December 8, 2008

Rule Variations

42 is played predominantly in Texas, and maybe because of limited geography there is a fairly standard set of rules, with a few prominent variations. Here are some of the more frequent ones.

  • Nello - Bidding that you can play the hand without catching any tricks. Since no one could make this bid with his partner still in the game and able to catch tricks, Nello play has the special rule where the bidder's partner doesn't play. Nello is almost universally allowed in casual play, but not in some competitive tournaments. You first bid 42 or 84, then when it's time to state your trump, call Nello. My in-laws play so that saying "one mark" or "two marks" implies Nello, as opposed to "42" or "84" which would imply going straight, but I don't think that's common or desirable.

    Sub-variations of Nello specify how doubles are to be treated. Nearly everyone allows doubles to be high in their suit (like regular 42), or specified as being a separate suit of just doubles. Some other time I'll get into the strategy of which way is the best.

    A less common, and in my opinion inferior, way to play Nello is to allow doubles to be called low in their suit, so that the 6-0 would beat the 6-6. I've mainly seen this from Aggies, but don't know how widespread it is.

  • Plunge - This is less common, but not uncommon. The person bidding Plunge states his bid as 84 (or four marks in a variation), then when it's time for him to state the trump, he calls "plunge" and his partner calls the trump suit and leads the first domino. In order to call plunge, the rule is that the bidder must have at least four doubles in his hand. It's often a desperation bid, trying to catch up when you're behind.

    The plunge for four marks variation is, to me, excessive and shouldn't be allowed.

  • Sevens - This is a completely degenerate way to play and shouldn't be allowed in a civilized game. It's a bid for all the tricks, so is usually played for two marks. The only important thing is the total number of spots a domino has, and how close that number is to seven (either seven exactly, or one away, or two away, etc.). The winner of a trick is the one who plays closest to seven, or who plays that first. A hand that has several dominoes close to seven, especially having two of the three sevens, is a good one to bid on if you're into this sort of thing.

  • Leading the suit of the low side - I have seen before, some people allow a non-trump off to be led on the very first trick of a hand, and specify that the low side of this domino is the lead suit. This is much less common, and I think it's usually meant to get rid of an off that otherwise would draw out (and probably lose) the 5-5 or 6-4. For example, on the first trick, the bidder plays the 1-5 and states that the "1" is the lead suit for that trick, thus getting rid of his five-off without drawing out the double-five. I don't like this variation.

  • Doubles as trumps force you to follow that suit - Some people think that if doubles are called as the trump, that if a double is led and you don't have a double to play, you're forced to play the number suit of the lead domino. For example, if doubles are trumps, and the leader plays a 5-5, and you don't have a double, that you would then be forced to play a five. This is less of a variation than an error if you ask me. I don't think it's considered standard anywhere.

  • 36 will overbid a Nello bid - I kind of like this one. I think it's very uncommon, but I've been told that some people play that if someone before you bids on Nello, you can overbid him with 36. This would necessitate that someone bidding Nello has to state it up front and not simply say "42" or "84." But it does allow a good hand to overbid a trash hand.

  • Can't open at 84 bid - This is also a mistake I've seen before. Some people play that you can't bid two marks until someone previous to you has bid one mark. It's a mistake, because if you played this rule, no one would ever bid 84, since no one bids 42 on a straight hand, since you can almost certainly win the bid with less risk by bidding 36.
What variations have you seen? Post them in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Hi Curt,

I'm Gary in Irving.

I agree for the most part with your analysis.

Nello - I've usually seen it played with doubles high, although I have played the other versions (but I'm an Aggie so maybe that's the explanation). Allowing doubles to be high, low or a suit of their own doesn't seem too objectionable if Nello is limited to an otherwise forced bid situation.

Plunge - Maybe it should be limited to 3 marks and be allowed only by a team that is 4 or more marks behind.

Sevens - Couldn't agree more! I'd rather use the dominoes to build little houses than use them to play 7's.

Calling the low side - heard of it, but never played it. It somehow reminds me of the designated hitter in baseball. Sure you score more runs, but the game seems a little less pure (and I know there are few true 42 purists anymore - if there ever were).

Following suit with doubles as trumps - I've seen it played a few times. I've even seen a version where you are required to play a 6 if you don't have a double. In reality both versions seem a little weird.

36 to overbid Nello - Never seen it played, but it makes sense. If the number was lowered to 34, I might not mind playing against serious Nello players. I don't hate playing Nello (like 7's). It's just that serious Nello-ers ruin so many good straight hands - because they will play it about 90% of the time.

No 84 as an opening bid - I've seen it played that way, but rarely. I've never really thought of it the way you explained it, but your analysis makes a lot of sense. There would be a few times 42 would be bid such as when a team was one mark from winning, but 84 would become a somewhat rare event.

Anonymous said...

I liked Gary's comment that using the dominoes to build little houses would be preferable to playing sevens, but I'd take it a step farther and apply the same thinking to nello, plunge, and all the other variations. They're all just designed to make luck more important than skill, and make junk hands playable.

Anonymous said...

My name is tim berna and I own all your dominoe games. Play them too much.

I have a problem with Win42. I've thought at times it didn't do something right but today I finally seen it. I tried to screen capture it but ACDC wouldn't let me for some reason.

Anyway, the bid was 30 and trumps where trey. The other team had the bid. We played out 6 tricks with us catching one with a 5 count. At this point Win42 stopped the game and declared them the winner. I looked at the dominoes held by each one. I had 0/4, to my left 6/3, my partner had 3/3 and to my right 5/5.

You can see the problem


Carlos said...


Are you planning on coming up with 42 for the iPhone?

cactusflinthead said...

Hey. Update the blog.
I detest Nello nearly as much as my grandfather did. Variations like 7 should be outlawed.

Mark said...

This is Mark in Irving.

I love Nello. I see it as a variation akin to a Nil bid in Spades. But I'll admit it's often a bit TOO easy to win.

7s? Take 'em or leave 'em. I loved them when I was learning because it was so simple.

Plunge: My relatives always said this was the one time you were not only allowed, but required to talk across the table during bidding. You'd ask your partner: "do you wanna plunge?"

StoneKarma said...

I like these variations because they take some of the luck OUT of the game. I hate sitting there, drawing garbage hand after garbage hand. Playing some of these goofier variations give me another way to try to make a hand.

We ask, "do you play 7's?" at the start of a game.

We used to play Nello, but play it only in a forced bid. Sevens don't come up as often, so you can bid it whenever, but wouldn't hurt to make it forced bid also.

Bob said...

I have played 42 for about 70 years and never heard of plying 7s until recently. I remember an old rule seldom mentioned that when trumps are lead and you don't have a trump, then you play to the other end. Like, if treys are trumps and 3/4 is lead, then you play a trump or a 4. Anyone else ever run on to that one?

Anonymous said...

Never heard of that Bob, what is the purpose of playing the other end of the trump if you dont have one ?

Anonymous said...

Sevens...everyone could turn their dominoes face up and the out come wouldn't change! No Strategy or competition of any kind!
Sevens is a made up game reminding me of Old Maid! Anyone can do it! Nuff said!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Bob in Weatherford.

I HATE Sevens. Whoever invented it has a special, extra hot place in hell waiting for them. I also love setting a Sevens hand, which I do on a regular basis although I won't bid one. They've ruined too many good hands of mine.

For the other Bob, I've never heard of playing something other than a 3 trump when one is lead if you have one in your hand. You must follow suite. I did trick the other players into playing count with a 4-3 one time. Three's were trump and I lead the 3-4, four end first. My left opponent jumped on it with a 6-4, my partner with a 4-1 and my right opponent with the 4-4. When my left opponent reached for the bones, cackling that I was set, I reminded him that treys were trump. Oooppps. He blew a gasket, claiming I had cheated because I didn't announce that I was leading a trump. I reminded him that talking across the table was cheating and since I had already declared trumps, it was his job to pay attention. I don't play 42 with him anymore for obvious reasons. It was a good bluff, though, and the other players complimented me on it.

Anonymous said...

Hello all,
The way we play is a bid of 42 is 2 marks and 84 is 4 marks and can only be called after another player bids 42.

Larry said...

Curt, Larry in Sulphur Springs. Like your view in most cases. Some variations I have never heard of. When we play 42 by our house rules there is no plunge and no 7s. All these do is make a lazy way to try to make something out of nothing. Although I have played with folks who do play either or both of these variations and that's okay too.
Our house rules on Nello or "Low" we play doubles are a suit AND doubles catch tricks. If a double is led you must play a double if you have no doubles then you must follow suit. If a suit is lead and all you have is the double then you catch the trick. This makes a low hand much harder to make and adds a greater skill factor. We also declare we are going low at the bid. Also play if all players pass then 4th bidder must take the bid and lead the play either hi or low. No all pass and re-shake.
Love the game...

Anonymous said...

Rather than goofball 42 variations, I play The Big Game -- simply 42 played with a larger 8-8 set of tiles.

The Big Game changes only a couple rules from standard 42. Rules are here --

Dominoes Rules said...


LOL Elo Boost said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Edwin said...

In Curtis’ 42 program one can see the options allowed by the host, such as whether Nello, plunge, 7’s are allowed. That is good so that if you prefer not to play in such ways, you don’t have to bother anyone by entering the table to find out what the table rules are. I’d like to see Curtis in some future update allow the host of the table to specify whether high-end indicating of one’s doubles is allowed at that table. There are still a few of us old-timers of 42 who think this telling your partner what doubles you have is not good 42 and is a departure of the way 42 used to be played (by deducing and inferring what best to play trick by trick instead of some telling scheme) rather than outright telling. Maybe have it specified with a I1 to mean the host allows a 30 bid to mean the bidder of the 30 has 3 doubles. And I2 to mean the telling of doubles is allowed at that table (such as if at first opportunity at not following suit you play 51, your partner knows you have double-five). This should be specified, for some players don’t realize their opponents are doing this against them, and thus have an unfair advantage.
Also, to keep the bidding of nello from dominating a 42 game, perhaps Curtis could update his program to allow the host of a table to restrict Nello to only one nello bid and played by each person at the table per game.

Edwin said...

A definition of barebones 42:
Barebones 42, as the name implies, is playing 42 stripped of variations others have layered onto 42 (such as sevens, plunge, nello three ways, splash) and is 42 closest to that played by the earliest 42 players). In addition to the variations named, it should be recognized that one or two other variations are often overlaid onto barebones 42 that probably the late 19th century and early 20th century 42 players did not do: 1) a 30 bid done with the intention of informing one’s partner the bidder has a good helping hand or at least three doubles, 2) informing one’s partner of a specific double in your hand by playing the high-end of a suit to which you have the double: such as, if your partner bid on treys, at the first opportunity you have to do so, you play a five (such as 51) to tell your partner you have double-five.
Barebones without any variations does not restrict anyone from bidding any bid he wants. It’s just that the 30 bid has no specific attached meaning to it---a player with three doubles is fully allowed to bid 30, as long as his partner and the other players at the table understands that the 30 bidder has not attached the meaning of “I have three doubles (or a good helping) hand” to his thirty bid. And because he hasn’t attached that meaning, his partner cannot not actually know what may be in his partner’s hand. Likewise, no domino is being “outlawed” from playing by stripping the high-end telling variation from being attached to Barebones 42. If a person wants to play 51 or any other domino of his choice at first opportunity of missing suit, he is allowed to do so---as long as it is understood that no telling of one’s double is being transmitted to his partner. By close observation of how the players are playing over a number of hands or games, it can readily be discerned whether opponents are employing telling (talking across the board) 42 by seeing if a domino was played to tell his partner what double was done contrary to what usual good playing of the hand dictates.
Telling 42, as the name implies, is playing 42 in which players by whatever schemes chosen to do so, tell their partners something about their hands apart from logical inferring and deducing, a talking across the board telling.
An example of telling 42: You have drawn these dominoes: 11, 22, 33, 44, 10, 21, 60. Your partner has first bid and bids 30. He has now told you he has three doubles. Because of this talking across the board, before even a domino has been played, you know you can slam-dunk an 84 follow-me by leading your four doubles and then 60.
Another example of telling: Bid according to the number of doubles you have in your hand. Pass if no doubles, 31 if one double, 32 if you have two doubles, 33 if you have three doubles and so forth.
The 42-online and n42pa sanctions telling: high-end first opportunity playing a domino to tell your partner you have that specific double.
If players have layered telling variations onto their playing, this information should be disclosed---for certainly if the opponents are doing against their opponents and the opponents have no idea it’s being done, then the winning of marks and games are definitely tilted toward the tellers. And if subsequently those disadvantaged by this variation learns what was done against them, it can be understood why their reaction could be: “That’s cheating!” Because telling 42 is sometimes surreptitiously done, players not having a clue their opponents are telling what doubles are in their hands or revealing something about their hands the unsuspecting players are unaware of, it should be openly stated that telling is being allowed. Forty-two online and the n42pa openly state what they sanction and anyone playing at their tourneys should not make the cheating accusation against them. It’s only when telling is being done and has not been openly disclosed to all playing at the table, that it becomes unfair and wrong.