My First Live Dominoes Tourney

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In my early days on the internet, the first game I started playing was Dominoes on Yahoo! Games. I did not know it at the time, but I was playing a style of dominoes called Fives Up. I played in countless online tournaments back in the day. I remember when we used Earthlink as our ISP (Internet Service Provider), and one day I had a domino tourney at a certain time and I could not get a connection because all of the phone numbers the modem called kept being busy (kids, look up how a dial-up modem works). I was so furious that I called up Earthlink and cancelled our service and changed ISPs.

The point is, I took my dominoes very seriously. I later learned in my Spanish class that the way most Hispanics play Dominoes is a way known as Cuban style, a pure number-crunching, blocking-style control game. It was a very fun way to play, and I really think it is best when played as partners. I personally prefer the Fives Up style for single player and Cuban style for doubles.

When I started college, I was looking for things to do around campus. I saw flyers for the RIT Caribbean Student Association hosting a dominoes tourney with a $5 in and it was both a singles and doubles event. For $5, pizza was on offer and champs even won trophies. I was immediately stoked to play in this tourney, as I had never played one in-person.

So I arrived at the student union at RIT and a room on the second floor was set aside tourney. I walked in and there reggae music blasted loudly, so loudly in fact that it was hard to hold a conservation with anyone. When I stepped in, people thought I came to the wrong place. Why? Well, I was the only white person in the room of about 25 people. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

The singles tourney was first, and the seating was very informal. Despite that informality, these players were in it to win. Who played who was just determined by who sat next to who. What was funny is that as soon as I sat down, multiple people rushed to fill the table where I was sitting. My fellow players quickly judged the big-footed white boy as easy pickings in round 1.

I will admit that I was a little intimidated playing that first game. I had never played in a live tourney before, and this was more than a game to these guys; it was part of their culture. Previously I had only played the dominoes tilted up on their side so only I could see them. Well that would not work here, as these guys all held the dominoes in their hands, with the domino longways, held between the joint of their finger and their palm. Thus they could raise their hand in front of them and easily see 4 dominoes on each one. With each play, they played them “with authority”, slamming them down as hard as they could.

All that continues, but hey, I know how to play the game, and I am very good at probability: the most important thing to know when playing. If someone underestimates me, I am even more inclined to win, and my drive to win is always very high to begin with. Well, these 3 guys thought they found a sucker, but I won the game solid and advanced to the second round. These guys could not believe it, and after that win I was awarded with immediate respect.

The tourney was 3 rounds, so one additional win would have won me a seat in the final. I played well, but finished in 2nd place in the second game. Still, everyone who got knocked out round one was watching the game I was playing in because they wanted to see me play.

So the doubles tourney was immediately after the singles. I did not have a partner, but after my strong singles showing, multiple people asked me if I want to partner with them. I went from being an easy win to someone with whom they wanted to be allied, not against. So I picked to team up with a nice guy.

In short, we ran through the entire field and won the title. In my first tourney, I was a doubles champion, and had banked my first college trophy! It was a blast. To me, the experience serves as a great example of how games can bring people together. Dominoes is a pastime that brought these boys together (there were no women), and I had become part of a group that I would have never been with normally. A classic game bridged our differences. I learned about Caribbean culture and they learned that the big-footed white boy they assumed was easy prey was not easily defeated.

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