With Monopoly just having turned 80 this year, many real-life personal-finance lessons can be learned from the classic money-loving board game, which is now made in 47 languages and sold in 114 countries.
Brian Valentine, 30, the 8th-grade teacher from Washington, D.C. who was the American representative and placed third at the World Championships in Macau offers a few tips.
“Know what your purpose is, keep your eye on the ball, and do it without being a bully,” says Valentine, who was edged out by champions from Italy and Norway.
Some specific strategies to win in both Monopoly and life:
It is all about location, location, location
Not all properties are created equal, as every buyer needs to know. In Monopoly, some get landed on much more than others – Illinois Avenue and B&O Railroad most of all, according to the game’s maker, Hasbro.
Most competitive Monopoly players tend to focus on the orange property group (New York Ave., Tennessee Ave. and St. James Place) or the red (Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky Aves.), says Valentine.
But some that are popular with regular players are overvalued, according to Valentine. In particular, he shies away from the yellows (Marvin Gardens, Ventnor Ave and Atlantic Ave.), greens (Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Pacific Aves.) and dark blues (Park Place and Boardwalk).
The bottom line: Know your game, in whatever market you are playing.
Even though there is now a mobile app, Monopoly is traditionally a face-to-face game. That means that how you interact with people is going to affect the outcome.
“You can have lots of money and properties, but a lot of the game comes down to human interaction and your ability to make deals with people,” says Mary Pilon, author of the book “The Monopolists” about the origins and history of the game.
Do not stretch yourself too thin
Of course you want to collect multiple properties. But if you overspend and do not keep enough of a cash cushion in reserve, then you could go bust by landing on someone else’s property.
“While I was writing the book I was also buying an apartment, so the Monopoly themes got really meta,” says Pilon. “I never buy more house than I can afford, in the game or in real life. It makes me nervous just thinking about it.”
Read your opponents
Just as in poker, the game is often not about the cards you are holding, but about the person holding those cards. Brian Valentine, for instance, made a concerted effort to get to know the people he was playing against at the World Championships, to gain insight and generate goodwill.
A corollary of that: “Don’t underestimate people by how they look,” says Pilon. “I have a grandmother in her late 80s – tiny, churchgoing, harmless – who is an absolute killer at the Monopoly table. She turns into somebody else.”
Buy income generators
Many Monopoly players turn up their noses at railroads (Reading, Pennsylvania, B&O, and Short Line) or utilities (Water Works and Electric Company). Since you cannot put houses or hotels on them, they have a much lower ceiling of how much rent you can potentially collect.
But ignore them at your peril, because all those rent payments may become very attractive. “They won’t be enough to win the game all on their own, but they will give you a constant revenue stream.” says Valentine.
Never discount luck
As any successful person will tell you, luck plays a role in getting to the top. Same thing with Monopoly.
“At the end of the day, it is still a game of dice,” says Valentine. “No matter how strategic you are, you still don’t really know how the game is going to turn out.”