Rules of Play for 42

42 is one of the oldest and most popular games among Texans of all ages. It is an easy game to play and becomes simpler and more entertaining as you learn. 42 requires skill but much depends on luck.

42 requires 4 players teamed in 2 pairs (or partners). Partners take their position directly across the table from one another. This makes it possible for a player of each team to follow an opposing player's play.

Terms Used in 42

There are seven dominoes in each suit, six with the number of dots on one end being the same and one with the number of dots on both ends the same. The latter is called a double.

For example, listed in the order of their importance:

2-2, 2-6, 2-5, 2-4, 2-3, 2-1, and 2-0.

Doubles can also be classed as a suit, for instance, in the same order of importance:

6-6, 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 1-1, and 0-0.

There are a total of 8 different suits:

Blanks, 1's, 2's, 3's, 4's, 5's, 6's, and Doubles.

The highest bidder's suit becomes the main trumps for the duration of one hand. Trumps are higher than any domino and will take tricks including doubles of other suits.

Any domino in a bidder's hand that is not a trump or a double is considered an off.

Any domino which has not been played, and is the highest in its suit after the double and other higher ones have been played is said to be a walker. This domino, like a double, is a good lead.

Count Dominoes
There are 5 count dominoes in a double-six set of dominoes: 5-5 and 6-4 which count 10 points, and 0-5, 1-4, and 3-2 which count 5 points. One of the main objects of playing each bid is to catch as many of these dominoes as possible.

A trick consists of 4 dominoes, each player playing 1 domino in clockwise rotation around the table. There are 7 tricks to each hand.

Each trick counts 1 point plus the values of count dominoes in each trick.


A dealer must be selected to start the game. This is done by placing a set of dominoes face down and shaking or scrambling them. Each player then draws a domino and turns it face up; the player drawing the highest number of dots is then the first dealer. The dealer turns all dominoes face down and shuffles them again.

After the dominoes are shuffled, each player draws 7 dominoes and turns them up on edge, concealing them at all times from ALL other players. This is repeated after each hand of 7 dominoes are played. The deal moves clockwise around the table giving each player a chance to deal once every four hands. After each shuffle, the dealer should allow the other players to draw their dominoes first.


Rotation of Bid

The player sitting to the left of the dealer is the first bidder. The bid then moves clockwise around the table until every player has had the opportunity to either bid, raise, or pass. Each player has only one chance to bid before play begins. The highest bidder then announces trumps and starts the game by playing the first domino.

The Different Bids

Always bid according to the numerical value of your hand, but never reveal the trumps you are bidding until you have won the bid. The different bids are: 30, 31, 32, 33, etc. on up to 42. Bids above this must be in multiples of 42, that is 84, 126, or 168. Before bidding 126 or 168, 84 must be bid by a previous bidder. If a bidder feels he can take every trick, he can start the bid at 42 or 84. If the next bidder also has a very good hand and wants to raise, he may bid 126, then the next bidder may bid 168. The loss of one trick sets 42, 84, 126, or 168 points, and the dominoes are immediately re-shuffled.

How to Bid

After the dealer has finished, and you have drawn 7 dominoes, pick out the best looking suit of dominoes in your hand and place them together. These are your trumps. The double of your trump is important, although not 100% necessary, but keep in mind count dominoes. Then pick out your doubles and place them together. Each of these dominoes (provided you have the double to your trumps and enough high trumps to follow) represents a trick you can catch. Any domino left in your hand that is not a trump or a double in an off. These are the dominoes you take chances on your partner catching. Determine by the number of trumps you have plus the number of doubles you have, just how many tricks and how much count you can catch, and bid accordingly.

Example of a 30 to 35 bidding hand:

2's are Trumps; 2-2, 2-6, 2-3, 2-1; Double 5-5; Straight offs 3-1, 1-0.

Example of 30 to 35 hand without double:

6's are Trumps; 6-5, 6-4, 6-2; Doubles 5-5, 3-3; Possible walker 3-1, and Straight off 4-2.

Example of a 42, 84, 126, or 168 bidding hand:

4's are Trumps; 4-4, 4-6, 4-3; Doubles 3-3, 2-2, 1-1; Possible walker 3-1.

Example of 30 to 35 bid in doubles (high doubles are necessary for this):

Doubles are Trumps; 6-6, 5-5, 3-3, 2-2; Walker 6-5; Offs 4-3, 1-0.

There is also another type of bid called No Trumps or Follow Me. This is usually where several low doubles are in a hand. To bid no trumps your offs should be in the same suit as the doubles in your hand.

Example of 30 to 35 hand in No Trumps (doubles are not high enough to bid in Doubles):

4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 0-0; Possible walkers 4-3, 4-1; Off 1-0.

As you gain experience playing 42 you will learn to take chances bidding on weak hands. One of the most rewarding parts of the game is bidding and making your bid. Remember your partner has 7 dominoes in his hand also, so there's a good possibility he has the domino you need plus some good leads that will help make your bid. Learn to depend on your partner for help in bidding, catching your offs, and playing count dominoes on the tricks you catch.

Basic Rules

Players must follow the suit led by the first player of each trick. If trumps are not led the highest suit on the domino led establishes the suit you must follow. If it is not possible to follow suit then a trump, count domino, or an off may be played. Trumps can NOT be played if it is possible to follow suit with other dominoes. The highest trump or highest domino takes the trick. When doubles are trumps, the lead of a double requires all players to play a double when possible. If a player has no doubles in his hand, he must follow the suit of the double led (this rule is often ignored). Each trick caught by a team is left face-up at the side of the table where all players can see it.

Playing Your Bid

Always be sure in playing the bid to get all your trumps in as soon as possible unless you find that your partner is holding all the trumps that are still out. If trumps are still in your opponents' hands they can trump in on tricks that contain count dominoes and set you much easier. If the high trump is still out, then lead a small trump in order to force play of the higher trump.

Example of playing a 30 to 35 bid:

2's are Trumps; 2-2, 2-6, 2-3, 2-1; Double 5-5; Straight offs 3-1, 1-0.

First play 2-2 to pull as many trumps as possible, then play 2-6 to pull any additional trumps. If all the trumps are played on 2-2 it is still best to lead the second trump so your partner can play any count he might have in his hand.

If all the trumps have been played except those in your hand, then play the 5-5 which is 10 points and also a possible chance of pulling 0-5 which is an extra 5 points. After the 5-5 is played, lead an off you feel your partner can catch. If your opponent catches it, then you still have a trump in which to get back in the lead. However, if no one plays count on the next trick it is safe to discard the other off on that trick without being set. Try to save a trump for the last trick on 30 to 35 bids. All the count dominoes that your opponents have been holding usually will be played on the last trick.

Example of playing a 42, 84, 126, or 168 bid:

4's are Trumps; 4-4, 4-6, 4-5; Doubles 3-3, 2-2, 1-1; Possible walker 3-1.

When bidding 42 or over on a hand like the above, play the dominoes in the order of highest succession: 4-4, 4-6, 4-5, 1-1, 2-2, leaving the 3-3 to lead before the 3-1. The double when played before an off will usually pull all of that suit and enable your off to be high domino in that suit.

Example of playing a 30 to 35 bid in trumps without double:

6's are Trumps; 6-5, 6-4, 6-1; Doubles 4-4, 2-2; Possible walker 2-1; Off 1-0.

In playing this type of hand, lead first with a small trump such as 6-1 in order to pull the double. The player who catches the trick will then lead. If you do not have to follow suit then you have the option of trumping the trick and resuming the lead. If this should happen, trump with 6-4 or the smallest trump you have in your hand, in order to save the higher trumps to pull the other trumps in. After you have trumped back in the lead, play 4-4, then lead 0-1, holding the 2-2 and 1-2 until last. Trump back in if possible on the next trick then lead 2-2 in an attempt to walk the 2-1.

Example of playing a 30 to 35 bid with doubles as trumps:

Trumps 6-6, 5-5, 3-3, 1-1; Walker 6-5; Straight off 4-3; Possible walker 1-0.

In starting the play, the 6-6 should be led followed by the 5-5 to pull all the trumps. Then 6-5 is a safe lead because it is the highest 6 out. After that, 4-3 should be led as an off. If the player leading then does not lead 0-0, you should trump with 3-3 and then lead 1-1 to attempt to walk 0-1.

Example of playing a 30 to 35 bid with No Trumps:

Doubles 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 0-0; Possible walkers 4-2, 4-2; Off 1-0.

To start play, lead 0-0 first, then lead 2-2, 3-3, 4-4. By this time 4-3 and 4-2 should walk. If not attempt to lead into your partner's hand. Bidding in No Trumps is the hardest bid to make because once you lose the lead there is no way you can get the lead back except to catch a trick.

Defensive Playing

In defensive playing as in offensive play, always play as much count on your partner's tricks as possible.

If you are holding 2 trumps in you hand and one is next to the double, play the lowest trump and hold the high trump so you can catch the next trick. This will enable your partner to play his count. Anytime you follow a bidder and it is evident that one of the high trumps is out against him, take a chance that your partner has the high trump by playing count on the first trick. Play your partner for at least 50% of then game.

In determining what off to hold for, follow this scale:

2's:2-0, 2-1
3's:3-0, 3-1, 3-2
4's:4-0, 4-1, 4-2, 4-3
5's:5-0, 5-1, 5-2, 5-3, 5-4
6's:6-0, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5
Doublescan be caught with trumps only.

If 1-0 has been played, the 1's are out because a 1-2 lead becomes a 2, or 1-3 becomes a 3; so 0-1 is the only domino that can be caught with a 1. 0-2 and 1-2 are the only 2's that can be caught with a 2, and so on down the line.

Instead of counting 7 dominoes in each suit, watch for the dominoes that you can catch. To simplify it more, check your hand after trumps are declared to see what dominoes you can hold for, then watch for only that or those suits. Always play your small dominoes as soon as possible without ruining your own hand.

This will let your partner know better what to hold for. If he has 0-1 and you have 0-2 and 1-2 then both 1's and 2's are out, so by playing these dominoes both of you know to hold for 3's or something else.

When holding for an off, if you have the double and the next high domino in that suit and can account for the double to the other end of this domino, discard the double as soon as possible. This will let your partner know that you are holding for that suit.

For example, if you are holding 6's and you have 6-6 and 6-5 and you know that the 5-5 has been played, discard the 6-6. This way you have two chances of catching an off because 6-5 is the highest domino in both 5's and 6's. If you discard the 6-5 and hold the 6-6, you can only catch a 6.

When on the defending side and you gain the lead, always lead a domino (doubles if you have them) that will draw the most count. 5's, 6's or 4's are best because these suits contain high count dominoes. If these are played, or your don't have them to lead, try 3's or 2's for the 3-2, or 1's for the 1-4. If you catch the bidder with an off that matches the domino you lead, he must play it instead of trumping back into the lead. If you do not have a double to lead back, it is best to lead a small 4, 5, or 6 in hopes that your partner will have the double or high domino.


5-5counts 10 points
6-4counts 10 points
3-2counts 5 points
4-1counts 5 points
5-0counts 5 points
each trickcounts 1 point

There are 7 tricks, making a total of 42 points. To determine if a bid is made or not, add the number of points in tricks taken by the bidder and his partner. If they do not do not total the amount bid or more, he his set. Tricks with count dominoes in them still count 1 point for the trick.

If you are fortunate and set your opponents, you score this by adding the amount of the bid to the number of points in your own tricks. This will be your score for that hand. A bid of 42 or more is scored the exact amount of the bid: 42, 84, 126, or 168. If the bidder is set, the partners who set the bidder receives the amount of the bid as their score.

After every player has finished playing his hand, each team counts up their score and adds it to the score of the previous hand. The team that scores 250 points first is the winner.

If both teams reach the 250 mark on the last hand of the game, the bidding team is the winner (provided they make their bid) regardless of which team has the highest score at the finish.

Optional Rules

Score by Marks

Many 42 players prefer to score by marks instead of numerical value. In doing so, each hand through 42 points counts one mark, 84 two marks, 126 three marks, and 168 four marks. Likewise, if the bidder is set, the opponents receive the same number of marks bid. The side to make seven marks first wins the game. Scoring in this manner greatly speeds up the game and makes it easier to keep score.

Forced Bidding

Forced bidding is where the dealer must take the bid for at least 30 if none of the other players bid during their turn. This rule adds considerable enjoyment and speed to the game. It is a challenge to your skill to make a bid when you don't have a hand to really bid on. It also reduces the amount of shuffling.

First Suit Declared

42 is sometimes played by allowing the one that gets the bid to call the small end of the first domino ONLY as the suit for that trick. For example, if the bidder holds 5-5, 5-4, 5-3, 5-2, 3-3, 1-1, and 6-1, then the 6-1 is an off. However, if the bidder leads the 6-1 as the first domino in the hand, he can say that it is the 6 of the 1's suit, instead of the 1 of the 6's suit as usual. Since the bidder has the 1-1 in his hand, this becomes a much better hand. This can only be done on the first domino of the hand. The advantage of playing in this manner is to be able to rid one's hand of 5 and 6 offs, thus making the bidding higher.


If one player has 4 doubles in his hand, when his turn to bid comes he may say plunge. This is a bid worth 168 points (four marks), in which he and his partner must take every trick. However, the partner of the plunge bidder must name the trump suit and leads the first domino. Usually the partner of a plunge bidder is extremely annoyed by this bid. It is unwise to plunge if your partner has passed or has not yet bid.


Nel-O is also known as No Trick or Low Boy. The Nel-O rules are not the most interesting rules that can be used because if the privilege of bidding Nel-O is abused it can ruin some very good bidding hands. Because of this, many players only allow Nel-O bids to be made by the dealer under the conditions of Forced Bidding. Nel-O can be bid on almost any type of low hand since it requires little skill and a great deal of luck.

The principal use for the Nel-O rule is in playing Forced Bidding. The player who is forced to bid has the option of bidding Nel-O, which makes it possible for him to make the bid and insures him, even if he is set, of only losing 42 points (one mark). A regular 30 bid could cost him as much as 72 points.

Nel-O is a type of bid where the bidder must NOT catch a trick. The lowest bid of this kind is 42, up to 84, then 126 or 168 can be bid.

A bidder must have 7 very low dominoes to bid Nel-O, because if he catches 1 trick he is set, and the opponent team scores 42 points, or the amount of the bid.

A player bidding Nel-O turns his partner's hand face down and eliminates him from play during this hand. The bidder then leads out a low domino that he is sure will be lower than either of his opponents'. The player that catches the trick then leads a domino that he thinks the bidder will catch. Both partners must play under the bidder on the same trick to set him.

Example of Nel-O hand:

1-0, 4-1, 2-1, 5-2, 3-0, 6-0, 6-3. Lowest 1-0; Low 2 protects 5-2; Low 3 and 6 protects 6-3.

In playing, lead out 1-0 to get opponents in the lead. As they lead back, follow suit with the smallest domino you have of that suit. If you don't have a domino in the suit led, discard one of the larger dominoes like 5-2.

There is no trump suit when playing a Nel-O bid, but the bidder must declare one of three options concerning the use of doubles. Doubles can be treated as the highest domino in a suit (as normal), as the lowest in the suit (for example the 1-0 beats the 1-1), or doubles may be treated as a suit of their own. If doubles are a suit of their own, they are treated in the same way as a regular bid with doubles as trump in terms of following suit, but they are NOT trumps.

More Than Four Players

With eight players, split into two tables and play two separate games. Winning partners may change tables after each game, or players at each table may change partners, or any other rotation method may be used to ensure that the games remain interesting to all players.

A common rotation method is to number each table. After every game, the winning team advances to the next table while the losing team remains in place. At table number one, the winning team remains in place, but the losing team must move to the lowest table and work their way up again. This ensures continual rotation among tables, while providing incentive to remain at table number one.

Rules of Play for 88

The game of 88 is a variation of 42 which requires six players. Two sets of double-six dominoes are used. The players should divide themselves into two teams of three players each, and sit around the table in alternating order. The same general rules of play are used as in 42, with the following exceptions:

Both sets of double-six dominoes are placed face down and shaken. Each player draws 9 dominoes, which leaves two unused dominoes known as the kitty. These remain face down on the table until after the bidding.

The bidding begins with the person to the dealer's left, and goes around once. The different bids are 60, 62, 64, 66, etc. on up to 88. Bids above this must be in multiples of 88, that is 176, 264, or 352. There is no Nel-O, Plunge, or Forced Bidding.

In making a bid, the bidder not only states the points to be bid, but also the trump suit he would prefer. This allows his partners to bid as a team, since the last partner to bid knows something about his teammates' hands. However, in order to bid in a particular trump suit, the bidder must have at least one domino of that suit in his hand.

The winner of the bid examines the two dominoes in the kitty and may exchange both, one, or neither of the kitty dominoes with dominoes from his hand, but he must replace any count in the kitty with non-count dominoes from his hand. The winner of the bid does not have to display or disclose the contents of the kitty, either before or after the exchange, although he may do so if he wishes.

After the kitty has been examined, the winner of the bid leads the first domino. Trumps are the suit declared by the winner as part of his bidding.

Suits must be followed, and the highest domino of the suit led or the highest trump catches the trick, just as in 42. Since there are two copies of every domino, in case of a tie the first of the identical dominoes to be played is considered the winner. For example, if player A leads a 6-5, and player B and player C both play a 6-6, player B catches the trick.

All count dominoes are worth the same point value as in 42. However, each trick is worth 2 points, for a total of 88 points in each round of play. The kitty does not contribute any points, since all count must be removed before play begins. The first team to reach 500 points wins the game. Scoring may also be done by marks, in which case the first team to score 7 marks is the winner.

Common Options for 42

The following options make for a fun and fast-paced game:

These rules were included in domino sets manufactured by Puremco Manufacturing, located in Waco, Texas. Puremco has been a supplier of attractive, high-quality dominos for many years. For a catalog, call 1-800-725-7060.