LAS VEGAS - Monopoly masters from across the country racked up the real estate and tried to send each other into bankruptcy Tuesday before a 20-year-old college student from Vermont wheeled and dealed his way to the national title.
When Matt Gissel of St. Albans, Vt., traded his red properties - Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky - for the four railroads plus the purple properties, he knew he might win.
''I recognized the value of those,'' Gissel said shortly after forcing his three opponents into bankruptcy and winning the national title.
Hasbro Inc. began sponsoring the National Monopoly Game Championship in 1973. Since then, it's been held every four years, just like the Olympics. Aspiring real estate tycoons and those who play just for fun must win a state tournament before earning a trip to the national championship.
One of the youngest players, 13-year-old Chris Pichette of Exeter, R.I., made it to the final round before losing all his money because he couldn't pay up when he landed on another player's property. The teary-eyed eighth-grader got an embrace from dad to boost his spirits.
''I hung in, landed on hotels and didn't have enough money,'' Chris said. ''It was fun.''
Luck may have a lot to do with the game, but players here say skill and strategy are definitely needed. Some players even have done the statistics of what the likelihood is of landing on various properties.
Brandt Temple, 27, of New Orleans took a big gamble - since he was in Las Vegas - and bought some middle-priced properties and built hotels on them. But it didn't pay off and the geoscientist lost all his money.
''Everyone thinks Monopoly is a game of luck. It's all negotiating. That's what I love about it,'' Temple said. ''Orange and Park Place and Boardwalk - that's my favorite combo.''
According to tournament director Earl Donahue, the average age of contestants was 30. And though many have been playing since childhood, the competition was tough.
''It was a rude awakening for a lot of contestants. They get in cut throat here,'' he said.
Fifty contestants from 49 states began competing in the national championship on Monday. Illinois sent two players - the state champ and the reigning national champ - and Oklahoma didn't have a state representative. After two rounds of play, the field was narrowed to four.
Gissel, a junior at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., summed up his win in a few words: ''So, everyone went bankrupt.''
He won a trophy, the new millennium game and a trip to the World Monopoly Game Championship in Toronto next year. The winner of that competition gets $15,140 - the amount of money in a Monopoly game.
Chris finished fourth in the championship. Murray Rosenfeld, a 44-year-old chiropractor from Maryland, finished third while Molly Mahurin, a 26-year-old florist from Alaska, was second.
The popular board game is in 80 countries and has been translated into 26 languages, according to Hasbro.