42 (dominoes)

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A game of Dominoes

42, also known as Texas 42, is a trick-taking game played with a standard set of double six dominoes. 42 is often referred to as the "national game of Texas".[1] Tournaments are held in many towns,[1] and the State Championship tournament is held annually in Hallettsville, Texas on the first Saturday of March each year.[2] In 2011 it was designated the official State Domino Game of Texas.[3]


According to a 1985 news article written by Christopher Evans of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the game originated in Garner, Texas. Two local boys, William Thomas and Walter Earl, developed the game in response to a general disapproval of card-playing games held by many Protestants at that time. William and Walter were able to incorporate dominoes in their game, which mimicked the mechanics of a trick-taking card game like pitch. The game they developed, which was the precursor to today's 42, found acceptance since dominoes did not carry the negative stigma of card-playing. From there, the game spread throughout Texas.[4]



The game is played by four people, in teams of two each, who sit facing each other across the table. The object of the game is to be the first team to reach seven "marks" or 250 points. The game consists of a number of hands (a maximum of 13 hands when playing for marks).


Before commencing each hand, each player will bid to win the choice of trumps. The bidder determines what to bid by estimating how many of the forty-two (42) total points the team will win in the hand based only on the seven (7) known tiles. The minimum bid is 30. A player may also pass (make no bid). If all players pass, the dealer is either forced to bid or, in some variations of play, the dominoes are reshuffled by the next dealer. Each hand consists of 42 points. One point for each of the 7 tricks, plus 35 points from the five "count" dominoes whose pips add to a multiple of 5 and are each worth their total pip count (those being the 6-4 and double-5 for 10 points each, and the 4-1, 3-2, and 5-blank for 5 points each). The maximum bid possible is 42, with one exception: a player may bid 84, which means (like 42) that the player must catch all tricks, and the results of the tricks will be stacked atop another as they are played, so as to prevent the players from seeing what has already been introduced into play. The benefit of bidding "84" versus only "42" is that if successful, the bidder wins two marks for the game instead of only one. As the trump is declared by the winner of the bid, one strategy is to bid high if one has most of the dominoes in one particular suit.


After each player gets one chance to bid, the highest bidder chooses the trump for that hand, which can consist of designating as the trump one of the following: a particular "suit" (blanks through sixes, i.e. all tiles containing a six on one or both sides behaves as a trump when played); doubles (any tile containing the same number of pips on each of the two halves of the marked surface of that tile will behave as the trump in that hand when played); or the "follow me" rule (also known as "no trump").

Play then proceeds in a clockwise fashion with the player to the dealer's left having the first play of the first hand (because there is not yet a "winning" player from a prior round). This player may choose the suit that the other players are to follow with from their own dealt hands; each following player must try to play a tile of the same suit as the initial tile that was played in that round ("following suit"), if at all possible. When led, each tile is considered to belong to the suit of its higher number (out of the two "numbers" represented by the number of pips on the two halves of the tiles' surface), unless the tile is a member of the "trump" suit as defined at the beginning of the hand (i.e. contains the matching number of pips as the trump suit on that tile's surface). When "no trump" is present, the double of any suit is the highest-ranking member of that suit, followed by the highest number on the other side. The highest number of the leading suit wins, unless a trump is played, in which case the trump wins. If more than one tile from a trump suit is played, the highest-numbered trump tile wins.

The winner of the trick (whomever plays the highest value domino earns that trick) takes all of the played dominoes from that round (the "trick") into their possession and gets to play first on the next hand (which also allows them to call the trump for that hand, conveying a significant advantage). If playing for marks, play continues until the bidding team has scored enough to match their initial bid ("made their contract"), or else is "set" (denied the possibility of winning due to not taking enough tricks to match their initial bid) by the non-bidding team. At that time, the team with the highest score and who has made their contract is awarded the correct number of marks. When playing for points, play continues until all seven tricks have been played/won, or one person can show that they have the tiles to win all of the remaining tricks independent of any possible maneuvers by the other players (i.e. they have the three "most valuable" tiles still in play in the game in their hand, with only three tricks or rounds of play left in the hand).


Each trick is worth one point. There are five "count" pieces (those whose spots total five or ten) that are worth that number of points: the 0-5, 1-4 and 2-3 are worth five points each; the 5-5 and 6-4 are each worth ten. The total of all the count pieces (35) plus the seven tricks equals 42, which is the number of points in a hand, hence the name of the game.

  1. Marks: A game is typically played for seven marks. This is usually documented with tally marks. Some players mark straight lines that spell out the capital letters ALL. It is reported that a small group of Aggie players sometime make marks that spell "A" and "M" around a large "T" to make an A&M logo. This is a very rare method of marking a 42 score.
  2. Points: A game is typically played to 250 points. After the hand, if the bidding team reaches their contract they are awarded the bid they made, not the number of points taken in the hand (if a team bids 30 and reaches 35, only 30 points are awarded for the hand), and the non-n bidding team is awarded any points they caught during the hand. If the bidding team does not make their contract they do not score on the hand and the setting team is awarded the bid in addition to any points they caught (if the bid is 30 and the bidding team only catches 26 points, the bidding team receives 0 points while the setting team receives 30 points for the bid and 16 for the points in the hand for a total of 46 points).

Special contracts[edit]

  • 84 (Two Marks)
The bidder's team must win all the tricks. Dominoes are played trick atop trick to avoid revealing what has been played thus far in the hand. If the bidder's team succeeds in taking all the tricks, the team earns two marks.
  • 42 (One Mark)
The bidder's team must win all the tricks. The hand is played as per usual.
  • 30
The minimum bid. Successive bids must be higher than this bid, or the player must pass (make no bid).

The highest bid wins the auction and that player has the right to name the trump suit and lead.


There are a number of special terms in the game of 42:

  • dominoes: rocks, bones
  • shuffle: shake, wash, stir
  • suit: number on one end of the domino
  • 0s: blanks, nils, windows
  • 1s: aces
  • 2s: deuces (or "ducks")
  • 3s: treys
  • the one-blank: roach
  • the six-three: the devil
  • the two-one: domination domino
  • the two-three: rabbit's foot
  • low: nello, nil
  • off(s): domino(es) in bidder's hand that isn't trump suit or double
  • bad off(s): offs which if led risk the loss of "count" dominoes (e.g. the five-one)
  • to not follow suit when appropriate: renege
  • one who reneges: renegger
  • play a low domino in an attempt to lose the lead: punt
  • a bid made solely to deny your opponent the trump selection: spite bid
  • the verb meaning to play a trump on a non-trump: trump
  • to have three of the trump suit chosen by your opponent: have them three deep
  • the double of any trump suit: the "bull" or "big kahuna"
  • the trump immediately below the double: the "cow" or "moo-moo"
  • the trump immediately below the cow: the "calf"
  • walk: a typically low ranking domino led when all dominoes that can win it have been played
  • a hand that cannot be beaten: a rollover hand, a lay down, or a "walker"
  • one who pulls too many dominoes when drawing: pregnant
  • count which adds up to 5: a nickel
  • count which adds up to 10: a dime
  • follow-me: a hand called to be played with no trumps
  • shooter: bidding 42
  • double shooter: bidding 84
  • dominoes worth no points: trash
  • dominoes worth points: count, grease, sugar, or money
  • trumps and doubles: a situation where the person leading knows he can capture all remaining tricks because his hand consists only of doubles and a controlling set of trumps

Optional Rules[edit]


Also known as nillo, nil, low, nello, or low-boy, nel-o is an optional house rule that allows players with an otherwise low-scoring hand to bid. All players must agree to allow nel-o bidding before the game begins. Sometimes nel-o is only allowed by the dealer, if the first three players all passed.

A player may choose to bid nel-o, instead of bidding a number or passing, if they have particularly low dominoes in a hand (the -blanks and -ones of several suits). This means they intend to win the hand by not catching any tricks at all. Their partner then turns their dominoes face down, and does not participate in that hand. The opposing team will play their lowest dominoes, trying to force the nel-o bidder into catching a trick.

The nel-o bidder's team scores a mark if they catch no tricks. If the nel-o bidder catches even one trick, the hand is immediately over, and the opposing team scores a mark.

Other variations of nel-o treat doubles in a special way. Doubles may be weighted either as the high of their suit, as a suit of their own, or least commonly as the low of their suit. If any of these variants are used, a declaration is required and all players must agree to allow them before play begins.

Nel-o rules may also be used in the domino game "Shoot the Moon."


The bidder bids three marks, and their partner calls trump without discussion with the bidder. The bidder must have three doubles to do this. Some variants have a "Splash" worth two marks.


Also called Crash, this variation is exactly like Splash, except four (or in some variants, three) marks are bid and the bidder must have four doubles. Jump bids are allowed for Splash and Plunge. All tricks must be won for a successful plunge bid. If the opponents win even one trick the plunge bid fails and the opponents get the marks.


Another less common rule is to allow a player to bid Sevens. Instead of the highest domino winning each trick, the domino whose sum is closest to seven wins. Dominoes are classified as "sevens" (the 4-3, 5-2, and 6-1), "one away" (dominoes adding to six or eight), "two away" (adding to five or nine), etc. When more than one domino of the same distance from seven is played, the first domino played is considered the winner. A player must bid at least 42 (one mark) to go in sevens, and losing even one trick will set the bidder. When a bid of "sevens" wins the contract, all players reveal their dominoes face-up and order them from sevens to maximum-away. Dominoes must be played in this order by all players.


In some houses of play, no stacking of dominoes is allowed regardless of the winning bid. In others, a bid of one mark entitles the contract-winning team to stack the won tricks in two stacks of equal height, where a bid of two or more marks entitles them to stack the won tricks in a single stack.


  • 84, a variant played with two sets of dominoes. Play usually consists of six to eight players. Some of the terminology also differs, such as bidding "pistol" instead of "nello".
  • 72, a variant played with two sets of dominoes, blanks removed. Play usually consists of four players. Each player gets 10 dominoes, the starting bid is 40. The two remaining dominoes, known as "The Widow", goes to whoever gets the bid. That person must then throw away two dominoes, though they are not allowed to throw away trumps or count. If this can't be avoided, any count goes to the other team, and any trump that is thrown out must be turned face up.
  • Shoot the Moon is another variant. It is played with 3 people, no teams. In this game, no domino has a special value, and all tricks remain worth one point. The game is played by removing all of the blank dominoes except for the double blank. If a player is denied the possibility of winning, or set, then they instead lose the amount they bid from their total. The game is played to 21 points, and the minimum bid is 4. The name of the game comes from "shooting the moon." If a player states during the bidding phase that they will shoot the moon, then they must catch all tricks. Doing so is worth 21 points. Failing to catch all 7 tricks results in a loss of 21 points. This is the highest possible bid, unless another player elects to "shoot it over" the player who is shooting the moon; this makes their own bid worth 42 points. There are no special contracts in this game.
  • Geezer uses a set of double seven dominoes and each player draws nine. The 7-3 adds another ten count and the minimum bid is 39. A 46 bid will out bid one mark and conventions include "dip," "dive," and "plunge" bids depending on the number of doubles (3, 4 or 5) held. A dip is two marks, dive is three and plunge is four. An opening 41 bid invites the watery responses, but a naked dip, dive or plunge is allowed. Otherwise a two mark bid is the maximum allowed except to overbid another. Third bidder must bid or the fourth bidder may either ask his partner to name trumps or play 39 for two marks. The eccentrics who developed this game also added strange low bids for nello, in which anything can be low in its suit. Thus if 3s are low, a 3-6 is lower than the 6-blank. The successful bidder's partner does not play in a nello game. There is also a 51 bid, in which count is trump and 5 or 10 count dominoes must be played in response to a count lead of the bidder and the bidder must catch all except three tricks with no count on the three. What others would deem to be cheating is mere convention, as players signal their partners what they can catch by pointing a domino, spinning it counterclockwise or clockwise or even place it at various angles. Invented by good Presbyterian professional men who learned 42 from their grandmothers and who will be happy to tell a newby if he wins. Started as a way to justify the purchase (for $.50) of a bag of assorted dominoes by an incredibly thrifty (cheap)individual. Expanded to anything-low when Weird Charlie from Orange introduced the concept of doubles low at a Mo Ranch retreat. He lost, but it was inspirational.
  • The Big Game is a variant for players who want a challenging game based on a larger set of tiles instead of special bids. (It is a mathematically accurate extension of 42 from 7 to 11 tricks.) All rules in The Big Game are the same as "standard 42" except:
    • Play is 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 choose whether to 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.
  • 3-handed 42 is played by only three players. The blank-ace is removed from the set, and each player draws 9 dominoes. Bidding is usually the same as in traditional 4-handed play (i.e. minimum bid of 30 and so forth).

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roberson, Dennis (2000). Winning 42: Strategy and Lore of the National Game of Texas. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 0-89672-443-3. 
  2. ^ "Hallettsville Chamber of Commerce". Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  3. ^ "HCR 84". Texas Legislature. Texas Legislature. Archived from the original on June 19, 2011. Retrieved June 19, 2011. Designating 42 as the official State Domino Game of Texas. 
  4. ^ "Texas 42 - A Game of Dominoes". Retrieved 2012-10-09.