Jamaicans' love for dominoes: so strong it sometimes turns deadly
Players battle in the Big League domino tournament in Grants Pen last year. The sport of dominoes is a popular national past-time in Jamaica. (PHOTOS: Marlon Reid)
Jamaicans love dominoes. The sport is an important national past-time played with brio and panache by locals from all walks of life, and it is a sport that provokes incredible passion in the island's macho culture.
Communication specialist Granville Newell shared his theories with Loop Jamaica reporter Claude Mills as to why dominoes is such a popular sport on the island.
"One of the things about domino is that you have to think hard, it requires you to exercise your memory and it is a game which Jamaicans, especially men, have developed a pride in playing and competing at the highest level," he said.
Dominoes is often seen as a great 'equalizer' as men of different socio-economic backgrounds and classes can come together and face each other over a domino table.
"Dominoes does not require you to be an intellectual or an educated person. I know domino players who can barely read and write but can 'read' the domino game very well," he said.
Newell said that level of enthusiasm is contagious as evidenced when the head of the International Domino Federation, Venezuelan Lucas Guittard visited Jamaica a few years ago. Guittard was immediately impressed by the fervency and passion of the local players to the point where he wanted to "import" a few Jamaican nuances to his country.
"He was quite impressed, he had never seen dominoes slammed down on a table before and he said that he would introduce that aspect of the game to Venezuela when he returned. He said he had never seen before and that Jamaica is the only place where the players behaved like that," Newell revealed.
"Domino is a macho game, men have a sense of power when they play the game well and it provides bragging status over others."
Sometimes, those parochial passions can boil over in the heat of battle. Last week, one family was sent into mourning when a man stabbed and killed his relative following an argument over a game of dominoes.
Reports are that about 4:00pm, two cousins Wayne Osbourne, a 20-year-old, labourer of a Spanish Town Road address and Omar Lawrence o/c ‘Rumpu’ were playing a game when the argument developed.
During an exchange of words, Lawrence reportedly pulled a knife and stabbed Osbourne.
Last year, there was a case before the courts where a man was hauled before the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court last Friday on a charge of assault occasioning bodily harm.
The court was told that on May 9, Jackson and the complainant were playing a game of dominoes when an argument developed. Allegations are that Jackson punched the complainant three times in his face. The defendant denied punching him but the complainant told the court that after the game 'blocked' an argument developed.
“He said my uncle was a homosexual. Mi say how you know that and by the time me know me get a thump in my face,” the complainant told the court.
Loop News photographer Marlon Reid, having shot and even organised a number of domino tournaments, is well aware of the boisterous and sometimes violent outbursts that can feature during a game. He recalled being a victim on one occasion.
“We were playing ‘cut throat’ (when each player competes for themselves as opposed to teams) and my bredrin won a game while another man disputed it.
“Because I remained quiet, the man (disputing the win) started accusing me of taking sides (with the winner), and started to seh a bag of things and issue all types of threats,” Reid said.
What’s more, dominoes have often figured in the predatory ambitions of murderous gunmen who stalk their victims at popular spots where men gather to play.
The game shows up in police blotters quite frequently:
- On January 6, 2017, there was a shooting death of a man in Negril as Ricardo Poiser, 25-year-old, otherwise called Joe, of Whitehall was among a group of men playing dominoes at a shop in Whitehall when he was shot and killed.
- On May 3, 2012 in Rejoin, Hanover, two gunmen went on a rampage, killing four male residents, including a father and son. Police named those killed as 64-year-old caddy Lenford Frazer; his son, 47-year-old hotel worker Delroy Frazer; 64-year-old farmer Kenneth Bernard; and David Harding, 41.
- The caddy, his son and Bernard were killed while they were playing dominoes in a popular grocery shop where residents customarily congregate and play table games nightly.
- In May 2015, there was a quadruple murder in Claremont St. Elizabeth, when three of the four men were killed at a shop owned and operated by one of the murdered men, 70 year old Ezra Wright, who had been celebrating his birthday and playing dominoes. The fourth person was killed as the men made their get-away.
- In December 2015, notorious gangster Marlon 'Duppy Film' Perry killed behind two policemen — Corporal Kenneth Davis, who was assigned to the Protective Services Division, and Constable Craig Palmer, who was assigned to the Kingston Western Division - as they played dominoes at a shop in Poorman's Corner, St Thomas.
But, despite the dangers, dominoes remains a popular national past-time. Minister Olivia Grange declared the game a national sport in 2010 and has supported the call for dominoes to be elevated to status of an Olympic sport.
Follow the tips listed below, and you will have an advantage over other players who aren't using any real strategy at all.
- Set down doubles early. Because doubles have the same suit value on either end, you will have fewer opportunities to set them down on the layout, so it is a good idea to play them whenever you have the opportunity. It's only too easy to get stuck with doubles. If you can, be mercenary and "kill" your opponent's doubles.
- Set down your heavier tiles early. Because you don't know for sure who will win a round of dominoes, it is a good idea to play your heavier spotted tiles early so whoever wins a round or whether the round is blocked you won't be caught with a high score of points for your opponent.
- Hold on to a variety of suits. Try to keep as many different suits as you can in your hand as long as you can. This will give you a range of options when it comes to the tiles you can set down and prevent you from being unable to make a play at all and having to pass on your play.
- Note your opponents’ weak suits. Whenever an opponent passes on their play or draws from the boneyard, remember which suit values they don't have. This allows you to be more able to block them in later game-play.
- Work out your opponent's hand through the art of 'reading'. If you study the layout of already played tiles and the tiles in your own hand you will often be able to guess what your opponents are holding in their hands. This becomes easier the more tiles are played onto the layout. You'll soon learn which tiles in your own hand to play to block your opponents.