It was another chugfest. The 2003 title was claimed by Mike
Zorrer in a quickly played and very close final match. As in
2002, no former champions advanced past the semi-final round,
but all six finalists were experienced players and some were
former finalists. In turn order, they were Bill Crenshaw, Ron
Secunda, Mike Zorrer, Brian Conlon, Charles Ellsworth, and Carl
started and risked keeping his home city of Detroit rather than
swap it for Tampa. In general, North Central cities make the
best homes, but in this case the decision would cost him as his
roll of 2 did little to establish him on either the SAL or ACL.
Ron swapped to get New Orleans as his home instead of Charlotte,
and Mike did similarly to get Detroit as his home rather than
Richmond. Brian kept his home of St. Louis, and was bound for
Billings; his was the longest first trip of the match. Charles's
Chicago home is one of the best home cities, but his first destination
was the unfortunate Miami. Charles did not home swap, either
missing his chance or deciding to mimic last year's champion.
(Ed Wrobel, 2002 champion, had swapped so as to rid himself of
Miami as his home and instead got Kansas City, even though that
meant risking Miami as his first destination. Ed knew his chances
were much worse with the remote Miami as a home city; in fact,
this situation cuts the chance of winning in half!) By comparison
to those of the other players, Carl's first trip from Milwaukee
to Baltimore was tranquil.
In round 2, Bill rolled 4, again too little to establish on
either the SAL or ACL. Ron arrived, and smelling the blood of
two Florida-bound players, purchased the SAL. Mike also arrived,
and wanting to not be left out of the evolving feeding frenzy,
bought the ACL. It looked like a cut-throat match was developing.
A roll of 11 bought Brian to his destination, where he collected
enough money to reach $31,000. He briefly considered the PA and
NYC, but chose to purchase nothing. This conservative approach
proved wise because his next trip turned out to be to unfriendly
Tampa. As Charles continued to Miami, Carl arrived, collected
$8,000 and also purchased nothing. Your GM was surprised that
neither opted for the bargain NYNH or B&M.
3 saw Bill roll 9 and get closer to Tampa without paying anyone.
Ron's next destination was the innocuous Little Rock, Mike's
San Diego, and Carl's New York. In round 4, Bill was the first
to bleed $5000, arriving in Tampa and choosing to pay Mike for
use of the ACL; he knew Ron would be collecting for Charles's
trip to Miami. Bill also purchased nothing. Ron arrived this
round and picked the DRGW, and Carl bought the SOU. Upon arriving
in Miami, Charles upgraded to an Express. Mike ended up collecting
$5000 twice from Bill while Ron collected $5000 three times from
Perhaps due to all the SouthEast activity, railroad purchasing
proceeded in an unusual fashion. The PA did not sell until round
8 when Brian paid for it upon his second arrival. Bill did not
make his first purchase (NYC) until round 9. Mike grabbed the
B&O later that same round, and Ron the C&O two rounds
later. The first big western railroad went to Charles when he
stretched his wallet and surprisingly chose the UP in round 12.
Carl went next, arrived and selected the ATSF, a fortuitous choice
since in the next round Mike would be sent to San Diego. Three
rounds later the race for the SP was won by Bill, who managed
to overcome a bad start and build the foundation of a decent
network with the NYC and SP; now he just needed to connect them.
Soon thereafter Charles was bound for the distant Portland
ME and Ron for Boston, so Mike capitalized by buying the B&M.
Then a series of low rolls (6, then 3, then 4) ate up Charles's
cash and he was forced to sell back his C&NW to the bank.
Eyebrows were raised when during his next turn he sold back his
last railroad, the UP. The very next round (number 20) Ron completed
a long, 8-turn trip from Los Angeles to Boston, which garnered
him enough money to not only pay for use of Bill's NYC and Mike's
B&M, but also buy the UP, giving his network a desperately
needed boost. With no railroads, Charles survived only two more
rounds, marking the only bankruptcy of the 2003 tournament, and
the first in the final since 1998.
managed to connect his network via the MP, and Mike built a path
to the NorthWest via the CB&Q plus NP. Rather than purchase
the GM&O or IC, Brian upgraded to a SuperChief in round 29.
When in round 30 Carl purchased the IC, the last unowned railroad,
the brisk match was just 2 hours old, and found the cash and
railroad networks as follows (listed in order of purchase by
each player): Bill: $64k, NYC, NYNH, SP, MP, C&NW; Ron: $28k,
SAL, D&RGW, WP, C&O, UP, SLSF; Mike: $44.5k, ACL, B&O,
RF&P, B&M, CB&Q, NP, GM&O; Brian: $40.5k, PA,
CMStP&P, L&N, T&P, plus SuperChief; Carl: $13.5k,
SOU, ATSF, CRI&P, GN, N&W, IC. Given that only Bill and
Ron owned both a major NorthEastern and SouthWestern railroad,
they seemed to be the leading candidates for the victory.
Mike soon upgraded to a $28,000 Super Chief, followed the
next round by both Bill and Ron. It was fortunate Brian had purchased
a Super Chief before use fees rose to $10,000, because he immediately
made a pair of unfriendly trips (Salt Lake City and San Francisco).
The experienced players kept the match chugging along quickly,
and spread rail use fees equally so that no one jumped to a big
lead. In round 47, Portland ME proved to be difficult for yet
another player, as a trip there forced Carl to auction his IC.
Ron added it to his network via a winning bid of $21,000.
In round 49, Bill was the first to announce reaching $150,000;
in fact, his Los Angeles to Cincinnati payoff bumped him all
the way up to $170,500. As if the dice gods sensed someone had
too much of a lead, immediately Bill began a string of difficult
trips that knocked him back below $150,000: Charleston, Baltimore,
then Atlanta, all unfriendly, with Mike and Brian the primary
beneficiaries of the associated rail use fees. That same round
Mike announced, followed by Ron the next round. Meanwhile, Brian
was making trips from Atlanta to Los Angeles to Mobile, riding
Carl's ATSF most of the way and paying him five consecutive turns.
Even so, Brian was able to announce and Carl wasn't. During the
same period, Mike was collecting a few rail use payments while
making long, friendly trips. His bank account ballooned from
$151,000 in round 53 to $203,000 in round 58, and then to $235,500
in round 62.
A cash check in round 63 showed Mike with $235,500, Brian
$221,000, Bill $189,000, Ron $171,500 and Carl less than $150,000.
Tension mounted as now, with the right next trip, any of four
players could win. In round 66 Bill arrived in Norfolk, just
12 dots from his Detroit home, but he had $199,500, not enough
to declare. Later that same round Brian arrived in New York;
with about $240,000 but 13 dots distant from his St. Louis home
and both Bill and Ron hovering in the vicinity, he decided to
not risk declaring.
Finalists (left to right): Mike
Zorrer, Brian Conlon, Charles Ellsworth, Carl Walling Jr, Bill
Crenshaw, and Ron Secunda.
Ron's next destination of Portland, OR was far from his New
Orleans home, so he decided to continue hovering in the NorthCentral
/SouthCentral area as Mike approached Atlanta, where he would
be just 11 from his Detroit home. This put Ron in the best position
to rover Mike if Mike declared and failed to roll high enough
to reach home. Despite the danger, in round 70, Mike declared
and rolled 11, exactly the minimum he needed for his trip home
for the win.
The final match was completed in only 4.5 hours, the shortest
duration your GM has seen for a 6-player game. The credit goes
to both the quick play of the participants as well as time-saving
rule variants. The entire tournament was played with the "ride-free-on-your-own-railroads"
variant. Additionally, participants were allowed to use the Boardgame
Conductor of the RB Player computer version to speed up the tedious
destination and payoff chart lookup task. The average duration
of a first round match was slightly over three hours, and more
than one first-round match finished in under 2.5 hours. These
durations are an hour shorter than those experienced just a few
years ago. I think we've reached a stage in which the matches
are about as fast as they are reasonably going to get, and so
don't plan any further changes.
The 59 total participants played in 24 first-round matches,
producing 24 different winners who advanced to the semi-finals.
22 of those showed for the semis, and three alternates were promoted
to fill out the five 5-player tables. One of those alternates
was champion-to-be Mike Zorrer. Small prizes of pewter train
game tokens were awarded to all the winners. The "Power-of-the-
Pennsy" award was taken home by David Fox who won his first-round
match despite the lowest value network ($112,000). Cheryl Merica
claimed the "Rockefeller Award" for winning her first-round
match with the most cash ($312,500).
The railroad most frequently owned by a match winner was the
C&NW. There was a four-way tie for the least-frequently winner-owned
railroad: B&O, CB&Q, GM&O and RF&P. Curiously,
champion Mike Zorrer bucked the statistics and owned all four
of these in the final! I'd like to thank assistant GMs Paul Van
Bloem and Chuck Foster for their support, and I hope to see everyone
back again for next year's Rail Baron chugfest.
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