Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lorton Monopoly Tournament

By way of background, Lorton Community Action Center (LCAC) is a local charity that looks after the basic needs and means to self-sufficiency of low-income individuals and families in our area.  In support of LCAC, the real estate agency Ron and Susan Associates sponsors an annual Monopoly tournament as a fund-raising event.  I had the opportunity to participate in Ron and Susan's Seventh Annual Monopoly Tournament last weekend at the Workhouse Arts Center, a converted prison facility that now houses an art gallery and studio spaces for local artists.  Ron Kowalski (of Ron and Susan Associates) worked for Hasbro at one time and is something of a Monopoly enthusiast.  The event was very well run, and the setting in an art gallery was very pleasant.  Lunch was catered by Glory Days.

The first round consisted of about 18 tables of four or five players each.  As is always the case with gaming events like this, half the fun is meeting new people and sharing their enjoyment of a boardgame, whether it is casual or serious.  I played with Robin, Crystal, and Mig, and we had a volunteer banker Stephanie at the table as well.  Mig and Crystal had played in the tournament before, but Robin and I were new the tournament, and neither of us had played Monopoly in some time.

In the early stages, it seemed no one was getting two of any kind of property.  Crystal, Robin, and I each had one property from each of the light blue, orange, and green color groups.  Mig had, I think, three railroads but likewise was no closer to a monopoly than any of the rest of us.  Finally, I worked a multi-stage deal where I ended up with the green monopoly, Crystal with the light blue, and Robin with the orange.  I was the most aggressive in putting up houses, though.  It was slow going, since the houses are most expensive on the green properties, but the dice were good to me, and people kept hitting those houses and giving me money.  I kept putting up houses, one or two at a time, and before long I started to pull away from the pack.  Mig, then Crystal, and finally Robin went bankrupt to give me the win.

Mikal (l.) and two other opponents in the second round.
Mig (a first-round opponent) stands in the background.
In the second round, which amounts to a semifinal, it was clear that all the players at the table - Mikal, Shannon, JJ, and two others (whose names escape me) were fairly experienced and cut-throat.  It was at this second-round table that the real deal-making of Monopoly showed through.  Not long into the game, I had two light-blue and two violet properties, and Shannon had the third of each.  I was trying to figure out what the right valuation was, and Shannon said, "How about if I give you States [Avenue] for the two light blues?"  The light blues have a lower base value but are known for giving the greatest return on investment (ROI) overall as a monopoly.  Still, I thought it was a fair deal and made the trade.

Shannon had sufficient cash to put hotels up on all three light blues right away, whereas I only had $400 to
Volunteer banker Emmanuel (l.) counts cash early in the
second round.  Shannon (r.) would later crush us all.
spare on four houses total on the violets.  So right away, her earning potential ($1700 rent over three properties) was much higher than mine ($230).  Moreover, she had the same kind of dice luck in this round that I had in the previous round.  Before long, everybody had paid Shannon hotel rent at least once.  One by one, we all went bankrupt as Shannon's pile of cash got bigger.  J.J. made a play fairly late in the game with the dark blue monopoly, and put up hotels by mortgaging everything else he had, but it was too late.  The one time Shannon landed on Park Place, she was able to cover the $1500 rent out of pocket.  When time was called, Shannon was the clear winner and advanced to the final.

For days afterward, I kept going back in my mind to the deal I made with Shannon - two light blues for States Avenue - to revisit how I should have modified that deal to make it more reasonable.  I finally realized that the issue was giving her a position with a much higher ROI opportunity than the one I gave myself.  For $750 (the cost of hotels on the light blues), she could gain $1700 in rent collection, about 2.3 times her investment.  (To measure the return on the investment in hotels, I'm not deducting the rent she would have collected without the hotels, which is negligible.)  My ROI opportunity was much lower.  Hotels would have cost me twice as much ($1500), but rent on the violet hotels would only have added up to $2400, or 1.6 times my investment.

So the obvious arithmetic question is, how much money should I have demanded from Shannon to accompany States Avenue so that our respective ROI would be the same, i.e. to make the deal "fair" (at least by that measure)?  If my algebra is any good, the answer is about $180, a lot lower than I would have expected.  In that case, her investment increases to $930, and her ROI falls to 1700/930 = 1.8.  For my part, my investment is offset down to $1320, and my ROI improves to 2400/1320 = 1.8.  Less than $200 doesn't sound like a lot, and I don't know whether it would have made the difference in the game, but that's what the numbers tell me (assuming I'm looking at them the right way).

I didn't stick around to find out who won, but I did take pictures of the beautiful $500 Monopoly set that Ron Kowalski provided for the final round.
The deluxe Monopoly set that would host the final round

Close-up of one of the gold-plated player tokens.  Even a house on Baltic Avenue looks posh.


  1. You're looking at the theoretical ROI on hotels and how to make the trade fair under the assumption you can both build hotels. But you couldn't, since you only had $400 to spare and would therefore need $1100 from her in order to be able to build the hotels.

    Instead I think you want to be looking at how to balance out the two immediate earning potentials. You either need to be making a lot of money when you have people land on your stuff, or she needs to be making less when she has people land on her stuff. I don't know how much spare money she had above the $750 for 3 hotels but if you could have gotten her down to only building houses, and not many more than you, then it's probably a good deal on your end.

    As it was she got hotels and you got properties with a single house. That is not a good position for you to be in, so it's probably a trade you need to reject.

    1. Nick, I think you're right. How much cash you have vis-a-vis your opponent is also part of the decision on whether to make the deal. I probably should have demanded at least $500, so that I could afford three houses on each violet. I haven't gone back to look at the numbers to see if that would be enough for "rent parity," but it would certainly be something along those lines.

  2. Thanks, Paul for playing in our Tournament and the blog. Congrats on making it to Round 2 - that's something. Since you missed it, here are the winners: 1st-Paul Poling ($500); 2nd-first-time player Alison Gibbons ($250); 3rd-newcomer Shannon Love ($100). Toney Mooney, Tabitha Missner (age 8) and Steven Hargrove rounded out the top 6 and each received trophies. This was the most fun and successful event we've had in our 7 year history and a good time was had by all! We look forward to 2015 and can't wait to see you, and all the other Monopoly tycoon's there! Thanks for your support! -Ron Kowalski, Host/Sponsor

  3. Thanks, Ron! It was a great time and a fun event. I'm looking forward to next year.