Here’s a juicy tip for winning at Monopoly

Newlyweds shouldn’t play Monopoly. I’m not sure why they would want to, I simply maintain they shouldn’t. Just take my word for it, OK? Actually, I don’t think anyone who wants to have peaceful relationships should play Monopoly. You can think of this as free, post-Valentine’s advice.

My problem is that I don’t have any sense of strategy. Wait. Maybe it’s tactics I don’t understand. I get confused, but my family assures me that I don’t have any sense. Of strategy, I mean. I haven’t won a game of anything since the fall of 1966. I was ahead in a Monopoly game that October when my wife accidentally knocked over the game as she got up from the table.

The problem I have with most games is that people who play them generally want to win. Now, I might enjoy winning, but having never done so, I am not sure how it would feel. Consequently, I value winning less than others seem to, especially my wife. Since winning doesn’t seem all that meaningful to me, and it seems tremendously important to others, I just figure, why not make them happy? I don’t let others win. That wouldn’t be any fun. I just always seem to lose.

However, I recently attended an art show featuring some amazing 18th century paintings. One of the paintings was a picture by Carl Bloch of Christ emerging from the tomb. The detail was astounding, and part of that detail were two dice left on the ground from where the guards had been casting lots.

Now scientists know a little about dice because we have to use statistics and probability. This puts us in a unique category of liars. But since Monopoly is played using dice, it also suggests a certain strategy. Well, assuming I know what the word means.

It struck me that the only way to occupy any square in Monopoly is to throw the dice and move that number of squares. Except jail. You can land on jail or be sent there by landing on the go-to-jail square. You can also throw too may doubles, draw a Chance or a Community Chest card, or simply visit. The point is that jail has got to be the most frequented square in the entire game because there are so many ways to get there.

That means people spend more time leaving jail than any other single space. The chance of landing on any property, then, is highest for the properties in the spaces after jail. The first five spaces are: St. Charles, the Electric Company, States Avenue, Virginia Avenue and the Pennsylvania Railroad. To land on any of these properties from jail, a player would have to throw two dice that would yield numbers between one and five.

One, of course, is impossible. There is only one way to roll a two or a three and only two ways to roll a four or a five. However, there are three ways to roll a six, seven or eight. Some ways of rolling these numbers involve rolling doubles which makes the possibility for rolling these larger numbers even higher. In fact, taking doubles into account, the most likely moves after leaving jail would involve rolling totals of six, seven, eight or nine. A move of either six, eight or nine would land you on St. James, Tennessee, or New York.

The same reasoning applies to the next move after escaping jail.

The next most likely rolls would also move you in the neighborhood of between six and 12 spaces. You’d be likely to land on Kentucky, Indiana, or Illinois.  In fact, statistically, the most frequently landed-on property in Monopoly should be Illinois.

I’m not sure if this insight is spiritual inspiration, strategy, a statistical lie, or useless trivia. But if you want to win at Monopoly, buy orange. I’ll probably never know if that is really true because since October of 1966, I don’t play Monopoly.

Gary McCallister, mccallis@colorado mesa.edu, is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.

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