Playing Dominoes in a Kurdish Tea House

I always thought the game “dominoes” only involved lining up tiles or cards into a pattern, just far apart from one another so that when you topple one, the rest come prettily falling down. Clearly, this is an ignorant thing to say. It was about time I actually learned how to play the game that seems to occupy most of Kurdish men’s free time (I’ve already mastered the art of drinking cups upon cups of tea, the other favorite pastime. Or as I like to call it, tea-flavored sugar).

I’m not sure why it took me so long to venture into a teahouse in Ranya. It just seemed like such a male-dominanted environment that I thought I’d be unwelcome there. Well, male-dominanted environment it is, but unwelcome we were not. Everyone stared as we came in – two Kurdish men, two Swedes, and a Korean – though I’m not sure if it was because Anna and I were women or because it was a more diverse group than you’ll see here. Either way, everyone lost interest in a matter of seconds. What’s so interesting about us when there’s an intense game of dominoes and copious amounts of tea to be drunk?

So, how to master the game of dominoes. Traditionally a domino set contains 28 unique pieces. Each piece has two ends, and represents a unique combination of zero to six spots (a blank piece, a double six, a 1 and 4, a 5 and 6, and so on). The double six tile is the starting piece, and you have to place a tile that has the same number (6) next to it, and so on. The pieces are evenly distributed between the players, and the objective of the game (at least the simplest version) is to be the first player to get rid of your pieces. There are 7 pieces of each number, and the main strategy is to block your opponents’ from being able to lay down a piece by calculating which numbers they do and don’t have.

Or you can just cheat, by sneaking peeks at your opponents’ pieces. Which was my fellow players’ strategy. It’s probably best to follow their lead, since I haven’t won a single game since I learned how to play. I’m convinced I haven’t been informed about some of the key points to the game. That, or I’m just really bad at dominoes.


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