Domino games

Tsair Deng (Slant Nail)

These rules are due to Anthony Kam [email: antkam@MIT.EDU]I who is not sure of the name of this game, having only played it in a few several-hours-long sessions, all more than ten years ago.

The name of the game is that of the [1-3] tile. Why this tile? Again I have no idea. Mr. Kam also heard the [6-6] tile referred to as "the big candle" in this game, but that's probably a special case, having a special nickname for the tile with the most number of pips. Please do not place much confidence in these rules.

You should also look at the Korean game of "Dancing Dragons", which is essentially the same game played with two open ends instead of one and at One Arm Joe, an American children's game.


The game uses a set of Chinese dominoes.

The Deal

If four people play, each is dealt 8 tiles.

If three people play, each is dealt 10 tiles and the remaining two are not played. If two people play, each is dealt 16 tiles.

The Play

The object is to play each domino in your hand by matching one of its half with the currently 'open' half in the playing area -- as in Western domino connecting games.

Like other Chinese games (Mah Jong or Tien Gow) the winner of the last hand leads to the next. The winner of one hand has no other (dis)advantage besides the chance to lead in the next hand. The lead of the first hand is determined randomly.

The first player leads any tile and (if it is not a double) and declare which half is 'open'. Say he leads 5-3 and declares that the '3' is the open half. This is then the current tile and '3' is the current open half. There can be only one open half in a round.

Unlike Western domino games, doubles are treated just like any other tile and are not played crosswise. A double is just a tile which happens to have both halves the same.

Then, in turn the next player (which in Chinese games is the player to the right, giving us a counterclockwise order) may do one of two things:

  1. Discard face down any tile in his hand, keeping it in front of him. Discarded tiles are placed face down in front of the player.
  2. Play a tile face up next to the current tile. This played tile must have a half which matches the currently open half, and then the other half of the new tile becomes the current half. For example, say the current half is '3' and a [3-6] is played, this would be placed next the current tile, sides touching to save table top space and with the two matching '3' halves side by side. The '6' is now the current open half.

The first eight played tiles will form a row, then the ninth tile is placed on top of the eighth (covering it completely), and the tenth tile on top of the seventh and so forth, winding backwards in another layer of eight tiles. When the second layer is completed, the third layer starts with the seventeenth tile covering the sixteenth, and the eighteenth covering the fifteenth and so forth. This is probably just done to save table top space, but it adds a memory element to the game as played tiles might be covered up.

Play continues until each player has played or discarded all eight of his tiles. The hand then ends and it is scored.

I am not sure whether a player is required to play (not discard) if he can, or whether he's free to choose which action to take.


Each player scores the number of pips in all his discarded dominoes (which he should have kept face down in front of him). If one player or more plays all 8 tiles (I.e. Has no discards) then other players scores are doubled. The winner of the hand (and lead player of the next) is the one with the fewest point in this hand. (I don't remember how to break ties -- probably whoever has fewer discarded dominoes, or whoever has the smallest accumulated score so far, etc..) in one session, several hands are played. I think there's no standard as to when to stop -- by number of hands played, by length of time, or even played until one player reaches a specific total like 500?? (Although I think this last one -- playing to a specific total -- is probably a western idea I got from hearts.)

At the end of a session of several hands, each player's scores from each hand are totaled. The one with the least points is the overall winner. I'm not sure what's the payment method (there is one since this is almost certainly a betting game), but I seem to remember that we play each player compares scores with each other and pay/receive the difference (remember that fewer points is better). Thus the winner (fewest points) would collect from all the others while the second place (second fewest points) would pay to the winner but collect from the other two.

Note: this payment method would yield identical payment results even if you pay after each hand and don't keep totals. But to save time, totals are kept and payment is made at the end of the session.

Comments & Strategy

Obviously, it is important what you discard, not just how many, since you score the number of discarded pips, not number of discarded dominoes. Because of this, most players usually lead a [6-6] or a 6-5 or whatever is the highest pip total tile in his/her hand. The main strategy is to play defensively, keep a variety of 'halves' in your remaining hand so as to maximize the chance of playing a tile when it gets to your turn. Usually you cannot predict what the open half is by the time 3 others have played and it gets to you.

In the Chinese domino set, some tile patterns (like any double, or [3-1], etc., I.e. The 'civils' in Tien Gow) have two tiles each, while others (the 'militaries' in Tien Gow such as 4-2) only have one tile each. In particular, there are only seven tiles with '2' as a half (two [2-2], and one each of [2-6], [2-5], [2-4], [2-3] and [2-1]). This short 'suit' (borrowing a concept from 42) is therefore a good suit to attack if you have plenty of it! E.g., if you lead a [5-2] and declare the '2' open, then some other player would play another [2-n] tile, and that's two of the seven possible tiles already. It might be easy to eliminate all the '2's from everyone else and then leave a '2' as the open half, so that everyone else has to discard. Then, play your [2-2] to have another round with '2' as the open half, so everyone has to discard again! In my short experience this is the only suit which can be attacked and 'monopolized' by one player alone. Other suits are not as short (although the '3's come close -- only [3-3] and [3-1] are civils and therefore repeated, resulting in eight tiles overall). These 'sort-of short' suits can sometimes be 'duo-polized (instead of mono-polized)' -- two players who own most of this suit might catch on to what each other is trying to do and team up to screw the other guys. (Remember: the payment method drives this selfish behavior! :)

Origin of the Name

First, to repeat, I am not sure about the name. But if I am correct, then the name comes from the fact that this game (unlike Tien Gow) gives names to the halves, not to the tiles. Those names (of the halves) are: