Monopoly Champions Battle for $20,580

October 23rd, 2009 by LAS VEGAS (Oct. 22) – Rarely in the history of Free Parking and Marvin Gardens has there ever been assembled a brain trust like this one.
They may hail from all over the world and they may normally play with fake money of different denominations, but in one fabulously lavish ballroom at Caesars Palace this week some of the most important Monopoly champions of our time were just waiting to divulge their secrets.
No, really. Forty-one players from 40 nations battled at the two-day World Monopoly Championship that, momentarily, moved the center of a fantastical universe where real estate values never change to this city where real estate values seem only to plummet. At stake was a $20,580 grand prize.
But in Monopoly, as in life — by which we do not mean the board game Life, which has no world championships yet, as far as we know — there are strategies. There are smart and dumb moves, there’s getting lucky and making your own luck.
At least, that’s how 75-year-old Leland Bayrd of Los Angeles sees it. He won the first Monopoly World Championship back in 1973 when four players competed at a session at the now-defunct Grossinger’s Hotel in the Catskills. (Hasbro, which owns Monopoly, stages the World Championships sporadically, including 2000, 2004 and this year in this decade. Nobody seems to know why.)
Since his triumph — which was covered by CBS, Playboy, Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, he said — Bayrd has been an indefatigable promoter of his favorite board game, even though he admitted he once received a terse letter from the company when he opened “I Scream Monopoly,” a short-lived ice cream shop in Beverly Hills.
“Do you know about the housing shortage?” asked the game’s elder statesman with a devilish grin.
“Housing shortage means there are only 32 houses included in the game of Monopoly,” tutored Bayrd, who was not a competitor in this week’s tournament. “When you run out of them, nobody can buy any more of them. Most people don’t know that. Early in the game, never, never, never build hotels. What happens? If you get four houses on each property, you now control 12 houses of 32 of the game, see?”
Who knew there was so much to this?
Turns out, lots of people at Caesars this week did. German champion Hans-Georg Schellinger, a 45-year-old refrigerator mechanic, also touted the houses-and-hotels strategy. Schellinger finished first in Wednesday’s action after the 41 competitors played three games each, for which they earned points for bankrupting others or based on their net worth at the end of the 75-minute sessions. The round of 16 took place on Thursday morning, hours before the final four faced off in an untimed finale.
This year, it took only 45 minutes for Bjorn Halvard Knappskog, a student from Oslo, Norway, to eliminate the remaining players, who hailed from Russia, Canada and New Zealand.
Before getting knocked out, Schellinger, who won Germany’s title in 2004, explained why he was fixated on home construction.
“You have to stay cool and you have to make good deals and you have to feel important to build houses correctly,” he said. “Between two and three houses is the biggest benefit. I would use all my money to build three houses and hold the rest of my money to pay rent to others. The rent goes up between the second and third house more than between the third house and the hotel.”
The big house Schelling really loves, though, is jail. In Monopoly, if you go to jail you can get out by using a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, paying $50 before rolling or roll doubles. Otherwise, you cool your heels there for three turns before paying the $50 fine and moving on.
“Being in jail is the best place,” he crowed, like a member of the Mafia or the German equivalent. “In jail, you can collect rent, you can build houses, you can do anything but you don’t pay rent. You have two moves and nothing to do.”
Cutthroat, right? This tournament is about the farthest thing from the homey kitchen-table play that most conjure up when they think of the 75-year-old game. For one thing, this competition involved hundreds of spectators, official judges and bankers, plus language translators to facilitate deals between the far-flung opponents.
A man dressed in a tuxedo and top hat with a huge handlebar mustache stalked the scene as the game’s “Mr. Monopoly” mascot. The New Zealand champion brought 15 of his friends for a rowdy cheering section and a crew of filmmakers was on hand to film every dice roll for a documentary about the game, “Under The Boardwalk,” expected out next year.
They’re sure to include Bayrd, Schelling and Yutaka Okada, the world champion in 2000 who is now the executive director of the 1,000-strong Japanese Monopoly Association. Yet Okada seemed to offer only general advice: “Do what you must to stay in the game. Never give up. Be honorable. In Monopoly, your reputation is very important.”
One tactic that everyone agreed on was the grave importance of acquiring “the oranges,” or stopping others from gaining a foothold there. Those are the group of three properties — in the American version that’s St. James Place, Tennessee Avenue and New York Avenue — and they’re the most-visited spaces on the board. This is a mathematical fact, Bayrd said, because there are draw cards that take players to jail, to the Electric Company and to St. Charles Place, all of which are a die’s throw from “the oranges.”
You’d think the 2004 champion, Antonio Zafra Fernandez, 41, of Madrid, would have some useful words of wisdom, especially as he represented Spain once again and finished ninth on Wednesday to qualify for the final day of competition. Yet his best explanation for his success was simple. “I get lucky with the dice,” he said “That’s all there is to it.”
Somehow I got the feeling that Fernandez was following another one of Bayrd’s tips: “Don’t go telling everyone what your strategy is.”

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment. You are free to voice your opinion but please keep it clean. Any comments using profanity will be rejected.