42 is a domino
game born in the Texas Bible-Belt
. Since playing cards
are considered morally questionable
, dominoes are a popular game. Sometime lost in the misty past, a clever young Baptist
determined that dominoes could be used to form a card game. So he (or she) invented 42.
42 is a game in the vein of Spades, and Bridge, it probably falls somewhere between the two in complexity. As spades & bridge, there are two teams of two players, and the two players sit across from one another, and bidding on 'tricks' is an important part of the game. 42 is played with 'Double-Six' dominoes, where there are every combination of dominoes from blank-blank to six-six, for a total of 28 dominoes.
A Lexicon of 42 Terminology
- SHAKE - The domino equivalent of dealing. Whoever 'has the shake' will turn all dominoes face-down and mix them around.
- HAND - Each player will draw 7 dominoes from the pool (all dominoes will be used - there is no discard pile in 42). These are the dominoes he will use for this hand. This is identical to the card term.
- SUIT - There are seven 'suits' in 42, blank through six. All dominoes, except for the doubles (blank-blank, one-one, etc) have two suits. For example, the six-four is both a six and a four. This is also identical to the card term.
- DOUBLE - A domino which has the same number at both ends is a double, ie 5-5, 3-3, or 1-1. These are the highest dominoes in their suit.
- LEAD - The player who will lay the first domino in a trick 'has the lead'.
- TRICK - Each player lays down one domino. The highest domino in the suit will take that 'trick'. This term is also shared with cards.
- COUNT - Dominoes whose dot value adds to five or ten will score that amount of points when taken in a trick. The five-count dominoes are _-5, 1-4, and 3-2, and the ten-count dominoes are the 5-5 and the 6-4.
- BID - At the start of each hand, each player will bid on what score he thinks he can achieve, in terms of tricks and count dominoes. Effectively identical to the bridge & spades term.
- TRUMP - Any domino with the number of the trump suit is a trump. Trump dominoes will automatically win a trick, unless a higher trump is played.
- FOLLOW ME - Rather than call a trump, a player may choose to play with no trumps at all, and will call 'follow me' instead of naming a trump.
- MARK - If, at the end of a hand, the winning bidder's team has scored as many or more points as the bid, that team receives a mark. If not, the mark goes to the opposing team. It is possible to bid more than one mark on a hand under some circumstances, explained below.
- NELL-O - A bidder who bids one or more mark on a hand may choose to 'go nell-o,' where he will attempt not to take any tricks, explained below.
- PLUNGE - A bidder who bids at least three marks and has at least four doubles may choose to 'plunge' in which his partner will call the trump.
- SEVENS - A bidder who bids at least one mark may choose to call sevens, in which each player plays his domino whose ends added together is closest to equaling seven (for example, _-_ would be zero, 6-6 would be twelve, and 3-4 would be seven). This is an awful game, requiring no skill or strategy, and has never been allowed in games that I've played.
- TABLE TALK - Any talk at the table which disguises hints for your partner. This is a form of cheating. "Does anybody want anything TO drink?" would be an unsubtle example of table talk.
- Walker - A domino that is not a double or a trump, but which will still win a trick if led. For example, if all the trumps have been played, and both the 6-6 and 6-5 have been played, then if you lead the 6-4, it would be a walker, since there would be no domino left which could beat it.
- Lay-Down Hand - A lay down hand is a hand of dominoes that can't be beaten. This is the equivalent to a royal flush in poker, but is probably a little more common. It's generally best to play through a lay-down hand, rather than simply proclaiming it and laying out your dominoes, since if you claim that you can't be beaten and lay down your dominoes, and there's any way you could have lost a hand, you lose.
Order of Play
To start the game, the dominoes are laid out face down, and shaken. Each player draws a single domino. The player with the highest total value will have the first shake.
Shake & Bid
The shaker shakes the dominoes again. Each player draws seven dominoes. By convention, the other team picks first, then the shaker's partner, and finally the shaker takes the last seven dominoes. This is to ensure that he cannot palm a good domino and keep track of where it is.
Once each player has inspected his hand, the player to the left of the shaker will bid first, proceeding to the left until the shaker bids last. Any player may choose to pass, bidding nothing. The minimum bid allowed is thirty. If a player believes he can take all the tricks, or can successfully go nell-o, he can bid one or two marks (sometimes these bids are termed 42 or 84). Once two marks have been bid, each successive player may increase the bid by one mark, if they choose to. The exception to this rule is a 'plunge' which requires a three-mark bid. Thus the highest the bid can ever go is 6 marks, where the first player bids on a plunge hand and each successive player bids up by one mark. I cannot imagine that this would seriously happen.
Calling the Trump and Playing the First Trick
The player with the highest bid will either choose which suit is trump, or call nell-o or plunge. In addition to calling a suit as trump, he may name doubles as the trump, or may call 'follow me' in which there is no trump.
After calling the trump, that player will lead the first trick. He will lay down the first domino. The highest number on this domino will determine the suit for this trick. For example, if he calls sixes as trump, and then lays the 5-3, the suit of the trick is 5. Each player in will lay down one domino, starting to the left of the lead. Each player must play in suit if possible. In this example, any player who has a domino with a five on it will have to play it. If the player possesses no fives, he may play any domino he chooses.
There is one tricky exception to this rule. A trump domino - the 6-5 in the above example - is always a trump, and does not count as a five in terms of following suit. A player may only play a trump if he cannot follow suit. So a player who has the 6-5 and the 5-4 must play the 5-4, rather than trump-in with the 6-5. Conversely, a player who has no fives but the 6-5 is not required to play his trump, and may play any domino in his hand.
The player who laid the highest value domino within the suit will take the trick. The double is always the strongest card in the suit. So for the suit of five, the precedent for winning a trick will go as follows: 5-5, 5-6, 5-4, 5-3, 5-2, 5-1, 5-_. A trump will always take a trick. If more than one trump is played, the highest trump will take the trick, following the aforementioned precedent rules. Whoever takes the trick then takes the lead for the next trick.
Once all seven tricks have been played, you count up the score for that hand by counting one point for each trick, and adding the score from the count dominoes. There are seven tricks, two ten-count dominoes, and three five-count dominoes, for a total of 42 points per hand - hence the name of the game. If the team who won the bid actually made their bid, then they get one mark. If not, the other team gets that mark. If the winning bid was one mark or higher, that team must have taken all the tricks, or else the other team gets the number of marks bid. (The exception being nell-o, discussed below.)
Marks may be recorded as simple marks on a paper, but it is traditional to record each mark as a stroke in a letter, forming the words ALL or YALL depending on whether you are playing to seven or ten marks. The first team to completely spell the word wins.
For bids of one mark or more, there are special 'games' you can play. The most common and most popular is nell-o. Another optional rule which I never allow is 'sevens', and for a bid of three marks or more, you can go 'plunge'. To use one of these methods, make a bid high enough to allow the type of game that you want, but do not specify how you will be playing (if you bid "One mark, I'm going nell-o!" you tell the next bidder that you've got a lot of low dominoes in your hand, so he might feel more confident bidding 2 marks on a high hand).
If you win the bid, you then tell whether you are going nell-o, plunge, or (if allowed) sevens. Of course, you may also play a normal game and simply try to win all the tricks.
Nell-o is a game in which you intend to lose every trick. When calling nell-o, you have the option of specifying whether doubles are high in their suit, or if they are a suit of their own. If they are a suit of their own, then when a double is led, the you must lay down doubles, rather than following suit based on the number. This allows the crafty nell-o bidder to protect a 4-4 with the _-_, if he doesn't have a low four to cover it. The key to a good nell-o hand is not to simply have a weak hand, but to have cover of low dominoes for all your high dominoes.
The order of play for Nell-o is a bit odd. The bidder's partner lays down his dominoes, and does not participate in the hand. Therefore each trick only has three dominoes. The bidder leads the first hand, and if he takes any trick, he loses his bid.
I have heard tell that there are crazed Aggies out there who allow nell-o bidders to call doubles low in their suit. This is generally regarded as foolishness, since it allows you to bid nell-o on otherwise strong hands (doubles are strong dominoes). I have not confirmed the existence of this variant.
Plunge requires a bid of three marks, and the bidder must have 4 or more doubles. Once the bidder has won the bid, he announces his intention to plunge. At this point, his partner
must call the trump. The bidder then leads the first hand, and play proceeds normally. The bidder's team must take all the tricks. If not, they loose all three marks.
This is extremely silly
, and my opposition to it is both complete, and vehement. The basic idea is that everyone has to play their domino whose values are closest to seven. If this is ever anyone but the bidder or his partner, the bidder loses. This is the only game that allows absolutely no strategy during the hand. As such, it is about as fun as filling out a tax form. There may be other rules to this, but I don't know, because I don't play this variant.
To Learn To Play
The best way to learn is to play. Preferably with folks who both know how to play and are willing to teach. For Windows
users, there is a shareware
forty-two application on the web. I do not currently know of a Linux or Mac version. Also, the book Winning 42: Strategy & Lore of the National Game of Texas
by Dennis Roberson (Texas Tech University
Press, ISBN 0896724433)