There are extant rules for 47 different Eastern games using dominoes.  And they show a lot more variation than the few basic games played in Western countries (mentioned in Chapter 3), because there is far more variation in the number of pieces in different sets and because color combinations of spots are introduced.  As with dice games, the names are often beautiful: “Within the Pagoda,” “Leaping Gazelle,” “The Little Snakes,” “The Game of the Seller of Bean-curd,” “The Peach Orchard,” and “Carnations in the Haze.”

Nowadays Indian and Chinese games with dominoes very often combine the elements of gambling and fortune telling; certain juxtapositions of pieces are of good augury even if they lose the player his bet.  This mystic element has been dropped in the translation of dice and dominoes games to the Western world.  We have retained only the arithmetical element, which (along with the restriction in the number and variety of the pieces themselves) naturally limits the diversity of games.

According to some American ethnological observations made in the late 19th century, the Innuit Eskimos (who came originally from the Hudsom Strait) played a kind of dominoes called a ma zu a lat, which seems to mean “standing upright side by side.”  It is played  with pieces of ivory (varying in number from 60 to 148) cut into irregular shapes and marked with spots arranged in (“sled”), kaiak (“canoe”), kale sak (“navel”), and a ma zut (“many”). The report adds that the Eskimos would stake the last article they possessed including  wives on the issue of the game.  But sometimes the wives joined the game and won themselves backgammon to their former owners.

It is possible (though not proved) that dice games were played in Europe and Africa before they were played in Asia.  But, questions of precedence aside, the Egyptians were playing dice early in civilization’s history.  They evidently played mostly board games, using limestone gaming boards and terr-cotta pieces in the form of disks, animals’ heads, and other symbols.  The names of two of the games played with them (senet and tijau) are on record, though little seems to be known of the rules of play.  Without doubt, however, dice were thrown as motivators, for in the boxes made for the storage of the pieces there were compartments to hold dice made of sandstone, rock crystal, wood, or ivory.

Probably the most popular dice game in the Roman Empire was called, simply, ten (which may have been the game the soldiers played for Christ’s crucifixion garments).  After Roman troops had taken the game into Gaul and the French language had developed, it became passé-dix, which it still is.  The rules for passé-dix are simple, and remain much the same as for ten: It is played with three dice and any number of players, each of whom becomes the banker in turn.  Each time a player throws a total below 10, he had all the other players lose their stakes to the banker; but each time 10 or more is thrown the banker must double all the stakes in a payoff to the players.

Passé-dix is played almost universally with very little variation of the rules, though it has many different names: in Britain and America it is called ten spot, dicey, roll-ten, or bridie; in Italy, talus; and in Turkey, zarf (which is also the name of a metal frame that holds a glass of hot coffee).  It is usually played by groups of friends for small stakes.  For instance, in Germany after the war the armed forces played it for chocolate, cigarettes, and other black-market goods; in 1946 I saw a game of passé-dix being played in a Hamburg underground train, in which about 500 cigarettes changed hands between two stations.  In many European bars (commonly in Holland and Belgium) a dice box and dice are kept on the counter, the proprietor no doubt hoping that the excitement of a game of passé-dix would prolong his customers’ stay and keep them drinking. (The fine he would have to pay if a policeman were to drop in would be a justifiable expense.) The simplicity of passé-dix, plus its speed and the fact that the stakes can be small, make it appeal widely-probably even more widely than craps, which is largely concentrated in America.

But in the years before craps was developed by Mississippi Negroes in the 19th century, even passé-dix had to take second place in popularity to the great European dice game (and ancestor of craps) called hazard.  There is etymological evidence that hazard was originally an Arab game, for the word derives from the French hazard, which in turn derives from the Arabic for dice az-zahr.  The game’s first European appearance was in Corsica, which suffered a Saracen invasion in the eighth century a.d., and from which the game’s popularity may well have seeped through Italy, Spain, and France where for three centuries it was a mania rather than a poker card game.

In its heyday hazard was by no means a game of small stakes.  A book called Memoirs of the Lives, Intrigues, and Comical Adventures of the most Famous Gamesters and Celebrated Sharpers in the Reigns of Charles Í, James Í, William Í, and Queen Anne tells the story of a Colonel Panton, who in a single night won enough to bring him an annual income of the equivalent of $ 7500 from its investment, and who built Panton Street, near Pall Mall in London.  A similar success story involved one Richard Bourchier, who during a Grand Tournament of Europe, diced his way into the high company of the king of France, the king of Holland, and the Duke of Bavaria.  From all of them he won a fortune big enough to buy a huge estate at Pershore, in Worcestershire, and keep himself in luxury for the rest of his days.

Today a gambler might be able to find a game of hazard in some older casinos (usually in a variation that uses three dice), or a corrupted form of it at traveling fairs or carnivals (where the game is sometimes rigged by the use of either weighted or magnetized dice).  But since the appearance of craps it has virtually been abandoned by most gamblers.  Two-dice hazard is a simple game.  A player bets the other players of whom there may be any number-that he will throw any one of several specified numbers that can be thrown with two dice (the numbers are Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine) and backs his choice with his stake.  The remaining players must together match the amount of the thrower’s stake with their own stakes.

The thrower’s choice is called a “main.” If he throws his main, he wins and takes all the stake money.  (Such a piece of good game of fortune is sometimes called a “nick.”) But if he throws another number he neither wins nor loses but must continue throwing until he either repeats that number (which is called his “chance”) in which case he wins, or repeats his main, in which case he loses.


s you see, the game is basically very similar to craps (the rules for which I outlined in Chapter 5).  But the hazard players of the Middle Ages has no notion of the poker theory of probability, nor had they tumbled to the fact that all the combinations possible with two dice (except Two and Twelve) can be thrown in more than one way.  Later hazard players grasped only part of this fact; for a long time they failed to realize that, for example, there were only three ways (instead of six) to throw a seven, and only two ways (instead of three) to throw a Four.  For this reason they complicated the Game by making rules that seemed to them to even out chances, but that were in fact doing nothing of the sort.  During the Renaissance and later, there was a comprehension of the truth about chances and odds in relation to dice; but players tended to correct the early complications by making new ones, and hazard became a game of such complexity  that its place was taken by passé-dix.

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