20 Strategies and Tips on How to Play Dominoes (the Game)

Closeup of senior man playing dominoes with boy
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Dominoes is such an awesome game! It can be played and enjoyed by both adults and children alike, and is an excellent choice for a stay-at-home game night. To get good at the game and increase your chances of winning, you need to know some tips-and-tricks in advance.

There are several tips and strategies you can use to improves your odds of succeeding at the game of Dominoes. All of which can give you an advantage over your opponents’ the more you utilize them during play.

We will discuss these strategies and give examples of how to use them in different game variations. So, if you’re ready to learn everything you need to know about winning the game of Dominoes, then let’s get started and let’s explore these in more detail below. 

These are 20 general strategies and tips on how to play dominoes. 

1. Play Your Doubles Early.

It is smart to play doubles right off the get-go! There are usually fewer opportunities to play them as they have the same suit values on both sides. Do this early on to avoid getting stuck with just doubles.

Domino. The game of dominoes
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2. Play Your Heaviest Tiles First.

It is impossible to know for sure who will win the game at the end; therefore, it is best to set down your heaviest spotted tiles early on. That way, if the round is blocked, you won’t end up with a higher score than your opponents.

3. Keep a Variety of Suits On-Hand.

It is essential to keep as many different suits in your hand as long as you can. This is the best way to keep your playing options open and prevent you from having to pass on a turn if you are unable to make a play.

4. Pay Attention to Your Opponents’ Weaknesses.

Watch for the suit values they are missing when they are forced to pass on a play or draw from the pile. This makes it easier for you to block them later on in the game.

5. Study Your Opponents’ Hands.

Pay close attention to the layout and the tiles that have been played as well as the ones in your hand. This strategy will help you to determine the possible tiles your opponents’ are holding, which makes it easier to block their upcoming moves. 

Cuban people playing domino game in a street of Old Havana, Cuba
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6. Be Aware of the Board Count.

It is important to take note of all open ends on the layout. For example, in the game of Fives, points are scored when the board count is equivalent to a multiple of five.

7. Figure Out How to Alter the Board.

Evaluate the tiles in your hand and change the layout of the board by figuring out the difference between the suit values on either side. For example, if there is a three and a five on each end, the board count will change by a value of 2. Raise the board count by connecting the lower suit to the open end. Or, lower the board count by combining the higher suit to the open end.

8. Use Blocking Strategies Whenever Possible.

When the chances for scoring points starts to decrease, use as many blocking strategies as possible near the end of a point game. Keeping your opponents’ from scoring points is just as important in the game of Dominoes as scoring them yourself.

9. Keep Control over the Board.

Try to push-up the board count whenever it is possible for you to set down scoring tiles (or bring it down when you can’t). For example, in a game like Fives (where points are scored for board counts that represent a multiple of five), keep in mind the tiles in your hand that will alter the board count by a multiple of five and play those just after your opponents’ have made a scoring move. 

individuals play the domino game in the historic Domino Park in popular Little Havana
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10. Don’t Be Afraid to Lower the Board Count.

Remember, in a game like Fives (where you score points when either end of the layout is a multiple of five) it is okay to lower the board count to a multiple of five as well as to raise it! This is Dominoes playing strategy at its finest!

11. Use Mathematical Calculations to Determine Possible Hands.

Understanding the underlying mathematical principles of the game (to determine your chances of choosing double tiles) can give you an edge. For example, out of a possible 55 double-nine dominoes, ten are likely to be doubles, including double blanks. The chances of choosing a double when picking a single tile are 10/55 or approximately 18%.

12. Know the Important Mathematical Properties of the Set.

It is essential to know that in the game of Dominoes, the most significant equation of [n-n] set is that any number k “where 0 is less than or equal to k which is less than or equal to n” will appear “n plus 2” times in the tiles.

This helps you to quickly count how many times a number will appear both in your hand and the on the table, enabling you to block your opponents’ upcoming moves. If the count is equal to “n plus 2”, then no other player can match that specific number. If you look for a double (which is often played as a spinner), you will be able to determine four of the eight possibilities right away.

13. Understand Clark’s Law and Its Relevance to the Game.

This idea is based on the theory that ...

‘in a blocked game of single spinner Dominoes, the sum of the four arms of the tableau must always total an even number’.

Clark’s Law

Doubles are always even; therefore, the spinner must have four exact halves opposing it. The ends of the tiles in each arm must be paired so that they are even. If the arm ends in a double, then the last tile must also be even.

A block can be made with two, three, or four arms on the tableau. This can be broken down further to four arms with the same number showing, giving either an even count or four arms with two dead numbers. In a situation with three arms in a blocked game, all must end with the same suit as the spinner.

14. Use Blank Tiles to Your Advantage.

domino isolated white background zero game piece
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Blanks can be used as a ‘wild card’. They can join any tile no matter the number, even other blank tiles. It’s better to play a blank tile than no tile at all!

15. Try to Get as Many Points as Possible Early in the Game.

The first player to score 100 points is the winner! The object is to try and score as many points as possible as quickly as possible. This will help increase your odds of winning at the end.

16. Pass on a Turn When Opportunity Strikes.

Sometimes it’s worth passing on a turn, especially if you know that your opponents’ have limited play options. Recognizing when to pass rather than play (especially in a game like Cuban Dominoes) will give you an advantage over the other players. 

17. Play and Repeat (and Repeat).

Once you play a specific number, it is a good idea to play it again and again. This forces your opponents’ to use up their tiles of that same number. This is a great strategy to use when playing Cuban Dominoes.

18. Look out for Potential Tells.

It is crucial to be aware of the possible tiles that remain in play. Working around your opponents’ in order to assist your teammates (like in Cuban Dominoes) is the key to winning the game!

19. Focus on Matching Tiles in Your Own Train First.

men playing a game of dominoes in the street of Old Havana
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In a game like Mexican Train Dominoes where there are multiple trains in play, it is vital to match-up tiles in your own train first. An open train shows that a player is not able to match a tile, meaning he/ she must draw tiles from the ‘boneyard’ each time, significantly increase his/her score count.

20. Use Frequently Played Tiles on Your Own Train.

If a player is unable to finish a double, he/she must leave his/her trains open. This leads to a significant advantage over others as this player can use heavily played tiles for doubles on his/her own train, making it much harder for opponents’ to try and close, causing them to open their own trains as a result.

To wrap-up! 

These are at least 20 different ways to master the game of Dominoes. The more tips-and-tricks you know, the better your chances of winning! And now, it is time to break out those tiles and call the family over for a fun game night. Good luck and may the best player win!