Written by Howard Fosdick © BestFreeNewGames.com
Overview: Along with the dice game Cubilete, Domino Cubano is considered the national game of Cuba. Though it features simple, traditional dominoes rules, if you play with experts, you'll quickly discover dominoes requires some serious thinking.
We include Domino Cubano here as the finest example of a traditional "block" dominoes game.
Players and Equipment: Cuban Dominoes is played by 4 persons in two partnerships, using a 9-9 set of dominoes. After tiles are placed face-down and shuffled, each player takes 10 tiles. The remaining 15 tiles are set aside and are never used in the game.
Play: The player holding the highest doublet starts the round. If no player holds a doublet (unlikely), tiles are thrown in and re-dealt. Play then continues counter-clockwise around the table, with each player in turn either playing one of his tiles by matching it to one of the two open ends on the layout, or passing.
The layout extends in two directions from the first one played. Doubles are laid crosswise to singlets in the line, but do not cause a branch in the line of play. The layout may turn corners as necessary to fit playing surface.
In his turn, a player must play a tile if he has one to play. Otherwise he must pass. When passing, he does not draw any dominoes from among the 15 out-of-play tiles.
Winning and Scoring:
If one player plays all his tiles and goes out, his partnership wins the hand.
Otherwise the game ends "blocked," where no one has no valid tile to play. In this case, the side with the lower total pip count on their remaining dominoes in hand wins the round. In the unusual event that both sides have the same total pip count, the game ends in a draw and neither partnership scores points for that hand.
The winning side gets points equal to the total number of pips in still in their opponents' hands.
Winning Game: Most play to 100 points across hands, but some play to 150 or some other total.
Tips for Play: Higher tiles are more expensive if you're stuck with them at hand-end. Ensure you get rid of them.
Keep track of how many tiles of each suit have been played. Remember, in the 9-9 dominoes set, there are 10 tiles in each suit.
"Counting the table" -- keeping track of suits and making intelligent guesses as to your opponents' hands -- is critical. Typically you play your longer suit and "bleed" your opponents of their fewer tiles in that suit. This enables you to block them (force them to pass without playing a tile). Maintain a block as long as you can.
Remember that this is a team sport. So you want to play complimentary to your partner at all times.
Traditions vary, but in friendly games clever signalling to one's partner is considered all part of the fun of the game. But don't do this if playing for money or in tournaments, as that could get you in serious trouble. Your best bet is to understand the informal rules about partner communication in your foursome before starting any game.
Sources: There are numerous slight variations in different locales that do not substantially alter the game. Several books delve into strategies including Reglamento Del Domino Cubano, Como Garnar Al Domino Cubano, and Dominó de Parejas.