Dominoes is often stereotyped as a children’s game of luck. People think it is easy and non-competitive. But these misconceptions are not necessarily true. However, the vanilla persona of dominoes has helped a crime boss outsmart the Texas Rangers (true story). Thus, there is much more to dominoes than meets the casual eye.
Dominoes is not a game of pure luck but one of strategy and probability while favoring those who can skillfully read body language. It is a competitive game played by adults around the world in leagues and lucrative tournaments. The game is even illegal to play (for money) in some parts of the world.
Dominoes may have a tame, unassuming veneer. But the games and tiles have inspired many, including theories to justify war. Even a modest-sized tile is powerful enough to set off a chain reaction that could crush a car. Thus, beware of falling for some of these domino myths. Then again, some of the most outlandish claims are actually true.
These are 15 myths, legends, and misconceptions about dominoes:
1. Dominoes Is A Game Of Pure Luck (False)
Dominoes is a game of strategy, probability, and the ability to read body language. The only people relying on luck to win dominoes are beginners or young children.
Pros keep track of the tiles and what’s been played to influence their strategy. They also know which tiles should be dispensed with first and which ones are good to hang on to for a bit longer.
Deciding when or if to block is also a strategy that takes experience to learn to use effectively and, again, requires more than luck.
2. Dominoes Is Only A Children’s Game (False)
Dominoes is hugely popular with adults in certain parts of the world. There are massive leagues and tournaments, including the Universal Domino League.
3. Dominoes Isn’t Competitive (False)
Never go to Cuba and say, “Dominoes isn’t competitive.” At least if you value your life. Dominoes is a highly competitive game in certain circles and is taken as seriously as high-stakes poker in Vegas.
4. The Domino Effect Can Crush A Car (True)
MythBusters investigated if domino tiles could crush a car using the domino effect. The team began with a regular-sized domino and then made the next 1.5 times larger. They continued this formula until they had twelve dominos, the last weighing over 7,000 pounds. Then using a lot of math and heavy equipment, they lined them up and tipped the first original-sized domino.
So did the little, itty, bitty playing piece manage to set off a cascade of events that eventually toppled a 7,000+ lbs domino and crushed a car?
Yes. You can see it for yourself.
5. There’s No Prize Money In Dominoes (False)
Domino tournaments can have pretty snazzy prizes and prize money. For example, Eritrean Natnael Tsegaye won $50,0000 and a Harley Davidson when he became the number 1 world-ranked domino player in 2019.
6. Dominoes Descended From Dice (True)
Dominoes are considered the descendant of dice. However, Chinese games often use them more akin to playing cards.
7. Dominoes Were Originally Made From Stone (False)
Dominoes were initially made of bone, ivory, and according to some reports, ebony. Stone tiles are much harder to make. So while you can find modern fancy stone sets, they are expensive, although beautiful. Not that ivory is cheap (and typically illegal these days, or at least frowned upon).
8. European Dominoes Are Different From Chinese (True)
The European dominoes games do differ from the Chinese. Even the tiles look different, and the Chinese versions tend to have seven more tiles.
9. There Is Always A Winner In Dominoes (False)
There is not always a winner in dominoes. While rare, games end in a draw if the boneyard is empty and none of the players can put down a tile.
10. Dominoes Isn’t A Team Sport (False)
Dominoes can be a team game. For example, Jamaican and Caribbean Partner Dominoes involves four players split into two teams. However, players cannot talk or gesture to their tiles during play.
11. Presidents Used Dominoes As An Excuse For War (True-ish)
Rightly or wrongly, two US presidents used dominoes to construct a theory called the domino effect. The theory was first proposed by Harry S. Truman and later used by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Both presidents justified military action in the belief that if one communist government was brought down, then others in the surrounding area would topple.
12. The Inuit Have A Unique Version Of Dominoes (True)
The Inuit have their version of dominoes. Mr. Lucien Turner documented his encounter with the game back in 1884, describing the ivory sets that ranged from 60 to 148 craved pieces. Mr. Turner speaks of men betting on their wives during play. However, it is entirely possible Mr. Turner was mistaken in his assumptions, as the Inuit’s point of view is excluded from the account.
There are theories that French fur traders introduced the game to the Inuit. Maybe, but it would be interesting to hear the Inuit’s thoughts on their game’s history.
13. It’s Cheating To Pass In Dominoes If You Have A Play (False)
It is legal to pass in dominoes, even if you have a playable tile when playing the blocking game. The bluffing strategy can help throw off opponents and gives the game a poker vibe.
14. Dominoes Has Been Banned (True)
As bananas as it sounds, an old Alabama law (section 13A-12–1) forbade people from playing dominoes on a certain day of the week. Also, in 2014, the Spanish city of Seville banned people from playing dominoes or dice games outdoors. The reason? To reduce noise levels.
15. Sam Maceo Use Dominoes To Hide Illegal Gaming (True)
We’re not going to say Salvatore “Sam” Maceo was a mobster. We’re just saying he had a habit of running some organized crime rackets. One of his establishments was the Balinese Room, a swanky club for dinner, dancing, bookmaking, and gambling.
Or at least that is what the Texas Rangers believed. But every time they stormed the joint, they found patrons playing dominoes and checkers. Hmmm. We’re sure that little buzzer he used wasn’t to alert staff and patrons to hide the gambling tables, wink-wink.
Dominoes is an old game that has spread across the world, played by young and old alike. While often touted as a family game, dominoes can be highly competitive, with lucrative cash prizes. It has even been used by the organized crime.