A Return to the Domino Table

By Emmanuel Borrell

The weekend has arrived, and it is a hot, sunny day. It’s time to bring out the table and dominoes and play till sundown.

Dominoes have been an essential activity in the Latino community in New York City for decades, whether it is in a park, in a barbershop, or on the street. With the coronavirus pandemic being slowly tamed and summer right around the corner, the streets of predominantly Latino neighborhoods are occupied once again with domino games.

Dominoes is a strategic board game,  consisting of 28 tiles that have a line of division in the middle and have numbers ranging between 0-6, known as dots. The game is played with four people. Usually, it is two teams consisting of two players.

Before the beginning of the match, the dominoes are set on the table face down, and shuffled around. Every player picks up seven tiles and whoever has the double six domino begins the match. As the upcoming players play, the dominoes they place on the table must match the dots that are available to them. If they don’t have any dots to match, they skip. The person who plays their last domino wins along with his or her teammate. Games usually go up to 200 and the losing team gets up and another team plays.

Victor Borrell is a Dominican who has been playing dominoes for more than 15 years.  Borrell has been playing in the Rauol Wallenberg Playground in Highbridge Park in Washington Heights. He said dominoes have helped his mental health. “Dominoes is very healthy for the mind because it is a thinking game,” said Borrell. Washington Heights’ population is predominantly Dominican, and the game of dominoes has had a huge impact on the community.

Here are some terms to remember when playing dominoes. “¡CAPICUA!” is what players shout before playing their last domino when the two numbers on it can be won on either side. For example, on the table, if there is a 2 facing one side and 5 on the other, if the player that goes last domino is a set of 2/5, that is a “capicua”, giving 25 extra points to the total score.

The last term is “trancao,” a shorter way of saying “trancado.” This is when a player freezes the game by placing the last set of dots on the table, leaving no turns left. There are seven sets of dots. For example, if six tiles are sets of 5 on the table, a player with the last set plays that tile with that 5 exposed, while it is exposed on the other side, the game is frozen. Then, with the dominoes that are left from each team, they are counted together and whoever has the lowest amount between both teams wins, and that number from both teams is the accumulative score won.

After the world was hit by the coronavirus pandemic, these regular outside gatherings were put on a hold. However, that didn’t stop Borrell, as he still managed to continue playing even with his family at home. “I bought a table to play at home with my family,” said Borrell. “It was hard to play outside with others.” He also mentioned how it felt weird to him being outside was not part of his seasonal routine anymore. “I felt out of place. That transition of playing dominoes with members of my neighborhood to being on lockdown was odd.”

Now with the fewer cases of Covid-19 and more people vaccinated, the world is returning to normal and so will Borrell’s domino games with his fellow community members. “It feels good, but precautions will be taken still,” he said. “I want to make sure playing dominoes won’t be at risk for the community’s health.”


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