Saturday, January 28, 2012

I Said Oh, Oh, Domino

To paraphrase Henry Hill in Goodfellas, “As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a domino player.”

When I was a kid and I’d go with my dad over to his cousin’s house to visit the relatives originally from Kansas City and big foot country, Seguin, Texas, the men at some point would depart to what would be termed a Man Cave today, a room off the garage really, to play bones – dominoes that is. Us kids weren’t allowed back there unless one of the wimmin’ folk had a message for one of us to deliver. When I got to do it, I’d just stand there in the doorway to their room, watching the fancy set of ivory dominoes, face down, getting mixed over the surface of the card table. The men would be smoking Camels or Lucky Strikes, my dad’s brand, cans of Hamm’s and Pabst beer at the elbow of each one of them.

I didn’t know then how they figured out, what with all those dots on those tiles, their scores. But the men would call out “ten,” “fifteen,” and sometimes one of them would be ecstatic and slap down a domino with gusto and yell out “twenty,” to the consternation of the others. I can’t remember now if it was pop who taught me or how I picked it up, but, wow, once I learned, I found out the game was part luck – you draw your dominoes face down so you don’t know what you’ve got until you got ‘em – and part strategy as there are moves when you can block another player form putting down a tile or you can lock up a fame if you think you have the lowest amount left in you hand, then you get the points of the others.

Dominoes, or so I’ve cobbled here from them internets, are believed to have originated in China in the 12th century, though Egyptian or Arabian origins are also theorized. Dominoes appeared in Italy in the early eighteenth century, and spread to the rest of Europe throughout the remainder of the 1700's, becoming one of the most popular games in both family parlors and pubs alike.

The word domino appears to have derived from the traditional appearance of the tiles - black dots on a white background - which is reminiscent of a "domino,” a kind of hood, worn by Christian priests.

Unlike chess, playing dominoes isn’t a metaphor for other aspects of life. But puffing on a good cigar, maybe a short glass of rum or scotch at your elbow, some Coltrane or John Lee Hooker on the juke, three or four other players around the table, coupled with some mild trash talking, and you got yourself an afternoon of fun and frolic, my friend. And as you can see from the graphic on the side here, there’s various domino tournaments sponsored by diverse entities. There’s one this one that seems to be a combination of playing the Madden 11 NFL game on xbox and dominoes. I wonder if like so-called Chessboxing, you have to play the video game, gain a level, then freeze the game and play a round of dominoes, going back and forth. Then there was also a domino tournament in Houston sponsored by La Gloria Cubana cigars, who make a fine product as far as I’m concerned.

But the best tournament has got to be the one in Abkhazia. A place that sounds like one of these countries you’d make up for your thriller novel. It’s on the Black Sea and apparently they see themselves as independent, though others would say they are part of Georgia. Anyway, skipping lightly over that deep bone of contention, turns out they get down in Abkhazia. They had themselves their 8th domino championship go-round last October. The Dominican Republic took the top honors with a team of Abkazian and U.S. representatives coming n 14th place.

So, snap, I know what I’m doing this coming October. Getting myself ready for the 9th annual world wide, smack down, camp-peen-ship…Abkazia here I come.


Meredith Cole said...

I'm not surprised to hear that the Dominican Republic does so well in the tournament. The Dominicans/Puerto Ricans in my neighborhood in Brooklyn would set up card tables on the sidewalk to play (and I, too, have always been mystified by the rules!).

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I love dominoes! I play it online all the time. We'll have to play sometime, Gary. I'll skip the smokes, but not the booze.

Gary Phillips said...

Online dominoes!? I learn something new all the time from you, Sue Ann. And Meredith, it's pretty much any score -- adding only the dots on the end tiles -- divisible by five, until you reach 250 points.

JJ said...

Never been curious about dominoes before but leave it to you, Gary, to pique my interest. Now I have to go find this online dominoes thing - and lose more time. Good post, BTW!

Jessica Lourey said...

My family plays dominoes--it's a good time, and I also love the feel and sound of the tiles. Reminds me of mah jongg, which I've since forgotten how to play.