Official Dominoes Rules

By Jenny Landis-Steward
Official Dominoes Rules
Benjamin Earwicker

You probably remember standing all the dominoes in long snake-like lines, then pushing the first one to create a cascading trail of fallen rectangles. Maybe you saw people on television with thousands of dominoes racing and falling in fantastic patterns. But did you know there is a real dominoes game? In fact, there are dozens of them.


Dominoes were most likely developed in China around the 12th century, although some sources credit Egypt or Arabia with their creation. Chinese dominoes have been found in sites in China dating to the early 1100s. Dominoes are based on the six-sided die, and a double-6 set of dominoes represents all the rolls of two six-sided dice. Traditional Chinese dominoes use all possible combinations, including duplicates, while the common European dominoes use each combination only once and add blanks. By the early 18th century, dominoes had migrated to Italy, and by the end of the 18th century, they had spread throughout Europe. They are particularly popular in Latin American countries and throughout the Caribbean. Tournaments are held the world over.

Domino Basics

Dominoes, also called bones, are small tiles with dots, or pips, on each end. The dots are separated by a line. The most common set, the double-6, has 28 tiles with all the numbers from 0 (blank) to 6. Each tile is named according to the pips on the tile. So if a domino shows a 4 and a 5, it's called a 4-5. The lowest number is always named first. Dominoes with the same number on each end are called doubles, so a domino with two 6s is a double-6, hence the name of the set. Double-6s are the "heaviest" tile in the set, while double-blanks are the lightest. Larger sets of dominoes are available, including double-9s, double-12s, double-15s and double-18s. These larger sets are used in more complicated games. It is customary for doubles to be placed sideways. But you do not play off the exposed ends of the doubles. The dominoes can be placed end-to-end or end to-side. This is purely a convenience to keep them from running off the table.

Basic Game Play--Draw Dominoes

Draw dominoes is one of the simplest domino games and is the basis for many of the more complicated games. The dominoes are shuffled by placing them face down on the table and moving them around to mix them up. This is called the bone yard. If only two players are playing, they each draw seven dominoes from the bone yard. If three or four are playing, they each draw five dominoes. The rest of the dominoes are left on the table. Each player places his dominoes on their sides in front of him so other players cannot see his tiles. The person with the highest double starts and plays a tile. If no one has a double, the person with the highest pip goes first. The person to his left then plays a tile off either end of the first tile. For example, if the first tile is a 1-3, the next player can play either a 1 or a 3. If a player can't make a play, he must draw from the bone yard until he can play. If there are no dominoes left, he must pass. The round ends when a player is out of tiles or no one can play a tile. Then the game is called "blocked" and ends.


When a round ends, the person with the lowest number of pips remaining in his hand (the lightest hand) wins points equal to all the pips remaining in the hands of all his competitors. A game is usually played until one player has 100 points.

Strategy Hints

Play your doubles as soon as you get the chance because you only have half as many chances to play them. Try to keep a variety of pips in your hand at all times to increase your chances of being able to play without having to draw. Try to block your opponent by figuring out what pips he might be holding, then playing so as to not allow him to play. Try to block other players by playing pips you have a lot of. The more 6s you have, the less the chance they'll have some.

About the Author

Jenny Landis-Steward has written reports for child welfare research for over 14 years. She has a master's degree in clinical psychology. She was the editor of two social service agency publications for seven years. Her economic thesis was an analysis of employment trends.