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The Virginian-Pilot & The Ledger-Star

The Domino Effect : Game A Main Feature In Beach's First Latin American Festival


May 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Virginian-Pilot & The Ledger-Star, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

VIRGINIA BEACH - The game of dominoes is a lot like life, according to player Ruben Ruiz: about 75 percent is luck. The rest is how you use what you've got.

Ruiz and his partner used their dominoes well Sunday, and luck smiled on them, too: The pair won the "Juego del Barrio" domino championship after two days of spirited play at the Oceanfront. The competition was part of the city's first Latin American Festival, which ran from Friday to Sunday.

Despite chilly, windy weather, the festival attracted nearly 5,000 people, said Leo Ortiz, a Beach Events production manager and driving force behind the event.

Ortiz has family members in Miami who play dominoes for hours at a stretch, and he figured the game was popular enough that it could bring together Hispanic players from various backgrounds.

It did.

The winning team featured Ruiz, a native of Puerto Rico who lives in Newport News, and Fernando Samuels, a Virginia Beach resident who hails from Panama. The pair met for the first time before the initial round of play Saturday, when twelve teams were whittled down to four.

On Sunday, after watching a semifinal game that lasted two hours, they beat the father-son team of George and Sam Roman. They'll split $300 and two domino tables made by hand for the tournament.

The other two tables and $200 go to the Romans, who play dominoes for hours almost every night. Besides the prizes, the tournament was special because father and son rarely get to team up, said the younger Roman.

"When we play at home, we can't play together. We're too good," he said.

Ortiz was disappointed that the weather forced the games inside. On Saturday, the tournament moved to a game room at a beachfront haunted house. On Sunday, play moved to a back room in the Beach Events office on Laskin Road, blocks away from the music and food that filled 24th Street Park.

For spectators, the game is almost as enjoyable to hear as it is to watch.

First comes the cacophony of 28 domino tiles colliding together as they're shuffled. As play starts, dominoes hit the board with a click - or a slam, depending on the player. Interspersed through it is the thump-thump of a finger on the table, signaling that a player is passing.

Talking ceased during Sunday's rounds until someone would slam their last domino on the board to end the hand. Then comments would erupt - in English, in Spanish, sometimes seguing from one to another mid-sentence.

Third-place team member Henry Gonzalez said, growing up in the Dominican Republic, he learned to count by playing dominoes. He described the game as "kind of like chess, but with more math involved."

For Ruiz, the festival was worth the drive back and forth from Newport News three days in a row.

"I'll be here next year, you bet," the champion said before heading to the big stage to accept his trophy.

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