Domino games

Texas 42

Forty-two is a trick taking game, with four players in fixed partnerships. This game was invented in 1887 in Trappe Springs (now Garner), Texas by 12 year old William Thomas and 14 year old Walter Earl. These were two fundamentalist Baptists who were caught playing Auction Whist with playing cards and were punished for it by their parents. Fundamentalist Baptists regarded playing cards as "Devil's Picture Book" and did not allow card games, but had no such restrictions on domino games.

The following description is based on WINNING 42: STRATEGY AND LORE OF THE NATIONAL GAME OF TEXAS by Dennis Roberson (Texas Tech University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-89672-384-4) and several Internet websites. Since there are many local variations in the rules, I would recommend this book as the definitive source for those who wish to become seriously involved in the game.


A double-six set of dominoes is used. A cribbage board or paper can be used for scoring. You can get a very good shareware computer version of this game for Windows from Curtis Cameron at:

The Deal

The first dealer is selected at random. Thereafter the turn to deal passes clockwise. Each player gets a hand of seven tiles, so there is no boneyard. The players take turns shuffling the tiles; the person mixing the tiles is called the shaker. The person to the left of the shaker makes the first bid and bidding (as well as playing) proceeds in a clockwise manner.

As a courtesy, the partnership of the shaker refrains from drawing their hands until the other partnership has drawn their tiles.

The Play

The hand begins with one round of bids starting with the player on the shaker's left. The deal also rotates clockwise after each hand. Each player has just one chance to bid or pass. Each bid must be higher than the previous one. If all four players pass, the tiles are thrown in and the next player deals.

The lowest possible bid is 30 points, meaning that the bidder's partnership undertakes to win at least 30 points in tricks; there is no penalty for exceeding the bid. Bids can be made in steps of one point up to 42 points. A player can then bid 84 points, meaning that his partnership will take all the tricks as well as all of the points.

There are eight suits: blanks, Ones (Aces), Twos (Deuces), Threes (Treys), Fours, Fives, Sixes and Doubles. The highest tile of each suit is the double. The winner of the bid declares the trump for the hand (see the special bids for a variation on this). Notice that trumps are declared after the bid!

The remaining tiles, apart from the doubles, belong to the two suits corresponding to the two numbers on them; which suit is effective is determined by play. Within each suit they rank in order of the other number on the tile. The double of a suit is the high tile in the suit followed by the tiles with a suit number of 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and blank as is appropriate. The doubles can be considered a suit by themselves and are ranked 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and blank. There are seven tiles in each suit, when that suit is trump.

Leading a non-trump tile means that the larger end is treated as the suit which the other players must follow (except in some of variations described later). This means that there are only three deuces that can be led, [2-2], [2-1], and [2-0]. All other tiles with deuces on them would count as the suit of the higher-end if led.

Play is much like any card game with tricks. Players must follow the suit that was led (including trumps) if possible. A player can play any tile in the suit led and is not obligated to play their highest tile. The highest tile in the led suit takes the trick, unless a trump is played. Trumps outrank any other suits. The winner of this tricks leads the next trick.

A player who cannot follow suit can play any tile in his hand. This allows him to play a trump and take the trick. If more than one trump is played on a trick, the highest trump takes the trick.

Doubles only count as a suit in themselves when the bid is in Doubles (again, the special hands do not always follow this rule).


There are two variations of scoring in 42: points or Marks.

The "Marks" is used in tournament play and will be discussed later.

There are also special bids (Nello, Plunge, Sevens) which must be made in Marks which will be discussed later.

Each of the seven tricks is worth one point to the partnership that wins it. Each tile with 10 pips ([4-6], [5-5]) is worth 10 points and each tile with 5 pips ([0-5], [1-4], [2-3]) is worth 5 points to the partnership that wins it in their tricks. These tiles are called counters. Each hand always has (10 + 10 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 7) = 42 points, hence the name of the game.

If the bidders make their contract (i.e. score at least as many points as their bid), they get the total number of points they actually made and likewise their opponents get the total number of point they made.

If the bidders failed to make their contract, they get no points and their opponents get the amount of the bid plus the total of their own points. This is called "setting the contract" or "setting the bid" and it is the goal of the partnership which did not get the bid.

For example, if the bidding partnership bid 32 points and scored 35 points then they are awarded 35 points and their opponents get 7 points. But if the bidding partnership only scored 30 points (and therefore the other partnership got the other 42 - 30 = 12 points) then other partnership is awarded 12 + 32 = 44 points.

The first partnership to reach 250 points is the winner of the game.

Variations and Comments

If you plan to play this game on a regular basis, it might be a good idea to paint the pips of the scoring tiles a different color. You can also find some homemade peg boards for scoring 42, but I do not know of a commerical product. The homemade boards have holes for the amount of the bid, the current trump (or game to be played) and the number of marks won by "Them" and "Us" as columns of holes on the board.

The number of local variations of this regional game is quite large and hard to pin down.

Scoring by Marks

This is the most common variation in wide use. A Mark is given for each game won, regardless of the points bid. The first partnership to reach seven Marks is the winner. This system is used in tournament play to speed up the game. The winning partnership must have at least seven Marks and be ahead of the other partnership by at least two marks. Play can continue until one partnership has met this condition.

For any bid from 30 to 42 (1 Mark), the winning bidder's partnership score 1 Mark if they win. For higher bids they score the number of Marks bid. If the winning bidder is unsuccessful, the opponents score as many Marks as were bid. The game ends when one partnership reaches a total of 7 Marks or more.

Players like to get cute about keeping score by using hash Marks to form words with seven straight strokes, such as "ALL" or "SEX", but you can also use a score sheet or chips.

Bidding Options

Purist hate these special bids and do not use them, feeling that they ruin the game. if you have every played Poker with too many wild cards, you have an idea of why they object to these games. You will also find a lot of variation within these rules from location to location. However, here they are for completeness. They are all based on a bid of one Mark or greater. Most of them have local variations where doubles can be played either high or low within their suit, or the normal order of the doubles suit can be reversed to [0-0] to [6-6].


Also known as "Nel-O", "Nillo", "No Trick", "Low Boy" and "Low" in parts of Texas. A winning bidder who has bid 1 Mark (42 points) or higher can announce Nello, which is a contract to lose every trick. The bidder's partner turns her tiles face down and takes no part in the play. The winning bidder leads to the first trick, and there are no trumps.

Doubles form a suit of their own ranking from [6-6] (highest) to 0-0 (lowest). Rules of play are as usual, and a lead of a double calls for doubles. If a non-double is led the larger number determines the suit to be followed, and a double cannot be played to the trick unless no tiles of the suit led are held.

In Nello, some people give winning bidder the option of playing with the doubles as the highest tiles of their suits (as in a normal contract) rather than doubles being a separate suit. Some allow a winning bidder in Nello a further option of specifying that the doubles are the lowest tiles of their suits. When playing this variation, a winning bidder who announces a Nello must at the same time state whether doubles are their own suit, high in suit or (if allowed) low in suit.


Low-No can only be bid by the dealer and only when the other three players all passed. The bidder's partnership scores 42 points if they make their bid and their opponents score 42 points if they are forced to take a trick. This is a way of playing even when everyone has weak hands.

No Trumps

This is exactly what it says. The double is the highest tile of each suit as usual and every other tile belongs to two suits. The highest tile in the suit lead takes the trick.

No Trump may be bid on a hand with a lot of control but short on long suits. The problem here is regaining the lead once it is lost. For example no-trump hand: [6-6], [5-6], [5-5], [3-3], [2-3], [3-1], [1-1]. Tricks might be played in order from left to right, and one would hope that one or two "threes" would fall on the first three tricks so that the [3-3] could pull in the remaining threes -- making the [2-3] and [3-1] good.


The winning bidder must hold at least 4 doubles to announce Plunge and he can be asked to show them before he starts the first trick. The bidder's partner chooses trump without consulting him. The bidder's partnership must take all seven tricks to win.

The bid must be at least 4 Marks. The bidding can open at 4 Marks or jump to 4 Marks over any lower bid, or bid 5 Marks over a previous bid of 4 Marks. This is the only case where a jump bid or opening bid higher than 2 Marks is allowed. A subsequent player could overcall 4 Marks with 5 Marks, and play a normal contract to win all the tricks, or Nello. A contract for 6 Marks outbids 5 Marks and so on.


The winning bidder must hold at least 3 doubles to announce Splash and he can be asked to show them before he starts the first trick. the bid is worth 2 marks. The bidder's partner chooses trumps and leads and as in Plunge all seven tricks must be taken.


This is the strangest special contract. Each player must follow the lead with a tile whose pips total as close to 7 as possible. For example, the [2-4] and the [3-5] are both one pip away from 7, while the [2-3] and [3-6] are both two pips away from seven.

The trick is won by the closest tile to 7, or if several are equally close, the trick is won by the first of these tiles played on the trick. There is no strategy in Sevens; play is forced after the lead and the game does not resemble Forty-two at all.

Other local variations

A set of rules created and posted on the Internet by Matt Hurt and Eliot Williams [email:] at Lechner Hall, Texas A&M University for use in the Lechner Hall 42 Tournament for the 1992-1993 academic year listed a section of "Outlawed Games" not allowed in the tournament, without explaining them:

  1. Low Boy
  2. Inverted Low Boy-also Big Bertha
  3. Multiple Trumps 42
  4. Cajun Hokey Pokey
  5. West Texas Rules
  6. East Lansing deferred style Nillo
  7. Eagle eye
  8. Naperville Onesies

I have never seen descriptions for most of these games.


Bidding the hand:

There is a detailed discussion about bidding in the book WINNING 42: STRATEGY AND LORE OF THE NATIONAL GAME OF TEXAS by Dennis Roberson (Texas Tech University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-89672-384-4). I can only outline a few tips here.

Most bids in actual play will be for 30 or 31, and for 35 or 36 points. Other bids between these numbers are possible, but the scores are really not possible. At first look, you would think that you can make 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 points from counters. However, catching the counters depends on the suit declared trumps and the number of tricks you win also.

The strategy in bidding a hand is to look at whcih tiles will lose tricks for you (these are called "offs").

Three passes might leave the dealer in an incredibly awkward situation without having a bid to make; that's part of the game. Note, though, that this gives the dealer's partner incentive to bid 30 on a somewhat mediocre hand, because they could be saving the dealer from an awkward situation.

Hands for which you should declare doubles trump are rather rare. You should have at least four doubles and be strong in the suit of one of those doubles. One possible hand where it would make sense to bid doubles would be the following:

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

Note if the [5-5] falls on the first trick, you gain ten points and make your [4-5] good for the next trick.

If blanks are not trump, and you hold the double blank, although it is the highest tile of its suit the only way it can win a trick is if you lead it. Any other blank which is led counts as the lowest tile of some other suit.

It is bad to be weak in the Fours, Fives, and Sixes because they are the suits with the ten point tiles.

Loosing a single ten point counter does not set a bid of 31.

To set a bid of 36 or less the opposing partnership needs at least a ten point counter or a five point counter and two tricks. At 37 you cannot lose any counter tiles. If you have a reasonably good hand, bid 36 to make it hard to the opposing partnership to raise you.

If you have lots of counters you can bid small (e.g., 30) to indicate to your partner that you have a helping hand. Conversely, if your partner bids small (30 or 31) then they would probably appreciate you raising them if you can.

When deciding on your bid you can rely on your partners hand to help you make your bid.

Having your double in front of your offs can help a lot. The double will pull out other tiles in the suit and you might be lucky in the way they are distributed among the other hands.

Offensive Strategies

Offensive strategies are used when your partnership has won the bid.

You generally want to pull the trumps out of your opponents hands as quickly as possible.

If you have lots of trumps and doubles, but a bad off you can sometimes minimize your loses by opening with it. This can help prevent your opponents from playing counters not of the same suit on the lead.

If you do not have the double of your trumps or one of your trumps is in jeopardy you want to try to get your partner in the lead. Open with a small off.

You can sometimes trick your opponents into giving you counters by opening with a good, but non-double trump. If your opponents have the bid and open with a non-double do not give them more than a five point counter unless they open with a small trump (if they can walk a small trump on the opening play then you probably are not going to set them so playing your ten point counter is not going to hurt you).

Lead Strategies

Get rid of offs as soon as possible to avoid being stuck with them towards the end when the counters are being played.

Try to keep a trump for the last trick on bids of 30-35 to make sure you can catch any counters your opponents might be holding.

Helping Strategies

If you have [6-6] and [6-5] you can sometimes play the [6-6] on an off as a hint to your partner that you have the [6-5] and you can therefore catch any Six or Five offs. This can also work for other suits.

Defensive Strategies

Defensive strategies are used when you are trying to set the opposing partnership.

Lead Strategies

Hit them hard. If you have all the counters then play it and hope you either hit their off or your partner can catch it.

Setting Strategies

If the trick can be caught by your partnership then play counters on it unless you are sure that the other partnership would trump it. You usually only have only a one or two trick window in which to set your opponents so you have to take the chance when you get it.

Get rid of any suits you can early in the hand so you can play counters for your partner to catch or trumps to catch counters, should that suit happen to be played.

You can sometimes trick your opponents into believing they have all the trumps by giving away a small counter trump. For example, if Fives are trumps and you have two, [0-5] and some other Five, and on your play your partner did not have any trumps then you can sometimes play your [0-5] to trick the other partnership into thinking you do not have another trump. This can work for other 5 point tiles as well.

Setting a Nello bid is usually easy unless you or your partner have lots of big tiles. Playing the [1-0] will almost always set someone that is not experienced at Nello.