Russia Culture Games Dominoes


Dominoes trace their origins back to China, where most games of chance known to man originated. They were among the many treasures brought back to Europe by Marco Polo in 1295. The name of the game is derived from the long hooded cape worn by Catholic monks, who used to while away the hours playing dominoes in Italy.

In the first half of the eighteenth century, dominoes spread from Italy into France and then to Germany. They eventually made their way to Russia, where dominoes became a fashionable pastime at the imperial court. Expensive sets of dominoes were specially made from mother-of-pearl and ivory for the Russian aristocracy.

Domino sets consist of twenty-eight rectangular blocks of wood called bones or dominoes. The face of each piece is divided into two squares, each of which is marked by various combinations of dots or pips, signifying points from zero to six. The game is usually played by two, three or four people.

Each player receives seven or five dominoes, while the bones left over are called the stock or boneyard. The game begins with the placing of the double six (or next highest double) on the table, then the players take turns to match their dominoes to the corresponding points. The game ends when one of the players manages to lose all his pieces.

There are a number of variations of dominoes. Some have more complex rules and systems for calculating the score, such as Muggins, Bergen and triple or quintuple dominoes. All complicated versions appeared in the last third of the nineteenth century, following the banning of lotto and dominoes as forms of gambling (or “games based solely on chance,” as they were classified in the time of Catherine the Great).

The game did not enjoy a large following in pre-revolutionary Russia. In the late nineteenth century, dominoes was regarded as “primarily a game of the foreign coffee-houses.” The rebirth of dominoes after the 1917 revolution seems to be linked to the unwritten Soviet ban on card games. In this way, dominoes satisfied the human need for games of chance.

During the Soviet period, dominoes were not regarded as a form of gambling and so were popular in those places where cards were banned, such as in army barracks or on ships. A special type of “naval” dominoes appeared in the Soviet fleet. Dominoes later became a fixture among urban dwellers, remaining so to this day, although the production of dominoes by Russian industry has virtually ceased.

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