With his cannon game piece in hand, Matt McNally, a second-year graduate student in UCI’s production school, fired through the elimination rounds of the National Monopoly Championships to pass GO! and collect the grand prize of $15,140 on Oct. 18 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
An avid Monopoly player since childhood, McNally has been passionate about the game for years.
‘I remember my brother and I racing home from middle school to see if we could get a game of Monopoly in before dinner,’ McNally said.
With plenty of experience in the bank, McNally decided to enter the tournament, which is held every four years.
‘I just thought the idea of competing against the best of the best would be really exciting,’ McNally said. ‘In part, I wanted to see how well I ranked.’
Still, this was McNally’s first tournament and his lack of competitive experience made him a bit anxious.
‘Though I know the game inside and out, I wasn’t sure how I’d fare,’ McNally said. ‘I knew my experience level was the weakest part of my game.’
The historic traveling tournament was held aboard a moving train, named the ‘Reading Railroad,’ going first from Chicago to Pittsburgh and then to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. From there, the top four competitors were bused to Atlantic City for the final round.
McNally played in three preliminary rounds, each with a maximum of 90 minutes, and a final round that lasted about two hours.
McNally wasn’t sure he would actually make it to the final round. He employed a strategy in the third round that almost derailed his advancement.
‘The feeling I got after round three was ‘I just shot myself in the foot,” McNally said. ‘After that round I knew I was on the bubble all day to make the finals. What once looked really possible now seemed questionable.’
Despite having the lowest score of four finalists, McNally was bound for victory. It was his monopoly of the coveted ‘Boardwalk’ and ‘Park Place’ that secured his success.
McNally plans to donate some of his prize money to charity.
‘Having taken first now allows me the opportunity to spend some portion of the winnings buying a bunch of Monopoly games for underprivileged children,’ McNally said.
Part of his prize package includes an all-expenses paid trip to the October 2004 World Championships to be held in Hong Kong, according to Mark Morris, director of public relations for Hasbro Games.
Looking ahead, McNally reminded himself of why he started playing competitive Monopoly.
‘Like the national championships, I’m looking forward to meeting people who enjoy the game just as much as I do,’ McNally said. ‘My focus is still on the national tournament right now. Once things calm down a bit, I’ll definitely set some goals for Hong Kong.’
McNally beat out 47 other contestants who were allowed to compete either because they had previously competed or scored 90 percent or better in a Monopoly player’s quiz, according to Morris.
‘The quiz was comprised of 20 difficult questions related to game-play strategy,’ Morris explained.
The tournament was judged by Monopoly experts, namely Phil Orbanes, author of ‘The Monopoly Companion.’
The first tournament was held in 1973 in New York City and subsequent ones were held sporadically until 1995. Since then, the tournament has been held every four years by Hasbro, Inc.
McNally is an award-winning stage manager and has worked on UCI productions such as ‘My Fair Lady’and ‘Big Love.’ McNally also enjoys playing ‘Risk,’ ‘Clue’ and poker.