HARRISBURG, Ill.-Making deals too good to refuse, buying up prime real estate, grappling with income taxes and unexpected bills-and in the end, going to the bank or going bankrupt. Just another day in the tire business, right? Well, maybe. But it also happens to be a game Roger Craig, a commercial tire salesman for Raben Tire Co. in Harrisburg, plays well. He recently won the National Monopoly Game Championship and will represent the U.S. next fall in the World Monopoly Game Championship in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Mr. Craig, 34, has been playing the Parker Brothers board game since he was a child and honed his skills playing with members of his Elks Lodge and playing in local championships.
This year he garnered the state title with the year's highest single-game score in Illinois.
Then it was on to the Empire State Building in New York City to compete in his first national contest with 42 other aspiring real estate tycoons ranging in age from 12 to 67.
The first round, however, didn't bode well, as Mr. Craig lost all his money-play money, that is.
He mustered a comeback in the second round, however, cleaning up with $13,700. And despite his first-round bankruptcy, he entered the finals with the championship's highest two-round total.
The next day, Oct. 17, Mr. Craig was among four tuxedo-clad finalists who arrived in a limo at the FAO Schwarz toy store in New York for the final face-off.
After 100 minutes, Mr. Craig had wiped out his opponents' finances and accumulated all the properties.
``It's the luck of the roll of the dice,'' he admitted, but he goes after the red or orange properties, which are well-traveled.
And what about the creme-de-la-creme property-Boardwalk? Much to the shock of the final round audience, Mr. Craig passed on buying the oft-coveted piece of real estate.
``People couldn't believe it,'' Mr. Craig said, recalling the gasps and whispers suggesting he made a fatal error.
But he knew what he was doing. His 14-year-old opponent later snatched up the expensive property, but he blocked her ``monopoly'' by acquiring nearby Park Place.
Like real-world wheeling and dealing, there's a little sneakiness involved in the game, such as in the bartering.
``You make the deal sound better for them than for you,'' Mr. Craig revealed.
He also favors the ``iron'' game piece, the smallest of the lot and a choice for which he endures some ribbing. But the iron is handy for stealthily trespassing on opponents' properties without paying rent.
The iron is small enough to hide behind hotels on property across the board from the landowner, and can sometimes go undetected if the opponent is distracted by trade negotiations, Mr. Craig explained. ``It has worked bunches of times,'' he claimed.
So does life imitate the game? Monopoly is about buying and selling, and trading to ``get a little more than the next guy,'' according to Mr. Craig. And the skills of the game can help in the real world of selling commercial tires.
``You compete with everyone in the world to sell tires, and you have to be the best one out of the 10 who call the customer,'' said Mr. Craig, a Raben Tire salesman for 13 years. The retail/commercial tire dealership's headquarters are in Evansville, Ind.
Mr. Craig, who has been inundated with media interviews, will defend his national title at the next U.S. championship in 1999. Meanwhile, he has received numerous challenges-``like they are going to beat the national champion,'' he quipped. But Mr. Craig isn't taking the bait. ``I want to enjoy this for some time.''