Someone in the world of professional wrestling is to thank for giving us the phrase, “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.” And in just about any form of competition you can think of, there’s someone out there living according to that philosophy.
In recent days, Spygate, Deflategate, Trashcangate, and other major mainstream sports examples have given way to one niche competition after another getting swallowed up in scandalous allegations. From the highest levels of chess to a five-figure fishing tournament in Ohio, the scales of justice — or just the scales upon which fish are weighed — may have a figurative thumb on them.
When someone pulls a lead weight or a piece of a different fish out of the inside of a fresh catch, we have ourselves an open-and-shut case. In the world of high-stakes poker last Thursday night, we saw the exact opposite of that.
One hand has had the word “poker” trending on Twitter nearly nonstop ever since, and the debate over whether there was foul play or just garden-variety mathematically objectionable play has raged back and forth. Here, embedded in approximately its 7,943rd article in a span of a few days, is the video of the hand:
— Hustler Casino Live (@HCLPokerShow) September 30, 2022
Calling with jack squat
A synopsis of what went down: In a cash game streamed on Hustler Casino Live, Garrett Adelstein, a poker pro (and crash-and-burn Survivor contestant) reputed for an aggressive table style, tangled with relative novice Robbi Jade Lew, whose earliest recorded tournament cash, according to the Hendon Mob database, came less than a year ago.
He flopped an open-ended straight-flush draw with his 8-7 of clubs, and she flopped nothing with her J-4 offsuit. He semi-bluffed — betting with a hand that isn’t strong yet, but could become strong — and she called. The turn card changed nothing, Adelstein semi-bluffed again, Lew raised, he moved all-in, and, needing to put another $108K into a $161K pot, she called. They agreed to run it twice — meaning they would see two separate river cards, each determining who would win half the pot. Lew’s jack-high, a 54%-46% favorite on any individual river in this matchup with about a 27% shot at winning both rivers, held up twice.
And when they turned their cards over and Adelstein saw he’d been called down and beaten by a hand this weak, his demeanor shifted instantly from relaxed and smiling to deadly serious and utterly perplexed. Something didn’t seem right to him. Her play didn’t add up. Even if she correctly read him as trying to bully her without so much as a pair, there are enough possible bluffing hands of his that would be way ahead of her jack-high that no respectable poker player would make the call she did unless she knew his high card was no better than an eight.
So, did she know what he had? Or was she simply inexperienced enough at the poker table to make an unsound decision in the heat of the moment? That’s the question at the heart of this controversy.
Away from the table afterward, Lew gave Adelstein back all the money he’d lost in the hand. And that only made both sides of the debate dig in deeper.
He said, she said, they all said
Lew alleged on Twitter that Adelstein “cornered me & threatened me. If he has the audacity to give me the death stare ON camera, picture what it’s like OFF camera. I was pulled out of the game & forced to speak to him in a dark hallway.”
Adelstein shared on Twitter, “To be clear, I never asked for a refund. I never even considered asking as it would be such an obvious admission of guilt on her end. But once she offered, of course I am going to accept my money back after clearly being cheated.”
He continued: “If I thought there was any chance I wasn’t being cheated, I would not have accepted the refund.”
Name a poker pro, poker amateur, or just aspiring social media sociologist who may or may not understand the first thing about poker, and chances are they shared an opinion one way or the other about what went down.
Some had a chuckle over it:
I’ll never call anyone with J high again because I’m getting freerolled. I’ll have to return the money if won and if lost it’ll be expensive. Q high is the bottom of my calling range now!
— Robert Mizrachi (@PokerRob24) October 2, 2022
Some turned it into a study in gender perception:
Former female pro poker player here: please understand you are DEAD wrong about this – there is a *real chance* she was cheating in this case, & misogyny has v little to do with it. Your tweet is hurting the perception of women in poker in the long run so pls stop.
— Liv Boeree (@Liv_Boeree) October 3, 2022
On the podcast he co-hosts, DAT Poker Podcast, superstar pro Daniel Negreanu offered a variety of insights, reaching the conclusion that Lew likely did not cheat, although he couldn’t be certain. He said fellow pro Sam Grafton played against Lew this summer at the World Series of Poker, and he paraphrased Grafton as telling Negreanu, “Her play [in the hand against Adelstein] is totally consistent with what I saw. She did some weird s**t that made no sense.”
One of most respected guys in poker is yelling at you on a livestream. You’re embarrassed/flustered & just want the situation to go away. Not saying it’s right ,but I don’t think giving $ back is necessarily indicative of guilt. https://t.co/HbB3x1i2MX
— Danielle Andersen (@dmoongirl) September 30, 2022
Negreanu felt strongly that Lew giving Adelstein his money back — in theory, something an innocent person might do just to avoid a firestorm, even though in this case it turned out a firestorm was unavoidable — does not serve as evidence that she cheated.
“If I was a scumbag cheat,” Negreanu said, “and that’s what my goal is, to cheat people out of f**kin’ money and I just did, I ain’t giving it back! If I actually was guilty — you know what, if I was guilty, I for sure wouldn’t give it back, because I know how that looks. If I give the money back, it looks like I’m admitting to guilt.”
Just another few seconds, and Negreanu was going to explain why the iocane powder couldn’t possibly be in the goblet in front of him.
Life in a post-Postle world
It was the Mike Postle scandal in 2019 that introduced the world to the possibility of a player being fed information about opponents’ hole cards during a livestreamed game, and had that never happened, perhaps Adelstein’s mind wouldn’t have gone to a place that led to him giving Lew that “death stare.”
Postle’s alleged cheating (please forgive the extremely overly cautious use of the word “alleged”) only came to the fore because of the internet detective work of the poker community. There is no grand governing poker body that oversees the game and investigates improprieties and metes out punishment. There are powerful entities that can ban people from their casino, and lawsuits can be filed, but there is no omnipotent commissioner to send someone home for a year like Roger Goodell and the NFL did when Calvin Ridley bet on football games.
In short, the poker community is stuck having to police itself. If enough people accuse the likes of Ali Imsirovic and Jake Schindler of illegally colluding, eventually an entity like the PokerGO Tour may suspend them, as happened in September. But will PokerStars, the WSOP, the World Poker Tour, every casino and card room, etc., recognize those suspensions?
Poker has a Wild West feel to the way it’s overseen. And if Bill Hickok was around, he’d tell you how that tends to end up.
The Adelstein-Lew hand was covered by outlets that haven’t written about poker since they thought they were on the cutting edge by comparing Phil Ivey to Tiger Woods a decade or two ago. Adelstein vs. Lew made Inside Edition! Poker pro Doug Polk, for one, thinks this scandal — which may very well involve no cheating and not even be a scandal — is good for the game:
I see a lot of "these types of stories are terrible for poker" takes on the Robbi J4 story. I disagree.
All of a sudden hundreds of thousands of people are passionately viewing poker content and learning about the game. Also long convo's about cheating makes it harder to cheat.
— Doug Polk (@DougPolkVids) October 4, 2022
As long as Adelstein is holding on to the money Lew returned, from a wins-and-losses and purely financial perspective, it’s like the hand never happened. Contrasting it with the Postle scheme, Negreanu said, “In this case we have one goofy hand that could potentially be explained by just f**king losing your mind in a crazy spot.”
Yep, maybe that’s all this is. Or maybe it was a sophisticated cheating operation. Chances are we’ll never know for sure, and chances are no formal consequences will be suffered. But informally, the poker community will render a decision, as it always does, and the specter of cheating will simply remain part of the gamble for every player.