Roger Craig, a soft-spoken tire salesman from Harrisburg, Ill., is on his way to Monte Carlo to build more monopolies.
Craig is the mild-mannered Midwesterner who mercilessly bankrupted a teenager and an elderly citizen last October. He did it to become the U.S. National Monopoly Game Champion.
On Sept. 13, he’ll vie for the world title against champions from 35 other countries who, speaking a variety of languages, will push teeny doggies, hats, thimbles and irons around a game board for a grand prize exceeding $15,000. That’s real money.
“It will be an opportunity,” the 35-year-old Craig said with understatement.
Fact is, most folks from the farming town of Harrisburg (pop. 12,000) don’t fly to Monaco at a game maker’s invitation to roll dice, pass GO, build mini-empires with plastic hotels and houses, and hobnob with a local prince.
Craig figures he drew one of the best CHANCE cards life can offer. Actually, it’s not all chance. Acquaintances say that under Craig’s gentle veneer lurks a shrewd salesman who could sell Donald Trump a retread, and make him feel good about it.
“He does our business proud,” said Larry Noah, manager of Raben Tire Co., where Craig works.
Harrisburg Mayor John Cummins - who answered his own phone on the first ring - said Craig is probably the town’s most famous citizen to date.
“We baked him a giant cake that looks like a Monopoly board,” Cummins said.
Craig was in Boston Tuesday wrapping up last-minute details with Parker Bros., which claims Monopoly is the world’s most popular game. World records are maintained for the longest game in a treehouse (286 hours), longest underground game (100 hours), longest game in a bathtub (99 hours), and longest game played upside-down (36 hours).
Craig, who prefers his game the regular way, started playing in the family living room at age 5. By the time he reached his teens, he was winning local tournaments.
Monopoly is a game of greed, conceived at the height of the Depression by Charles Darrow of Germantown, Pa. The object is to become the wealthiest player on the board, driving opponents into bankruptcy by buying, selling, renting and trading properties.
The trades are what make or break the game, Craig explained. Generally, the first 30 minutes are spent buying up property. Then players cut the deals that build the color monopolies. Craig is partial to orange (St. James Place, New York and Tennessee Avenues) and red (Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois Avenues) because they offer the best return on investment. Boardwalk and Park Place are seldom worth the expense, he added.
A game is never won by owning utilities or railroads, according to Craig, though those properties make decent trading tools. In tournament play, the Free Parking corner on the board never becomes a place to collect extra cash - which is why games in Monte Carlo, unlike those in tree houses, seldom last more than 90 minutes.
Craig is banking on lucky dice rolls and competitors who speak enough English to take his deals.