Commercial tire salesman Roger Craig, second from left, prepares to compete in the World Monopoly Game Championship against, clockwise from left: Christopher Woo of Hong Kong, Michael Grabsky of the United Kingdom, Juan Antonio Navarro of Spain and Manfred Werlein of Austria. Hasbro Inc. photo
MONTE CARLO, Monaco-Andy Warhol said eventually everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Roger Craig, a commercial tire salesman in the heartland of America, has already gotten more than his share.
The 35-year-old Mr. Craig represented the U.S. in the 1996 World Monopoly Game Championship in Monaco, Sept. 13-16. And although he finished fourth, he has been inundated with interview requests from the media.
Mr. Craig, a commercial tire salesman for Raben Tire Co. in Harrisburg, Ill., has been playing the popular board game since he was a child and developed a winning technique through local competitions.
Last fall, he won the U.S. Monopoly Game Championship, placing him in the September face-off against champions from 33 other countries. He was one of five players to enter the final round but was bankrupted in the final minutes of the game when his playing piece had to run a gauntlet of ``monopolies.''
But during the first couple rounds of the world championship, the otherwise confident Mr. Craig wasn't sure he would get very far.
He had won his U.S. title through fast-paced maneuvering, in which players immediately buy up all the ``properties'' on the board and then set out to bankrupt each other through a lot of wheeling and dealing to trade properties.
Maybe by the very nature of his profession, Mr. Craig was proficient in the art of the deal. But the rest of the world's champions wouldn't subscribe to the Yankee way of playing the game.
The world championship games ran at a snail's pace, with the other players making their moves slowly and methodically-so slow, according to Mr. Craig, ``you could write a short story between moves.''
Deal-making was inhibited by the obvious language barriers-and terrible translators, according to Mr. Craig. Adding to his frustration, other players wouldn't take him up on deals to trade properties, no matter how sweet the offer.
He came out of the second round ``really frustrated,'' and carrying an overall money total that was half of the other players'.
Then he discovered, through leisurely conversations with other players, the underlying cause of his frustration: As the U.S. representative, he was the media darling at the championship. In the press room at the tournament, there were newspaper clippings about the event plastered on a wall. ``I represented 98 percent of it. No other country was mentioned (in the articles),'' Mr. Craig recalled.
So maybe out of envy, all the other players ``had a big target painted on me,'' Mr. Craig said. ``There was this universal agreement that the guy from the U.S. was not going to get anything.''
So the second day, Mr. Craig said he changed his strategy and became ``10 times more aggressive than I care to be. I stayed on top of (the other players) because they would deliberately stall.'' He would even call a judge over to the playing table if a fellow player was delaying rolling the dice. Before long, Mr. Craig said he was dictating the pace of a game.
During a series of rounds over three days, Mr. Craig moved up the ranks, from 17th to third going into the final round.
Dressed in tuxedos and top hats, Mr. Craig and the other four finalists-from Spain, Austria, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong-faced off for the world title.
The face-off came to a rapid end in the final minutes of the two-hour, 20-minute game as four players were bankrupted one by one as they moved through a gauntlet of monopolies and had to pay ``rents'' to the property owners. Christopher Woo, the 35-year-old from Hong Kong, emerged the champion.
Mr. Woo won $15,140, the equivalent of the amount of play money used in a Monopoly game. The second and third place winners normally are awarded cash as well, but the five finalists did some behind-the-scenes dealing of their own before the final game, Mr. Craig said.
While the five were being fitted for their customary tuxes, the players agreed that none of them should walk away empty-handed. So they agreed the four runners-up would split the consolation prizes.
They typed up and signed the agreement and presented it to officials of Hasbro Inc.-the game producer and championship sponsor-who weren't too pleased with the idea but went along with it, said Mr. Craig, who took home $2,500.
In all Mr. Craig made out rather well from the experience: an expense-paid week-long trip with his wife in beautiful Monaco, prize money and lots of media interviews.
Mr. Craig said he felt bad for Mr. Woo, who as the winner received only a few interview requests, while Mr. Craig was inundated with ``a hundred'' calls.
And the spotlight hasn't dimmed much since Mr. Craig returned to work Sept. 19. Mr. Craig quipped that his co-workers ``are sick of me!''
``We have four phone lines, and the woman that answers the phones has been taking down a million notes for me to call people back.''
To appease his employer, Mr. Craig said he has made a point of mentioning ``Raben Tire'' in his various press interviews. After all, he said in yet another interview, ``this is the 19th of September, and this is my first day back to work this month.''
After such a rigorous week in Monte Carlo, Mr. Craig said he is hanging up his ``iron''-his preferred Monopoly playing piece-and won't play the game again until next February, when he will participate in the local Monopoly championship.
He will defend his U.S. title in 1999 and the next world championship will be held in 2000.
Hasbro's Parker Brothers division has hosted the Monopoly championships since 1973 and said the game is available in 75 countries and in 26 languages.