Through the years the same sort of people who swallow goldfish and cram into Volkswagens have played Monopoly games in the oddest places: on a ceiling, on a moving elevator, on a fire truck, in a bathtub. Parker Brothers, the game's manufacturer, cheerfully cooperated in these stunts, but in 1973 the company decided to institute a more orthodox competition of its own: normal people playing normal Monopoly games under normal conditions to determine a world champion.
Parker Brothers' first efforts to persuade the capitalists of the world to unite were halfhearted; in 1973 and 1974 the field for the tournament was fewer than 500. But things began to pick up in 1977, when there were 5,000 participants. The championships were then scheduled to take place every three years. The two years of playoffs leading to the 1980 finals drew more than 10,000 entrants from 17 countries in North America, Europe and the Pacific. And then, 17 national champions and the defending world champion, Kwa Chong Seng, 34, of Singapore, gathered at the Southampton Princess Hotel in Bermuda a month ago to compete for the title and a trip for two anywhere in the world.
With more publicity, the field could easily have been 10 times as large. In the 45 years since Monopoly was first marketed, more than 80 million sets have been sold in 29 countries. Parker Brothers puts out the game in 19 languages, and to meet the yearly demand, the company prints nearly twice as much paper money as the U.S. Treasury Department.
But although ordinary folk, even children, can play Monopoly, doing it well is not child's play. A good Monopolist must be able to calculate probable rates of return on investment, conjure up imaginative multi-player deals, decide when to apply pressure or persuasion and be inordinately greedy.
Indeed, greed is the enduring attraction of Monopoly. The game vaulted into popularity during the Depression, when everybody had plenty of nothing, and it remains a favorite of the young and ambitious. None of the players in Bermuda, for instance, was older than 40, and none had amassed a fortune other than on a Monopoly board.
The most driven contestant was Dana (Terrible) Terman, 24, a chunky, curly-haired car salesman from Wheaton, Md. Terman had finished sixth in 1977, and he had vowed not to fall short again. He studied the trading habits of the various nationalities represented in the tournament, and he memorized statistics so that he "wouldn't have to think about probabilities any more than Willie Mays had to think about catching a fly ball."
Terman psyched himself up relentlessly. On the plane he read 1000 Ways To Win Monopoly Games. He wore a T shirt that announced I'M MONOPOLY MAD, and while other competitors ate six-course dinners and put-putted around on motorbikes, Terman fasted and jogged. "The Greek ideal," he said. "A sound mind in a sound body."
In the four preliminary round-robin games, Terman played astutely, milking minor holdings until he could patch together profitable combinations. And his prospects for the title brightened when defending champion Kwa took a nosedive to 17th place. Disheartened, Kwa announced he was hanging up his token.
But others challenged Terman, most notably Greg Jacobs, 29, of Australia, who is, aptly enough, a real estate agent. Jacobs had endured a 32-hour trip to Bermuda, and he looked like death warmed over; he hunched forward in his chair, sweating and blinking, with property cards and money jumbled before him. But he made deft property trades and bled his opponents' resources cunningly.
Along with Terman and Jacobs, the qualifiers for the five-man championship game included: Urs Krebs, 24, a Swiss data processing operator: Bernard Lutz, 26, a French civil servant; and the crowd's favorite, Cesare Bernabei, 29, an Italian with a Ph.D. in electronics. Even in the tensest situations, the handsome Bernabei, who also plays tournament chess, puffed calmly on his pipe and chattered amiably: "So you must pay me $24. Is cheap, is cheap. I owe you two dollars. You would like maybe three?"
Bernabei explained his sang-froid thusly: "I don't have to worry about making a mistake, because the game is 95% luck. It must be, because in my last two practice games before the Italian championships, my sister and my girl friend each beat me."
Such banter tended to obscure the fact that Bernabei has a very able mind. And he had no intention of conceding a thing. When he won the advantage of rolling first in the final game and Terman offered him $200 to exchange positions, Bernabei replied. "Sure, for 200 real dollars."
Once the game began, Terman quickly picked up both Boardwalk and Park Place, the two best rent-producing properties. In short order, Jacobs and Lutz each hit Boardwalk, went bankrupt, and the game seemed over—a Bermuda Pentangle in which everyone but Terman was doomed to disappear.
But Terman was playing too close to the vest. He acquired the green monopoly (Pacific, North Carolina and Pennsylvania Aves.) but didn't mortgage and build on it; and when the purple monopoly (St. Charles Place, States and Virginia Aves.) became available, he let it go to Bernabei for a mere $400.
After an hour, Terman began to slip, and things turned Bernabei's way. He hop-scotched safely through the minefield of opponents' properties, while they paid rent to him with depressing regularity. At the two-hour mark, Krebs and Terman were eliminated.
When the new champion was asked if he still thought Monopoly was 95% luck, he replied as modestly as before, "Certainly not—the percentage should be 99.99%."
Bernabei won't defend his title until 1983, but local playoffs have already begun. The weeding-out process is democratic: anyone over the age of eight may play, and any group of at least 24 can conduct a playoff. For instructions and registration forms, write to Monopoly Tournament Director, Parker Brothers, 50 Dunham Road, Beverly, Mass. 01915. Each winner and runner-up advances to regional competition. All one needs is a little skill, lots of luck—and greed.