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JBSA News
NEWS | Nov. 5, 2014

Dominoes tournament becomes October tradition

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

An annual event started by a Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph civilian employee hasn't been around as long as Major League Baseball's World Series or the Red River Rivalry between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma Sooners, but in its own way it has become an October tradition.

The 14th annual Rafael Rodriguez Jr. Dominoes Tournament attracted 30 players, some from as far away as Florida, New York and California, to the JBSA-Randolph Community Center Oct. 25. Games started at noon and continued for more than 10 hours; the event also featured prizes, entertainment and plenty of great food and fellowship.

"I just like to see people have a good time," Rodriguez, 502nd Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle operator and tournament founder, said. "It's one of those things people enjoy - it's a time for all our friends to get together."

Many of Rodriguez's friends who come to the tournament work at JBSA-Randolph or other JBSA locations.

But some travel hundreds of miles, including Matias Villafane, an aircraft technician from the Miami area.

"This is an opportunity to visit family and meet up with friends I haven't had much time to see in the last 10 years," he said. "Dominoes provides a time to relax."

The game of dominoes is popular throughout Latin America, so the Rodriguez tournament was an appropriate event for JBSA's annual Hispanic Heritage Month. Many players at the tournament trace their ancestry to Latin American countries such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama and Puerto Rico.

"It's a fun game; it's a tradition we have in Latin America," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, who hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., and is of Puerto Rican descent, started the tournament in the living room of his Northeast San Antonio home in 2001 as a gathering of friends.

"After four years, one of my friends said I was paying too much out of my pocket, so we began charging an entry fee to cover the cost of trophies, supplies and food," he said.

The tournament also changed venues, moving in 2006 to the Stone Oak Community Center, where the event grew to 32 players, and in 2011 to the JBSA-Randolph facility.

Along the way, the tournament has become a more official function with a committee, sponsorships and nonprofit status. In addition, raffle tickets are sold at the tournament for prizes and to benefit a charitable organization.

The double-elimination tournament is based on rules established by the Andalusia, Ala., Rotary Club for its World Championship Domino Tournament, Rodriguez said. Two two-player teams compete against each other at each table. The team that reaches 200 points first wins.

"Our rules are very strict," he said. "For example, if you touch a domino on your tray, you have to play it, or you lose 25 points. Also, you can't rearrange the dominoes on your tray."

In addition, talking is not allowed during the games.

Tournament rules encourage a level playing field: Teams are chosen at random through a lottery, except for members of the previous year's championship team, who can again compete together unless one of them is absent from the tourney.

One player placed first three years in a row, from 2008-2010, with three different teammates, Rodriguez noted.

Rodriguez called dominoes "a strategy game."

"It's a game of concentration," he said. "You really have to put your mind into it."

Rodriguez looks forward to the autumn tournament each year.

"It's getting easier all the time," he said. "The hardest part is getting everybody together, but people are committed to it."

Villafane takes vacation time so he can come to the tournament, Rodriguez said.

Another out-of-state visitor, Claudio Wedderburn, an immigration services officer from Brooklyn, said he makes the long trip to Texas "for the camaraderie and the fun.

"Dominoes is competitive, challenges the mind and is a friendly game," he said.