How to Play 42

Illustrations by funnelinc.com

About 120 years ago, two boys from Trapps Springs (now Garner) were caught in a forbidden pastime: playing cards. Their parents burned the offending deck and whipped the disobedient youngsters, but this led William Thomas and Walter Earl to find a loophole in the rules. “In those days Baptists considered card-playing to be the devil’s work,” says Dennis Roberson, the Fort Worth author of Winning 42: Strategy & Lore of the National Game of Texas. “But dominoes, for some reason, weren’t sinful.” So the enterprising boys replaced the cards with dominoes, invented a new game similar in style to bridge and spades, and dubbed it 42. Soon the game had scooted across Texas like an unhampered tumbleweed.

Number of players: Four
Domino set required: Double-six
Setup: Players split into teams of two, with partners seated across from each other. After the dominoes are shuffled facedown, players draw seven tiles each to make up their hand (whoever shuffles picks last).
Objective: To be the first team to score 250 points by bidding and winning tricks or by setting your opponent.

Lingo Lessons

Winning what? Setting who? Forty-two is a bidding game, and your first order of business is to win tricks. A trick consists of the four dominoes, one from each person at the table, played in a turn; you win the trick by playing the highest domino or a trump (more on that in a sec). There are seven tricks in a hand, and each trick is worth 1 point. Within these tricks, dominoes whose face value adds up to a multiple of five are also worth points; these dominoes are known as count. (The 0–5, 1–4, and 2–3 dominoes are 5 points each; the 4–6 and 5–5 dominoes are 10.) When a player takes a trick in which count has been played, his team is awarded 1 point for the trick plus the sum of the count. The game’s name reflects a hand’s total points: 7 tricks + 35 total count = 42.

Strictly Bidness

There are variations on the game (like Nel-O or Sevens), but these adulterations are generally dismissed by dyed-in-the-wool players, so stick with the following basics. Before starting play, each person

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