You probably don't think of dominoes a highly competitive game, but you'd be wrong. The Universal Dominoes League (UDL) is a professional tournament with some serious prize money up for grabs.
In 2019, the UDL offered $50,000 cash for the winner of the Las Vegas Summer Classic Domino Tournament.
You might not aspire to be a professional domino player, but even if you're playing online or against friends, knowing a good dominoes strategy will help you win more games.
Learning how to play dominoes is the easy part. Figuring out a winning strategy is what will elevate your game to the point that you can win more than you lose.
Let's look at some of the strategies that can help you hit the top of the leaderboard in your games.
General Dominoes Strategy
These general dominoes strategies will work for virtually any type of dominoes game and are easy to follow, even if you're new to the game. You'll probably need to consciously think about them at first but it won't take long before they become second nature.
Play Doubles Early. Double tiles don't advance the play since they leave the same hook available as the tile they're connecting to. For example, if you place a double 5 tile on a 5 hook, you still need another 5 to connect to it. Doubles can be high-point tiles though. For that reason, it's a good idea to get rid of them early so you don't give up those points to your opponent when they score.
Use Doubles Strategically. This is counter to one of the basic dominoes strategies but if you're willing to take a bit more risk it can be useful to hold onto your doubles until later in the game. Once you're far enough into the game to have a good idea of where your opponent's weaknesses are, you'll know what suits they're missing. If you have those doubles, you can play them to open up the board and your opponent won't be able to bury them.
Play Heavier Tiles Early. Along the same lines as playing your doubles early, you should also play heavier tiles as soon as you can. "Heavier" tiles are the ones with the higher numbers. Because these tiles have higher numbers, it once again means more points will end up going to your opponent if they score.
Keep a Range of Tiles in Your Hand. Try to keep a range of tiles in your hand so you can match as many numbers as possible. If all your tiles have similar suits, you'll be stuck if that's all that's available on the board.
Take Note of Your Opponent's Weak Suits. As the game progresses, take note of your opponent's weaknesses. If they can't play and have to draw from the boneyard, there's a good chance they'll be in the same situation when the same numbers are available on the board again. This lets you play strategically to block your opponents while scoring yourself.
Figure Out Your Opponent's Hand.As the game progresses, you'll be able to "reverse engineer" your opponent's hand based on what tiles are already in play and what's in your hand. This is hard to do early in the game when there aren't many tiles visible but as you can identify more tiles, it will get easier and easier. Once you have a good idea of what tiles your opponent is holding, you can play suits that leave them hanging.
Advanced Domino Game Strategy
Once you have the general strategies worked out, you can move onto more advanced techniques. These are the strategies that take you from a competent dominoes player to a highly-skilled player.
Take the Initiative. Go on the offense early in the game and play with initiative. Go for scoring opportunities early and often. When you score, your opponent will often have a limited number of options to counter-score. If they have to miss on the next play, you'll get another scoring chance. If you hold tiles with this in mind, you can create runs of several scoring plays in a row in many cases.
Play Defensively. The other side of the coin from taking the initiative is to play defensively. This means looking for ways to limit your opponent's scoring opportunities as much as looking for ways to score yourself. If you're behind on the scoreboard, consider the board count and make plays that will limit your opponent's upside whenever possible.
Try to think several moves ahead to see what strategy your opponent might be working on and play to block those moves. Blocking the board is another defensive strategy. This means you play tiles that make all the hook ends the same or make them numbers you know your opponent isn't holding.
For example, if one hook on the board is a 4 and the other is a 6, you could play a 6-4 tile to match the ends. If your opponent isn't holding a 4, they'll be forced to draw. This strategy works best if you're holding tiles that you can play against those blocked ends.
You can use offense and defense together for the best results. Start the game on the offense and drive up your points as quickly as you can. Once you get further into the game, switch to defensive play to hold onto your points lead.
Watch for Your Opponent's Tells. Most people think of poker when it comes to tells but they can be useful to know in dominoes as well. If you notice things that your opponent always does when they have good tiles, bad tiles, or any other part of the game, start watching for those tells. You might be able to make stronger plays or avoid bad ones by watching how your opponent reacts to certain things.
How to Play Dominoes Online for Free
Now that you have a solid dominoes strategy to work with, you're probably anxious to put it to the test. If you don't have someone to play with in person or you want to practice your new-found skills before facing a live player, playing online is a good way to start.
Check them both out today to start practicing your strategy and you'll be ready to face any opponent. And who knows, maybe you'll be in the running for that $50,000 cash prize sooner than you think!