Domino Lingo: Understanding Common Terms and Jargon

Every community has its own language, and the world of dominoes is no exception. If you’re new to the game, you may find yourself puzzled by the various terms and jargon used by experienced players. Understanding these common dominoes terms is not only a rite of passage but also a valuable tool to help you communicate with fellow players and immerse yourself in the culture of the game. In this guide, we’ll create a glossary of common dominoes terminology to help beginners understand the language of the game and feel right at home in the world of dominoes.

The Domino Basics

Before diving into the lingo, let’s start with some foundational dominoes knowledge:

  • Tile: A single rectangular piece in a set of dominoes, often made of materials like plastic, wood, or bone. A standard set has 28 tiles.
  • Pip: The dots or marks on each end of a domino tile, which represent numbers.
  • Double: A tile with the same number of pips on both ends, like the double-six, double-five, and so on.
  • Hand: The set of tiles held by a player during a game.
  • Chain: A sequence of tiles on the table where the pips on adjacent tiles match.
  • Boneyard: A pile of unused tiles, typically placed face down, which players can draw from if they can’t make a move.

Common Domino Lingo

Now, let’s explore some common dominoes terms and jargon:

  • Spinner: In some game variations, a specific double tile is designated as the “spinner.” The spinner can often be played in multiple directions, creating branching chains of tiles.
  • Bone: Another term for a domino tile, often used in informal language.
  • Blocking: Placing tiles in a way that limits your opponents’ moves by requiring them to match specific numbers.
  • Balance: Refers to the distribution of your tiles to ensure you have a variety of numbers and doubles.
  • Blank: A tile with no pips on one end, often used as a wildcard to match any number.
  • Chicken Foot: A game variation where a single tile, often a double, serves as the starting tile, and players must play off its three ends, forming a “chicken foot” shape.
  • Draw Game: A game in which no player can make a legal play, and the game ends when the boneyard is empty.
  • Muggins: A scoring variation where opponents can claim points you missed during gameplay if they notice your scoring errors.
  • Pip Count: The total number of pips left in a player’s hand at the end of a round.
  • Ends: The open pips on the table that can be matched by playing a tile.
  • Five-Up: A domino game variation where the goal is to score points by matching the open ends with a multiple of five.
  • Passing: Choosing not to make a play and instead drawing a tile from the boneyard.
  • Pip Total: The sum of the pips on a tile’s ends, representing the tile’s total value.
  • Round: A complete game of dominoes that typically ends when one player empties their hand or when no legal plays are possible.
  • Set: A complete collection of domino tiles, often comprising 28 tiles in standard sets.
  • Shuffling: Mixing the tiles to ensure they are randomized before starting a game.
  • Starting Tile: The first tile played in a game, often a double or the highest double in some variations.
  • Tabletop: The surface on which dominoes are played, such as a table.
  • Three-Handed Dominoes: A variation of the game for three players, where a few tiles are left unplayed in each round.
  • Waiting on Tiles: A player is “waiting” if they need specific tiles to make a play and are hoping to draw them from the boneyard or waiting for opponents to play them.
  • Tournament Rules: Specific rules and scoring systems followed in competitive dominoes tournaments.

Strategies and Techniques

While these terms help you understand the language of dominoes, it’s also important to develop your skills and strategies as a player:

  • Blocking: As mentioned earlier, blocking involves placing tiles strategically to impede your opponents’ progress.
  • Balancing Your Tiles: Maintaining a balanced set of tiles is crucial to maximize your options during the game.
  • Creating Chains: Building chains of matching tiles can open up opportunities for more plays and strategic moves.
  • Using Doubles Wisely: Doubles, especially high-value ones, can be used strategically for various purposes, from blocking to creating chains.
  • Match Observation: Pay attention to the tiles on the table and your opponents’ moves to make informed plays.
  • Learning from Experience: Review your games and learn from your successes and mistakes to improve your skills.


Mastering the language of dominoes is an essential step for any player looking to enjoy the game to its fullest. As you familiarize yourself with these common terms and gain experience in the world of dominoes, you’ll become more confident, capable, and ready to engage with fellow players. So, gather your tiles, practice your strategies, and dive into the rich culture of dominoes. Happy playing!

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