from the lounge
First came President Obama. Then Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. And now Vin Diesel and the cast and crew of the smash movie franchise Fast and Furious have turned Havana upside down.
It seems that everyone is talking about the production team filming Fast 8 this week in Cuba; about the 75 vintage and beautifully restored (by Cubans) American cars that were cast in the movie; about the flashy black helicopter carrying a huge camera that is buzzing the city; about the massive traffic jams created by the closing of the Malecón, the stunning seaside boulevard that separates Havana from the ocean and has served as the street set for several scenes being shot this week.
President Obama just embarked upon a historic trip to Cuba, becoming the first American president to do so since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. While both sides of the political aisle can debate the virtue of such a trip, it is important to highlight some underlying issues that frame the discussions that are taking place.
First, there should be a commitment to advance political reform and civil liberties for the Cuban people as we pursue economic and trade relations. Congress should thoroughly review issues of human rights and personal freedom in Cuba as they are advancing any of over a dozen pieces of filed legislation intended to normalize relations.
Five years ago, I wrote a story for Cigar Aficionado that focused on guys who managed to win six-figure sums by playing fantasy football. At the time, online poker thrived and offshore sports books operated with little interference. In that environment, fantasy football came off as one more opportunity for gambling at your computer. I expected it to be a fringe player in the online wagering world. I could not have been more wrong.
As was blasted on the cover of Fortune magazine this week, fantasy-sports betting has since turned into a multi-billion dollar industry, headed by DraftKings and FanDuel. But, soon after Fortune hit newsstands, the sites garnered other headlines for all the wrong reasons: Employees personally winning hundreds of thousands of dollars, premature leaking of information, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman questioning the legality of the entire concept.
Jason Day's decisive and emotional victory in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits last Sunday brought to a resounding close one of the most compelling and dynamic championship seasons in history.
With the extraordinary prodigy Jordan Spieth as his playing partner the final day, and with the grand Lake Michigan waterfront course framing every shot, Day played both confidently and flawlessly on his way to an all-time major scoring record of 20 under par.
Day's victory Sunday, and Spieth's victory in the Masters and U.S. Open this year (plus a fourth-place finish in the British Open and a second in the PGA) clearly signal the transition of the game from the Tiger-and-Phil era to the next generation of greats.
So the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament is in the books at Chambers Bay, a brand new and much-talked about venue for our national championship.
Sure, you had players carping about this or that, but what U.S. Open doesn't engender such animosity from those who don't find themselves on top of the leaderboard? At the end of the first round Thursday, two of the best players in the world, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, were tied for the lead at 65, five-under par, and top-flight pros like Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed were in contention.
And those who played lousy, in particular Tiger Woods with an 80 and Ricky Fowler with an 81, are mired at the bottom of the leaderboard with virtually no chance of making the cut come Friday evening. So isn't that what a championship course is supposed to do—identify the strong and penalize the weak? Chambers Bay, a true American links, did just that in its debut.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has always offered a lot to recommend: Cool nightlife, some of the best cocktails in town, fantastic rooms with balconies (a rarity in Vegas for obvious reasons), and, just for good measure, a spinoff of STK with a DJ. But if you want to gamble, really gamble, well, it just hasn't been the place. The casino there never feels exactly right, and if you happen to be a high roller, looking to put down seriously big bets, Cosmopolitan has a history of not courting whale-sized action. Plus, its accommodations can be limiting for guys who're used to staying in comped five-star villas that come with English butlers.
But that is poised to change. Gambling at Cosmo will soon be up to speed and as alluring as everything else inside the high-energy hotel/resort/casino.
It's one of those good-news/bad-news stories. For the second time, professional poker player Maria Ho qualified as the last woman standing in the World Series of Poker Main Event. This year she finished 77th out of 6,683 entrants and took home $85,812 in prize money. In 2007, the game broke her heart with a 38th place finish and $237,865 for her trouble.
All told, she's won nearly $1.7 million in live tournament winnings. Nice as those distinctions might be, they're nowhere near as appealing as making the Main Event final table, playing for the world championship bracelet and competing for an ungodly sum of money. This year's first-place finish pays $10 million. Had a few things gone her way, Ho would have been the first female vying for the richest, most prestigious windfall in poker.
If you thought Warren Buffett was a stone-cold madman for putting up a billion-dollar free-roll to anyone who could complete a perfect March Madness bracket, well, it's time to reassess the Oracle of Omaha's sanity. That irresistible offer brought Buffett and the venture's sponsors, Quicken Loans Inc. and Yahoo Sports, boatloads of publicity with virtually no risk. Just about everyone washed out on making it through the first two rounds of the NCAA finals.
However, there was one exception: Brad Binder, a misbegotten soul who went into week-two of the tournament with a perfect Yahoo bracket—but somehow failed to enter the contest put on by Buffett. As Jay Farber, second-place finisher in the World Series of Poker, put it: "So this kid has the potential to miss out on a billion dollars? I might off myself."
The past year has been a good one for gamblers who enjoy scandal and chicanery – particularly when it involves other people. For our voyeuristic pleasure, there was the busted poker/bookmaking ring allegedly centered around a high-end Picasso dealer who operated out of Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel, audio tapes emerged on which Russ Hamilton reportedly admitted to scamming players out of millions on the now defunct poker-site UltimateBet, and Phil Ivey got himself into a widely reported kerfuffle with Crockfords in London over a bit of advantage playing (definitely not cheating, at least from my purview) at the punto banco table.
As 2013 wound down, Archie Karas, famous for having one of gaming’s all-time great winning streaks—the story goes that that he hit Las Vegas in 1992 with $50, borrowed $10,000, and ran it up to $40 million in three years—got accused of marking cards at a San Diego blackjack table. Supposedly, he burned through the $40 million in just three weeks time, so, by 2013, he must have needed cash. Colorful as Karas’s entry to Vegas may be, recent events seem rather bleak. His allegedly ill-gotten blackjack winnings were just $8,000 and his actions (if he did them) would clearly be criminal. In El Cajon, California, Superior Court, Karas pleaded not guilty to winning by fraudulent means and burglary (both felonies) and cheating (a misdemeanor). Whatever the outcome, there is good reason to believe that guys like Karas always land on their feet. Shortly after he was charged with marking cards, a Hollywood production company announced plans to make a biopic, based on his life, entitled, appropriately enough, The Run.
It's usually around the holidays that I get a lot of questions about what I do as tasting coordinator, and what we do here at Cigar Aficionado when we rate cigars. This week you're seeing the final results of that as we reveal the entire Top 25 list for 2013. But to get to those 25, there's a long, ash-laden road that the editors take every year.
In the last 12 months, Cigar Aficionado editors have puffed their way through more than 700 cigars for the ratings in the magazine and in Cigar Insider. On top of that, there was the special tasting of Top 25 cigars that began with a round of 45, then a second round of 13 finalists.
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