‘Slammin’ Da Bones’: Domino tournament gives skid row players a chance for friendly competition

Mark Abraham, left, Carl Russell, Damon James and Anthony Donnon participate in the Skid Row Housing Trust dominoes championship tournament at the Abbey Apartments in downtown L.A. on Tuesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The moment had come to find out who would be the 2018 “Slammin’ Da Bones” champions of skid row.

But not before two little disagreements between the dominoes contestants and the organizers got ironed out — in the contestants’ favor.

“We’re going to play outside,” peer advocate manager Anthony Haynes informed the teams from six of Skid Row Housing Trust’s downtown buildings that had assembled Tuesday morning in the dining hall of Abbey Apartments near 6th and San Pedro streets.


The tournament is usually held in the open air. But the terrace was damp and gray Tuesday.

“It’s cold out there,” someone said, touching off a deafening chorus:

“We want to play here.”

The next issue was the music.

“The music is outside,” Haynes said. “If you all want the music you have to go outside.”

Well, not quite. Spectators — mostly Skid Row Housing Trust’s professional staff — unhooked the speakers and brought them inside.

Jeffrey Halbrook, a case manager from the New Genesis Apartments, plugged in his phone and selected some “dancing hip-hop from the ’80s” to get things started.

The defending champions, from Star Apartments, picked up the game from childhood in different parts of the country.

Bobbie Simmons holds her dominoes during the tournament Tuesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times )

Colorado native Carl Russell, 61, said he’s been playing dominoes “since I could walk.”

His partner Anthony Donnon, 55, of Los Angeles said he started playing at 15.

The game is quicker than chess.

“If it was chess you’d spend all day playing one game,” Haynes said.

Halbrook described dominoes as way for skid row’s residents “to challenge each other and to have social interactions.”

The game can be intense, but with a little less pondering and a lot more posturing than chess. After each turn the next player must recalculate the sum of the dots on all the end pieces and try to place a domino that brings the new total to a multiple of five.


Russell, who was a carpenter before he lost his job and whose ankle was shattered in an accident, plays it cool, peering silently under a wide-brimmed leather hat, holding his dominoes like poker cards, bobbing his head rhythmically to the music.

Donnon, who was an auto mechanic before what he described as a “vacation” sent him on a path he is now coming out of, slammed his dominoes on the table to punctuate every good play with a loud cracking noise.

And during the semifinal, he kept up a one-way chatter with the two women from Abbey Apartments, becoming more voluble as his team’s victory became clear.

“I like to have fun,” he said.

“He just likes to flirt,” Russell said.

Lunch was served before the Star team met St. Mark’s Hotel Apartments.

For the second year, the trophy went to Star.

Twitter: @LATDoug