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25, 50, Capicua! Dominoes and the Dominican Republic
As the fichas begin to be played, an astute player must count the fichas in his hand, and compare his hand to the fichas on the table. He must also compare what he has played to what his opponents have played, at the same time keeping in mind what his partner has played. The purpose of this is to ascertain which suits have or haven’t been played. Each time a ficha is played you must subtract that ficha from the total number of the suit. For example, you played the combination of 1-2 to start the game. The next player must play a ficha with a one or a two. If he plays a ficha from the suit of 2, 2-5, for example, you know that there are only five other combinations that contain a two. As the game moves along you will notice that there will be fewer and fewer of those fichas from the suit of two that haven’t been played. What you as a player must then try to do is figure out, depending on the patterns played, who has which remaining fichas from that particular suit. In doing this you can then position yourself, or your partner, for the win by either blocking or facilitating the usage of the remaining twos. The strategizing of dominoes is difficult as it requires good memory, and quick subtraction skills, but there are a few golden rules in dominoes which can help beginners.

“Repite, Mata, y Tranqua” is a key formula for playing dominoes. Repite is the Spanish word for repeat. This means that if you have several of the same suit in your hand play those fichas consistently. Don’t worry about what your opponents have. Once your partner notices your pattern of playing the same suit more than once he will do what he can to help you continue playing that suit. Mata literally means kill, but in this context it means that a player blocks attempts by an opponent to aid his partner. If an opponent is consistently playing a ficha from a particular suit, it is your job to play a ficha that will block the one he has just played. Tranqua means to lock. What this word implies is that if at any point a player has the ability to lock the game, i.e. play the final ficha in a suit that will not permit any other player to play (remember there are only seven numbers in each suit), including the player who played the ficha, he must lock the game, if it is beneficial for his team. In dominoes you must always notice all pertinent patterns. For example, if your partner has been playing the same suit you will try and aid him so that he can play that suit, but if he doesn’t have a ficha from a particular suit? If your partner has forfeited a turn because he didn’t have a corresponding suit, as a good teammate you must do two things. First you must not play a ficha whose combination will continue to make your partner pass, and second you must block one of the open ends if he continues to forfeit his turn towards that end.

Scoring in dominoes is fairly simple, but can vary depending on the players one plays with. Games are played to a total of 200, 250, or 500 points, and there are five ways of scoring points in a game of Dominican dominoes. The first and most simple way to score points in dominoes is by getting rid of all your pieces. Once you have done this, all of the pieces left in the opponents hands are added, and then added to the winner’s team total. In games of 500 points all the pieces of the players are added, and added to the winner’s team total. The next way to score points was mentioned earlier. In an initial game, if after the first player plays his piece, and the next player cannot play, his team is awarded 10 or 25 points, this depends on the total amount of points the game is being played to. If the game is being played to 500 total points, then this move will benefit you 25 points. If the game is only to 200, or even 250, then you are only allotted 10 points. This play, though beneficial, can be nullified. If the next player after that also doesn’t have a piece to play, the points aren’t counted, and the next player plays his piece, if he can. Remember this play can only occur in the initial play of a hand, or better yet when the first domino piece is thrown down on the table. The third way to score points in dominoes is by skipping all players. This being the only other time that a player can gain points for skipping other players. When he executes this play he executes a “pase corrido,” meaning that all three players aren’t able to play, and the player who last played receives 25 points towards his team’s total. After collecting his 25 points, this player is allowed to play again. If he is a master at strategizing, and has a good hand, he can continue skipping players, as there is no limit to the amount of pases corridos one can accumulate. The fourth way to score in dominoes, and collect 25 points, is by executing what is called “Capicua.” This term is in reference to the last play of the game. If the player who plays his last piece is able to play a domino whose end is the same as the end on the opposite side of the domino line he collects another 25 points, though this play too can also be nullified. If he is able to match the domino pieces but does it with either a blank, or with a double, the points are nullified. The fifth way to score points in Dominican dominoes is by executing a “tranque,” or a lock of the game, in which no player can play any more because all pieces of the corresponding suits have been played. In order to win a tranque the player who executed the tranque shows his pieces to the player to his right, known as “tranquar con el de abajo.” If the player who executed the tranque has the least amount of points in his hand he wins the tranque, and is allotted the points in his opponent’s hands. If the player who executed the tranque has more points in his hand than his opponent, he loses and the points are awarded to the opponent’s total. At times you can play, tranquar con todo el mundo, which means to lock the game with everyone, in this case one compares his pieces with all the players in the game, and the player with least amount of points wins. In the case of a tie the player who began the game, (placed the first domino on the table), is by default the winner, and his team is awarded the points. Most points in dominoes are acquired through strategy and good game play, and an experienced player can collect many points if he plays well.

Dominoes is a fun game. At times competitive, and at times relaxing, and it is a great way of interacting with Dominicans. During most games conversations flow easily about a variety of topics, and it is a great forum to discuss current events, or just enjoy the company of friends and family. In the beginning the game might seem complicated, but even so you can sit down and “poner fichas,” (just playing random pieces without strategy), and enjoy the ambiance that surrounds this local tradition.
 
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