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Dominos!

by Jeff Johnson Domino Tournament

On almost any evening at Club Caribe, or Club 99, or the Barceloneta Lounge, groups of four quiet men hunker over tables dedicated to dominoes. This ancient game of Chinese origin has a passionate following among the Hispanic residents of Riverwest. And not unlike the bowling leagues that grew up at the Polish Falcon from Polish interest in ten pins, a domino league meets on Sundays to play the “bones.” Twenty taverns, ten from the Milwaukee area and ten from the Chicago area, send teams with as many as 150 people participating. At the last tournament at Club Caribe on Holton and Center, 21 tables of dominoes were occupied. “Each tavern sends teams made up of six players each,” says Iris Torres, the co-owner of Club Caribe. Dominoes are played with a partner. Two pairs of partners compete against each other at a table. Typically three games are played with 200 points being the score that wins. Torres explains that domino etiquette dictates that players don’t slam dominoes down on the table or wander around the room. Ages of players in the league range from 20 to 70 with more and more younger people taking an interest. When Torres and her partner, Tony Rodriguez, host the league tournaments, they supply food for the players — traditional Mexican and Puerto Rican dishes, rice and beans, and chicken. Trophies at the end of the bar proclaim the successes of the teams that Club Caribe has fielded. At Club 99 on Clarke Street Victor Acevedo, who sits at the end of the bar, is a recognized domino aficionado. “The best offensive strategy is to defend your partner,” he offers. “On defense you try to block your opponents.” Twenty-eight ivory tiles with an elegantly scrolled “Puerto Rico” on their backs are meticulously lined up on the table. Each player draws seven. “You play your highest combination first,” Acevedo says, “because you want as few points in your hand at the end as possible.” Although the games at Club 99 are friendly games, Acevedo says that there are games that are played elsewhere for up to $1,000. Most players come from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Acevedo offers that there are some who consider themselves professional players who make their living by playing dominoes. “You are supposed to be quiet when you play,” says Acevedo, “quiet like in church.” Tradition has it that dominoes were invented by a mute and that is why silence prevails during the games. But silence also prevents cheating, making it more difficult for partners to communicate the contents of their hands to one another. But cheating is rare, according to Acevedo, since most players are good friends who gather to socialize. At the Barceloneta Lounge, dominoes is known as a family game. “You learn it as a child from your father, and uncles, and grandfathers,” says a patron. “It is a game played at home, but we play it here because this is where our friends gather.” To play well takes a good memory. “You try to keep track of who has played what.” Traditionally a men’s game, more and more women are participating. The next big tournament at Club Caribe will be on March 23. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 3 – March 2003
Domino Tournament