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Expert Dennis Roberson explains why the dominoes favorite known as 42 is the "national game of Texas



Expert Dennis Roberson explains why the dominoes favorite known as 42 is the "national game of Texas"

A lifelong player of 42, Dennis Roberson gets his skill in part from his father, who won the 1995 Texas Senior Games 42 Championship. Roberson lives in Fort Worth, Texas, where for two decades he has managed the state's renowned annual professional golf event, the Colonial National Invitation Tournament.

We talked with Roberson about the publication of the newest edition of a book that itself has become a Texas classic.

TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY PRESS: What inspired you to write this book? 

DENNIS ROBERSON: The idea to write the book came from my dad, who mentioned in the 1970s that he might do something like that. Well, he never did, but the idea intrigued me – so in the 1980s I played around with it and began keeping a file with all my notes.  Over time, I would add a little bit here, a little bit there. I would write down interesting hands I encountered while playing 42, with plans on using them in a book to illustrate a specific point. Unfortunately, I would go long periods without doing any work on it at all. So it wasn't until the 1990s that I finally had enough chapters to send off to a publisher for consideration.

TTUP: Winning 42 is now in its fourth edition. What do you think has made it so popular?

DR: The book’s success and longevity speaks to the passion that 42 players have for the game, and to the fact that even a complete beginner can learn the game from it. I regularly encounter veteran 42 players who tell me they refer beginners to the book all the time. Since the ultimate purpose of the book is to keep the great 42 tradition alive, it is very gratifying to see that it has become a successful teaching tool. With each new edition, I've added interesting stories and memories I have received from 42 players around the state, and of course we update with the latest tournament winners.

TTUP: What's it like to play in a dominoes tournament?

DR: For someone who has never played in one of the many 42 tournaments held around the state, the first time or two can be a little intimidating. I know I was nervous, and I had been playing 42 all my life. This is because players will play a little faster than you would in a social game, and some will bid pretty crazy. So you just have to get past those two things, and then it is easy to settle down and enjoy the fellowship and competition of the events. You’ll have good days and bad days, just like in social play, and when you come up against a team that bids wild, just set the heck out of 'em!

TTUP: Have any exciting "war stories" about the 42 circuit? 

DR:  I remember the first time my father and I won a tournament together, the event just had prize money but no trophies. I was so disappointed! So I took my winnings and went and had trophies made for the two of us, to commemorate the occasion.

The biggest tournament each year is the annual state championship in Hallettsville every March. It will typically have about 100 teams. I’ve noticed the average age of participants in that event is getting a little younger each year, so that bodes well for 42’s future growth! That event can get a little nerve-wracking if you play well and last late into the day. My father and I finished tied for fifth and tied for ninth in 2007 and 2008, but haven’t been able to break through to first place yet.

My favorite story is about a tournament I didn’t even play in. A couple years ago I had a conflict, so my mother – who doesn’t really play much in tournaments – partnered with my father in an event. This tournament was played about one month after the state championship, and they ended up in the final match against the team that had just won the state title. Mom and Dad took 'em down! I think I was more excited than they were.

TTUP: What is your number one tip for anybody playing 42? 

DR: I will have to cheat here and give two tips.  #1 – Bidding smart is the key. Don’t overbid your hand, but learn how to count on your partner, take calculated risks, and get more from hands than the average player sees. #2 – Never underestimate the skill of setting the bidder. It is vastly underrated, especially in tournaments. Don’t get in a bidding war against a team that overbids. Just set 'em!

TTUP: What about for a beginner?

DR: See tip #1 above.  Once you’ve learned the basics, understanding how to bid truly unlocks the wonders and challenges of the game for you.

TTUP: Some people jokingly refer to 42 "the national game of Texas." Is that a complete exaggeration?

DR: Well, 42 was invented by two Texas teenagers in the late 1880s, and passed down orally for generations, spreading across Texas like wildfire. It is truly a Texas cultural phenomenon. Thus it is a game we can call our own. It was embraced by the farmers, ranchers, traveling salesmen, city dwellers, you name it. It is still played in rural feed stores and downtown county courthouses. It has been played by presidents, governors, singers, writers and astronauts. Once people learn it, they can’t seem to get enough of it. Only in the last 15 years or so, have people outside the state become familiar with it at all, thanks to the Internet and our increasingly mobile society.

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