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Domino playing is more than just a pastime

Domino playing is more than just a pastime

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It’s been a long week at the office for Leslie Jack. Wanting to let off some steam, he finds a certain comfort at a village shop, sitting across from his domino partner. With a slam of the tile on the wooden table, the other tiles are scattered. He smiles, as he is winning in a game he has described as addictive.{{more}}

This is the usual weekend activity for Jack, General Manager of LIME. Jack grew up playing dominoes, as according to him, it was a ‘family thing’. Mother, father, sister, brother and uncles bonded over the game, while young Leslie closely observed and played along, matching cards.

Initially his interest in the game was attributed to the game’s ability to teach math. Jack explains: “It was a way of learning how to count, especially if you playing for points. Most people play for a 200 score, so at the end of the game, you had to add up all these counts. So, for me, it was a way of learning how to count, a very interesting way, but as I got accustomed to the counting part of it, then I started looking at other things,” Jack explained.

These ‘other things’ included becoming more skilled at the game and an increased love and attraction to playing dominoes. Jack says that the game provides a certain thrill that usually draws the player in.

Jack said regardless of social status, the game offers great social interaction.

“After the math part, I dunno, there was just this addiction. I think too it’s more so, the social interaction that you get.

“Listen, everybody plays dominoes,” he said chuckling, “Whether you’re rich, poor, you’re middle class you name it. Really and truly I would say dominoes transcends all boundaries. I mean we can identify any game as well, but domino is one of those roots types of games that Vincentians loved back in the day and still love,” Jack explained.

“I’ve played dominoes in St Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica; once I see a domino shop, or a group of guys playing domino, I stop and I play. The rules are slightly different. There are ways that they play like in St Lucia; the rules are different than the way we do so in St Vincent, or Barbados or likewise Jamaica, but at the end of the day, the objective is pretty much the same. It’s not difficult to catch on,” he explained.

The Aim of the game

According to Garrey Micheal Dennie, a professor of history at St Mary’s College in Maryland and a domino player himself, the aim of the game is to defeat your opponent by clearing all your tiles out of your hand. Another aim, he explained, is to exact a certain level of humiliation while doing so.

The standard domino pack has 28 cards, with suits running from blanks to sixes. Each domino tile, or card, or bone as it is also called, is divided by a line, with values on both sides.

Every tile belongs to suits of both of its values. So, for example, a tile with values two and three belong to the two and three suits. Suits range from blanks to six. Double sixes is the highest tile.

Usually, a basic domino game involves four persons, with partners sitting opposite each other. Players receive 7 tiles each. The double six usually begins the game.

Dennie explains that the game is not just about matching tiles, but that it requires a certain skill and has certain arithmetic.

“The aim of the game, at its heart, the game is to humiliate the opponent!

“Where does the ‘sweetness’ come from? Just matching these numbers…no, the aim of the game is to show that you’re smarter than the other guy.” Dennie said.

“The fewer cards in your hand the more the likelihood of you winning,” he added.

Partners are required to “read’ not only the tiles that are played, but anticipate what each other would play, without sending signals to each other. Partners’ efforts must be geared towards the goal of winning. The longer partners play with each other, the stronger the bond becomes and the better they are able to read each other.

Code of Conduct, Language and the Slam!

Though others may see it as just a simple game of matching, there is an expected code of conduct in dominoes. Dennie explains that once you have established dominance in the game, that’s when the “slamming” starts.

In most domino games, slamming the cards on the table is deliberate and though it may seem noisy and unnecessary to some outsiders, it serves its purpose.

“Now if you come to a point in the game where you recognize that you will win the game, that you have the dominant cards, that they cannot stop you. Because you have read the game and worked out who have all the other cards and how you can play in a way that defeats the opponent and only you and your partner can play. You may have four cards in your hand and if you can play those cards without anybody being able to play…bam! Bam, bam, bam!,” Dennie said, imitating the way a player may slam the card on the table.

“A slam is hard because it signals to the opponent that there is a ruler and you are a ruler! There’s a code of conduct; whosoever is dominant; has to be allowed to dominate; when you’re being schooled, you take your lesson quietly; you don’t fuss, you don’t fret. Because you are being beaten, you take your beating, because they (the winners) have the cards and you are just waiting patiently.”

Stating that the game is a part of a performance culture, Dennie explained that he played dominoes with one man who took this performance to the extreme, getting up from the domino table in the shop, walking outside, re-entering through the window of the shop, just to slam his card on the table, signaling his victory.

“The language is a part of the performance and action is also a part of the fun,” Dennie said, and the worst thing to be called, he added, is a ‘Domino Dunce’ or maybe a ‘Virgin’. This means that the player is new at the game and maybe only knows how to match the cards. Additionally, if you are unable to play a card, players don’t simply say pass, but you knock the table.

“Then sometimes the language is genderized. Since you’re winning the game, this (losing player) is my sweetheart…it’s the person who is making you win, you’re giving me love, so you say you’re my sweetheart, sweetie.” Dennie explained, chuckling.

The addiction

Domino players may be so engrossed in the game, that they spend hours on end playing. Jack stated that he has witnessed persons playing games from late night into the wee hours of the morning.

“It is addictive! Once you get into this game, you really understand it, you want to play this game all the time. But there’s something about it that also stimulates you mentally,” Jack said.

He added that not only is it addictive, but you learn life lessons and gain friendships, and learn about communities through playing the game.

“When I go to one of these communities and play dominoes, you’ll be surprised to find out so much about the people, so much about our culture and so much about what’s going on in society. Things you won’t even see in the news or read in the news, you’ll get it at a roadside domino game. But I think it’s that interaction with the people, that connection with the people is something really, really cool, its something that you don’t get in the office.”

“So I might be stuck in the office all day in the course of the week, but trust me, when you get out there on the weekend and you lime with these people, you learn so much more. And it makes it so much easier to deal with things like customer service and so on. People don’t understand it and I think that some younger persons as well don’t understand it. The basic things that we apply at work, it really extends to what we do within our communities and the type of friendships we earn within our communities and how we earn those friendships. It’s a really interesting concept. I enjoy it,” Jack continued.

The game also has the ability to relieve stress

“Human beings as a species develop ways to handle stress and one of the ways we handle stress is through recreation. All games are potentially addictive to those who play them because you would have, I suppose what the biochemists will call it, a release of endorphins, that make you feel good when you’re winning” Dennie explained.

Jack concurs

“It’s stress free, there’s nothing like end of week, you just wanna blow some steam, you just go and you just play some dominoes. (It’s) really, really cool. You don’t think of anything, so you forget about the stress of work at least for that very moment and you just play.

“In a way, the addiction has nothing to do with matching numbers; it has instead to do with that collision of intellect, luck, and pleasure that comes out from that, comes out from the way that game is matching….We rarely play for money, we play for glory,” Dennie said.