The game of domino most commonly played among the Russian community is “Matador,” also commonly known as “Russian Domino.”
Rules of the Game: 1
This game differentiates itself from a regular game of domino in that instead of just matching your tile with an equal end on the layout, you must create a sum of 7. Tiles whose pips add up to 7, such as 1-6, 2-5, 3-4, as well as 0-0, are called “matadors,” and are essentially “wild cards” that can be played at anytime and onto any number.
Each player takes their turn adding dominoes to the open ends of the layout when they are able to do so. A hand ends when one player has played all their tiles or when no player is able to add a tile to the layout.
The game can be played to any agreed-upon score, and when the game ends, the player with the fewest number of dots on the dominoes he played, wins.
Role in Russian Immigrant Culture:
The game of Domino is very popular among the Russian communities both abroad and in the United States. Both in America and in the former Soviet countries, the game is known to be played by large groups of older men who have a lot of idle time on their hands. A largely recreational and social activity, it is often played outside, as seen in Seth Low Park.
Domino gained popularity in Russia during World War II, its appeal largely based on its accessibility (all you need is a flat surface and a box of numbered tiles) and portability (it can be carried and set up at any given place), making it a perfect wartime game.
Domino has also built a reputation in Russia and former Soviet countries commonly associated with heavy smoking, drinking, and foul language. While it hasn’t garnered a similar reputation in America, it seems as though the immigrants still carry it with them. When asked about their game at Seth Low Park, one Russian man responded, “Oh, Domino is a game for hooligans, you don’t need to know about it.”
Dominoes has also played an interesting role in recent political relations between former Soviet republics.
Abhazia, a small rebel region in Georgia that was just first recognized as a sovereign power by Russia in 2008 and remains to be unrecognized by the majority of the world, was acknowledged as a full-fledged member of the International Domino Federation, which organizes domino competitions around the world. In 2011, Abhazia hosted the World Domino Championships in its capital, putting the region on the map for the rest of the world to see.
A New York Times article profiling the event, highlights the large significance of this event for the country, as well as the popularity and significance of the game itself among the Abhazian community: