Monopoly declares a world champion

Originally Published: October 22, 2009
By Maria Burns Ortiz | Special to Page 2

Palpable tension. Good-natured smack talk. Months, if not years, of preparation leading up to this moment. All eyes on you as you are forced to decide: thimble or top hat?

Welcome to the 13th edition of the Monopoly World Championships, which are being held Oct. 21-22 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Monopoly on 360

Interested in watching the Monopoly World Championships? You can catch a replay of all the action on ESPN360.

This is not the family board game that lasts for hours and hours, as you try to convince your brother to give you Park Place for half price because you're related. This is fast-moving, negotiating-through-translators, playing-for-actual-money Monopoly.

The Monopoly World Championships brings together the top 41 players from around the globe -- and cyberspace, in the case of British cab driver Fay Whistler, who will be representing the virtual Monopoly world -- to contend for the title of Mr. or Ms. Monopoly.

But this isn't just about bragging rights. There's $20,580 (the real-world value of the brightly colored cash that comes with the board game) also up for grabs.

Monopoly Fact Sheet

Monopoly was patented by Parker Brothers in 1935, and is the best-selling commercial board game in history.

Pitched to the board game behemoth by Charles Darrow in the middle of the Great Depression, the company initially passed on the idea, citing several dozen design flaws. But when Darrow sold-out the 5,000 versions of the game that he printed himself, Parker Brothers took another look at Darrow's proposal and snapped the game up. A year later, Monopoly was the most popular board game in the country.

An estimated 275 million boxes of the game have been sold, in 106 countries and 40 different languages.

The longest game on record lasted 70 days. According to Hasbro, records also exist for the longest game played in a treehouse (286 hours), underground (100 hours), in a bathtub (99 hours), and upside down (36 hours). However, in what may mark the end of an era, the speed die was introduced in 2007 to pick up the pace of the game.

More than 200 editions of the game have been produced. There's the NFL edition. (Some would argue the NFL is already a monopoly). The SpongeBob SquarePants edition. (No word on whether that's the version of choice for those partaking in the underwater Monopoly marathons -- yes, people really do that.) The cash-free Electronic Banking edition. (It's the 21st century, just swipe your debit card). Then there's the $100,000 version produced by FAO Schwarz in 2000, which included gold pieces, cold-hard cash and a jewel inlaid board.
-- Maria Burns Ortiz

For those not familiar with Monopoly, it is the most successful commercial board game in the world. Known for its classic look, small metal pieces and popularizing phrases like "Get out of jail free card" and "Pass Go. Collect $200," the goal of the game is to bankrupt your opponents as you buy up properties, charge exorbitant rents and try to stay out of jail.

For the World Championships, each player starts with $1,500, in various denominations of $1 to $500 bills.

Players roll the dice to advance. (This year's championships marks the introduction of the speed die (see rules here), a customized third piece added to help speed up play.)

To refresh your memory, various squares around the board represent properties, which a player can choose to purchase when landing on that spot. If a player opts not to purchase a property, it goes up for auction, and other players bid for the square.

Players seek to build monopolies by purchasing and/or trading for properties of a specific color. Once a player owns all the properties in a color group, he/she can purchase small plastic houses, which increases the rent -- the amount of money another player must pay the property owner when landing on that space. Four houses can be traded for a hotel.

When players run low on funds, they can mortgage properties, sell buildings back to the bank or sell properties to other players.

When a player owes more money than he/she has in cash and properties, he/she must declare bankruptcy and is out of the game.

The finalists represent the best in the imaginary property development sector.

"As the host country of this year's tournament, we are thrilled to welcome all of these talented players to Las Vegas for this great tournament," said Sarah Hoskin, senior brand manager for Hasbro. "Just to get to the Monopoly World Championships, all players have demonstrated first-rate skill and strategy."

Reigning world champion Antonio Zafra Fernandez of Spain will attempt to become the first competitor to win two world titles. The Spaniard will see a few familiar faces, such as Hans-Georg Schellinger of Germany and Leon Hechtman of Australia, who are seeking to avenge their defeat at the 2004 World Championships in Tokyo, the last time the global event was held.

[+] EnlargeMonopoly Champ
HasbroHere's the U.S. champ, Rick Marinaccio.

But the big story might be Rick Marinaccio, the Buffalo, N.Y., native whose first foray into the world of competitive Monopoly came as an under-the-radar competitor at the U.S. national championships in April. Now the underdog finds himself with a target on his back as the game's biggest tournament comes to his home country.

Marinaccio seeks to bring the title back to the United States for the first time since 1974 -- or, to put it into perspective, almost a decade before the 26-year-old was born.

Negotiation skills -- and a few lucky rolls of the dice -- will mean the difference between building luxury hotels on Boardwalk and going bankrupt.

"You have to make it seem as if the other player is getting a good deal when really you have an ulterior motive," said Marinaccio, leaving himself open to a wry comment about how that same principle might apply in his professional life, where he's a corporate attorney.

However, his challengers can be certain he won't show such vulnerability when it comes to the tournament. There's no room for weakness at the final table in this winner-take-all contest.

Like all competitions, the Monopoly World Championships is going to come down to who's at the top of his (or her) game -- literally.

Maria Burns Ortiz covers social media for ESPN Playbook. She began writing for in 2006, covering college soccer for ESPNSoccernet.