When Hasbro announced earlier this month that it would replace one of the eight game pieces in its classic Monopoly with a new piece to be chosen by popular vote, Phillips Lytle associate Richard Marinaccio knew what he had to do.

Richard Marinaccio

In 2009, Marinaccio bested 27 challengers in the game’s national championships in Washington, D.C., becoming America’s Monopoly champion and reaping a $20,580 prize, the amount in Monopoly’s bank. And he did it with the most humble of game pieces, the thimble. Now, Marinaccio is asking Monopoly players to stand up for his favored piece, and his firm is standing behind him. On Jan. 11, the firm issued a press release to spread Marinaccio’s call to give “thumbs up for the thimble.”

The thimble is up against the race car, shoe, dog, battleship, top hat, iron and wheelbarrow. The piece voted least popular stands to be replaced by a cat, diamond ring, guitar, toy robot or helicopter. Votes can be cast on Monopoly’s Facebook page.

Marinaccio, 30, has played Monopoly since childhood but didn’t play competitively until the 2009 tournament. He said he chose the thimble because most other players favored more glamorous pieces—like the dog, race car and top hat—allowing him to make the thimble his own.

Marinaccio’s knack for closing deals isn’t limited to the Monopoly board. As a Buffalo-based attorney, he focuses on commercial agreements, licenses and mergers and acquisitions. He earned his J.D. at the University at Buffalo Law School in 2007, where he also was publications editor of the Buffalo Law Review.

After the 2009 national Monopoly championship, Marinaccio went on to place third in the world championship in Las Vegas. Because there have been no national or worldwide Monopoly tournaments since then, Marinaccio still holds his title, which he says he will defend in the next championship.

Q: How long have you been playing competitive Mo-nopoly? How did you get into it?

A: I have been playing Monopoly since I was a little boy. I liked playing board games with my family.

Q: How much time do you spend on Monopoly?

A: Presently, I don’t play often. When I was preparing for the tournaments I was playing regularly with family, friends, and online. At that time, I was probably playing five to 10 games a week.

Q: Do you play with any other lawyers?

A: I played with other lawyers in the tournaments. I think lawyers are good at Monopoly because the game is about negotiating and calculating risk. I know that being a corporate lawyer helps me in a game. My experience as a corporate lawyer helps me structure good deals.

Q: How supportive is your firm of your Monopoly career?

A: Phillips Lytle has been very supportive of my Monopoly “career.” The firm shows a great level of interest and offered support on the “Thumbs Up for the Thimble” campaign. Phillips Lytle is a great place to work and the lawyers are supportive of one another.

Q: A lot of people think of Monopoly as mostly a game of luck. But what kind of skills do you need to play Monopoly at the highest levels?

A: To play Monopoly at the highest level you need to have at least a basic understanding of the mathematics behind the game. For example, you have to know which properties are landed on most frequently, the odds of rolling certain numbers on the dice, when to make investments in property and how to get the best return on your investments. In addition, you need to be able to read your opponents and make good deals. There are times when the dice are not going your way and you need to make creative deals to get yourself in a position to win. It is very rare that you win a game of Monopoly without making any trades.

Q: Your own practice involves mergers and acquisitions. The parallel with Monopoly is obvious. Do you use any of the same skills in your law and Monopoly careers?

A: I use the same skills in my legal career as in my Monopoly career. As a lawyer I negotiate deals and I do the same around the Monopoly board. I also use the same strategies to structure a fair deal for all parties. When negotiating deals, whether in Monopoly or in my law practice, I need to determine which deal points are most important for all parties involved and to ensure that everybody walks away satisfied. At the highest level in Monopoly, you are not going to find too many one-sided trades. You need to structure a deal that is fair, but still puts you (or your client) in the position they want to be in after the deal is completed.

Q: You’ve spoken out to save the thimble, which Hasbro might replace with a new piece. What’s special about the thimble and why is it important to keep it?

A: The thimble is special to me because I used it to win the U.S. National Championship. I have memories tied to the thimble and I would like for it to be there when I have the opportunity to teach my son to play Monopoly. I think people have memories tied to the tokens. People often come up to me and tell me stories about the games of Monopoly they have played. It will be sad to see a classic token be retired.

Q: What piece would you get rid of instead, and why? What new piece would you introduce?

A: I just hope the thimble is not retired. I understand that people have memories tied to different tokens, and it will be a shame to see one go. Of the new choices, I like the helicopter.

Q: What advice would you give a new law graduate who wants to be a transactional lawyer?

A: To be a good transactional lawyer it helps to seek out classes in law school that are geared toward transactional lawyers. While at the University at Buffalo Law School I was able to participate in the finance transactions concentration, which offered many hands-on transactional law courses. Also, I think it is important to find jobs, while in law school, that afford you the opportunity to do work beyond research and writing. You need to read contracts and understand how deals are negotiated.

Q: What advice would you give a would-be Monopoly champion?

A: To be a Monopoly champion you need to understand the basic mathematics and then you need to play as many games as you can. You need to learn how to adapt to different situations and how to make good deals to put yourself in a position to win.

Q: Any little-known Monopoly tricks you’d like to share?

A: Going to jail is bad in the beginning of the game and good at the end.