Dominoes are the new black.
Or should that be the new black and white?
Like other once-geriatric games such as shuffleboard and bingo, dominoes is gaining popularity with the reggaeton generation. Young people who grew up watching their grandparents play are taking an interest in the traditionally Hispanic pastime, joining dominoes clubs or playing informally at home. The game has star power, too, with Penelope Cruz reportedly inviting Demi and Ashton to her place for regular domino throw-downs.
This weekend, Centro Asturiano in Ybor City will host its third annual Caballeros Dominoes Tournament. Cabaelleros is Spanish for "gentlemen," reflecting the game's popularity with senior men. But the contest is open to both genders and all ages.
For many younger players, dominoes are a way to connect with their Latin American heritage.
Donsenio Rodriguez, 19, learned the game a few years ago from his Dominican stepfather. Rodriguez plays nearly every night in his Tampa home, teaming up with a friend to compete against his stepdad and brother.
"I think it's a really good time to get together and have fun with the family," Rodriguez said. "I know when my dad's a little stressed out, that's one thing he loves to do — that and fishing."
The four play for bragging rights, not money. And although Rodriguez and his friend are usually partners, the competition between them gets fierce.
"We're very competitive, so anything I like to do, he tries to be better at it than me," Rodriguez said. "But we both know my dad is better."
Seasoned dominoes players are hard core.
"The old-timers are real competitive and they want to get their name put up on the plaque," said Mark Perez, 55, chairman of the Centro Asturiano tournament, referring to a plaque in the building's cantina that bears the names of each year's winning duo. Centro Asturiano members gather at the club every day for casual games, but don't expect to hear them shooting the breeze.
"You can't speak with your opponents," Perez said. Legend has it that monks invented the pastime. "It's just like playing poker; you've gotta read the other guy's hand to play the game."
Traditionally, Western-style dominoes is a partner game with simple rules: One player begins by placing a tile on the table. Players on both teams try to match their pieces with those already on the table, and the first team with a player to get rid of all of his or her dominoes wins.
In Latin America, there are two basic schools of play, double-sixes and double-nines: Under the former, each player starts with nine dominoes, the highest piece in play being double-nine. Centro Asturiano favors this style, which is popular among Spaniards and Cubans.
"Double-sixes are what's popular for today's generation, but we play the vintage game," Perez said. "I've never played the double-sixes, but they tell me it goes faster. They tell me double-nines takes more thought."
Tampa resident Ricardo Roig, 38, learned double-nines from his Cuban father and prefers the retro version of the game.
"We josh with Puerto Ricans that they play sixes because they cannot count to nine," Roig said. "In reality, however, sixes is a more precise game."
In double-sixes, each player draws seven dominoes and the highest value in play is the double-six. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and South Americans traditionally play this style.
"It's easier," said Rodriguez, the 19-year-old.
Despite their different preferences, both Rodriguez and Roig agree that they owe their love of the game to their Latin roots.
"I doubt that I would play dominoes if I wasn't of Cuban heritage," said Roig. "I would probably be playing euchre or some such game."
Where to learn
Here are three places to try your hand at double-sixes.
Tampa Bay Domino Club Wednesdays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Highland Complex, 400 Highland Ave., Largo, (727) 518-3016; www.tampabaydominoclub.com. $3 or free with Highland Rec Center card.
Spring Hill Domino and Social Club Thursdays and Sundays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. 10552 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill, (352) 684-2720; www.springhilldominoeclub.com. Free.
Latin American Domino Club of Brandon Wednesdays 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sundays 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. 11911 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Suite D, Seffner, (813) 956-5167. Free.