Liberty Hill club building new generation of 42 players

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By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

At one point, 42 was a dominoes game that was a common denominator between any four people in a living room or parlor — sons and aunts, nieces and grandfathers, neighbors and strangers.

“You can be of any age, sex, race, political opinion, country, or anything, and still play 42 with someone,” says Terry Pogue, a two-time state champion of the game living in Liberty Hill. “You don’t have to have anything in common.”

But at some point, when younger generations stopped learning the game, it fell out of popularity. Terry says the turning point was 1972, when “Pong” was released for the Atari.

That makes him an exception. Sitting at the table for the Liberty Hill 42 Club, shortly before their weekly 6:30 meeting is set to begin, he is the only one out of the four present so far who did not learn the game as a child.

Lloyd Seymour, the man seated next to him, learned the more traditional way. He was 11 or 12 when his family taught him. At gatherings his clan would sometimes have six or seven sessions going on at once.

Terry discovered the game later in life, as a firefighter in Austin. The older men at his firehouse would play a game every night for a Coke bet, and taught Terry just enough for him to lose. But he got better, and better, and before long he was driving down to the city four nights a week— even after he retired.

Sitting across from them, Sharon and Howard Hall played it as teenagers on some of their first dates in their hometown. Now married for over 50 years, they have come tonight to play 42 for the first time since they can remember.

A lamp hangs over the wooden table, casting a warm light over it in the otherwise dim beer market.

They have enough now between the four of them to start a game, but Terry wants to wait for more, as the clock has only just struck 6:30 p.m. In the three months since he began the club, attendance has usually varied between four to eight, and one week they had 12.

Soon, a new man sits down. He’s a friend of Lloyd’s, and he introduces himself as Jason. He says his grandfather used to play 42 with George Jones, the classic country star.

“Really?” Howard says, chuckling. “I’ll be danged.”

They separate themselves into teams. Howard and Jason are on one side, and Sharon and Lloyd are on the other. Terry stands to the side to watch and provide commentary.

Technically, the team selections are already in violation of an old adage many heard growing up: “Never play with your spouse.” Lloyd says when his family would have those massive game nights going on, his parents never played together.

It is one of the many informal points of etiquette for the game: The dealer should not draw dominoes themselves, but take only the leftover “bone pile”; There are no take-backs; and players should not drink too much.

Like the formal rules, most are at least lightly bent over the course of the night.

Terry gives the optimistic rule of thumb that the game takes only 15 minutes to learn for players already familiar with Bridge or other similar games. For everyone else, he says, it takes about 45 minutes.

The first trick, as the rounds are called, begins with Howard tossing in one-six domino into the center ring, and immediately, Sharon follows it with a “snake eyes,” a one-one domino.

“Oh! Greased it!” she says. She rakes in the round’s pieces for her team as Howard and Jason groan.

Meanwhile, more have trickled in to play.

Carmen Maguire, another firefighter friend of Terry’s, has brought her daughter and her daughter’s friend and boyfriend. The three are all in high school, and none know how to play 42. One has never heard of it. Another asks what the wi-fi password is. The third quickly pulls out her geometry homework.

Carmen and another experienced player named Jeff begin a practice game to walk them through. Each of the high schoolers are asked to make a “bid” based on the confidence of the hand they are dealt. The daughter bids 42, not entirely sure what the number means. She is told to play first, and carefully places a five-one domino face-up on the table.

Terry stands over, “I’m not sure I would have bid that high with that hand,” he says, “but at least now you know what a bad offer looks like.”

The game wobbles forward with frequent stops and explanations.

She won the bid, Jeff says, so she picks the trump; the trump is the suit of domino whose highest value will always take the trick, or round.

Wait, hold up, says the boyfriend. Dominoes have suits?

The trick is won after Carmen plays a three-three. Why was that the highest, the daughter asks. Because it was a double, Carmen explains.

“I’m so confused,” the boyfriend says. The daughter’s friend continues to work on her math homework.

Meanwhile at the table next to them, the experienced players take only moments for each tricks. One by one they cast their dominos with a thud into the center. Their concentrated silence is punctuated by the cries of excitement that follow every hand, and the occasional sip of their beer.

The game is tied at five for five, and the next two marks will determine the winner. It’s a “barn-burner,” Lloyd declares.

“Well, we just wanted them to know what it’s like to be a winner, so we let them get ahead,” Howard lightly ribs.

The room becomes increasingly crowded as more families and the evening regulars file into the beer market. The overhead lamp seems to spotlight the game.

Jason and Sharon win the next mark, holding now a fragile lead for what could be the finishing game. The final round takes only a moment. Lloyd casts in an ace-blank, which Sharon follows with a blank-blank. Howard puts in his three-three, and Jason, almost without looking, tosses down the final ace-four. It pushes the trick over 42, winning the game.

With a woop and a sigh, the tension that has built over the better part of an hour suddenly deflates. The two teams congratulate each other on a good session.

Meanwhile the amateur game at the next table has picked up in pace.

“I think I understand it now,” the daughter says.

Terry claps his hands together, “Who’s ready for the next game?” A young couple that had been waiting patiently nearby sit down across from Jason and Terry.

The Liberty Hill 42 Club meets at the Liberty Hill Beer Market every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Waylon@LHIndependent.com

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