Texas 42 and The Big Game

Written by Howard Fosdick © BestFreeNewGames.com

This page describes several domino games in which the tiles are played to tricks, as in many card games.

Texas 42, or just "42", was invented by two schoolboys who were punished for playing a card game. This was back in Texas in the 1880s, when playing cards were seen by some as "the Devil's picture book". The clever lads realised that they could play card games with dominoes. They experimented and came with 42, a truly entertaining game.

On its own merits, and without any publicity whatsoever, 42 spread throughout Texas and even into a couple neighboring states. Today, it's considered the "national game of Texas". Every Texan knows of the game, even if they don't play it personally, and "42 parties" are common among families.

Here we explain the rules to this fascinating game.

Afterwards, we present rules for playing our own unique version of 42, called The Big Game. This is a mathematically accurate extension of 42 from 7 to 11 tricks per deal. It's a longer, more challenging game.

Finally, we present rules for playing 42 with larger numbers of players. You might also like to read our article on all domino trick-taking games.


42 (aka Texas 42)



Overview: Here are the rules for Texas 42, as may be found in many games books.

Players and Equipment: 4 players paired into two partnerships use a standard 6-6 set of dominoes.

Objective: Win the bid for a hand, then fulfil the bid by scoring at least the number of points stated in the bid. The first partnership to win at least 250 points across hands wins the sitting.


Suits: Each domino is a member of two suits that appear on its face. Doublet tiles are members of the number they display and the Doubles Suit.

There are eight suits and tiles within them rank thusly:

Suit:‹––high     Members     low––›
6's 6-6   6-5   6-4   6-3   6-2   6-1   6-0
5's 5-5   5-6   5-4   5-3   5-2   5-1   5-0
4's 4-4   4-6   4-5   4-3   4-2   4-1   4-0
3's 3-3   3-6   3-5   3-4   3-2   3-1   3-0
2's 2-2   2-6   2-5   2-4   2-3   2-1   2-0
1's 1-1   1-6   1-5   1-4   1-3   1-2   1-0
Blanks 0-0   0-6   0-5   0-4   0-3   0-2   0-1
Doubles 6-6   5-5   4-4   3-3   2-2   1-1   0-0


Deal: The dealer shuffles all tiles face down, then each player draws 7 tiles into hand.

Bidding: Players bid to determine the trump suit and who leads to the first trick.

Bidding starts with the person to the left of the dealer and proceeds clockwise around the table. Each person has only one chance to bid. He must either bid higher than the previous bid or say "pass". The minimum bid is 30 points.

The bid winner either announces the trump suit, or says the hand will be played at "no trump" (without a trump suit). He then leads any tile to the first trick.

If no one bids on the hand, it is thrown in and the next person clockwise becomes the dealer.


Scoring: Players base their bids on how many points they believe they can win in tricks. Each trick won counts 1 point. Special counter tiles score additional points:
  • The three dominoes of pip count five count 5 points each: 0-5, 1-4, 2-3
  • The two dominoes of pip count ten count 10 points each: 4-6, 5-5
The game's name derives from the 42 total points that are scorable: 7 points for tricks, 15 points for the three 5-point tiles, and 20 points for the two 10-point tiles.


Play: The bid winner leads any tile he likes to the first trick. (He is not required to lead trump.)

If the tile he leads is not a trump-suit tile, the higher number on it dictates the suit of the lead. For example, leading the 4-2 means leading a 4-suit tile.

Going clockwise around the table, each player must follow by playing a tile showing the same suit. If he doesn't have one, he may play any tile.

Leading a doublet tile is a lead of the suit number shown on the doublet. For example, leading the 5-5 means leading a 5-suit tile. Exception -- if the doublets suit is trump, leading a doublet means leading a trump suit tile. So if doublets are trump, leading a 5-5 means other players must follow with doublets (if they have any).

Leading a trump suit domino requires all followers to play a trump tile. If they have none, they may play any domino.

Each trick is won by the highest trump tile played. If no trumps are played, the trick is won by the highest tile of the suit led.

The player who wins a trick moves it aside and leads any tile to the next trick. Unlike most card and domino games, trick winnings are traditionally left face up.


Scoring the Hand: If the bidding partnership won at least the number of points they bid, each side scores whatever points they won in tricks.

If the bidders do not make their bid, they score 0 for the hand while their opponents score the value of the original bid plus whatever points they won in the hand.

The first team to score at least 250 points across deals wins the sitting.


The Trump Suit: Once trump has been declared, all tiles displaying that number are members of the trump suit and only the trump suit. Example: say the 4-suit is trump. Your opponent leads a 6-suit domino such as the 6-2. The only tile in your hand that displays a 6 on it is the 6-4. You do not have to follow the 6-suit lead with your 6-4 because for this hand the 6-4 is only a member of the trump suit; it is not a 6-suit tile.


Advanced Bidding: If a player thinks he can win all the tricks, he can bid 84 (instead of 42). This scores 84 points if the bidders win but doubles their loss if they fail to win every trick.

If some one bids 84, others are allowed to follow with bids of 126, 168, and Game. For a bid of Game, the entire game rides on this single deal.


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Alternate Rule -- Scoring by Marks: Some players prefer to score by marks instead of points. Score 1 mark for each hand won. The first partnership to 7 marks wins the sitting.

For high bids, an 84 bid scores 2 marks, a 126 bid scores 3 marks, a 168 bid scores 4 marks, and a Game bid scores 5 marks.


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Tips for Play: Players have only one chance to bid so accuracy is vital. Winning the bid but not the hand imposes severe penalties. But one can't win the game without winning and making bids.

Analyse a hand by identifying a potential trump suit, the suit that is longest and includes the highest tiles. Doublets are like aces in card games -- they typically win tricks if led early in the hand.

Carefully consider whether your hand will win the counter tiles: 0-5, 1-4, and 2-3, and especially the high counters: 4-6 and 5-5.

During tricks:
  • Play doublets early to win tricks -- before players void suits and can trump them
  • Feed counter tiles to your partner whenever it appears certain he will win the trick
  • At all times monitor play of the counters and trumps

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Special Bids: You’ll sometimes hear about "special bids" in 42. The most common are Nel-O, Plunge, and Sevens. While these can be entertaining, we agree with 42 expert Dennis Roberson that they really detract from the pure beauty of the standard game. We recommend The Big Game if you feel the need for something beyond standard 42.

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Sources: Texas42.net is the online authority for 42. The standard rulebook is Winning 42 by Dennis Roberson. You might also like to read our article on all domino trick-taking games.




The Big Game

Invented by Howard Fosdick © 2023

Overview: Here's our own unique version of 42 that extends the game from 7 tricks up to 11. This makes for a longer, more challenging game.


All rules are the same as in Texas 42 except that:
  • Play is with an 8-8 set of dominoes. (You can create an 8-8 set by taking a 9-9 set and removing the ten tiles with 9s on them. This leaves a 45-tile 8-8 set.)
  • The counters are all tiles of pip count 5 or 10. (This adds 2 more counters worth ten each: the 7-3 and 8-2. Counters are thus: 0-5, 1-4, 2-3, 4-6, 5-5, 7-3, 8-2.)
  • In the deal, each of the four players takes 11 tiles each. One tile is not dealt and is left face down.
  • The minimum starting bid is 42. Bidding proceeds clockwise, and players continue in the bidding process until they pass. (Unlike 42, players may make more than one bid, and bidding continues until all players but one have passed.) A Game is 400 points across hands.
  • The bid winner looks at the one tile left over face down from the deal. If it is a counter, he must take it into his hand. If it is not a counter, he may choose whether to take it into his hand. If the bid winner takes the tile into his hand, he discards face down any non-counter tile to take his hand back down to 11 tiles. Thus all counters are always in play.
  • If either of the "new" counter tiles are led to a trick (the 3-7 or the 2-8), the person who leads the tile may optionally announce that the lower number on the tile is the suit of the trick. So one can lead the 3-7 to the trick as a 3-suit tile (the third highest tile in the 3’s suit), and lead the 2-8 as the second highest tile in the 2’s suit. This rule only applies to leads of the 3-7 or 2-8, only when announced by the trick leader, and only when these tiles are not members of the trump suit.

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Tips for Play: Precision in bidding is important, although -- unlike 42 -- it is possible that you may have more than one chance to bid.

Analyse a hand by identifying a potential trump suit, the suit that is longest and includes the highest tiles. Doublets are like aces in card games -- they typically win tricks if led early in the hand.

Carefully consider whether your hand can win the counter tiles: 0-5, 1-4, and 2-3, and especially the high counters: 5-5, 4-6, 3-7, and 2-8. Remember that you can lead the 3-7 and 2-8 and declare them as relatively high-ranking tiles in the 3's and 2's suits, respectively.

In trick play:
  • Play doublets early to win tricks -- before players void suits and can trump them
  • Feed counter tiles to your partner whenever it appears certain he will win the trick
  • At all times monitor play of the counters and trumps

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Analysis: The Big Game challenges 42 players with a longer, more sophisticated game than standard 42 without stooping to the "special bids" some add to 42 for interest but that ultimately distort the game (such as Plunge, Sevens, etc).

The reason The Big Game plays well is that its key ratios -- for tiles/counter points, tiles/trick points, trick points/counter points -- are the same as in 42.

Thus, the game is a mathematically accurate extension of 42. Let's take a look:

42: The Big Game:



Number of tiles: 28 44
Number of counter tiles: 5 7
Total Counter points: 35 55
Total Trick points: 7 11
Counter points / Trick points: 5 5
Tiles / Counter points: 0.8 0.8
Tiles / Trick points: 4 4


To summarise, 66 points total can be captured in the Big Game:

Tiles: Points: Total Points:



11 tricks 1 each 11
0-5, 1-4, 2-3 5 each 15
5-5, 6-4, 7-3, 8-2 10 each 40


License: Feel free to print, copy, and distribute these rules, so long as you retain this paragraph. The Big Game was invented by Howard Fosdick © 2023, distributed under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND.



42 for Different Numbers of Players

Written by Howard Fosdick © 2023

Overview: 42 has a number of variations designed for different numbers of players. This chart summarises them:


Game: Teams and Draw: Set Used: Scoring:
80
4 players
2 teams of 2. Draw 10 each, 2 tiles in boneyard Two 6-6 sets with blanks removed (42 tiles total) Min. bid is 60. There are 10 tricks, each trick scores 2 pts. 80 points are winnable
88
6 players
2 teams of 3. Draw 9 each, 2 tiles in boneyard Two 6-6 sets (56 tiles) Min. bid is 60. There are 9 tricks, each trick scores 2 pts. 88 points are winnable
79
6 players
2 teams of 3. Draw 9 each, 2 tiles in boneyard Two 6-6 sets (56 tiles) Min. bid is 50. There are 9 tricks, each trick scores 1 pt. 79 points are winnable
84
6 player version
2 teams of 3. Draw 9 each, 2 tiles in boneyard Two 6-6 sets (56 tiles) Min. bid is 60. There are 9 tricks, each trick scores 2 pts. 84 points are winnable
84
8 player version
2 teams of 4. Draw 7 each, no boneyard Two 6-6 sets (56 tiles) Min. bid is 60. There are 7 tricks, each trick scores 2 pts. 84 points are winnable

In these 42 variations, many play that the bid winner can look at any tiles in the boneyard after winning the bid and before leading the first trick. He may exchange one, both, or neither of the boneyard tiles with pieces from his hand, but he must replace any counter in the kitty with non-count tiles from his hand.

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License: Feel free to print, copy, and distribute these rules, so long as you retain this paragraph. Written by Howard Fosdick © 2023, distributed under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND.      HOME