aNewDomain — Texas 42 was Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson’s favorite game, and a ton of Texans still feel the same way about it.
What I’m talking about here is Texas’ official state dominoes game, which happens to be a long and honored tradition. Getting good enough to actually play and place in the annual Texas 42 championship in Hallettsville, Texas, is a huge deal around these parts..
I showed up in Hallettsville to win big at last weekend’s big tourney.
Here is what happened instead.
Spades, but with dominoes
Texas 42 is a lot like the card game, Spades, but with dominoes — and better. That’s because the trump suite is dynamic, based on who wins the bid.
The rules and objective here are fairly simple: Blanks, Aces, Deuces, Treys, Fours, Fives, and Sixes can be trump. The 5:5, 6:4, 5:0, 4:1, and 3:2 are the point dominoes that add up to 35. Each trick, or hand, is worth a point — 35 + 7 = 42, hence the name of the game. The minimum bid is 30. The winning bidder is the one who first calls trump — or “follow me,” which means no trump.
In gameplay, the bidding team tries to catch their bid. The opposing team plays to catch enough count in order to set the bid. Each hand is worth a mark. Seven marks — or 250 points — and you’ve got game.
Got it? Good. This, after all, is where my long, sad tale begins.
That face …
“Did you see the kid?” someone asked me that first morning, after coffee but before anyone had started playing first day seeding matches in the big room.
“That seven year old will run you out of the building if she gets better dominoes than you,” I quipped back.
Well, that was a mistake, saying that.
The kid was Brynn Ebe, 7. She and her partner, her great uncle Thomas, came all the way from Idaho to get a shot at the championships.
They ended up humiliating me. Really.
You see, to make the winner’s bracket, each team had to win the best of seven matches against seven other teams. (Translation: You had to score at least 4-3 or your team would end up in the consolation bracket.)
And that first morning, I would soon see, the writing on the wall was clear: Brynn and her uncle easily beat Jody Badum and his partner. They were won second-place in Hallettsville in 2013.
“Did you hear Jody lost to the kid?” everyone was asking the next morning.
Understandably, Brynn quickly became the sweetheart, the focus and the utter envy of all the players in last week’s long-awaited championship game. It’s all anyone wanted to talk about.
Lucking out with Johnny Dominoes
I figured I could beat her and her uncle — provided I had a good partner. And that was my problem. I had no idea yet who my partner would be.
Because I decided just a few weeks earlier to play in the tournament, I walked in partner-less.
Texas 42 championship organizer, Darrell Odie Morgan, matched me up with a fellow Aggie. His name was Mike Parr of College Station, TX, had had his partner bail on him on Wednesday before the event.
As it turned out, Parr was a legend in the Texas 42 community. He even had a nickname: Johnny Dominoes.
How lucky could I be? I forgot all about little Brynn after that …
A corrupted set
I shook the dominoes and bid last. That was our opening hand that first day.
And I won the bid for 31. I called 3’s trump.I led the 3:3 and the next player followed with the 3:0 and my partner played his 3:3.
But wait. Two 3:3s in the domino set?
That is not right. As it happened, the set was corrupted. We had to vacate the hand and find another set to play with, only this time we checked for the right combo of bones before we started again.
Not a good sign for the future, not to be superstitious or anything …
We had been up 6 – 2 , but then Johnny Dominoes and I lost five games in a row.
That was just bad luck.
Laster, we were fighting neck-and-neck with one team — we were up 3-2 — but then they won enough games to deadlock us both at 6-6.
They won the rubber match.
That meant we were the 4-3 team and they were the 5-2 team.
Bad luck is one thing, though. Avoidable mistakes are another. In an early hand in that same match, I won the bid but my partner reneged by playing the wrong domino and not following the suite that was led.
This caused us to lose that hand. We would’ve won if that wouldn’t have happened. We would have won 7 – 6 (or 7 -5) if he had not done that.
I’m not bitter.
But come on, Johnny Dominoes! What did you do to me here?
Elimination round one
Because we scraped in at 4-3, the first elimination round so us, a 52 seed, playing the 13 seed.
Here you had to best two out of three matches.
But our opposing team — that was Lynn and Tex — well, they creamed us in the first match 7 – 1.
Good thing we pulled away in the second match, when it was 4-4, and we won out to take the second match.
You know, in that third match I had a lay down 2 mark hand. And instead of the 13-seed team of Lynn and Tex taking us, we eliminated them.
If only we’d been better at the seeding messages. If only Johnny Dominoes hadn’t of messed up that time. If he hadn’t, we easily could have been 6 – 1 in the morning matches and lost a couple close matches 7 – 6. Let’s not dwell on that, though.
Elimination Round Two
On to the second knockout round.
Here we faced our El Alamein.
That was Thomas and his second-grader great niece, Brynn.
A small crowd gathered. Of course, everyone was rooting for the kid.
Jud McGehee is a fellow Aggie and even he called out “Come on, Brynn!”
I felt betrayed.
“Jud, dude, Aggie club, secret handshake, where is the love?” I asked him.
Another player I know, Kent Kopnicky said “I love you like a brother, but I have to root for the kid.”
What a lose-lose situation.
If you win you’re the cruel monster that beat the kid. If you lose, you lose to a seven-year-old. You lose to kid.
And yeah, you guessed it. I lost to the kid.
How could this happen?
I have been playing Texas42 since I learned the game in 1989, when I was still a college freshman at Texas A&M.
In my fifth year at A&M, in an apartment off Texas Avenue in College Station, my five roommates and I played Texas42 every night — and we didn’t stick to the strict tournament rules of Hallettsville, either.
Sevens, splash, plunge, nelo, little end, moon, greenie weenie, and other exotic 42 variants mixed up with straight 42, back in my salad days. Our bidding was more lively then — 2 marks, 3 marks, 4 marks, 5 marks could and did happen at our table with everyone having a different vision for how to catch all the tricks.
And the 5 mark guy caught this bid. Crazy.
After the kid and her uncle beat me, I wondered if I’d wasted my money on dozens of sets of custom dominoes I’d bought over the years. They were my homage to the game.
So yeah, we lost to the kid.
The Ice House cometh
I have worked for Google as an engineer longer than Brynn has been alive.
That’s good for my resume but bad for my Texas 42 game. Nobody in California knows how to play the game right, which is why I ended up having to play the android version of Texas 42 for the last eight years.
I’d thought that would actually make me a better player, though.
I was wrong. Johnny Dominoes and myself were no match for Brynn and her uncle. They beat us 7 -4 and 7 – 5.
They ran us out of the building. We were not even able to force a 3rd rubber match.
They beat us straight up — and fair and square.
I have a circle of dominoes buddies who frequent C. Hunt’s Ice House in Austin near Burnett and 183. Just a few days after the tournament, they’ve already made it clear that they will never let me hear the end of this.
They call her The HaySlayer.
Could this be the real reason I love this game so much? Not the teasing. I mean that, even a State Championship legend like Johnny Dominoes and I can still lose with the right combination of bad luck and a sloppy mistake.
I am only half kidding when I say that.
Anyway, it made Brynn’s day that she sent a Google Engineer packing.
She and her uncle did end up getting eliminated in the next round by the 4 seed — we probably would have lost to them, too — But they made it to the round of 32 of 187 teams. No shame in that.
And the 2017 Hallettsville, Texas 42 state champions are …
In the end, a team out of the Austin (that plays in my old haunt, C. Hunt’s Ice House) up and won the Hallettsville Texas 42 State Championship Tournament.
Jud McGehee and Beth Gregory won it all.
If you want to be a great Texas 42 player and, someday and win trophies like the one Jud and Beth are holding in the picture at right, head to C. Hunts Ice House in Austin. It rivals the Dixie Chicken in College Station as a place for 42 players to gather, learn, and improve.
If anyone is in Austin for #SXSW, you ought to come on by.
By then, I am sure I will be over my embarrassing loss to a second grader.
My 12-year-old twins, after seeing the video of the game, now are convinced they can learn Texas 42 rules and come back to humiliate me next year in Hallettsville.
That’s the only upside I can see in any of this.
Also, because I saved Jody from being the butt of the narrative, I figure he owes me a beer. So that’s something.
For aNewDomain, I’m Richard Hay.