One of the bizarre things I do is smoke. There is no explanation for this other than the fact that I just plain enjoy it. Cigarettes just won't do; I have to smoke expensive and rare cigars, and prefer those of the Cuban persuasion. I have come to realize this is a self-indulgence.
Cigars mark time in an otherwise unremarkable existence. I can remember specific cigars at memorable occasions. Cigars that marked a time that is important only to me, and was unknown at the time the cigar was prepared. These are the occasions when the cigar provides the medium for the lucid state of quiet contemplation.
I have learned things about the world and its people while quietly smoking by myself in the sanctuary of my backyard. I have learned things about myself while smoking at international venues. This is the beauty of the cigar and the condition it is responsible for: you never know what to expect while slipping ever so deeper into the blue smoke. Maybe this is something better explained by a person practiced in the art of meditation. Me? I will just fire up that Partagas Serie D No. 4 I have been nurturing to perfection and go the easy way. I love cigars so much that for six years in my early adulthood, I operated a tobacco shop. I fed my product to persons who, like me, enjoyed the fellowship of the cigar. This maintained the union of my body and soul for the time, but ultimately and unfortunately, it was dissolved.
Things have surprisingly turned about. I find myself again in the region of Islam, and doing the things fate has decided I am proficient at doing. How this happened, I only have a string of clues. I will consider this during one of my smoking sessions in the future. At the present, and while I smoke this Cohiba Siglo III circa 1998, I will only look at what the moonlight displays across an empty expanse called the Inland Sea.
Tonight I remember friends who aren't here, and wonder where lives have led some of those who still are. I speculate that politics should sometimes take a backseat to humanity. I contemplate things such as the infamous "What If?" I realize it does not matter what if, and that my life has order, it has purpose, and it has meaning somehow.
I understand that I should not take myself too seriously. I realize that, though I have fallen down before, it is always quite an adventure to get back up. I find joy and happiness in small things and beauty in the strangest of places. I am whole, and my life has been one of interest. I find purpose and have no remorse for my indulgence. I hope there will always be cigars.
Drew Martin Doha, Qatar
The great Yiddish humorist, Sholam Aleichem, told the following story: A doctor advises a man to stop smoking his daily compliment of six cigars. The doctor then says, "That will be $40." The man says, "I'm not paying you." "Why?" asks the doctor. "Because I'm not taking your advice," countered the man.
Oddly enough, the same situation occurred during my annual physical at UCLA's Medical Center. My internist told me my test results were excellent, but while reviewing my chart, noticed that I smoked three to five cigars daily. He recommended that I cut down, or better yet, quit completely. Remembering the Aleichem story, I said, "I'm not taking your advice, so I'm not paying you." I didn't expect a big guffaw, maybe just a smile or a chuckle. Instead, he gave me the following lecture: "You don't have to follow my advice but you do have to pay us, and please do it promptly, because if you keep smoking those cigars, I don't know how long you're going to be around."
I believe if he had told me to cut out sweets and I said, "I'm not paying you, because I'm not taking your advice," he would have laughed. So why is it that people have no sense of humor when it comes to tobacco products? We all know that cigars aren't good for us. Why don't they lighten up a little bit? Perhaps this would make a good article for your publication. Arriba Cohiba!
Gabe Kaplan Los Angeles, California
Michael Kaplan's article on blackjack tournaments (December 2002) puts me in mind of one I was entered in during the pre-poker days in Atlantic City in the mid-'80s.
The buy-in was $500 and it was a cash game (you could cash whatever chips you held after each round). Additionally, the maximum bet throughout the tournament was $500. My strategy was similar to that of my pal Anthony Curtis, except I loaded up on the front end.
In the first round, I bet half my stack -- $250. I caught a decent hand and forced everyone else to play catch-up as I proceeded to play $5 bets with perfect basic strategy. I advanced to Round 2, and bought in with a fresh $500, pocketing my $380 net win from the first round. The second-place finisher advanced with me.
My strategy worked well until the semifinal round, in which only one player would advance. Here's where position and a good count on the other players' chips came into play. On the final hand I was $20 behind the only other true contender. Trouble is, I had to act first and I knew he would simply do whatever I did. So, like the player in Mr. Kaplan's article who hit a hard 18 to win, I had to do something weird.
I bet the maximum $500 and, correctly, so did the other guy. We were both dealt stiffs, a 5 showing for me and a 6 for him. But the dealer had a 6 showing, too. Of course both of us would normally stand on our stiffs, but then he would win the round -- no matter what the dealer does. So what must I do?
I doubled down for $25 on my 15, forcing him to do the same. I make a hand, drawing a 5 to make 20. He makes a hand, too, drawing a 3 to make 19. If the dealer breaks, he wins the round. The dealer draws to a count of 20 and I push. He loses and I advance to the final table.
It would make a better story if I went on to win it all ($38,000), but I ended up with a lot of cash and a very nice gold bracelet for third place.
Bill Alan Avon, Connecticut