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History of dominoes

For many people the sound of the clatter of a dominoes game being played is part of the atmosphere of a quintessential British pub along with other old fashioned associations of warm bitter, horse brasses and old men in cloth caps. It evokes a nostalgia for a bygone age and public bars and it seems so typically English that it may be surprising to learn that dominoes is one of the most popular games in the World and that the game of dominoes is played throughout Europe, North and South America and all over Asia and that the origins of dominoes (from which giant dominoes comes) possibly go back over a thousand years.


The game of dominoes is actually based upon the possible throws available when throwing two dice and so the traditional set of dominoes contains one unique piece for each possible combination of throws. Each domino has two ends containing between zero to six spots or pips and there are 28 dominoes in a traditional set. As with playing cards and dice there are many hundreds of different games that can be played with a standard set of dominoes, and different size dominoes that can be used (including giant dominoes)


The earliest form of dominoes were found in China and have been dated at 1120 AD. However it is believed by many Chinese people that the game of dominoes was invented much earlier by a soldier hero named Hung Ming who lived between 181 - 234 AD and invented the game of dominoes to amuse his soldiers. This earlier date has not been proved but it is certain that dominoes are of Chinese origin and were introduced to Europe via Venice and Naples early in the 18th century.


Chinese dominoes are still played in China to this day and the tiles resemble those in traditional European dominoes sets although there are noticeable differences. Chinese dominoes are shorter than traditional European dominoes and have their indented pips in two different colours. As they are shorter, the giant domino version is especially differentiated.


Chinese dominoes are also based around the different permutations of throwing two cubic dice and there are 32 dominoes tiles in total because some dominoes are duplicated. Chinese dominoes are divided into two groups - military and civilian and the civilian tiles have duplicates whereas the military tiles are unique.


As with traditional dominoes a great many games could be, and are still played with the Chinese dominoes although this later developed into Mah Jong which is more widespread.


Dominoes changed during the transition from Chinese to European culture.

The new dominoes were based upon the permutations of the throws of two dice as with the Chinese dominoes but there are no duplicate tiles in a traditional European set nor class distinctions. Also an extra blank set of tiles was added based on the throws of one single die and so we have 0 -1 , 0-2 and so on and a set of 28 dominoes in total.


Dominoes became very popular in the Venetian and Neapolitan courts in the early 18th century and at this time domino sets were being made from bone, ivory or ebony and were either black with white spots or white with black spots.


The Venetians invented the name “dominoes” for the game. This came from the resemblance of the tiles to Venetian Carnival masks known as “domini”, which were white with black spots. This was a nickname in itself because the carnival masks were named after the hoods of Dominican monks which were black and white. (Dominican comes from the Latin dominus, meaning "lord".")


Dominoes quickly spread through Europe from Italy and became very popular in France where it became a craze. The French invented a great number of other puzzle games based on dominoes although these have not survived. Dominoes were then bought into Britain by French prisoners of war in the late 18th century and quickly became a popular game in the pubs and taverns of the time.


There are many historical references throughout the 18th century that show dominoes being played and by the 19th century dominoes had become part of every day British culture and were even used to settle boundary disputes on occasions. Called bone sticks, the dominoes were often made from ivory and indented with ebony pips.


Today dominoes is played world wide and is especially popular in Spain, Latin America and Caribbean countries. Dominoes tournament and games are often televised and as in poker games it is possible to win (or lose) a great deal of money in these big tournaments. There are many exciting and different games that are popular in these countries. In Jamaica, Partner and Cut throat are popular. In Cuba the domino game of choice is Longana, Latin American Partnership dominoes is taken very seriously and it is possible to buy books about strategy. Dominoes are also popular in North America with games such as 42 or Mexican Train being some of the most widely played. It is also possible to play dominoes on line (giant dominoes or otherwise!)


In Britain dominoes is also played competitively at local and national level and many regions favour different games such as Muggins, Maltese Cross and Fives and Threes. Competitions also use different sized dominoes, and giant dominoes is becoming increasingly popular generally speaking.


For a game that may be over a thousand years old it seems that dominoes still has a wide and varied appeal and is likely to continue to be popular and be played all over the world for many years to come.