I mean, really.
In the thirty years since that fateful day, I gave very little thought to Monopoly except of course when McDonald's used it as some sort of game promotion. Big Macs and fries have been a staple of my nutrition program for as long as I can remember, so my exposure to McNopoly was bound to happen sooner or later. One Saturday afternoon, I peeled Marvin Gardens off my large order of fries and discovered that I was one-third of the way to winning a 1997 Jeep Wrangler, unless I happened to be related to an employee of McDonald's or Parker Brothers or their affiliates, which I wasn't. But aside from the McDonald's thing, the game of Monopoly didn't cross my mind again until a couple years ago when a teacher at my school started using it as a way to reinforce his sixth grade students' math skills.
Tim Vandenberg is an outstanding teacher. His students love coming to school, he spends time getting to know them and teaching them in a way that ensures success, and his class consistently scores at the top of the charts as far as state testing goes. Tim is also a Monopoly wizard. He has systematically determined all the statistical probabilities involved in the game. I'm not talking about dice rolls, such as how often double-fours come up. Asking Tim to calculate dice probability is like using IBM's 1.025 Petaflop Roadrunner Supercomputer to play Tetris. No, Tim has created a Monopoly board that includes the average rent earned by each property, the chances of landing on various color groups, and precisely how many rolls of the dice will take place before Aunt Jenny blows a gasket and whizzes her battleship token at your head. Basically, Tim Vandenberg is the Monopoly version of Rain Man.
"Uh oh! I just bought St. James Place. Orange monopoly, the most profitable color group on the board with an average rent-per-roll of forty-seven cents, definitely forty-seven cents. With two of my opponents' tokens coming around the corner, there is definitely, definitely a 59 percent chance that one of them will land on an orange property. Better build houses, definitely three houses, because the rent-to-investment ratio is the most advantageous at that level."
He's smart, is what I'm saying.
|Tim (facing camera) competing at the US Championship|
That's what I was thinking also.
When the movie was released on DVD, Tim gave me a copy and I checked it out. I was sort of hoping it would be a compilation of people yelling and arguing, throwing game boards and properties up in the air, pelting each other with cast-iron race cars and thimbles, culminating in a climactic battle scene where a fifteen-year-old kid named Butchie tells his Uncle Frank exactly where he can shove Reading Railroad. Sort of like a Hasbro production of "Sling Blade."
As it turns out, though, "Under the Boardwalk" is fascinating, taking a captivating look at the history of Monopoly and some of the people who play it. The movie wraps up with coverage of the 2009 National and World Championships. Tim, in fact, was runner-up in the U.S. tournament.
With a new-found appreciation of Monopoly, some co-workers and I began playing on a regular basis. Having been somewhat brain-washed by Tim and his mathematical gobblety-gook, I quickly realized that the orange properties are by far the most valuable, the brown and green groups are worthless piles of sheep dung, and when it comes to whizzing a token at your opponent's face, the thimble inflicts the most damage. The rounded side can cause bruising, while the opposite, open-ended side is good for cuts and abrasions. After playing for a few months, a couple colleagues and I had improved our skills to the point where we were beating Tim as often as he was beating us.
One evening, Tim set up a game for three of us to play against Matt McNally, the 2003 U.S. National Monopoly Champion. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but to us it was like being invited to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods, with possibly a lesser chance of nailing a cocktail waitress afterwards. This is not to say that Mr. McNally isn't smooth with the women, but I think you get my drift.
If Vandenberg is Monopoly's Rain Man, Matt McNally is Obi-Wan Kenobi. A soft-spoken, laid-back guy with slick negotiating skills, McNally is fully capable of using the Jedi mind trick to acquire the properties he wants.
"Mr. McNally," says an opponent. "I'll give you Oriental Avenue and the Electric Company for B & O and Reading Railroads."
"You don't want the railroads," replies McNally, waving a hand in the air.
"I don't want the railroads."
|Me and a co-worker Paul with Matt McNally (center)|
"These are not the properties I'm looking for."
"You'll give me your two yellow properties for Baltic Ave."
"I'll give you my yellow properties for Baltic Avenue."
Ten minutes later, McNally has hotels on the yellow group and his opponent is being strangled to death by Darth Vader.
So we got together with Matt and played a couple games. Sure enough, toward the beginning of our first game, Obi-Wan McNally mind-tricked me into giving him the yellows when he had over 900 bucks to spend on buildings. He proceeded to build hotels like Steve Wynn and Donald Trump on a Twinkie-and-Red-Bull bender. The other two players (Paul and another guy named Matt, but we'll call him "Chuck" to avoid confusion) looked at me like I was a complete moron, which of course I am. Before long, Paul and Chuck went bankrupt, leaving me in a head-to-head matchup with Obi-Wan. The odds were completely in his favor, but that's when Lady Luck decided to intervene. For about twenty minutes, I continually skipped over the yellow group while he hit my greens just about every time around the board. It was pure luck, no question about it. Finally, he rolled a six and landed on one of my green properties, Pacific Avenue I believe, and went bankrupt.
So now I can say I defeated a U.S. Monopoly Champion. It's definitely going on my resume.
Brimming with confidence, I signed up to play in a regional Monopoly Tournament in Redlands, California. The event attracted several Monopoly "pros," including a lawyer named Ken Koury, who is featured in the role of Dastardly Villain in "Under the Boardwalk." Koury is a "win-at-all-costs" type of player who will, without any hesitation at all, bilk a Cub Scout out of Park Place if it suits his purposes. He also seems to think that everyone else who plays the game is a cheater, including our old buddy Tim, who Koury dubbed "The Dark Prince of Monopoly."
|Ken Koury's "Stealth Iron," AKA "Exhibit A"|
In the Redlands tournament -- I'm not making this up -- he used a custom iron token that he'd painted to match the color of the Monopoly board, rendering it invisible to the naked eye. That way, his opponents would overlook it and forget to ask him for rent when he landed on their property. To me, this smacks of chicanery. Seriously, if your pre-game preparation includes a trip to the Sherwin-Williams store to pick up a can of 6933 Clean Green touch-up paint, you might be going against the spirit of fun and fair play that the folks at Hasbro originally intended.
I can just hear Attorney Koury making his case in Monopoly Court.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me present Exhibit A, which we will hereafter refer to as 'The Stealth Iron.' According to the Official Monopoly Tournament Rulebook, Article 14, Section C, all players must use one of the tokens included in the tournament game set. Clearly, this rule is in place to maintain the integrity of Monopoly tournaments by banning 'novelty' tokens such as Rocky Raccoon from Beatle-opoly, the milk bottle from the Hello Kitty set, and -- my personal favorite -- the Johnnie Cochran token from the Simpson Edition. The Stealth Iron, however, was originally part of a set that I myself purchased at Tom 's Toy Store in the Glendale Galleria on February 16, 2002. Since the rules do not mention anything at all about altering tokens, I should be allowed to play with my Stealth Iron."
Imagine the havoc that could ensue in future tournaments, if such subterfuge is permitted. Players playing with severed Scottie Dog heads, flattened shoes, and maybe even thimble dust. Mass hysteria!
So anyway, I had a great time playing in the tournament. I placed second in my first round match, while at another table, Koury and his Stealth Iron were bankrupted almost immediately.
Not that I am bragging.
In the second round I was at a table with another tournament regular, a skilled player with a good sense of humor. Early in the game, I acquired all four railroads and built up cash reserves that proved to be insurmountable. Eventually I bankrupted my opponents, and the tournament pro, demonstrating sportsmanship and class that would make the Parker Brothers beam with pride . . .
. . . whizzed his battleship at my face.
***CONGRATULATIONS TO DVSDAVE, WINNER OF THE "UNDER THE BOARDWALK" DVD DRAWING! DAVE, PLEASE E-MAIL ME -- KNUCKLEHEADHUMOR@GMAIL.COM -- WITH YOUR MAILING ADDRESS AND I'LL GET YOUR DVD SENT OUT ASAP.***
 After reading this, Tim texted me letting me know the actual rent-per-roll for St. James Place is 38 cents. See what I mean?
 Followed closely by the Scottie dog.
 Other tokens in Simpson Monopoly include a bloody glove, Judge Ito, Kato Kaelin, a knife, and a Ford Bronco. Also, the Chance deck contains nothing but "Get Out of Jail Free" cards.
 Okay, I made that last bit up. He took the defeat graciously.