The once-booming United States property sector may have been ravaged by recession, but in Las Vegas this week real estate wheeler-dealers have been doing a roaring trade.
Unaffected by the credit crunch and with cash to burn, speculators from around the world have been locked in battle for some of the most desirable addresses the Monopoly boardgame has to offer.
In the end, 19-year-old Norwegian student Bjorn Halvard Knappskog was crowned the beloved game's 2009 world champion on Thursday, outlasting his rivals to walk away with a check for 20,580 dollars -- in real money.
That sum is, as most aficionados know, the total amount in the "bank" of the American edition of the game.
Knappskog bankrupted the American, Russian and New Zealand champions in the finale after two days of horse-trading to become the youngest-ever title holder.
The student from Oslo was among 41 national champions competing for the world title, the first global championship in five years.
All of the competitors had won Monopoly tournaments in their home countries to qualify and earned an expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas for this week's event. Knappskog was attending his first world final.
"It was fun just to be here," the Norwegian said. "I was really happy to be here whether I won or lost, but I'm also very happy to have won."
Knappskog emerged the swaggering tycoon when, after the American and Russian players went bankrupt, his Kiwi rival landed on Knappskog's North Carolina Avenue, which had two houses on the property.
The New Zealander, Geoff Christopher, did not have enough cash or assets to pay the 1,600 dollars in rent, and the game was up.
Monopoly's maker, Hasbro, holds world championships sporadically, with the last times in 2004 in Tokyo and 2000 in Toronto.
"Sure, this is exciting," said Germany's Hans-Georg Schellinger, 45, a refrigerator technician from Stuttgart, ousted in Thursday's semi-finals. "I get to go to Las Vegas and play for money. It's a thrill."
It's also about the furthest thing from the homey kitchen-table play that most conjure up when they think of the 75-year-old game.
For one thing, this year's competition took place in a mammoth ballroom at Caesars Palace with hundreds of spectators, official judges and bankers, plus language translators to facilitate deals between the far-flung opponents.
A man dressed in a tuxedo and top hat with a huge handlebar moustache stalked the scene as the game's "Mr. Monopoly" mascot, the New Zealand champion brought 15 of his college friends for a cheering section and a crew of film-makers was on hand to film every dice roll for a documentary about the game, "Under The Boardwalk," expected out next year.
"This is truly spectacular and impressive," said defending world champion Antonio Zafra Fernandez, 41, a Madrid laboratory technician who was playing for Spain and was also ousted during the semi-final round.
"I just want to take a picture of everything, it's so amazing."
The event also offered an opportunity for players to compare "home rules" that have developed in various countries.
In the tournament, however, the official rules are strictly followed and the language barriers made it more challenging to negotiate deals or even to develop a rapport with other players, said American champion Richard Marcinaccio, 26, of Buffalo, New York, who finished third.
"You think of Monopoly, you think about sitting around the board with friends and family and lots of small talk," said Marcinaccio. "Deals may come from that small talk but here it's harder to make deals."
There have been 12 Monopoly kings crowned since the first world championship tournament took place in New York, in 1973.Reuse content