The Rules of 42

Republished, upon reader request, from another, older Newsome.Org page, to increase readability and consolidate content.  As an interesting (at least to me) aside- these rules were directly responsible for my receipt of a job offer to serve as a domino teacher on a cruise ship.  I didn’t take it, but it was cool to get it.

Note also that I wrote the original post below over 12 years ago, and some of the people mentioned have grown up and become semi-responsible adults.  I hope one day to join them.


Forty-two is a trick taking game played with dominoes. It is especially popular in Texas, USA. There is a place in Texas called Rancho DeNada where there is almost always a forty-two game in progress. The following description is loosely based on information from David Dailey, Kit McKormick, John Rhodes, Adam Hauerwas and Kate Gibson. Also, see John McLeod’s excellent Card Games web page for the original version of these rules and more great information.

There are basically two forms of 42: it can be played for points or for marks. The version for marks will be described first. The version for points is similar except in the bidding and scoring – the differences are described later.

Players and equipment

There are four players in fixed parnerships – players sit opposite their partner. Gibmonster was a good partner many years ago. Now he is afraid to bid. Kate gives him a lot of shit when he bids. Kate also drinks daiquiris mixed with bourbon. Kate is a cool chick. Bub is a good partner for about three hands. After three hands, her alcohol level is up, her attention span is down, and it’s all downhill from there.

A double-six set of dominoes is used – that is 28 dominoes, one for each possible pair of numbers from 0 (blank) to 6. A domino with the same numer at each end is called a double.

Rank and suit of dominoes

There are 7 suits: blanks, ones, twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes. The highest domino of each suit is the double.

Normally one suit is trumps. Every domino containing that number is exclusively a trump, and apart from the double, they rank in order of the other number on the domino. For example if threes are trumps, the trump suit from high to low is:
3-3 6-3 5-3 4-3 3-2 3-1 3-0

Update:  sorry, but the images were lost somewhere along the way.  Please imagine there are still beautiful images where the broken ones appear.

The remaining dominoes, apart from the doubles, belong to the two suits corresponding to the two numbers on them. Within each suit they rank in order of the other number on the domino. So if threes are trump, the members of the fives suit from highest to lowest are:
5-5 6-5 5-4 5-2 5-1 5-0

Values of Dominoes

Each domino with 10 pips – 6-4 5-5– is worth 10 points to the side that wins it in their tricks.

Each domino with 5 pips – 5-0 4-1 3-2– is worth 5 points to the side that wins it in their tricks.

In addition each of the seven tricks is worth one point to the side that wins it.

There are therefore 42 points available in each hand. One time Johnny Walker bid 43 but he was drunk.

The Deal

The first dealer is selected at random. Thereafter the turn to deal passes clockwise. The dealer “shuffles” the dominoes by mixing them thouroughly face down on the table. Then each player in clockwise order, starting with the player to dealer’s left takes seven dominoes and sets them on edge so that the owner can see their values, but the other players cannot see them. The dealer is supposed to take dominoes last, but Kate never remembers this rule. One night Kate got hammered while playing dominoes at the Ranch and tried for about an hour to call random people on the phone. She was unsuccessful in both dominoes and dialing. Later she and Gibmonster did some really crazy stuff while we all listened. Where are those drums when I need them….

The Bidding

Each player has just one chance to bid or pass, starting with the player to dealer’s left and going clockwise round the table. Each bid must be higher than the previous one. If Amy bids, you can assume she has an ass kicking hand. Amy does not bid much. One night in San Antonio Amy got shit faced and abused Bo (a serious turn of events). Bo said it was “huge bullshit.”

The lowest possible bid is 30, meaning that (a) that’s usually what Gibmonster bids, and (b) the bidder’s team undertakes to win at least 30 points in tricks. Then come 31, 32, 33, etc. up to 41, then 1 mark (which is equivalent to 42), 2 marks, 3 marks etc.

Bids of 1 mark and above require the bidder’s side to win all the tricks (i.e. all 42 points) or take on one of the special contracts (Nello, Plunge, Sevens) described below.

The highest opening bid allowed is 2 marks (unless the declarer intends to play a Plunge). Once someone has bid 2 marks a subsequent player can bid 3 marks, and so on. One time Cody bid two marks. Kent, the next bidder, bid three marks and got his bid. Gibmonster, who didn’t bid, got stung by a scorpion. It was a pretty exciting hand. To play Plunge it is necessary to bid 4 marks, or 5 if the bidding had already reached 4.

If all four players pass, the dominoes are thrown in and the next player deals. If Gibmonster was cloned, this would happen a lot.

The Play

The highest bidder (the declarer) names trumps, or may name one of the special contracts if the bid is 1 mark or more.

The declarer leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if possible. A player unable to follow suit may play any domino. The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trump, by the highest domino of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next. On those rare occasions when Gibmonster has the bid, he usually calls twos or threes as trump and leads with a non-double, non-trump. It’s either really smart or really not smart, we’re not sure which. Such a move is universally called a “Gibby opening.”

When a non-trump domino is led, it counts as a member of the higher numbered suit, but for following suit it counts as belonging to both suits. For example if threes are trump and the 6-5 is led, it counts as a 6 rather than a 5. But when fol
wing suit the 6-5 can be used to follow to a lead of either sixes or fives. If threes are trumps then the 5-3 when led counts as a 3 not a 5, because trumps are trumps and nothing else.

Notice for example that if blanks are not trump, and you hold the double blank, although it is the highest card of its suit the only way it can win a trick is if you lead it. Any other blank which is led counts as the lowest domino of some other suit. Cody used to like to make clever points like this before he married Chilton. Now she just tells him to shut the hell up. Usually he does.

Tricks are kept face up to the right of one member of each team, in the order that they were played, and can be viewed by all the players. For example after two tricks one side’s captures might look like this:
6-6 6-4 6-1 4-3this trick is worth 11 points, and was won by the 6-6 (sixes are trump)

5-5 5-0 6-2 5-3this trick is worth 16 points and was won by the 6-2, a trump.

When playing a contract to win all the tricks, declarer can elect to stack the tricks. In this case the third trick is stored on top of the first, the fourth on top of the second, and so on, leaving only two previous tricks visible at one time. This saves space and reduces the players’ opportunity to chack back to see what has already been played.

Special Contracts


A declarer who has bid 1 mark (42) or higher can announce Nello, which is a contract to lose every trick. Declarer’s partner turns all her dominoes face down and takes no part in the play. The declarer leads to the first trick, and there are no trumps. Doubles form a suit of their own ranking from 6-6 (highest) to 0-0 (lowest). Rules of play are as usual, and a lead of a double calls for doubles. If a non-double is led the larger number determines the suit to be followed, and a double cannot be played to the trick unless no dominoes of the suit led are held.


The declarer must hold at least 4 doubles to announce Plunge. Declarer’s partner chooses trump (without consulting). Delarer leads, and declarer’s team must take all seven tricks to win.

To play a Plunge, declarer must have bid at least 4 marks. In order to play a plunge, declarer is allowed to open the bidding with 4 marks, or jump to 4 marks over any lower bid, or bid 5 marks over a previous bid of 4. This is the only case where a jump bid or opening bid higher than 2 marks is allowed. A subsequent player could overcall 4 marks with 5 marks, and play a normal contract to win all the tricks, or Nello. 5 marks can be overcalled by 6 marks, and so on.

At some venues, including Rancho DeNada, a Plunge bid is not allowed. At Rancho DeNada, that’s because if someone said “Plunge,” Gibmonster would dive into the cement pond with his boots on and drown.

The Scoring

The scoring is in marks. For any bid from 30 to 42 (1 mark), the declarer’s team score 1 mark if they win. For higher bids they score the number of marks bid. If the declarer is unsuccessful, the contract is set, and the declarer’s opponents score as many marks as the declarer’s team would have scored. The game ends when one team reaches a total of seven marks or more.

The marks are drawn to form the word “ALL” – the first mark is drawn as the left side of the “A”, the second is the right side, the third the crossbar, the fourth the vertical of the first “L”, etc. The winning team is thus the first to complete the word “ALL”. You can also spell “SEX,” if you are into that sort of thing.

When playing for money, the winners are paid an agreed amount for each mark the losers were short of 7, plus an amount for each time the losers were set. If the winners end up with more than 7 marks any excess over 7 is ignored. Also it does not matter how many times the winners were set – they lose nothing for this. For example if A & C agree to play B & D for $0.25 per mark and $1.00 per set, and A & C win 7 – 4, with each team set once, then B & D pay A & C $1.75.


Rank of Doubles in Nello

In Nello, some people give declarer the option of playing with the doubles as the highest dominoes of their suits (as in a normal contract) rather than doubles being a separate suit. Some allow a declarer in Nello a further option of specifying that the doubles are the lowest dominoes of their suits. When playing this variation, a declarer who announces a Nello must at the same time state whether doubles are their own suit, high in suit or (if allowed) low in suit.


This is another special contract, which can be played by a declarer who has bid 1 mark or more. Declarer leads, and each player must play a domino whose pip total is as close as possible to 7. The trick is won by the closest domino to 7, or if several are equally close by the first of these which was played. The winner of a trick leads to the next. The declarer’s team have to take all seven tricks to win.

There is no strategy in sevens – the play is forced throughout.

Without special contracts

Some players do not allow the special contracts Nello, Plunge and Sevens.

Opening lead

Some people play that the lead to the first trick must be a trump.

No hands passed out

Some people play that if the first three players pass, the declarer must bid. The hand cannot be thrown in.

42 with bidding and scoring by points

The information on this form of 42 was supplied by Adam Hauerwas.

In this version the bids are the numbers from 30 to 42, then 84 and 168. You cannot bid 168 unless someone has bid 84.

For bids below 42, if declarer’s team make their bid, both sides score the points they take. If not, the declarer’s team score zero, and the opponents score the points they take plus declarer’s bid.

For bids of 42, 84 and 168, declarer’s team score the bid if successful. If declarer is set the opponents score declarer’s bid but nothing for their tricks.

It is not possible for all four players to pass. After three passes the dealer must bid.

Low-No is a game equivalent to Nello in the game for marks. Low-No can only be bid by the dealer and only when the other three players all passed. The declarer’s side score 42 points if successful, and the other side score 42 points if the declarer is forced to take a trick.

The special contracts Plunge and Sevens are not allowed.

Instead of naming a trump suit, the winner of the bidding has two other options (in either case the object remains to win at least as many points as were bid – or all the tricks if the bid is 42 or more):

  1. No trumps: Exactly what it says. The double is the highest domino of each suit as usual and every other domino belongs to two suits.
  2. Doubles: There is a trump suit consisting of all the doubles, ranking from high to low: 6-6, 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 1-1, 0-0. When a double is led everyone must follow suit
    with a double if possible. The doubles don’t belong to their normal suits so for example if the 4-2 is led you can’t trump with the 4-4 unless you are out of 4’s, in which case you could play anything.

Remarks on bidding strategy

Three passes might leave the dealer in an incredibly awkward situation without having a bid to make; that’s part of the game. Note, though, that this gives the dealer’s partner incentive to bid 30 on a somewhat mediocre hand, because they could be saving the dealer from an awkward situation.

If the dealer gets “stuck” with the bid after three passes, note that Low-No could be bid by the dealer in order to avoid going set on a 30 bid. Since the opponents get the bidding teams bid PLUS whatever points they catch, if you go set on a 30 bid the opponents would receive 30 + (at least 13 points required catch for the set) A dealer might bid low-no on a terrible hand if only to restrict the opponents to catching 42 points (instead of more from a bid of 30 which is set).

No-Trump may be bid on a hand with a lot of control but short on long suits. The problem here is regaining the lead once it is lost. Example no-trump hand: 6-6, 6-5, 5-5, 3-3, 3-2, 3-1, 1-1. Tricks might be played in order from left to right, and one would hope that one or two “threes” would fall on the first three tricks so that the double-three could pull in the remaining threes — making the 3-2 and 3-1 good.

Hands on which it is right to declaring doubles trump are rather rare. One possible hand where it would make sense to bid doubles would be the following: 6-6, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 1-1, 6-5, 5-4. Note if the double-five falls on the first trick, you gain ten points and make your 5-4 good.

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