How Dominoes Works

dominoes in cuba
Men play dominoes on the sidewalk in Trinidad, Cuba in 2007.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

With its storied history -- and variations sporting names as cool as Mexican Train, Chickenfoot and Blind Hughie -- it's no wonder that the game of dominoes has been so popular for so many years. The exact origins of the game are hazy, though most credit the Chinese with inventing dominoes around 1120. The game spread within China and evolved into the even more popular mah-jongg. It wasn't until around the 17th or 18th century that dominoes made it to Europe and finally to the New World colonies [source: University of Waterloo]. Since then, the game has become a traditional mainstay: Today, you can find dominoes played in backyard parties in Los Angeles, on the sidewalks of Brooklyn, in the pubs of the U.K., in the barrios of Cuba, and in big-money tournaments in Alabama and Las Vegas.

Perhaps the allure of dominoes is found in its simplistic versatility. The dominoes used to play the game are rectangular tiles. The width of a European domino is half its length. The domino is bisected by a single line and dots known as pips cover each side. Pips are used for scoring or to connect the end of one domino tile to another on the playing surface. Really, that's all there is to it, but this basic design has allowed players around the world to derive their own versions of the game from the basic rules.


There are about as many variations of the game as there are cultures that play them. In this article, we're going to look at the basic rules and strategy of dominoes. It's with this little bit of knowledge that players have gone on to enjoy the game, create their own variations and win money in tournaments.

Even if you never end up World Domino Champion, learning how to play dominoes is easy. All you need is a set of tiles, a flat surface to play on and a few friends for a good game.

On the next page, we'll look at the basic rules of dominoes.