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Monday, March 29, 1999 Published at 09:39 GMT

Sci/Tech

The colour of money

Monopoly: A numbers game

 Dr Haigh: The Jail square is the key
Forget Park Lane and Mayfair - if you want to win at Monopoly, you should head down market.

Mathematician Dr John Haigh has analysed the moves on the famous board game and discovered the secret to becoming rich.

He says you should try to buy the orange squares - Vine Street, Bow Street and Marlborough Street.

These are the properties most likely to be visited when players are released from Jail - the most visited location on the board.

Players who dominate these orange squares, building up houses and hotels, stand a very good chance of bankrupting their opponents.

Go direct to jail

"When you are playing, you should consider what is likely to happen and try to own those properties, where your opponents are going to land," Dr Haigh told the BBC.

"And since the jail square is the single square that's visited most often, the orange properties are in an ideal position to be hit directly when somebody leaves the jail square."

The Sussex University lecturer used a computer program to simulate more than 10 million rolls of the dice. He also fed in commands from the chance cards that send players directly to different locations on the board.

This revealed the connection between the jail square and the orange streets. For those getting out of prison, it is six, eight or nine moves to the Bow, Vine and Marlborough properties - and with two dice, there is a very high probability that these numbers will be thrown.

There are five ways to throw six or eight, and four ways to throw nine, Dr Haigh said. This means there are 14 chances in 36 that someone leaving prison will end up on the orange properties.

Free parking

This goes against the standard wisdom that you should buy the duo of Park Lane or Mayfair. But the mathematician's analysis shows that Park lane is one of the least important squares on the board.

A chance card sending players direct to Mayfair means Park Lane - site of the famous Dorchester and Hilton Hotels - is often bypassed.

"It also costs a lot of money to get Park Lane and Mayfair, and a lot of money to put the hotels on them.

The orange properties are a lot cheaper, you can get hotels on them quicker and the rent is big enough to pack a big punch and damage your opponents."

Dr Haigh's game plan is included in his new book Taking Chances, which is about probability in everyday life.

Do not collect £200

Dr Haigh admitted the strategy is useless when he plays Monopoly against his family. They have read the book and try to get to the orange squares first, he said.

Charles Darrow invented Monopoly in 1930. The very first version used street names from Atlantic City. Since then, it has become an international best-seller with versions fashioned on most of the world's great cities.

The game is now licensed or sold in 80 countries and produced in 26 languages. The longest game in history lasted 70 straight days.

The Web has many sites dedicated to Monopoly - some of them using probabilistic analysis to help players win more often.

The orange group on the US (Atlantic City) version represents St James Place, Tennessee Avenue, and New York Avenue.