Tim Vandenberg has an easy way to size up his Monopoly opponents.


"Try telling a top-notch poker player that it's just a game of dumb luck, and they won't just think, but know, that you don't know poker very well," he said. The same is true for Monopoly: "It is largely skill, but there is a luck factor. Once in a great while, a great player will lose to a kid who doesn't know what he's doing."


In fact, as played by the rules, with no house rules like cash sitting in Free Parking and every property landed on either being purchased by the player who did so or immediately being auctioned off among the players, it's a game that takes 90 minutes or less, he said.


And Vandenberg would know: He came in second place (out of 1,200 entrants) in the most recent national Monopoly championships, held in Washington, DC, in April 2009. His performance was so good, he was asked to provide color commentary for the world championships, held in October at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.


"I could reach out and touch the player. I could bump them, if I wasn't careful," Vandenberg said. "It was the most impressive Monopoly tournament you've ever seen. ESPN was there."


When he's not bankrupting his opponents in Monopoly, Vandenberg teaches math at Carmel Elementary School, where he uses the game to teach statistics and probability. His students have gone on to beat national and world champions in Monopoly tournaments.


This summer, he'll be combining his two skill sets with "Play Monopoly like a Champion," an eight-week community education class at Victor Valley College.


"People are going to learn to play the world's most popular board game in an informed manner that's going to make it a lot more fun, a lot more skill-based, a lot less luck-based," he said. "When they sit down to play, it's so much more fun, because they know what they're doing."


Hasbro, the maker of the game, has donated $1,000 in games for use in the class and as prizes for winners.


"The two myths that we're going to knock out of existence to start off with are the myth that the game takes forever -- they're going to finish a game in 60 to 90 minutes," Vandenberg said. "The other myth that we will be dispelling is that Monopoly is just dumb luck."


The house rules that most players use, often without realizing that they aren't part of the official rule set, add randomness, according to Vandenberg. That big stack of cash accumulating in Free Parking during so many games can let a bad player stay in the game much longer, for instance, and players not auctioning off properties that the player landing on them didn't buy also means the game takes a lot longer to reach the "endgame," when every property has been purchased and the wheeling and dealing begins.


Played the right way, Vandenberg said, it's a fast, fun game that's as much about playing your opponents as it is knowing what the odds are of landing on Park Place. (They're not good, incidentally.)


"It's the world's most famous game for a reason," he said.


Vandenberg's eight-week "Play Monopoly Like a Champion" class at Victor Valley College begins the week of June 22, with classes on either Tuesday or Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.


Registration is $40 with a $15 cash materials fee due at the first class. (Families attending the class together only have to pay a single materials fee.)


For more information, visit VVCforMe.com, and click on "Personal edu-tainment."


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star