When dominoes, stogies and copious amounts of Bacardi Gold rum converged last night at the Habana Cuba Cigar Lounge in Miami Lakes, I found the opportunity too hard to resist. So I, along with 39 other players, paid a $25 entry fee to compete in the lounge's seven-week domino tournament. The winning team will split $300 and a spot on "Entre Fichas," Miami-based Mega TV's answer to ESPN's world poker tournaments.
Not having a partner, I paired up with Armando Lopez, a plump Miami Lakes retiree who cautiously nursed one Cuba Libre the entire evening. "Drink another one!" bellowed Lopez's pal Marcelo Llavore. "You just want to throw me off my game," Lopez countered.
The winners from the first five rounds will compete the following two weeks for all the bones. Lopez and I don't play until October 11 so we'll be able to get some practice time together. "Figure out a strategy or two," Lopez offered.
While waiting for Lounge owner Rafael Nodal -- who could pass himself as the Cuban American version of actor Joe Mantegna -- to start the first bout, contestants mingled and played a few practice games against one another. Before long, a haze of second-hand stogie smoke engulfed the already-muggy room. Some dudes started getting antsy, jawing at each other for seats at the domino table. "They don't want to give anyone else a chance," complained Erdurs "Achilles" Sanabria, a blithe 90-year-old whose mood lightened when a buxom Colombian (peroxide-no-doubt) blonde entered the shop. "Saca la Viagra Achilles!" advised one boorish cigar smoker.
Other players included John Cavaliere who trekked from South Miami to northwest Miami-Dade in rush hour — on the Palmetto Expressway, for crissakes! — so he could play. "I love dominoes and cigars," Cavaliere gushed. "This is great!"
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The 45-year-old graphics manager and his partner Evelio Quintero were one of the four teams to play in last night's first round of action. Unfortunately, they lost.-Francisco Alvarado