Tim Vandenberg went to the Monopoly National Championships as a Carmel Elementary School math teacher armed with statistical information and having played lots and lots of practice games against his students.

He returned from Washington, DC, having come in second in a field of 28, having been undone by the lucky dice of eventual winner Richard Marinaccio.

"I expected to place in the top half," Vandenberg said Friday, two days after playing in the final game of the tournament.

But he got off to a rocky start on Tuesday, landing on the dreaded Boardwalk space with a hotel, bankrupting him in the first of three qualifying rounds.

"I knew I had to win both [remaining] games and, even then, I hardly had a hope."

He came back in the next two games, winning them both, and in Wednesday's championship game, Vandenberg had a strong portfolio, including three railroad properties and the red monopoly with three houses on each. (Vandenberg says that the return on investment for houses and hotels peaks in Monopoly at three houses, and that the money spent on building a fourth house and then a hotel is often better spent elsewhere.) But the dice were with Marinaccio, who kept skipping over Vandenberg's monopoly until Vandenberg eventually ran out of cash.

"The dice didn't go my way," Vandenberg said. "Providence allowed me to make the finals and Providence allowed someone else to win."

In the end, Vandenberg went bankrupt after landing on Pacific Avenue, and the game, and the championship, went to Marinaccio of Sloan, New York, as did the $20,850 purse (the amount is identical to all the "Monopoly money" in a Monopoly game box).

"Winner takes all, just like Monopoly," said Vandenberg. "I came home with just a certificate, and it doesn't even have 'second place' on it."

He'll be back playing Monopoly in Washington again soon: On April 25, he will attend the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics national conference, where he will give a speech on how he uses Monopoly and other games to teach math skills and probability to his students.

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