“Poker imitates chess?” — tweeted Fabiano Caruana, one of today’s leading chess players. But he wasn’t referring to any strategy or approach or anything like that; he was referring to cheating.
The Poker Drama
The poker drama unfolded between long-time Instagram model Robbi Jade Lew and one-time Survivor contestant Garrett Adelstein, both pro poker players now. The hand was worth $269,000. Adelstein went all in — and Lew called.
By all the rules of statistics, she shouldn’t have called. She had basically nothing. According to one analysis, not only would she have lost to any decent hand that had something like a full house, three of a kind, or even a high pair — but she’d also have lost out to many of his bluffs. Except Adelstein also had nothing. It came down to the high card, which for Adelstein was an 8, and Lew won with a jack.
The hand shocked everyone at the table and immediately led to cheating accusations.
“I don’t understand what’s happening right now,” a perplexed Adelstein said as the cameras continued to roll.
After a moment, he asked Lew why she called.
“I thought you had ace high,” Lew said.
“So, why call with jack high?” Adelstein said, as jack high would have lost to ace high.
“Because you don’t have shit,” Lew said.
Adelstein then left the table.
Meanwhile, Lew offered to give the money back (it’s not clear if she offered to do this or she was pushed by organizers or someone else). “I was pulled out of the game & forced to speak to him in a dark hallway. Full details to come,” Lew tweeted. Adelstein accepted the money: “Once she offered, of course I am going to accept my money back after being clearly cheated.”
Some saw the returning of the money as an incriminating gesture, but legendary player Daniel Negreanu pitched in, saying that it’s something someone rich and relatively new at poker would probably do.
So how would someone cheat at poker? Well, the simplest way would be to have a device that vibrates when you have the best hand or something of that nature.
Adelstein provided his analysis of her prior strategies, and said he’s “aware” of the ways someone could “cheat” during a live stream. He said this could include a “device hidden that simply vibrates to indicate you have the best hand.”
He added: “Another common way of cheating is someone has the technology to know who will have the best hand at showdown by hacking into the card reader.”
Meanwhile, Lew hinted that she misread her hand.
But then, things took an even weirder turn. An investigation by the casino in which the game took place found that an employee was dipping into Lew’s stack, taking $15,000 before later being caught. Lew said she won’t be pressing charges, then changed her mind and made a sleuth of comments, some seemingly contradictory — but still, there is no tangible evidence that she was cheating, other than she bet a lot on a hand she was much more likely to lose than to win.
Lew will now be taking a mental health break, which, given how misogynistic some replies were on her Twitter, is perfectly understandable. The investigation is still ungoing
The cheating chess reckoning
The world of chess watched in shock when Magnus Carlsen, the highest-rated chess player of all time, resigned after making only one move. But this was just the beginning of a series of cheating scandals that sent ripples throughout the chess world.
It all started when Carlsen faced Hans Niemann, an up-and-coming 19-year-old who’s been improving his rating dramatically over the past few years. Carlsen lost to Niemann in a way he deemed impossible and subsequently withdrew from the tournament. Many observers noted that it was the first time Carlsen had ever withdrawn from a tournament and this is not a move he would take lightly — he is nothing if not combative.
To many, the move seemed shocking. You can’t just withdraw from a tournament cause you think someone’s cheating, especially if you’re the world champion and everyone’s got their eyes set on you. But Carlsen did not only that: but when he faced Niemann again in an online tournament, he resigned after only making one move.
Behind the scenes, however, many top chess players empathized with Carlsen. Several top players expressed concerns about Niemann and expressed suspicions of cheating. The suspicions were only stoked when, during a post-game interview, Niemann’s analysis of the game was pretty bizarre. In a subsequent interview, Niemann acknowledged that he cheated a few years ago, but he said it was only online and only in tournaments that weren’t for prize money.
But then, of course, it got even weirder.
It’s hard to tell when someone cheats at chess, if they’re smart about it and if they’re strong enough players without cheating. The thing is, at the highest level, you don’t really need a computer to tell you every move to play (or have someone relay a computer move somehow) — you just need a few key moves at a few key moments; sometimes, a single moment of “inspiration” is all it takes.
So it’s quite difficult to figure out when someone is cheating. But if someone were regularly cheating, you’d expect online platforms to be the first to figure it out — and that’s exactly what happened.
Chess.com, the largest online chess platform, published an investigation into Niemann’s online games and found that he likely cheated more than 100 times, even in significant games. Now, this isn’t to say he cheated against Carlsen, or that he cheated in over-the-board games (as opposed to online games). But if someone cheated once, they can cheat twice; and if they cheated a lot of times, well, it’s not hard to understand why people would be suspicious. The analysis was also complemented by individual chess players looking into the recent games of Niemann and finding some very unusual patterns. “Playing the first [computer] line in any sort of complicated game, which is not a 12-move draw, is pretty fucking weird,” said Fabiano Caruana, who came extremely close to defeating Magnus Carlsen in 2018 and is still one of the best players in the world at the moment.
The scandal spilled in unusual directions. The Chess.com investigation also said it found other leading players that likely cheated. Not long after, the Norwegian chess federation president resigned, admitting to cheating, and all sorts of accusations started flying. The problem is that this is a fight for the soul of the game: because computers are so much stronger than humans, it’s easier than ever to cheat, and the honor principle just doesn’t seem to be cutting it. Also, many players feel that cheating online isn’t taken seriously enough, although online tournaments now have a lot of cash money and reputation on the line as well.
Of course, the scandal let loose an endless deluge of memes and jokes, including one that somehow caught on. What initially started as a joke comment on social media: the anal beads.
The idea is that if someone were to cheat, some sort of vibration system that escapes detection could be used. Since Niemann said he’s willing to play naked to prove his innocence, some social media users joked that maybe he’s using anal beads anyway. Of course it’s a (bad) joke, but it somehow caught on — and the fact that some media reported it like it was anything else other than a conspiracy theory or a joke didn’t help.
At the end of the day, the drama is still unfolding, and despite hot suspicion, the directly incriminating evidence isn’t there yet. But if chess wants to clean up its image and prove that it is a fair sport, it needs to ensure that it has a way of weeding out cheating.
The fishing and tap dancing drama
Which brings us to fishing. Sure, poker drama isn’t new; even chess has had its moments. But fishing? Tap dancing? What on Earth?
Apparently, two anglers were stuffing their fish with lead weights and fish fillets in order to win over $28,000 at an Ohio fishing tournament. It was quite a surreal stage too.
Apparently, the fishing contest tournament thought something was off when the two anglers’ fished seemed to be heavier than what you’d expect (good on them for being able to tell something was fishy). The director goes on to cut the fish caught by the two anglers and upon finding the weights, starts shouting:
“We’ve got weights in fish! We’ve got weights in fish! Get the **** out of here!” Another video shows other contestants screaming and swearing at the cheaters, with some apparently suspecting foul play for a long time. Then, from another gutted fish, the director produces a fillet of a different fish. Swearwords continue to be hurled by the participants as the dialogue that follows is deliciously unreal, but not suitable for sensitive ears.
Apparently, the two anglers had won tournaments in the past, but it’s not clear if they cheated in the past as well. The two have been charged with attempted grand theft and possessing criminal tools and misdemeanor charges of unlawfully owning wild animals.
But if you thought things couldn’t get even weirder, hold up. Apparently, an Irish tap dancing judge “appeared to be exchanging sexual favours for higher scores.” According to a report, a number of teachers and schools are implicated in the allegations and at least 12 tap dance teachers have either asked for or offered to fix competitions.
Maybe it’s the financial pressure of the pandemic. Maybe it’s that after being locked in a house for months, people have a higher-than-normal desire to win, or maybe it’s just coincidence. At any rate, having four cheating scandals, so different in their own way, happen at the same time, makes for a bizarre circumstance.
Ultimately, while this may garner some temporary attention, cheating reduces trust in the community and is a toxic act that negates real accomplishments and reduces interest in the game. We can only hope for a transparent resolution of all the scandals. But in the meantime, here’s some popcorn.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.