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25, 50, Capicua! Dominoes and the Dominican Republic
A highly popular game across the entire Caribbean, dominoes is an intricate, yet enjoyable pastime that occupies the time of many in the Dominican Republic. From youth to the elderly, dominoes, and its particular variation on the island, can be heard being slammed down on specially carved wooden tables at all hours of the day. Dominoes can be more than just a time to play a game; it can also be a time to share stories with friends and acquaintances, and can provide a simple escape from the daily worries of life. For those who are new to the island a game of dominoes can be a great way to integrate oneself into the culture, and gain in-depth access to the way Dominicans interact. From the outside looking in dominoes seems like a simple game of connect the dots, and the winner is simply the one who was lucky enough to start first, and get rid of all his/her pieces, but this is not the case. Underneath the easy-going nature of the game there is intense calculation of the numbers, plays, and strategizing moves, in order to position oneself for victory. In short, the game of dominoes is a simple math problem, with an infinite number of possible outcomes that can result in victory. With a few pointers, some practice and patience, in only a short time a beginner can understand the intricacies of the game, and enjoy the game for him or herself.

Dominoes is a draw game with the object being to get rid of all your pieces first, and collecting points based on the fichas, (pieces/bones), still in the opponents hands. To begin a match of team play dominoes of 200, 250, or 500 points, the deck is placed face down and is shuffled. Next, each player takes seven dominoes. Once each player has organized his dominoes the game is set to begin. It is useful to arrange ones dominoes in combinations. For example, if one has four of the same suit (0-1, 1-4, 1-3, 1-6); place them together, because it helps in planning future moves.

Dominoes are played in a chain or a line, and in a match the first person to play is the person who has the double six. After this it is the person who wins the hand, or “mano,” who will be the leader of the next game, meaning he/she will get to play the first ficha, and can play any fichas he or she desires. It is important to note that the double six, and all subsequent doubles, (5/5, 4/4, 3/3 etc) are placed in a horizontal fashion (crosswise to the chain), or se acuestan, which means literally to lie down. Also important to note is that, unlike other variations of dominoes, players are not allowed to play off of the doubles on the table, one is only allowed to make plays from the open ends of the domino “chain.”

After the initial play, the next player to go is the one to the right of the player who has just played. The game of dominoes will continue in this way, as the game is played in a counter-clockwise fashion. If the next player to go does not have a number in his hand that corresponds to either of the open ends on the table he forfeits his turn, and the next player plays his piece if he can. Once the game develops “hacerlo pasar” (or skip him) can be done purposefully, and strategically, as it helps gain advantage for one’s team.

Strategy, amongst other things, is the key component of dominoes. Your main objective is to get rid of all your dominoes, but how is this done? First one must understand the concept of counting las fichas, or the pieces. In your hand you will begin with seven fichas. Fichas are generally named for the number of dots on the two ends of the piece. For example, a ficha with a 4 on one end and a 5 on the other end is called the 4-5. Fichas that have different numbers on both ends, like 4-5 have no specific name, but fichas that have the same number of dots on each end, like the 6-6, are called dobles. Fichas that have a common number of dots on one end are said to be of the same suit. For example, in a double-six set, 1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, and 1-6 all belong to the suit of one. All singles belong to two suits. The 1-2, for example, is part of the suit of “one” and the suit of “two.” Because of this definition there are seven of each number.
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