The game of dominoes is a favorite in Jamaica and a staple at many corner bars and slot machine shops. What was once considered a pastime for the working class now infiltrates the masses and anywhere that Jamaicans gather to blow some steam and have a good time. Pull up an overturned crate, a rock stone, or a bar stool on a makeshift table and prepare to “lick some dominoes” with the best of ‘em, completing a table of four.
Dominoes can be spotted at gatherings on the beach, in the police stations, at jerk shops, on back verandas, at “dead yards,” and anywhere there’s rum. The “poor man’s pastime” is now the uber-competitive sport played among “rumpanions” gathered to shoot the breeze. It’s played with an enthusiasm that might baffle you or tickle
Your funny bone as the pieces hit the table with a loud noise to make a statement, whatever that may be. The noise, of course, comes with catcalls and the heckling of opponents.
“Hold dat!” shouts “The Teacher,” a competitor who has dubbed himself "qualified to school these boys” declare to the table as he slams down a piece and takes a swig of his beer. The player beside him whose turn it is now sullenly knocks the table twice with a piece in his hand, admitting temporary defeat and declaring that he has to “pass.” This means he has no matches to play this round. The next player slams down his piece triumphantly. In a moment’s notice, the fourth player knocks out three pieces, one after the next, bowing out boastfully. When a player bows, it means he has blocked the game, controlling both ends of play. 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!
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 with him buying the table a round of drinks. If the game is being played with two sets of partners, then one is not safe from jeering from his own partner if he has made what is dubbed a bad move. 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 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 dead yard! The double-five is gone!” sings one opponent who has discovered 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.
“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 around. A “Q” or “QQ” is a quarter-quart of rum in Jamaican parlance. Tender is a shortened title of a bartender.
If you’re not brave enough to join in a round, just pull up a chair, buy a beer, and enjoy the entertainment wherever the domino table unfolds. If you do join in, remember not to talk the game.
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