It was a faster than usual Monopoly game: The dice were thrown and pieces moved to their destination and, in a matter of seconds, the next player was throwing the dice.

Partially it was strategy -- the game rules state that rent can't be collected except on the turn when a player lands on a property -- but it was also a measure of just how experienced the players were: The students in Carmel Elementary School teacher Tim Vandenberg's math classes play a lot of Monopoly.

"The faster your play, the better your math," Vandenberg said Friday. "It becomes mental math."

The room is filled with dozens of versions of the game, including ones featuring Star Wars or Indiana Jones characters, boards set in a global setting rather than the Atlantic City street names familiar to most American players and various commemorative editions.

But it's still all about the math: The jail space in the lower left corner of the board is the spot players spend most of their time, statistically (almost 4 percent of the time if a player immediately pays the money to leave the space, rising to over 9 percent if they insist on rolling their way out of jail), trailed by the Go space (just under 2 percent of the time). And that sort of information lets Vandenberg's players make educated decisions about what constitutes a good trade.

"The oranges are the best by far," said Vandenberg. "All the pros know that."

The skills he's honed using Monopoly to teach his students have created an opportunity for Vandenberg: On April 15, he'll be in Washington, DC, using what he's learned playing against his students to try and beat out 27 of the best players in America.

"Really, my only practice is against kids," he said. "To my knowledge, I've never beaten three adults [at one time]."

The winner of the tournament wins $20,580 -- equal to all the cash in Monopoly game -- and represents the United States in the world championship this October in Las Vegas.

"As they say, the teacher learns more than the student," Vandenberg said.

The students have also reaped the benefits of using Monopoly and other games as instructional aids: His students are breaking the school's record on mathematical benchmark tests every time they've been given this year, and even students who were previously indifferent to math try to get an A on the benchmark tests, so they can join the lunchtime game club and play even more during the school day.

And the students might be learning more than they realize, including assertively speaking up, paying attention, conflict resolution, trade negotiation and the ability to see an issue through someone else's eyes.

"One thing about Monopoly, it teaches life skills," Vandenberg said. "If you're not nice, people won't trade with you and you won't win."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.

Six top tips for better play

Carmel Elementary School teacher Tim Vandenberg will match his skills against some of the best Monopoly players in America on April 15. Here are his six top tips to help everyone become a better player:

1. Be nice. If no one wants to trade with you, you're going to lose more often

2. Offer trades that make sense from the perspective of the other player you're dealing with.

3. When trading, think beyond the face value of a property. Instead, think about what your portfolio will look like afterwards. An expensive new property is worth less than a cheaper property that forms a monopoly.

4. Know the rules and play by them. The cash in Free Parking house rule players commonly use "makes a 90-minute game into the legendary 12-hour nightmare," says Vandenberg.

5. Know the probabilities. Vandenberg recommends the Monopoly Companion by Philip Orbanes, but even the Wikipedia article on the game includes statistical information about which properties are the most-visited. (Vandenberg's class learns the odds with boards he's customized by writing the statistical data right on the spaces.)

6. Have fun, play to create family memories and both win and lose graciously.