The Basics of Dominoes

A domino is a rectangular piece of plastic or ivory with a line that divides it visually into two squares. Each of the squares has an arrangement of spots, called pips, which are marked like those on a die. The number of pips on one side of a domino determines its value. If a domino has fewer pips, it is considered to be a “lighter” one than a domino with more pips.

Dominoes are used to play games, most of which involve blocking or scoring points. They are also used to create artistic designs. They can be arranged to form straight lines, curved lines, grids that create pictures when they fall, or even 3D structures such as towers and pyramids.

The term domino was coined in the 18th century, though it had earlier meant a cape worn by a priest over a surplice. It is suggested that this association led to the use of the name in the context of a game played by players wearing caps and with ebony black dominoes, which contrasted with white.

In the most common variant of domino, each player places a domino edge to edge against another in such a way that the adjacent sides match (or are identical) or form some specified total. Each time a player plays a domino that causes the chain of matching dominoes to increase in length, the player is said to have “stitched up” the ends.

When the number of dominoes in a hand or a game has been reduced to zero, play usually stops. Alternatively, players may agree to chip out at the end of a hand or game. When this is done, the winners are those partners whose combined sum of all remaining spots on their tiles is lowest.

A basic set of dominoes consists of 28 tiles. When playing with two players, the first player may draw seven tiles from the stock. The remainder of the tiles remain face down and, depending on the rules of the particular game being played, may be bought by other players later in that game.

The player who draws the first domino, sometimes referred to as the setter or the downer, will make the first play of that game. Some games have the rule that the first play must be a double. Other rules require the player to make a play on any double or on any other domino with a higher number of pips than the second-heaviest tile in the hand.