How To Play Dominoes

How to Play Dominoes

Since its mid-1700s origins, dominoes has become one of the world’s most popular table games.

Several dominoes games go by different names but have almost identical rules. Likewise, there are games that go by the same name, but the rules change from place to place.

If you’re a beginner player, playing your first hand of dominoes may seem as difficult as breaking the current world record for the most dominoes toppled. Meanwhile, learning the basics of the popular game may improve your chances of winning dominoes games.

We give you the basics, including setting up a dominoes game, the rules of dominoes, and game variations.

This guide also explains dominoes scoring, game strategies, and some often-asked questions.

What Exactly Is Dominoes?

Dominoes is sometimes known as “block” or “standard” dominoes. The modern version of dominoes dates back to the 1700s in Italy. However, historians have traced the popular table game’s roots to the Song Dynasty in 11th-century China.

Today, people play dominoes worldwide, such as in pub or bar games. In England, a variation known as “Darts & Doms” combines dominoes with a standard darts game.

Dominoes is a portable game that’s easy to play nearly anywhere. Here are some key features:

Difficulty: Dominoes is an easy-to-learn game. Even children can have fun counting the dots on the domino tiles.

Number of players: In general, two to four players can participate in a dominoes game. A doubles game includes teams with two players each.

Main objective: The primary aim is to complete the game with the lowest number of dots on the remaining dominoes. The player with the lowest number of domino dots wins the game.

These dots or spots are also known as pips. The game’s winner is the player with the lowest number of leftover pips.

Benefits: Dominoes is a traditional game that you can play indoors or outdoors. After learning the game’s standard version, you can also play different variations.

Essential Dominoes Terms

Single or Combination Domino: A domino with a different number of spots on each half of the face. Singles are usually placed lengthwise in a dominoes game.

Double or Doublet Domino: A tile with the same number of pips on each side of the face. So, a “5-5” or ”two fives” is called "double five" or "five doublet." In most dominoes games, players place the doubles crosswise.

Spinner: The first doublet played during a dominoes game. A spinner can also refer to the brass rivet in the middle of a domino tile.

Table or Tableau:An array of face-up tiles on the table which players use in a game of dominoes.

Sleeping Domino or Sleeper:An undealt tile in the “boneyard” (the tiles pile) that players cannot draw.

Block Dominoes:The main goal is to block or “jam” opponents from making plays.

In a blocked game, no player can make a move. They can’t place a domino on the table or draw a domino from the boneyard. This usually signals the end of a game.

Chicken Foot: A block domino variation. Players play as many tiles as possible and minimize the number of remaining tiles in their hands.

Cribbage Board: Score-keeping equipment for cribbage games, which people may also use for keeping score in dominoes. Cribbage is a card game of two to four players.

Playing Dominoes: Equipment You’ll Need

One of the reasons many people love dominoes is all you need is a domino set and a flat surface. A standard set includes “double-six” pieces where there are six dots on the left and right half of the tile.

Meanwhile, a larger dominoes set has a maximum of “double-nine” tiles.

How Many Tiles Are in a Set?

A standard dominoes set or deck usually consists of 28 dominoes or tiles (also called “bones”).

The pips painted on the tiles represent the 21 pairs of numbers that players can play with a pair of standard dice.

Seven more combinations exist due to blank dominoes with zero dots.

Bigger sets are available, such as double-nine sets with 55 dominoes, which include more pips. These dominoes decks allow more players in a dominoes game.

How to Set Up a Game of Dominoes

Shuffle the dominoes in the middle of the table by pushing the tiles around face-down until they are thoroughly mixed up.

Players draw the right number of tiles for that particular game from this pool of shuffled dominoes. They must prevent other players from seeing the value of their tiles.

Place all the remaining tiles in the boneyard.

Determining Who Goes First in Dominoes

The dominoes player with the highest double tile plays first.

Suppose player 1 has a double-four and player 2 has a double-six. In this case, player 2 goes first.

Here’s another example. If player 1 has a double-two, but player 2 has no doubles, then player 1 goes first.

If none of the players has a double, the player with the highest single tile plays first.

How to Play Dominoes

Instructions for playing standard dominoes are straightforward.

The players take turns placing tiles on the table by matching one face of the domino with the open face of tile that’s already been played.

The primary objective is to score the most points by putting down dominoes tiles in the most advantageous way. However, in some variations, players win by becoming the first player to put down all their tiles.

Dominoes is a basic game that can also become a strategic game.

Basic Domino Rules and Gameplay

Basic Straight Dominoes

Two to four players can compete in straight dominoes. One player thoroughly shuffles the dominoes.

The players then draw dominoes for a hand of seven tiles from the boneyard. The shuffler is the last to draw tiles.

Leftover tiles remain on the table. Players who are unable to place a tile during their turn draw from the pile of tiles.

The first person lays down a tile they’ve selected face-down in the center of the table. Subsequently, the next player must match one end of one of their dominoes to part of the first domino tile.

In some versions of the game of dominoes, players may join all four sides of the first-played tile. Players can then add dominoes to the four open lines.

Afterward, players can add tiles to any line they select.

When players play a double tile, they lay it perpendicular to the line, and their score includes the pips on both ends of the tile.

If a player has no dominoes to play, they must select one from the draw pile of unused tiles.

While a game of dominoes can be exciting. In-play betting offers odds that change throughout the game. This situation allows you to place various bets as the game unfolds.

Dominoes Scoring

Players score points in straight dominoes if the total number of dots on the exposed ends of the dominoes (at either of the line’s ends) can be evenly divided by five. In that case, the player scores that number.

Suppose you play a tile that produces an open ends total of 25. You’d score 25 points based on this calculation

(25 ÷ 5) = 5

Other dominoes versions have different scoring systems. Some dominoes variations only allow scores evenly divided by three. Meanwhile, other games don’t include such restrictions.

Suppose a player can play their last domino. In that case, they score points based on the total pips on the tiles of the other players’ hands.

Dominoes players often play until one player reaches a preset score, usually 250.

Some dominoes games simply declare the first player to play all their tiles as the winner.

In the case that no player can play a tile, the game is blocked. The game’s winner is the player with the least number of pips on their leftover tiles. The player then scores the total number of pips left on the opponents’ tiles.

How to Win at Dominoes Games

The primary object of the game of dominoes is based on official dominoes rules. These rules list two methods of winning based on how the game progresses.

First, you can play all your domino tiles and be the game’s first player to possess no tiles to play. You’ll then be declared the game’s winner automatically.

However, in some game scenarios, no dominoes player has a tile to play. In this situation, the game is blocked.

In blocked games, all players must count the pips contained on their tiles. The player possessing the lowest number of pips wins the dominoes game.

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How to Play Different Domino Variations

One reason for dominoes’ popularity is the several variations to play the game. Here are some of the most popular domino games:


This dominoes variant is similar to the classic card game with the same name. Players place all domino tiles face-down in a 4x7 grid.

Then, the players take turns flipping over two tiles at one time. If the pair of tiles add up to 12, they hold on to those tiles. An example is a 3/2 tile and a 4/3 tile.

Otherwise, they return the tiles back and turn them face-down in the same location. The next player then completes their turn in the same manner.

The players’ skill involves recalling the location of particular domino tiles and the best manner to pair them to make 12.

Once players have removed all domino tiles from the game grid, the player with the most dominoes wins the game.

Mexican Train Dominoes

Players play Mexican Train dominoes with a set of double-12 dominoes. The double-12 tile functions as the “engine.”

Players then build their “train” from the engine. They match their own dominoes one at a time as they would in standard dominoes.

The first player that uses up all their train-building tiles wins the game.

Solitaire Dominoes

First, place the tiles face-down and shuffle them. Then draw three tiles and place them (face-up) in a row. If the first and third dominoes have the same number, remove the middle tile and consolidate the existing tiles.

Next, draw another tile and position it at the right end of the line. Then repeat this process.

When a tile is surrounded by two other tiles with the same number, remove the middle tile.

Suppose you have three tiles in a row with the same number. In this case, you can remove the center tile or all three tiles.

You win solitaire dominoes if you work through the entire deck and remove all the tiles in the tableau.

Draw Game

Players play with fewer initial tiles. When players cannot place a domino, they must pick a sleeping domino.

After the sleepers run out, players must then pass their turn when they cannot play.

The number of tiles each player draws is based on the number of players in the game:

The primary difference with the draw game is players know that all tiles will be included in the gameplay. So, they can deduce which tiles their opponents may be holding.

A draw game provides more certainty than the block game in which some tiles stay sleeping, causing more uncertainty during the game.

Cross Dominoes

This dominoes variation is an extension of the draw game. It offers players more options and also uses less table space, which is sometimes an issue.

The game’s start also differs in cross dominoes.

A player places the first tile, a doublet. Then, players play the following four tiles against that doublet to form a cross. In other words, players place the end of the dominos adjacent to each of the first double’s four sides.

Players may have to draw sleeping tiles to produce the cross-shaped figure. After players complete the cross, gameplay continues like the draw game. Each turn includes four available dominoes instead of two.

All Fives

This dominoes variation is also known as “the five-up” and “muggins.” All 5s use a double-six set of dominoes for two to four players.

The tiles are shuffled face-down, and each player receives five dominoes.

The player holding the highest double plays first. Afterward, play continues in a clockwise direction. Scoring occurs during and at the conclusion of each all-5s game.

The game concludes if a player has no more tiles remaining or if no players can play a tile. The winner can be the player who has no remaining tiles.

Meanwhile, if all players have tiles, they add up the spots on the remaining tiles. The player possessing the lowest total of pips wins the game.

5s and 3s

In this dominoes version, the objective is to become the first player to achieve a set number of points. In most cases, players play to 61 points. Other options include the “first to 251” rule.

Players create a chain of tiles with touching matching numbers. For example, 1s touch 1s.

However, players score points when the pips on a tile’s open end (the tile’s end not touching another tile) is a multiple of three or five.

Players receive one point for each pip on the open ends of domino tiles. Let’s say you played a tile with a five on the open end, and another end had a four. In this case, your turn would score nine points (5 + 4 = 9).

After achieving enough experience playing traditional dominoes, 5s and 3s may be a good option even for casual players.

Dominoes Strategy

Here are general tips for various dominoes variations:

  1. Maintain a wide range of tiles to avoid not making plays.
  2. Use all tiles that can be played.
  3. Watch your opponents’ weaknesses. If you observe which suits a player is missing, you’ll have a better chance of blocking them later.
  4. Use calculations to estimate opponents’ hands. For example, consider how many doubles, including double blanks, are in particular dominoes sets.
  5. Track the board count by taking note of all open ends on the board.
  6. Don’t get left with a high number of pips as opponents can score more points later.
  7. Use more blocking strategies when you have fewer chances to score points. Limiting opponents’ points can be as effective as scoring points.
  8. Leverage blank tiles as a “wild card.” In other words, they can join any tile regardless of the number, including other blank tiles.
  9. Pass on a turn when it’s practical. If your opponents have limited play options, then consider passing. In games like Cuban dominoes, you can sometimes get an advantage by passing instead of playing.
  10. Play doubles early as they have twice the pips on each end, and you’ll have fewer chances to play them later.
  11. Observe when opponents pass to track which numbers they lack.
  12. Try to block opponents based on which tiles you have and which ones they lack.


1. What happens if you play one tile in error?

Dominoes doesn’t enforce any penalties if a player plays the wrong tile. However, the game has guidelines for such situations.

Suppose a player plays the wrong tile. For example, a player joins a four tile to a three tile. Then another player notices the mistake before the next player completes their turn.

In this situation, the at-fault player must take back the tile and play the correct one.

However, let’s say a player overlooks the misplay until the next player completes their turn. In that situation, the dominoes rules consider the tile to be part of the game. Nobody can replace the wrongly placed tile.

2. What happens if there’s a tie in dominoes?

In dominoes, no “sudden death” rule applies. If the values of both players’ tile pips are equal, the game ends in a draw, and a new game starts.

3. What is the standard size for tournament dominoes?

Tournament dominoes are typically 2-3/16" long, 1-3/32" wide, and 1/2" thick.

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