Domino playing is more than just a pastime
This is the usual weekend activity for Jack, General Manager of LIME. Jack grew up playing dominoes, as according to him, it was a âfamily thingâ. 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 gameâs ability to teach math. Jack explains: âIt 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,â Jack explained.
These âother thingsâ 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.
âAfter the math part, I dunno, there was just this addiction. I think too itâs more so, the social interaction that you get.
âListen, everybody plays dominoes,â he said chuckling, âWhether youâre rich, poor, youâre 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,â Jack explained.
âIâve 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. Itâs not difficult to catch on,â he explained.
The Aim of the game
According to Garrey Micheal Dennie, a professor of history at St Maryâs 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.
âThe aim of the game, at its heart, the game is to humiliate the opponent!
âWhere does the âsweetnessâ come from? Just matching these numbersâ¦no, the aim of the game is to show that youâre smarter than the other guy.â Dennie said.
âThe fewer cards in your hand the more the likelihood of you winning,â he added.
Partners are required to âreadâ not only the tiles that are played, but anticipate what each other would play, without sending signals to each other. Partnersâ 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, thatâs when the âslammingâ 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.
âNow 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 playâ¦bam! Bam, bam, bam!,â Dennie said, imitating the way a player may slam the card on the table.
âA slam is hard because it signals to the opponent that there is a ruler and you are a ruler! Thereâs a code of conduct; whosoever is dominant; has to be allowed to dominate; when youâre being schooled, you take your lesson quietly; you donât fuss, you donât fret. Because you are being beaten, you take your beating, because they (the winners) have the cards and you are just waiting patiently.â
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.
âThe language is a part of the performance and action is also a part of the fun,â Dennie said, and the worst thing to be called, he added, is a âDomino Dunceâ or maybe a âVirginâ. 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 donât simply say pass, but you knock the table.
âThen sometimes the language is genderized. Since youâre winning the game, this (losing player) is my sweetheartâ¦itâs the person who is making you win, youâre giving me love, so you say youâre my sweetheart, sweetie.â Dennie explained, chuckling.
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.
âIt is addictive! Once you get into this game, you really understand it, you want to play this game all the time. But thereâs something about it that also stimulates you mentally,â 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.
âWhen I go to one of these communities and play dominoes, youâll be surprised to find out so much about the people, so much about our culture and so much about whatâs going on in society. Things you wonât even see in the news or read in the news, youâll get it at a roadside domino game. But I think itâs that interaction with the people, that connection with the people is something really, really cool, its something that you donât get in the office.â
âSo 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 donât understand it and I think that some younger persons as well donât 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. Itâs a really interesting concept. I enjoy it,â Jack continued.
The game also has the ability to relieve stress
âHuman 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 youâre winningâ Dennie explained.
âItâs stress free, thereâs nothing like end of week, you just wanna blow some steam, you just go and you just play some dominoes. (Itâs) really, really cool. You donât think of anything, so you forget about the stress of work at least for that very moment and you just play.
âIn 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 matchingâ¦.We rarely play for money, we play for glory,â Dennie said.