Domino games


Canton was invented by Fredrick Berndt and first discussed in The Domino Book. It is a fishing game, inspired by the Chinese game Tsung Shap ("disputing tens") in which melds are captured from the tableau.

The Deal

This is a two, three or four player game using a double six domino set. The first player is picked by drawing for high tile player draw hands in the usual manner.

If you would like to keep some of the flavor of the original Chinese game, then you might want to stack the tiles in a wood pile (stacks of tiles arranged as a rectangular solid) or deal them by throwing dice in the Asian manner. The woodpile will not work if you have tiles with spinners in them.

The Play

The first player starts the game by putting one tile face up on the table and immediately draws a replacement tile for his hand.

The next player places a tile to the right or left side of the row started by the first player. Tiles are played with their sides together, not their ends. If he can take melds with the tile from his hand that he playing, he does so. Finally, he draws a replacement tile for his hand.

When a player takes a meld, he gets another play. The subsequent play includes drawing a tile from the boneyard.

[When the boneyard becomes empty, play continues as before, but without drawing replacement tiles.]

When a player dominoes (empties his hand), play stops and he gets one point for each pip left in the hands of the other players. Notice that someone will always domino because each player has to discard a tile in his turn.


Players score by making melds from the line of tiles on the table. There are several kinds of melds:

  1. A pair made up of the tile from the player's hand plus a tile from either end of the row on the table
  2. A triplet made of the tile from the player's hand plus the right end tile and the left end tile of the row on the table
  3. A triplet made of a tile from the player's hand plus the two adjacent tiles from either the left or right end of the row on the table.

The two tiles of a pair must have a total pip count of 12. Each pair meld is worth 12 points.

The pips on the three tiles of a triplet must total to 10, 20 or 30 and they are worth 10, 20 and 30 points respectively.

The player collects the tiles in the meld and stacks them face down on top of each other in front of himself. The pairs make two-high stacks and the triplets make three-high stacks. The melds are not shown face up again after the points are scored. Points are recorded as they are made; this is important because otherwise the taken tiles tend to get mixed and you cannot tell one meld from another.

A two player game is 1,000 points or an agreed upon total. Three and four player games should generally have a target that is less than 1,000 points.

Comments and Strategy

The weight of the average domino in a double six set is 6 pips. This is why pairs are made based on a total of 12.

Notice that someone will always domino because each player has to discard a tile in his turn, even if he cannot take a meld. If the row has been emptied, the next player will simply discard a tile from his hand and then replace it. Unlike Tsung Shap, there is no bonus for clearing out the row.

Unlike Tsung Shap, if one player misses seeing a meld on the table, then the next player cannot claim it before he plays his tile. This is because the rules require that a meld use a tile from your own hand as well as from the table.

The statistical analysis of the game is not what you would think it would be. The number of melds in each scoring class does not decrease as the points increase. Here is the breakdown:

Number of pairs  - 12 points = 34
Number of triples  - 10 points = 77
Number of triples  - 20 points = 232
Number of triples  - 30 points = 14

There are also not that many ways to make a pair, but you would think that would be the easiest meld. There are many more way to make 20 points than to score anything else (232 possible combinations versus a total of 125 combinations for all other scores). For reference, here are the pairs and the thirty point triples.

12 point Pairs Thirty point triples

[0-0] [6-6]
[0-1] [5-6]
[0-2] [4-6]
[0-2] [5-5]
[0-3] [3-6]
[0-3] [4-5]
[0-4] [2-6]
[0-4] [3-5]
[0-4] [4-4]
[0-5] [1-6]
[0-5] [2-5]
[0-5] [3-4]
[0-6] [1-5]
[0-6] [2-4]
[0-6] [3-3]
[1-1] [4-6]
[1-1] [5-5]
[1-2] [3-6]
[1-2] [4-5]
[1-3] [2-6]
[1-3] [3-5]
[1-3] [4-4]
[1-4] [1-6]
[1-4] [2-5]
[1-4] [3-4]
[1-5] [2-4]
[1-5] [3-3]
[1-6] [2-3]
[2-2] [2-6]
[2-2] [3-5]
[2-2] [4-4]
[2-3] [2-5]
[2-3] [3-4]
[2-4] [3-3]
[1-6] [5-6] [6-6]
[2-5] [5-6] [6-6]
[2-6] [4-6] [6-6]
[2-6] [5-5] [6-6]
[3-4] [5-6] [6-6]
[3-5] [4-6] [6-6]
[3-5] [5-5] [6-6]
[3-6] [4-5] [6-6]
[3-6] [4-6] [5-6]
[3-6] [5-5] [5-6]
[4-4] [4-6] [6-6]
[4-4] [5-5] [6-6]
[4-5] [4-6] [5-6]
[4-5] [5-5] [5-6]

Here are the number possible triplets and pairs for each total in a double six domino set:

TotalNumber of tripletsNumber of pairs