Almost a board tycoon; Monopoly: A Pikesville man competes in the national championships in Las Vegas, but it was no dice.


Murray Rosenfeld's dream of a national championship ended after he traded States, Virginia and St. Charles for Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

That, and letting an opponent gain control of the railroads.

The setting was the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, in a quiet conference room sectioned off and adorned with a large Monopoly game board across the floor. A living version of Uncle Pennybags, aka Mr. Monopoly, emceed as four players sat down last week to compete to be the National Monopoly Game Champion. The four were Molly Mahurin, 26, of Soldotna, Alaska, Matt Gissel, 20, of St. Albans, Vt., Chris Pichette, 13, of Exeter, R.I., and Rosenfeld, 44, of Pikesville.

For Rosenfeld, a chiropractor whose office is in Baltimore, the road to the Monopoly finals started with an article he saw in The Sun's "Live" section. Rosenfeld called the Enoch Pratt Free Library and signed up.

About 40 contestants showed up at the library to compete in the Maryland preliminaries. There were some tough opponents, Rosenfeld said, but "luck [played] a significant role." In his eyes, a few of the Maryland players could have defeated those he met in the national finals. Yet the dice didn't roll in their favor.

Luck wasn't all that separated the virtual entrepreneurs from the lighthearted gamers. "Being able to negotiate a deal separates your average player from your good player," Rosenfeld says.

Asked about the challenge of facing a young opponent such as Chris Pichette, Rosenfeld reiterated his previous statement. He "was a sharp kid, but I think he was a little rigid in his dealings."

It was a trade that cost Rosenfeld the national title, however. "Gissel and I traded. I gave him the 'purple' and he gave me the 'red.' " The light purple, or magenta, properties Rosenfeld let go of were Virginia Avenue, States Avenue and St. Charles Place. The red ones he gained were Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky avenues.

The trade went against one of Rosenfeld's principal strategies: "Get the less expensive properties and build on them."

Included in the trade between Gissel and Rosenfeld was the addition of the "Railroad Monopoly" -- the B&O; and the Reading -- to the former's arsenal. As luck would have it, Rosenfeld and Mahurin each landed on Gissel's locomotive juggernaut many times.

First Pichette, then Rosenfeld went bankrupt. The final move came when Mahurin, too, went bankrupt after landing on Gissel's hotel on Tennessee Avenue. Gissel, a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, won with $14,098 in assets.

Gissel will progress to the World Monopoly Game Championships in Toronto in 2000.

Rosenfeld, who returned home with a special "Monopoly Millennium Edition," still enjoys playing the game, which he first encountered as a boy. After a short hiatus, Rosenfeld rediscovered the game on CD-ROM a few years ago. Artificial intelligence became predictable, though, and he easily began beating the computer.

At the national competition, Rosenfeld met a few contestants who asked him for his e-mail address. He gladly complied, with the hopes of facing new adversaries. Apparently Monopoly is also played over the Internet, too.

Since 1935, more than 200 million Monopoly sets have been sold worldwide and more than 500 million people have played the game. The game is sold by Hasbro Inc.

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