Lick Some Dominoes: a Jamaican Pastime

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The game of dominoes is a favourite in Jamaica and is a staple at many corner bars and social and family gatherings. What may have once been considered a pastime for the working class can now be found almost anywhere that Jamaicans gather to blow off some steam and have a good time, and you will often find that 28 pack of pieces, or 'bones' as they’re sometimes referred to, in play. Pull up an overturned crate, a 'rock stone' or a bar stool to a flat surface and prepare to “lick some dominoes” with the best of ‘em.

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Dominoes can be spotted at gatherings on the beach, in the police stations, at jerk shops, on back verandahs, at “dead yards” (or wakes as you may know it) and anywhere there’s rum, really. The “poor man’s pastime” is now the most competitive sport played amongst “rumpanions” gathered to shoot the breeze. It’s played at a table of four with an enthusiasm that might baffle you or tickle your funny bone as the pieces hit the tables with a loud noise to make a statement, whatever that may be. The noise of course comes with catcalls and heckling of opponents.

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“Hold dat!” shouts “The Teacher,” a competitor who has dubbed himself qualified “to school these boys”, declaring to the table as he slams down a piece and takes a swig of his beer. The player beside him, whose turn it now is, sullenly knocks the table twice with a piece in his hand, admitting temporary defeat and declaring that he has to “pass” meaning he has no matches to play this go round. The next player slams down his piece triumphantly and in a moment’s notice the fourth player knocks out three pieces one after the next, bowing out triumphantly with much braggadocio. When a players bows, it means he has blocked the game, controlling both ends of play and he’s certain he has the lowest count of the cards left in his hand to win the game.

Just before a player bows out, he may ask the table how many pieces each of them hold in his research. In Jamaican domino language, that can go a little something like this:

Bower: Tell me something, how much card you have in your hand?
Player B: Three. How much you have?
Bower: A no your business dat! A no your turn! turns to other opponents and asks How much you have?
Player C: 2
Player D: 3, is what you trying?
Bower: Dash dem away, I’m about to teach you how to play this game, you see! You see this card? You know what it name? School is in session boy!

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He’ll then throw down only one domino and wait for table reaction. The next player might try to make a move which the Bower will declare “Is what you doing? You don’t see the game colt” then he’ll slam down his remaining dominoes and declare victory.

If a player is at the table long enough to lose six times, the ebbing will be humorously torturous. It can go on for hours and end up in him buying the table a round of drinks.

If the game is being played paired up with two sets of partners, then one partner is not safe from the crucifying ebbing from his own partner if he has made what is dubbed a bad move. “A what dat you go on with?” or “How you play and make the man have move? Why you never make him pass!” are frequent calls in varying degrees.

To be skillful at this game means to know how to read the game correctly. It’s not enough to simply match the cards in your hand to those on the board, you need to be able to determine which opponent has which cards. “Killing the doubles” is one such read that pro domino players are skillful at. This skill determines where the doubles are held in order to kill them in your opponent's hand so that they never see the light of play.

“He’s gone! He’s gone to deadyard! The double-five is gone!” sings one opponent who has ascertained that the player next to him has the double-five card. “Stop talk the game!” the player shouts out to him. “You don’t know what you talking!” he insists.

“Talking the game” is an offence taken seriously, ending in bitter quarrels and fights. “My mother only have one eye, she needs another one,” declares a player to his partner, cleverly signaling to him to play the ace-blank card. Shouts of thievery and lots of colourful language erupts around the table, disrupting the game.

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“Go talk to the cashier” or “Tender, send one Q pon Larry bill” can be heard as winners declare the losing party’s obligation to buy the table a round. A “Q” or “QQ” is a quarter-quart of rum in Jamaican parlance. Tender is a shortening of bartender. One of the top things to do in Jamaica, dominoes is a timeless classical pastime. If you’re not brave enough to join in a round, then feel free to pull up a chair, buy a beer and enjoy the entertainment wherever the domino table unfolds.

 

- by Monique Solomon