Question: How did Texas 42 evolve from a popular, spread by word-of-mouth social game in the 1880s, to a formal competitive tournament game in the 21st century?
Well, let’s look at history. Back in the 1800s, following the Civil War, gambling via card games was considered sinful by many religious folks. This was particularly true in the state of Texas when ethical and moral values were important in many homes and polite society.
Card games were not acceptable because of their association with gambling. So, what did some Texans and other polite societies do? They found ways to circumvent card games and still have fun by using domino tiles to play card-like games.
The most publicized example of this was when two Texas boys reportedly “invented” the game of 42 in the mid-to-late 1880s. They adapted the rules of the card game Whist to their new domino game. (Bid Whist was the forerunner of the card game Bridge, hence the similarities between 42 and Bridge.)
Forty-two (42) is a four-player trick-taking game with eight different optional trump suits. (Card games have just four suits.) This made for an interesting combination of possibilities. Players sitting opposite each other are partners, but the rules do not allow partners to signal to each other what dominos they hold in their hands.
To make a long story short, the game proceeded into the 21st century. Along the way, game variations and indicating methods were introduced in social play and diversified locations throughout the state.
The public internet made its presence in the 1990s. Knowledge of the game became available to all who had internet connections, and various playing cultures began to share information and influence others’ playing customs.
In 2005, the National 42 Players Association was founded. It published standardized tournament rules that applied to all participating tournaments. Subtle "progressive" playing practices began to emerge in tournaments sanctioned by the N42PA.
The internet and social media had a profound influence on the game and its players. Enhanced fair play practices became an open discussion item.
Webmaster Note (13 Jul 2018): Since I began playing 42 more than 30 years ago, I learned that Texas 42 was played differently in different parts of Texas. In 2005, the N42PA sought to standardize the rules for competition in sanctioned 42 tournaments without taking away “any control or traditions from existing groups.” This essentially sanctioned the various cultural playing styles in local areas without defining acceptable departures from traditional playing ethics as perceived by many Texas players. This is addressed in my comments on Unwitting Communications. -PP