Did she or didn't she? Breaking down the cheating allegation and $269K hand rocking the poker world

Cheating scandals are en vogue.

The competitive fishing world is outraged after two guys put lead weights in their fish. In chess, a 19-year-old grandmaster stands accused of cheating in more than 100 games.

So poker — a game of incomplete information ripe for cheats — isn't sitting this one out. The game is embroiled in a did-she or didn't-she debate after a bizarre hand in a high-stakes game sparked allegations of cheating and led to the winning player giving money back to the loser.

The hand in question involves one of the most stunning calls in recorded poker history in a $269,000 pot. Since the hand last week, allegations of bullying, sexism, coercion and a vibrating cheating device have been leveled. The scandal involves lawyers, RFID technology and polygraphs. Meanwhile the allegation of cheating remains just that — an allegation.

There's a lot to digest here. So let's start with the hand that launched it all.

$269K pot sparks outrage, debate

The three-blind cash game was $100/$200/$400 no-limit Texas Hold'em with an additional $400 ante from the big blind. Players added an $800 straddle, which effectively acts as a fourth blind among eight players at the table. This means that players with six-figure chip stacks were fighting over $1,900 before the betting even begins. In short, it's a big game.

The game was streamed on Hustler Casino Live from Los Angeles — a popular high-stakes poker stream. Poker icon Phil Ivey was playing, but he wasn't involved in the hand in question.

Let's meet the players who were. There's Garrett Adelstein, a respected high-stakes cash game professional who's a regular at these games. He was also a contestant on "Survivor: Cagayan," where he listed "dishonesty and lack of ambition" as his pet peeves in his bio. He was kicked off the island on Day 6.

His opponent in the hand was Robbi Jade Lew. She's a relative newcomer at these stakes, but not a first-timer. She's also an Instagram model with 15,000-plus followers. The hand starts around the 2:00 mark in the video below.

Heads up, there's plenty of NSFW language here. This is a poker game involving a cheating allegation, after all:

There’s a lot to keep up with here, so you can follow along in the video above.

Hand explanation

Adelstein was in the $400 big blind. The action folded around to him, and he raised to $3,000 with 7/8 of clubs. It's a hand with low face value but carries the potential to complete high-value straights and flushes. A raise from this spot is standard from an aggressive pro.

Lew called $2,200 from her $800 straddle with jack/4 off-suit. This is a poor holding with little upside that's generally folded from her position. But with $800 already invested, she's far from the only poker player who would pay to see a flop.

The flop brought 9 of clubs, 10 of clubs, 10 of hearts, giving Adelstein's 7/8 of clubs a good shot at both a flush and a straight with an outside shot at an unbeatable straight flush. Despite having the worst hand at the time, Adelstein's combo draw made him a roughly 2-to-1 favorite to finish with the best hand. He maintained his aggressive line and bet $2,700 into a $6,700 pot. Lew called with an unimproved jack-high. This is generally a standard fold for most experienced players, but like her pre-flop call, in no way suspicious.

A high-stakes hand is drawing plenty of criticism and debate in the poker world. (Reuters/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus)
A high-stakes hand is drawing plenty of criticism and debate in the poker world. (Reuters/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus)

The turn brought the 3 of hearts, which didn't improve either players' hand. Adelstein bet again, this time $10,000. His odds to improve had decreased, but he still had two paths to win the pot — bluff Lew out, or draw to a straight or a flush on the river to win with the best hand. Lew would not be bluffed.

She raised Adelstein's bet to $20,000 — a minimum raise. Again, this is an unorthodox play, but not suspicious. If she believes Adelstein is bluffing and capable of folding to a raise, then she could conceivably take down the pot right there. Adelstein did not fold.

He came over the top with an all-in raise for $109,000. And that's when things got weird.

How can she make this call?

This spot is a no-brainer fold for any competent poker player. Lew's jack-high doesn't beat a pair. Even if she believes that Adelstein is bluffing, her hand loses to any of his bluffs that hold an ace, king, queen or jack with a better kicker.

Adelstein just so happened to be holding one of the few semi-bluffing hands that her hand could beat. But you don't call down $109,000 in this spot on the off chance that your opponent holds 8-high.

Poker's in part a game of reading one's opponent, but there's no rational tell that could compel Lew to put Adelstein on his exact holding. Reads are generally about putting an opponent on a range of possible hands, not one as specific as Adelstein's. Accurately putting Adelstein on 7/8 suited here is the equivalent of mind reading.

In this spot, you fold, congratulate your opponent on a nice play and save your chips to fight for another hand. Instead, Lew thought about her decision for around 90 seconds. Then she did the unthinkable. She called.

'You look like you wanna kill me, Garrett'

"Yikes," Adelstein proclaimed with a strained grin. His bluff had been called. He wasn't aware at that point with what. Neither player had yet turned over their hand.

"I have a s***ty hand," Lew announced.

This prompted another "Yikes" from Adelstein.

"This is a pure bluff catcher," Lew continued. "But I think he has me beat."

Adelstein maintained his hand-in-the-cookie jar grin. He speculated out loud whether Lew held a small pair as the river cards came out. They'd agreed to run the river twice, with half the pot going to the winner of each result.

They did so with their hole cards still face down. Lew's jack-high held both times as a 9 of diamonds and ace of spades did not improve Adelstein's holding over Lew's. Adelstein sheepishly turned over his 7/8. Lew then turned over her jack/4 to scoop the $269,000 pot.

Adelstein's grin disappeared.

"You look like you wanna kill me, Garrett," Lew said.

Other players guffawed at the play. Adelstein's stunned glare remained as the dealer counted Lew's chips to determine what Adelstein owed.

The call didn't make sense. How could Lew call down $109,000 unless she knew his hole cards?

"This doesn’t seem super funny to me," Adelstein said as Lew attempted to explain her play.

"I thought you were on ace-high," Lew said.

"So why call with jack-high, then?" Adelstein responded.

It's a question that's baffled the poker world in the days since with the game's best players debating on Twitter and in podcasts: Did Lew cheat, and if so, how? Or did she just simply make a baffling play as an amateur under pressure that worked out in her favor?

Adelstein clearly believed she was cheating. Tensions remained high for the next several minutes at the table. Adelstein questioned her play, declaring "that's not a poker hand." Lew responded by repeatedly needling Adelstein and defending her play.

Lew refunds money, says she was threatened 'in a dark hallway'

Off camera, Lew gave Adelstein a refund. Details on exactly what happened are sparse, but both players have provided their accounts of what went down. Lew wrote on Twitter that Adelstein threatened her in a dark hallway.

Adelstein contends that he didn’t demand or ask for a refund and that Lew instead offered to pay him back after he implied that she cheated in their off-camera conversation.

“Any chance whatsoever that she chose to repay me the $135k for any reason other than an admission of guilt, I would never, ever accept the refund," Adelstein wrote on Twitter.

He also suggested that Lew was wearing a vibrating device or had somehow hacked into the card-reading technology to be alerted to his holding and that she had the best hand. Cards in live-streamed and broadcast games have RFID sensors identifying them so viewers can see them at home. RFID sensors were at the heart of the last big poker cheating scandal involving player Mike Postle, who unfathomably always made the right decision over the course of hundreds of hands in a regular poker live-stream.

What the poker pros say

Again, the allegations against Lew are strictly allegations. There is no concrete evidence that she cheated. Poker podcasts and Twitter have debated the allegations endlessly, with videos appearing to show Lew's chair vibrating and close-ups on her hip speculating whether she had a device in her pocket.

Lew addressed that speculation bluntly.

She's also offered multiple explanations for why she made the call at the table and on social media, including that she misread her hand and and thought that she held a 3. A 3 would have given her a pair and a legitimate bluff-catcher that would have been applauded as a good play.

If you go back to the beginning of the video, she held J/3 suited on the previous hand. It's perfectly reasonable that she could have simply mixed her hole cards up with her previous hand. Except she's seen looking back at her cards multiple times during the hand in question, including in the seconds before making the call. So this explanation appears to belie logic.

A prevailing theory is that Lew was simply overwhelmed in a big spot and made a panicked decision.

Daniel Negreanu is one of poker's best-known and most-respected players. He's also a poker coach. He's firmly on team Lew-didn't-cheat and believes that this is the most rational explanation.

He doesn't believe that Lew's decision to refund the money is an admission of guilt.

Negreanu's also done a deep Twitter dive analyzing Lew's pants in an effort to explain the apparent bulge in her right pocket.

Doug Polk — another respected high-stakes poker winner — is on team cheat. He posted the image of her pants and concluded in an 18-minute video that he believes that "it's overwhelmingly likely that she's cheating" while adding the all-important caveat that "it's not known for sure."

Meanwhile, seemingly every high-stakes pro has offered an opinion on social media.

"This shouldn’t be team cheat vs. team didn’t," Phil Galfond wrote. "Should just be an investigation from open-minded people rather than each side cherry-picking evidence to support their take. I currently think probably no cheating but I’m happy to change my mind."

Xuan Liu agrees with Negreanu and doesn't think that Lew should have refunded the money.

Others have accused Adelstein and those accusing Lew of cheating of sexism. Those critics in turn have been labeled as ignorant of poker and not understanding what the debate is about.

Nearly a week after the hand took place, the debate remains heated — and the situation unresolved. It likely won't be any time soon, if ever. But Hustler is looking into it. Hustler Casino Live has launched an investigation into the hand and the cheating allegations.

It's hired a law firm to lead the investigation conducted by a cybersecurity company that will include staff and player interviews and possible polygraph testing.

"This investigation will be extremely detailed and may take considerable time to complete," Hustler's statement reads. "Once the investigation is finished, we will release the findings publicly — no matter what they reveal.

"It’s important for us to reinforce that we have found no evidence of wrongdoing at this point."

Until and likely after the investigation is concluded, the debate will rage on.

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