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Last updated 12:44AM ET
March 2, 2021
Alabama
Alabama
Cragford Native is World Domino Champ
(2007-09-15)
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Sometimes, the bones just break your way.

That's the way things went for Clay County resident Steve Hanners, and believe it or not, that's not a bad thing.

Hanners of Cragford took first place in doubles in the World Domino Championship in Andalusia in July. The "bones," as many players call the white-dotted domino tiles, were kind to him and his partner throughout the tournament.

"Dominoes is a lot of luck and a lot of skill," said Hanners, who had been going to the tournament for 21 years.

The tournament is one of the biggest domino tournaments in the country and the winner earns the right to call himself "World Domino Champion," a trademarked term, according to tournament publicity chairman Benny Gay.

Gay put the tournament's importance in terms a golfer could understand.

"We'd like to think that it's the Masters," he said Friday in a phone interview.

The tournament, which started in 1976, is put on by the Andalusia Rotary Club and draws about 300 players annually, said Gay, who is the Rotarians president-elect.

The tournament has seen international domino players from China, Ireland and Belgium.

Old-timers usually break out historic dominoes at the tournament, Gay said.

Some of the specimens date back to the Civil War.

Like any other game, dominoes has its legends.

Hanners says the name of the late 12-time Andalusia champ James Morgan of Bassfield, Miss., just like a baseball fan might talk about slugger Ted Williams.

During the tournament, the Rotary Club shows slides of past tournament players on the walls, including a few pictures from the 1978 match between the late Alabama coach Bear Bryant and comedian Jerry Clower.

"There's a certain nostalgia associated with it," Hanners said. "When you think about poker you normally think about gambling. When you think about dominoes you think about the front porch, grandpa and old-time values."

Profits from the tournament go to the Rotary Foundation, which distributes the money to charitable causes, Gay said.

Hanners and his partner, Mike Haire of Booneville, Miss., profited too, splitting $3,000.

The top eight places in singles and doubles get money; the top four also get trophies.

The Cragford well-driller's victory at this year's competition was no fluke. He won fourth in singles competition in 2000, and third in 2006. In doubles, he was runner-up in 2005.

The tournament Hanners won is best out of three, double elimination. The partners who win two out of three matches move on to the next round. After about a dozen rounds, the champion is crowned.

In competition dominoes, players begin with a spinner and build branches off the original tile by matching the number of dots, called pips, on the spinners with the bones in their hands. Players get points whenever they lay down a tile that causes the number of pips on the ends of the branches to add up to a multiple of five.

"The play that you're making is not really it," Hanners said. "It's the next one that you need to be thinking about."

Doubles dominoes, according to Hanners, adds the complication of personality differences to the game's challenge.

Hanners said that when he was runner up in 2005, he was happy to have made it that far.

His partner was not, he said, safely declining to give any further details.

Doubles also opens the door for cheating.

Hanners said over the years, people have tried to cheat by sending a code to their partners through tapping a pencil on the table.

Others have been caught sending signals by hand gestures or by touching certain tiles.

Though the game sounds complicated, Gay said they have had competitors as young as 4 show up and play in the tournament's children's division.

Hanners' son Tyler, who started playing dominoes when he was 5 years old, played in the tournament for the first time this year and received a participation trophy.

"I might take it in for show and tell," said the 7-year-old, who plans to play in the tournament "every year."

He said the tournament can be a challenge, but he said he liked meeting other kids.

"I've got two Mississippi friends (because of the tournament)" he said.

Hanners said his son's performance was good, but there was one habit he needed to break.

"When he gets a good hand of fives, he starts to smile," Hanners said, then smiling himself. "We've got to work on that."

Even with adults, any subconscious signals can give clues to opponents.

"It's a little bit like poker," Gay said. "They're watching each other's faces and hands."

There's much more to it than just hiding emotions.

Hanners said it's just as important to read your opponent's hand as to play your own.

"You need to know a lot of what they've got by the second time around," Hanners said.

He said most inexperienced players make the mistake of not being aggressive enough.

He takes to heart some advice once given to him by an older player.

"You can't play scared dominoes."

Aside from that, Hanners said practice and knowing the game is the key.

He said he plays only a couple of times a month with real dominoes, but practices on a handheld domino video game every morning.

But when the inevitable mistakes are made, other players remember.

"There's domino players that'll talk about plays they made two years ago," Hanners said. "That bad play I made in 2005 is still being talked about."

Now Hanners can bring out his new trophy the next time anyone brings that up.

___

Information from: The Anniston Star, http://www.annistonstar.com/


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