World Series of capitalism

At the moment his empire collapsed, Dana Terman clasped his hands and stared at the table in front of him. For a while, he had it all: land, buildings, sheaves of cash. But his holdings had been peeled away, and now he had nothing but a mortgage and a pocketful of change.

Smiling, Mr. Terman looked up and shook hands with the man who had bankrupted him. Of course, it's not too difficult to be stoic when all you've lost is play money and plastic houses. Terman, a Silver Spring, Md., computer salesman, had just been displaced as the best Monopoly* player in the United States by Jerome Dausman, an accounting consultant from -Arlington, Va.

Amid the art of Washington's Corcoran Gallery, moguls-in-training battled it out this week in the World Series of anticompetitive business behavior, the US Monopoly Championships. The Justice Department made no attempt to break up the proceedings.

The competition, sponsored by the board game's manufacturer, Parker Brothers, has been held sporadically since the mid-'70s. This year, champs from all 50 states were represented for the first time, competing for a slot in the world championships, to be held next fall in Palm Beach, Fla.

Participants ranged from Claudia Cartagena, a nine-year-old in a ruffled red pinafore (How did she play? ''Bad,'' she says, with aplomb), to Donald Peet, a real banker, who also fell by the wayside before the final round.

''Maybe they should modernize this game,'' Mr. Peet said. ''They could put in variables like time-sharing and arson.''

The board game, had an ironic beginning: In 1932, an unemployed Philadelphian named Charles Darrow worked out the game's details to keep himself occupied. Royalties from his invention made him a millionaire, enabling him to retire at age 46 and pursue his hobby of collecting exotic orchids.

Since then, generations of players worldwide have grown up passing Go, collecting $200, and losing it all when they land on Boardwalk. Monopoly has been translated into 19 languages. It has been played upside down, underwater, and on a 30-by-30-foot board. Monopoly has become the best-selling board game in history, claims Parker Brothers.

''Throughout the game, every player is interested not only in his own turn, but in his opponent's turns, because you're interested in where the other guy will land,'' says Randolph Barton, Parker Brothers' president. Monopoly reflects real life, says Mr. Barton, because the best negotiator will always win. Skill at cutting deals is the key to victory, he says.

''It's not exactly like real life,'' mutters contestant Peet. ''Real life is easier.''

But can the thrill of trading and play riches compete with sound effects and movement? Bruce Jones, Parker Brothers vice-president of marketing, admits that video games have cut into Monopoly sales, which went down last year for the first time in the board game's history. Parker Brothers is now advertising the game on television. But the US Monopoly championships, which cost Parker around rounds, the final was fought out at noon on Monday.

Defending champion Terman's opponents, besides Mr. Dausman, included a disc jockey from Alaska, a Florida high school girl, and a 15-year-old boy from South Dakota.

While the disc jockey and the Floridian were quickly knocked out, the South Dakota kid took an early lead, sinking all his cash into expensive properties and construction.

But he crawled a little too far out on a limb. Property-rich, he didn't have the cash to pay the penalties for landing on somebody else's property. Dausman was ceded the kid's assets - and quickly stripped away the defending champion's cash, gaining the title.

* Monopoly is Parker Brothers' registered trademark for its Real Estate Trading Game Equipment.

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