O b s e r v a t i o n s


I learned to play 42 at work circa 1985, with co-workers, during lunch breaks. Prior to that, I knew about the game through exposure in my childhood (my parents played occasionally) and casual observation of others playing the game. I was not aware of the history of 42, who all played it, or that there was an annual 42 championship tournament in Hallettsville (began circa 1981). Nor did I know the game was played differently in different parts of the state.

Printed rules for playing 42 were rare in those days, and the internet had not taken off yet to find more information about the game. It wasn't until the late '80s that I decided to write the rules for playing 42 (the way I learned it); however, it wasn't until 1997 that I posted the rules in cyberspace (for my New Mexican daughter-in-law who wanted to learn).

Following my posting of the rules on the internet in 1997, I began receiving messages from other 42 players (mostly "pure 42" players) who took issue with my indicating instructions. I quickly learned that tournament players had more definitive rules, i.e., straight 42, and most variations were not allowed. (Indicating was considered "talking across the board" by the purists.)

So, what have I learned new since 1997?  Well, I learned several things:

• There are two categories of 42 players: social players and social players who participate in formal 42 tournaments. Social players play by mutually agreed rules, and tournament players play by the host's rules or rules sanctioned by the National 42 Players Association (N42PA) which was founded in 2005.

• According to my online surveys of visitors to my web site, more than 80% of 42 player respondents are social (only) players, and about ten percent play (or have played) in "live" tournaments.

• Forty-two (42) is, indeed, the national game of Texas. (See demographics.)

The next three sections describe my observations as they relate to the two types of 42 players: social only and those who play in formal tournaments, too. Hopefully, my lack of tournament experience does not bias my recollections and perceptions of either type of player.


Social players taught me the game. They taught me how to indicate I had doubles and how to indicate which ones were in my hand during play action on the board. I also learned Nel-O as a forced bid option (to avoid reshuffling the dominos when all four played passed during the bidding process). We could also bid twice the number of marks of a previous high bid in marks. All four players knew this, so there was no advantage gained by anyone at the table.

The thing I enjoyed most was the fellowship in playing with co-workers I respected and liked working with. We had fun, and the game consumed our idle time during lunch breaks. (Sometimes the dominos ended up with a little mayonnaise or tamale grease on them.) The game was not so serious that we couldn't talk about other things of mutual interest while we played.

Years later, after I began exchanging messages with other players who visited my 42 web site, it became apparent there was a common thread among social players: having fun and being with people they knew well and/or enjoyed being with, mostly friends and relatives. The social (only) players generally are content with playing 42 with others in their social groups, and they have little interest in expanding their game outside their circle of friends and relatives.


Tournament players are social players who want to kick their game up to another level. They are competitive and are willing to "put it all on the line" to demonstrate their playing skills to others like themselves. Their tournaments are usually organized and officiated, and they provide players the opportunity to "show their stuff" and win recognition if they play better than their opponents.

Tournament players take the game seriously, and winning is very important. Some tournaments award cash prizes to the winners; however, many players prefer trophies or plaques because they serve as permanent testaments to their playing skills. In the case of Hallettsville participants, Texas bragging rights are at stake. In 2009 those bragging rights went to a resident of New Mexico who hails from Texas. (The Texas State 42 Championship Tournament is open to all 42 players.)

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of some highly motivated members, the N42PA is intensifying their efforts to further expand 42 as the national game of Texas. Someday, if their vision is realized, 42 will, indeed, be an organized national game with active membership by states that now lack a practical opportunity to "show their stuff" in a national forum.


Forty-two has been described as a "party game" by at least one social player who also plays in Bridge tournaments. That is an interesting description because it seems so fitting. The game is easy to learn, and it doesn't take long to get good at it. The rules are not so intricate that players cannot be creative in their playing styles, and there's luck in the draw of the dominos. Skill in playing the hand drawn and awareness of others' playing styles are key factors in winning in 42. This is true of both social and tournament players.

Tournament players have expanded their game to include a larger circle of friends and associates who share similar interests in formal competition. They are willing to schedule and drive long distances to compete against multiple teams of players, some of which they have never met before. And they can be vocal, too. It is not unrealistic to anticipate feedback on these observations from those who want to add their two bits. In the end, however, 42 is the key ingredient for bonding both social and tournament players, the latter being inclusive on a larger scale.

Paul Proft
1 January 2010

visitors since 1 January 2010