The official investigation into Garrett Adelstein’s cheating allegations against Robbi Jade Lew has reached its conclusion. But anyone who believed it would settle the issue probably hasn’t followed previous cheating scandals in the live poker world.
By their nature, these scenarios seldom reach a satisfying conclusion. A very clumsy cheater might be caught red-handed. Hand histories sometimes provide enough statistical forensic evidence to identify suspicious patterns in online play. But proving or disproving live cheating after the fact is almost impossible. Even cases considered a slam dunk by most of the poker community – such as the allegations against Mike Postle – remain officially unproven.
Nonetheless, High Stakes Poker Productions (HSPP) commissioned the cybersecurity firm Bulletproof to investigate its setup for Hustler Casino Live. It had no choice in the matter. Failure to investigate thoroughly would have irreparably damaged the brand’s image.
Unsurprisingly, Bulletproof’s findings are inconclusive. They determined only what most reasonable observers already guessed: It’s highly unlikely there was any sophisticated external attack. Although the report doesn’t state it explicitly, the subtext is that if there was any cheating, it probably had to be an inside job involving someone with access to the broadcast booth.
The likelihood of that is a matter of personal opinion. Some will forever believe that Lew cheated Adelstein with the help of someone at HSPP. Others, like myself, will go on thinking she’s just a novice poker player who made a terrible call that happened to go in her favor.
The Robbi Jade Lew Scandal in a Nutshell
Robbi Jade Lew is a relative newcomer to poker. Her background as a former pharmaceuticals executive turned Instagram model has given her the financial ability to jump into the world of high-stakes play. Even so, she apparently has staking relationships with others in the poker world, including Jacob Chavez, who was playing in the game that night. (Though it’s bad optics, such financial relationships are not uncommon in the poker world, even among well-heeled professionals.)
Adelstein is a long-time professional player specializing in cash games like the one HSPP was hosting.
Lew was playing the hand in question with weak holdings – just a Jack with an off-suit Four as the kicker. Even so, her play up until the turn was semi-reasonable, if a bit on the loose side. Adelstein, for his part, had picked up a massive combination draw, meaning many cards could have come on the final round to complete a straight or flush for him.
Even so, Lew managed to raise Adelstein’s bet and then call off when he went all-in, creating a $269,000 pot. Lew’s Jack was good, so long as Adelstein missed all of his possible outs, which he did.
It was a play that was incomprehensible to any skilled poker player. Her hands would lose to many bluffs, even if she suspected one. That’s what made Adelstein and others suspect cheating. Others pointed out that the call made no sense even if she was cheating. After all, she was only about 50/50 against his exact hand, and a cheater would find better and less suspicious spots to exploit their edge.
In other words, it was a perfect storm for controversy since there were obvious holes in both of the most likely narratives.
A Complicated Hack was Unlikely
People love to concoct elaborate theories in these scenarios about high-tech cheating or vast conspiracies. It didn’t help that the Adelstein-Lew situation arose so soon after another cheating scandal in the chess world – that of Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann.
However, one thing Bulletproof did accomplish was to put some of the more absurd ideas to bed.
Shows like High Stakes Poker use cards with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in combination with scanners built into the table. Bulletproof’s investigation found it implausible that the table itself had been compromised. It also rejected the theory some fans had put forth that Lew had hidden an RFID scanner in her water bottle; Bulletproof says this is technologically impossible.
The investigation found no signs of malware or tampering with the network. The card shuffler can only count the number of cards in the deck, not read their values, so Bulletproof was able to rule that out as a possible point of attack.
In short, there was no evidence that Lew could have cheated alone or with the help of outside parties. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that this would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible.
The Most Likely Cheating Scenario
At the same time, Bulletproof said it could not rule out cheating. It found several potential security weaknesses, that HSPP and Hustler Casino have now attempted to address.
- Hole cards were too readily visible to everyone in the production room
- Lack of background checks on employees
- Insufficiently strict policies around electronic devices
On the latter point, the existing policy was that players were not allowed to have electronic devices at the table, and staff could not have them in the production room. However, Bulletproof recommended – and HSPP has adopted – stricter checks to enforce this. It also introduced a requirement to seal such devices inside Faraday bags to prevent them from receiving or transmitting signals.
The reason for this is that Faraday found that it’s possible to activate a concealed device from up to 10 meters away using Bluetooth. So, simply having a phone near the table could be enough to allow a player to receive signals.
Fans have fixated on the idea of a remote-controlled insertable vibrator. That’s presumably because this was one of the accusations leveled at Hans Niemann and because it makes for a salacious story. Bulletproof instead investigated the less titillating but equally effective idea of using a TENS device in this way.
TENS devices use adhesive pads to massage muscles through electrical stimulation. At low intensity, a Bluetooth-enabled TENS device could be used to send haptic signals with only minor modifications.
Perhaps out of consideration for its client, Bulletproof doesn’t explicitly connect these dots. However, the implication is: It’s not impossible that someone in the broadcast booth and therefore able to see hole cards could have relayed a signal to Lew over Bluetooth using something like a TENS device.
Where do Bulletproof’s Findings Leave Us?
Unfortunately, none of this really changes anything.
Fantasies about super-spy water bottles and remote-controlled butt plugs notwithstanding, an inside job was always the most plausible cheating scenario in the Lew story, just as it was in the accusations against Postle.
Even with Bulletproof’s help, HSPP can’t rule this scenario out. By the same token, Adelstein and those in his corner do not have any evidence to support it.
At the end of the day, all anyone has to go on is their intuition, the hand itself, and various bits of circumstantial context. These include the fact that HSPP employee Bryan Sagbigsal stole $15,000 in chips from Lew’s stack and that she did not immediately press charges. Some accusers feel that this indicates Sagbigsal was her collaborator and that the “theft” was actually the collection of payment.
Cheating certainly happens in poker. So, too, do incomprehensible, impulsive plays. Everyone has their own opinion on which is more likely here, and at this point, it seems unlikely we’ll ever get any evidence to change anyone’s mind.