What is Domino?

The word domino is used to describe the small rectangular wood or plastic blocks that are the basis of a variety of games. Each domino has one side bearing an arrangement of dots resembling those on a die and is blank or identically patterned on the other. The number of spots or pips on the domino indicates its value in a game and, as with a deck of cards, some squares may be marked with a zero.

Most domino games are based on blocking opponents or scoring points against them. The winning player is he who has the most remaining tiles when play stops. Many rules for scoring are possible, depending on how the players agree to count the pips of the opponent’s tiles. Some scoring methods involve counting all of the pips on each domino at the end of a hand or game, while others only count the numbers of a specific type of double (e.g., a double-blank counts as 0).

When played together, dominoes form long chains that develop at the whim of the players and the limitations of their playing surface. The initial domino is usually called the set or the lead, and a player plays it by placing it on the table with its two matching ends touching. The other end of the domino is then positioned to allow additional tiles to be added to the chain.

Each player, in turn, adds a tile to the chain by positioning it to touch one of the open ends of an existing domino. A player may not add a tile that shows the same number on both ends of the chain, as this would be advantageous to his opponents and distasteful to him. The result of the addition of a domino to the chain is that the chain length increases until the next available open end of an adjacent domino is reached.

Traditionally, domino sets have been made from bone or silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips inlaid on the edges. More recently, natural materials such as marble, granite and soapstone have been used for sets. These sets are often more expensive than polymer-based sets, but they can have a very attractive look and feel.

The word domino originated in English around 1750, but earlier it denoted a long hooded cloak worn with a mask at a carnival or masquerade. It may have been inspired by the contrast of the ebony blacks and ivory faces of the domino pieces. The word also has an even earlier sense, referring to a cape that a priest might wear over his surplice. Many different types of domino games are played, including blockers, score-keeping games and trick-taking games. There are even domino solitaire games, which can be quite challenging. One such game, a version of Concentration, was popular in some parts of the world to circumvent religious proscriptions against playing cards.