April 2, 2006


After Luck With Poker, ESPN Bets on New York Dominoes (COREY KILGANNON, 4/02/06, NY Times)

"We think it will be the next cool thing," said Lino Garcia, the general manager of ESPN Deportes. "We're connecting with the best places dominoes is played, so naturally we're going to start in uptown Manhattan and the Bronx, the places where it really happens."

Mr. Garcia said he hopes to repeat the success the network has had with poker — its World Series of Poker is its highest-rated regular series. Like poker, domino games offer plenty of suspense and drama at the table, with clever decision-making and reading the strategies of other players all pivotal to winning. The network will also televise the world championships next year from the Dominican Republic.

The plan, Mr. Garcia said, is not only to present dominoes in world-class tournaments and flashy celebrity domino events the way the network showcases poker, but also to capture the excitement and charm of "the highly energetic games on street corners and small clubs in basements where guys go every day."

New York's neighborhoods are filled with characters who come together to play on Spanish Harlem sidewalks, Bronx parks and in basement and backroom clubs in Washington Heights. Older men in caps and young men in muscle-T's and gold chains go at it, slapping dominoes onto flimsy tables, speaking in Spanish in games lubricated by Presidente beer and salsa music.

This was the scene recently at a dominoes club in the Bronx called Hijos y Amigos de Altamira, which means children and friends of Altamira, a town in the Dominican Republic. Housed in rented space above a bar on Westchester Avenue, the club, which is one of those being scouted by ESPN, is a band of countrymen — almost every member is from Altamira, a small town that prides itself on its crop of baseball and domino players.

"I've been playing dominoes all my life, but I never thought I'd see it on TV," said Augusto Montan, 55, one of the club's members. "We always thought of it as a game to pass the time, but it does have all the elements people love: the competition, the trash-talking, the color, and it's old school."

The club embodies exactly what ESPN is looking for in a neighborhood domino setting. Young and old men alike sat at domino tables and shuffled a mess of face-down tiles and then picked their domino hands. Members have nicknames like el Natural. Their wives, girlfriends and daughters play bingo and tend to the homemade Dominican food and serve $2 beers from a small bar. The children race around, practicing traditional Latin dance steps and gathering at tables to watch, learn and root.

"Dominoes is the national pastime of Dominican Republic: it's as simple as that," said one club member, Louis Keyser, 72. "Over there, a little kid gets a bat and ball put in his hand as soon as he can walk, and from the moment he's tall enough to see the table, he learns how to play dominoes."

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 2, 2006 9:49 AM

It's funny that you mention chess, b/c soccer has always seemed to me the team sport that most captures what's exciting about chess, which is one of the many reasons why it is the beautiful game.

(Anyone catch the Nike joga bonita commercials with Eric "The Great" Cantona? There's a great one out with Wayne Rooney and Alex Ferguson and several other ManUnited players).

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 2, 2006 12:03 PM

Except that chess requires skill.

Posted by: oj at April 2, 2006 12:06 PM

No it requires intelligence and flair. Like soccer. The beautiful game. Which reminds me, I've got 2 Italian serie a matches tivoed from earlier this morning that I need to watch, and the Schalke 04/Hamburg match is recording at the moment.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 2, 2006 12:14 PM

An increase in immigration from Latin America has and will continue to increase American interest in soccer.

Posted by: Vince at April 2, 2006 12:32 PM

ssshhh vince, don't let OJ know he's on the side of the nativists on this one . . .

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 2, 2006 12:45 PM

Hispanics have spastic kids too--they need kickball.

Posted by: oj at April 2, 2006 12:50 PM

Who looks more spastic Randy Johnson or Ronaldinho?

There's much great gracefullness in the beautiful game than in baseball -- John Kruk, call your agent -- much as I love baseball.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 2, 2006 5:32 PM