Though acquired by the Museum in 1972 from a shop in "Chinatown" in New York City, it is typical of the type of domino sets used in Korea, China, Japan, and other Asian countries for over a hundred years. This set was manufactured by Kwang Heng; No.7, Sheng Kiu PO, Canton, China.
The tin box container is 7.2cm long x 12.4cm wide x 8.6cm deep. The lid is 2.1cm deep. The lid is attached to the bottom by tin hinges at the back, and a tab attached to lid front goes over a catch on on the front of the bottom to "lock" the box. There is a tin handle attached to the lid top to be used for carrying the box. Inside the lid is a paper label in Chinese. The box bottom is divided into two sections with a partition on the right side about 1cm wide for storage of "chips". The section on the left side is for storing the dominoes.
Asian dominoes differ in multiple ways from Western dominoes (an example is pictured on the right). There are a number of domino games that are traditionally played with Asia dominoes, and thus these set contains components required for most of those games. For example, Asian domino sets include 32 dominoes, while standard Western sets normally contain 28 dominoes. The Asian dominoes are larger (6.9cm long x 2.5cm wide x .9cm thick) than Western dominoes. Traditional Asian dominoes have carved cup-like painted depressions and no bar across the middle separating the two sides. The numbers 1,3,4,8 are painted in red, and the numbers 2,3,5,6 are painted in white. There are no "blanks" in Asian domino sets.
In addition to the dominoes in the Asian set, there are about 100 glass chips, 1cm diameter x .5cm thick. These chips are Flat on the bottoms with rounded tops. White ones are opaque. Blue and green ones are semi-transparent. These can be seen on the right side in the photograph above.
In addition, a pair of .9cm cubic dice (photograph on the left) are included in the set. The dice are marked with dots representing numbers 1 - 6 stamped on the sides of the cubes. The cubes are colored white with numbers 1 and 4 in red; 2,3,5,6 are in black.The edges of the dice are rounded.
An additional component (pictured on the left) is part of the set. It is called a chong. This wooden disc is 2.4cm diameter x .9cm thick, painted red, and is used to indicate who is the first player. Chinese characters are stamped on each side of the disc.
Dominoes are primarily a gambling game in Asian countries. The following is a detailed explanation of the use of the set from the Museum collection for playing a long popular Oriental gambling game with dominoes. The instructions and description of "how to play" the game of Heavens and Nines is from the book by Stuart Culin, Korean Games, with Notes on the Corresponding Games of China and Japan, University of Pennsylvania, 1895. The text and graphics were scanned from a reprinted Tuttle Edition, 1958, pages 121-122. Some paragraphs were edited to increase Website readability.
Tá t’in kau, "To play Heavens and Nines," called from the names of the highest pieces of the two suits, is the best and most interesting of the Chinese games with dominoes. It is played by four persons with one set of dominoes. The thirty-two pieces are arranged face down in a stack four high to form eight piles of four pieces each. One of the players throws two dice, and counts around to determine who shall be the first player. He is called Tsò chong, or Chong ká, and usually places some object on the table before him to indicate his position. A disk of wood, inscribed with the character chong, frequently accompanies sets of dominoes for this purpose. The first player takes two piles of dominoes. If the dice fall near one end of the stack of dominoes, the first player takes the two piles at that end, the player on his right the next two piles, the third player to the right the next two, and the fourth player the remaining rows. But if the dice fall near the middle of the stack, the first player takes the two middle rows, the player on his right the piles on the right and left of the middle ones, the third player the piles outside of these, and the fourth player the piles at the ends.
The first player leads by placing one, two, three, or four pieces face up on the table. One piece of either suit may be thus led, and a higher piece of the same suit will be required to take it; or a pair of either suit may be led, and a higher pair of the same suit will be required to take it; or one or both pieces of the first, second, third, or fourth pair of one suit (see Fig. 119) may be led with one or both pieces of the corresponding pair of the other suit, and two, three, or four pieces of corresponding higher pairs will be required to take them; that is one or both of the 6/6 may be led with one or both of the pair 6/3, 4/5, and the pair of 1/1 with one or both of the pair 6/2, 5/3, and vice versa. The other players follow from right to left by playing as many pieces as are led, putting them on top of those on the table if they are higher, or beneath if they are lower than those already played. They are not required to follow suit.
The winner leads again, and the game is continued until all the dominoes have been played. The player who takes the last round wins the game. He becomes the Tsò chong for the next game. It is required of the winner, however, to take at least two tricks, so that if only one piece is led on the last round a player who has not won a trick is not allowed to take the trick, and the game goes to the next higher player.
Tá t’in kau is invariably played for money. A trick counts one point, for which any sum may be agreed upon. At the end of the game the players each pay the winner according to the number of tricks they have taken. The holder of four or more tricks pays nothing; of two tricks, for two points; of one trick, for three points, and a player who does not take a trick, for five points. The first player, or Tsò chong, however, always pays twice the amount when he loses and is paid double when he wins, and so on throughout the game, paying and receiving in every case twice as much as the other players. Should the Tsò chong, through winning the last round, hold his position over into the next game, his gains and losses are then in the ratio of three to one to those of the other players. In the third game they would be as four to one, and so on.
If any player except the first player wins a round with the pair 2/4, 1/2 called chi tsün, the first player must pay him four times, and the other players twice the sum agreed upon for one point; but if the first player takes a round with the chi tsün, the other players must pay him four times the value of a point. If any player except the first takes a round with four pieces of two corresponding pairs, the first player pays him eight times and the other players four times the value of a point, but if the first player takes the round the other players pay him eight times the value of a point. If a player takes two rounds with the chi tsün or two rounds with two corresponding pairs in two successive games, the amounts that must be paid him by the other players are doubled, and if he takes three such rounds in succession they are trebled.
In gambling-houses the winner of a round with the chi tsün must put the value of one point and the winner with two corresponding pairs of two points in a box for the house. This constitutes the only revenue derived by gambling-houses from the game. It is said that the custom of requiring the winner to take at least two tricks is an innovation of the last hundred years. Formerly the person taking the last trick became the winner, although it was the only trick taken by him during the game.
For additional Asian games with dominoes, click on the title in the upper left menu.
Last update February 4, 2010