout. This usually means that there are four open ends once the sniff has been played.

When only a single bone has been played, the two open ends are generally the two ends of the bone. If Player A played a 4-5, for example, there is a 4 on one open end and a 5 on the other. The next player must usually play a bone with an end that matches one of the open ends. Player B, therefore, must play a bone with either a 4 or a 5, and the matching ends must touch. If Player B plays the 4-6, the new bone is placed with the two 4 ends touching so that the new open ends are 5 and 6. Doubles are placed crosswise and sprouted (played upon) crosswise. As the layout grows, the two ends of the layout generally form the two playable ends.

Common Domino Games Most domino games are block games or draw games. In draw games, players draw from the boneyard when they have no matching bone. In block games, players pass and forfeit the turn when they have no matching bone. Otherwise, there is no difference. Both generally consist of several hands of dominoes played until one of the players accumulates an agreed upon number of points and wins the series. Points are generally earned only by the first player in each hand to go out (play his or her last bone, also called to domino) and win the hand. The primary object is thus to play all ones bones before an opponent does.

There are many existing rules for determining which player is the leader (or downer), the player to make the first play of the hand. In some rules, the lead is determined by lottery. The bones are shuffled face down on the table, and each player draws one bone. The player with the highest double, or heaviest bone, or other agreed upon prize is designated the leader. By this rule, the leader then reshuffles the bones before the final deal. By other rules, the final deal determines the leader. Playing the first bone of a hand is sometimes called setting the first bone, leading the first bone, downing the first bone, or posing the first bone, and the bone so set, led, downed, or posed is called the set, the lead, the down, or the pose. After the first hand, the winner of the previous hand is usually the leader for the next. By some rules, however, the lead rotates player to player across hands.

After the final shuffle the bones are dealt; each player in turn draws the number of bones required. The stock of bones left behind is called the boneyard, and the bones therein are said to be sleeping. If the leader was determined by lottery, the leader sets by placing any bone face up on the table. If the leader was not determined by lottery, the player with the highest double leads with that double, and if no player has a double, the hand is reshuffled and redealt.

The next player, and all players in turn, must play a bone with an end that matches one of the open ends of the layout. Play continues until one of the players goes out (and calls "out!" or "domino!") and wins the hand or until all the players are blocked. If all the players are blocked the player with the lightest hand wins.

In block games, players who cannot match on their turn must forfeit the turn by knocking (passing)--accomplished by rapping twice on the table or by saying, "go" or "pass". In draw games, players who cannot match must draw bones from the boneyard until obtaining a playable bone. According to most rules, the last two bones in the boneyard may not be drawn. If the boneyard is exhausted (only two bones left), the player knocks.

The winning player scores a point for each pip on each bone still held by each opponent. If no player went out, however, and the win was determined by the lightest hand, the winning player sometimes scores a point for each pip on each bone still held by each opponent, and sometimes only the excess held by opponents. A game is generally played to 100 points, the tally being kept with paper and pencil or on a cribbage board[?].

Muggins (or, All Fives or Five Up)

Points are earned when a player plays a bone with the result that the count (the sum of all open ends) is a multiple of five. The points earned are equal to the sum of the ends. Therefore, if in the course of play a player plays a bone that makes the sum of the ends 5, 10, 15 or 20, the player scores that number. All pips on a crosswise doublet are included in the count.

Each player takes five bones (four players) or seven bones (two players). If the leader plays the 6-4, 5-5, 5-0, 4-1, or 3-2, the count is evenly divisible by five and so the player scores. If, later, the ends before play are 2 and 4, the next player can play the 4-4 crosswise and score 10. Each player must play if holding a matching bone. A player who cannot match must draw until obtaining a playable bone. Scores are called and taken immediately.

The player who goes out wins additional points based on the pips still in other players' hands. Each opponent's hand is rounded to the nearest multiple of five and the result is given the winner. For example, the winner scores 25 for 27 pips in an opponent's hand and 30 for 28 points. If all players are blocked, the lightest hand win, still earning points based on the pips in opponents' hands.

All Threes

All Threes is played in the same manner as Muggins, except that points are earned for multiples of three.

Fives and Threes

Fives and Threes is similar to Muggins and All Threes, but points are scored for multiples of five and multiples of three at the open ends. Multiples of five and multiples of three are worth one point each. These can be scored in combination, however. If Player A plays the 6-5 and Player B the 6-1, then Player B scores 2 points because 5 and 1 sum to six (two threes). Player A then plays the 1-5 and earns 2 points because 5 and 5 sum to 10 (two fives). If Player B then plays the 5-5 crosswise, Player B scores 8 points, 5 for five threes and 3 for three fives.

Fives and Threes can be played with or without a sniff (see Playing a domino piece). Games are often played to 31, 61, or 121 points using a cribbage board to score.


Matador, meaning "killer" (of the bull in a bull fight) in Spanish, is a common draw game with the usual object of going out first and collecting points based on the bones still in ones opponents hands. The rules governing play of a bone, however, are different.

New bones are not played matching end to matching end. Instead, bones are played so that the sum of the open end and the new end touching it sum to seven. If one of the open ends is a 3, for example, any bone with a 4 can be placed abutted with the 3. If a 4-2 is played, the 4 is placed against the 3 and the 2 becomes the new open end. As Matador is played with bones no higher than six, a blank means the blocking of that end because there is no tile that can sum with zero to seven. No further play can take place at that end excepting by playing a matador, which may be played at any time.

There are four matadors, the 6-1, 5-2, 4-3 and 0-0--that is, all the tiles whose two ends sum to 7 and the 0-0. It is often better to draw one or more fresh bones than to play one's last matador, as it may save the game at a critical juncture. In playing, a double counts as a single number only, but in scoring the full number of pips is counted. When the game has been definitely blocked the player with the lightest hand scores the number of the combined hands (sometimes only the excess in his opponent's hand), the game being usually 100. Matador can be played by three people, in which case the two having the lowest scores usually combine against the threatening winner; and also by four, either each player against all others or two on a side.

A player who cannot make a seven on either end must draw from the boneyard until securing a playable bone (although two bones must remain in the boneyard). If the boneyard is exhausted, the player must knock. A player may also draw a bone even when holding a playable bone.

Other Games

There are also a variety of other games played with dominoes. Some are simple memory games like Concentration (based on the card game of same name), some are complex, and some are simple solitaire games.


Concentration is generally played by two players. The bones are placed face down on the table, shuffled by one, both, or all players and then arranged in a simple rectangular grid. For double-six dominoes, for example, the 28 bones would be placed in four rows of seven bones each.

The goal of play is to collect pairs of bones. The player who collects the most pairs wins the game. With double-six dominoes, pairs consist of any two bones whose pips sum to 12. For example, the 3-5 and the 0-4 form a pair. In some variations, doubles can only form pairs with other doubles so that the 2-2, for example, can only be paired with the 4-4.

Players, in turn, try to collect pairs by turning over and exposing the faces of two bones from the grid. If the four faces of the two bones sum to 12, the player takes the two bones, scores a point (in some rules a point for each bone taken), and plays again. If the tally is any other number, the bones are turned face down again and the player's turn is over.

The first player to accumulate 50 (or 100) points wins the series.

The Origin of Dominoes Dominoes are descendants of dice. The two ends on each of the original Chinese dominoes represented one of the 21 combinations that can occur with the throw of two dice. Modern western dominoes, however, have blank ends on them as well and so the number of dominoes is generally 28. Dominoes were apparently unknown in Europe until the 18th century and may have been invented in their modern form in Italy. The dark spots on light faces apparently reminded people of masquerade masks with eyeholes (called dominoes) and thus gave the playing pieces their name. Chinese dominoes do not have blanks, but some whole tiles are duplicated..

Other Uses of Dominoes Other than playing games of strategy, another common pastime using domino tiles is to stand them on edge in long lines, then topple the first tile, which falls on and topples the second, etc., resulting in all of the tiles falling. Arrangements of thousands of tiles have been made that took several minutes to fall. By analogy, similar phenomena of chains of small events each causing similar events leading to eventual catastrophe are called domino effects.

See Also

Rules of domino games[?], Chinese dominoes, domino effect, tetromino


  • Hoyle's Rules of Games 3rd Ed. (2001). Hoyle, Edmond, Mott-Smith, Geoffrey, & Morehead, Philip, & Morehead, A. H. (Eds). Signet. ISBN 0451204840

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