If you’re familiar with the small town of Hallettesville, you may know a few things about it. It’s home to the Lavaca County Courthouse; it hosts an annual Kolache Festival and Fiddlers’ Frolic state championship fiddling contest; and it’s also home to the Knights of Columbus (KC) Council 2433 and their KC Hall, which hosts many community events, dances and fundraisers.
Here’s one thing you may not know about this quaint city, though: Inside the Hallettesville KC Hall is the Texas Domino Hall of Fame, where many of the most respected domino players to have “thrown bones” in the Texas State Championship Domino Tournament throughout its 66 years are recognized. Each inductee is depicted in a frame featuring their picture and a short biography about their lives, families, hobbies and bits about their domino playing experience.
The Hall of Fame’s Roots
The Hall of Fame is relatively young compared to the tournament it’s affiliated with. The Texas State Championship Domino Tournament began in 1954 as a fundraiser sponsored by the local KCs for Sacred Heart High School’s athletic program, as it still is. A charter was obtained from the very first tournament, officially recognizing it as “THE” Texas state championship, justifying each year’s winners in their claim to state title fame.
Interestingly, you don’t have to be Texan to play in the tournament or hold the Texas state champion title. While players from all over the state come to participate in the tournament, teams from other states, like Oklahoma and Louisiana, attend and compete as well.
According to Texas Domino Hall of Fame Chairman Glen Bludau, anyone can participate. “But this is a competitive group, so you want to have some domino skills,” he said. One team participating this year is an 11-year old girl and her grandfather—a first for the competition. Bludau notes, however, “These players won’t take it easy just because there’s a little girl playing; it’s part of learning the game.”
This year’s tournament expects to see over 90 teams. Tournaments this size take quite a while to finish. While time limits have been instituted since the competition’s earlier years to help keep the event’s time length manageable, Bludau recalls one tournament that lasted 22 hours!
Establishing the Texas Domino Hall of Fame
More than 30 years after the Texas State Championship Domino Tournament began, organizers conceived the Texas Domino Hall of Fame. “Some people had been coming to play and support us year-after-year, so we felt like this was a way of honoring long-time participants,” Bludau said.
In 1990, the first two honorees were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and two have been inducted every year since. The Hall of Fame committee considers nominations and votes to determine who will be honored each year. This will be the 30th year of inductions, bringing the total number of honorees to 60.
As far as requirements for nominees go, more than domino skills and winnings are considered, Bludau explained. Character, having a good reputation among peers and how long nominees have participated in the state tournament are some of the other criteria weighed. “You don’t have to be the best player; reputation matters, also. You can’t just play the game here for a few years. You have to pay your dues first. The last inductees were 85- and 91-years old and still come play [in the state tournament]. It’s a pretty impressive club.”
Also impressive, says Bludau, is the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It takes place the morning of the state championship tournament, prior to the games beginning. Families of the honorees come to witness their loved ones be recognized.
Family and Fame
Joseph “Poochy” Kridler, son of 1972 Texas State Domino Champion and 1992 Texas Domino Hall of Fame inductee Randle “Poochy” Kridler, remembers going to his dad’s induction ceremony when he was a senior in high school. “It was really neat to see him being honored. We got to be on the stage with him,” Kridler recalls.
The senior Kridler, who has since passed away, was an excellent player, says his son. “Dad was always good at knowing what was in the other players’ hands and predicting what they’d play next—or what they should’ve played next. My dad used to try explaining it to me.”
Kridler himself has played in the state championship tournament for approximately 20 years. His ritual before the tournament begins is going into the Hall of Fame Room to see his father’s picture hanging in the case and saying a little prayer.
Although the younger Kridler has yet to win the state champion title, he appreciates being able to play against some of the more seasoned teams at the tournament, some of whom even played with his father. “There is a comradery among domino players, and playing against more experienced players makes you better. You have to focus and pay attention and anticipate the next player’s move. Anybody can play a stacked hand, but it’s hard to figure out how to play a bad hand without giving up too many points. I like that part.”
When asked if he hopes to one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Kridler responded, “Yeah. I’d like to. It would be an honor for me, and I feel like it would honor my dad also.”
Experience of a Hall of Famer
If you ask Lawrence Kuntschik, 2011 Texas Domino Hall of Fame inductee, how long he’s been playing dominos, he’ll tell you he’s 76—so probably 74 years. “There were five domino halls in town when I was growing up, and there were usually lines to get in to play,” he recalls as he talks about growing up playing the game.
Kuntschik has been competing in the Texas State Championship Domino tournament since the ‘60s, winning second place in 2008. The tournament that year lasted until 2 a.m.
He has also attended the World Championship tournament in Andalusia, Alabama for at least 25 years. When Kuntschik first started organizing the annual trip, he was part of a group of four who traveled in a customized van with a driver, so they could play dominos on the road there and back. The group has since grown, so they now rent an RV with room for everyone to play while riding, allowing time to complete about 65 games on the 1200-mile round trip.
Along with the state and world championship tournaments, Kuntschik plays in several others throughout the year. He also games three or four times a week with several groups. He enjoys the challenge of dominoes. “You try to understand what [your opponents] have and try to avoid them getting points,” he said.
What Kuntschik has enjoyed most about the Texas State Domino Championship are the friends he’s made and people he’s met over the decades. “You see a lot of the same people over the years.” He enjoys playing with everyone.
As for being inducted into the Texas Domino Hall of Fame, he expressed feeling very honored, and he appreciated being recognized. Words of advice Kuntschick offers for Hall of Fame hopefuls and less experience players include, “It’s not just about making 5 or 10 [points]. There’s a list of things to think about—like don’t bring a missing suite, and don’t give opponents a spinner.”
2020 Texas State Championship Domino Tournament and Texas Domino Hall of Fame Induction
This year’s Texas State Domino Tournament and Texas Domino Hall of Fame induction take place on January 19. More details, including a list of past winners, tournament rules and registration information can be found at kchall.com.