In Lew of Evidence: The Poker Community Tries to Solve a Mystery

  • In 2019, the Mike Postle cheating scandal brought the poker community together
  • The Lew/Adelstein hand has now gone mainstream too, but its not a clear-cut case like Postle
  • Members of the poker community have “investigated” the hand and formed camps on both sides
  • Hustler employee Sagbigsal has now been accused of involvement after taking Lew’s chips
  • Regardless, people need to take caution providing their opinion given the high stakes involved
Infamous Hustler Live hand between Robbi Jade Lew and Garrett Adelstein
The poker community is conducting its own “investigations” into the now-infamous Lew/Adelstein hand, but let’s all be careful about rushing to judgment. [Image: Hustler Live / YouTube]

You may be able to solve a mystery

When I was a teenager, there was one “can’t miss” show on a Saturday evening. Ok, maybe there were two. I was a big fan of ITV’s hit show ‘Gladiators.’ Who could resist former athletes leaping around balletically in spandex pants? Not me.

Right after Gladiators, another show always caught my young eyes. Eerie music was accompanied by the portentous line: “You may be able to solve a mystery.” Robert Stack’s distinctive deep voice and commanding delivery pulled me from my sitting-room couch and into his domain – the world of ‘Unsolved Mysteries.’ He invited me to join him as he investigated murders and disappearances, cases that had gone cold, always with a link to a place to write in should I have information pertinent to the unsolved crime. I never did, but I was nonetheless gripped.

As a species, our brains are hardwired to solve puzzles, to fill in the gaps of knowledge.

Since those days, mystery has evolved as a TV genre, spawning countless true crime documentary hits. It is also a dominant category in the podcast realm. Whodunnit? Why did he do it? How did she get away with it? As a species, our brains are hardwired to solve puzzles, to fill in the gaps of knowledge. Perhaps it’s a form of sublimation, a rejection of life’s fundamental mysteries or a desperate synecdoche for mortality itself.

Ingram unified the poker community

In September 2019, Veronica Brill blew the whistle on alleged serial cheating by Mike Postle on the Stones Live poker stream. Joe Ingram led the charge with long streams dedicated to analyzing hundreds of hours of recordings on which Postle appeared. With remarkable dedication, the popular podcast host harnessed the power of his audience, essentially crowd sourcing the job of sifting through the tapes.

he was a statistical outlier of unfathomable proportion

Early on, it became clear that the findings were damning for Postle on two fronts. Data gathered showed that he was a statistical outlier of unfathomable proportion. Video showed him looking down at his crotch time and time again before making perfect decisions not against his opponent’s range, but against their actual holdings. The amount of evidence was overwhelming. Regardless of what the courts would ultimately decide, the outcome of this “investigation” was definitive. Whether or not Postle would be convicted, this was a victory for truth finding and a unifying moment for the poker community, which often splintered into two opposing camps.

Ingram, for his part, had not only brought us together, but he had coordinated and given a vital focal point to some really high quality “in plain view” investigative work by himself and the public. His commitment to the cause was something to behold and he deserved every bit of the adulation he received and the peer recognition he got in the form of a GPI award for journalism.

Lew vs Adelstein goes mainstream

A week ago (yes, it’s only been a week), Robbi Jade Lew made a highly suspicious Jack-high call on the Hustler Poker Live stream against top cash game professional Garrett Adelstein. Believing that he had been the victim of cheating, Adelstein left the table, ultimately confronting Lew in the presence of Hustler’s Ryan Feldman. During that encounter, Lew gave Adelstein back the $135,000 she won from him. According to Adelstein, it was offered to him by Lew, an action he amplified on his own social media as an admission of guilt. Lew’s account is that Adelstein adopted a bullying posture, demanding the return of the money. Neither scenario infers guilt, but importantly, it is Lew’s version that was corroborated by Feldman.

Since then, the poker world has been utterly consumed by this story. Ingram has once again taken up the mantle with daily 12-hour streams dedicated to getting to the bottom of what happened. On Sunday, tabloid newspapers Daily Mail and USA Today picked it up on either side of the Atlantic. On Monday, it was a feature story on ‘Inside Edition’ and an article on BBC News.

it makes even less sense as an instance of cheating

The problem is this is not the slam-dunk case that transpired with Mike Postle and in lieu of hard evidence, conjecture has run rife. The hand in question doesn’t seem on the level, but it makes even less sense as an instance of cheating. Unlike the Postle case, there is no smoking gun, let alone dozens and dozens of examples of “above the rim” hero calls and groin glances.

Analyzing Lew

Lew’s prior play has been deconstructed ad nauseam and can certainly be categorized as erratic, but no more than you would expect from an amateur player. She is up money over a small sample so it’s impossible to draw any conclusions from that. Her inability to tell a consistent story in the aftermath is more likely to be a product of pressure and embarrassment than it is skullduggery.

Lew giving Adelstein back the money that she won is unusual, but it I’ve seen it done on a rare occasion, whereas I have never seen a cheat voluntarily return ill-gotten gains. She does appear to be shaking whilst in the tank during a number of hands but as a life-long leg-jiggler, I can attest to how this vibration impacts your upper body too. Her relationship with another player in the game has been established, but that is not proof of anything.

I’ve found the “I’m 90% sure she’s cheating” brigade pretty sickening

As a result of all this pontificating and perorations, poker players have decamped to their opinion silos, forming different coalitions to the ones normally seen. My VegasSlotsOnline News colleague Dara O’Kearney broke that down in his article on the subject. Last night’s shocking revelation that, at the end of the televised session, the dealer Bryan Sagbigsal stole $15,000 from the Lew’s stack is yet another peculiarity in the case. This discovery has moved the needle for some but it still remains that there is not yet any conclusive proof of wrongdoing on Lew’s part:

Irresistible catnip

‘Unsolved Mysteries’ was an entertainment show, but part of its appeal was that it might be more than that. Once in a while, Robert Stack would say how an audience member tipped of the police, leading to a new area of enquiry, but those occasions were few and far between.

there are three televised streams to comb through

The Postle scandal was irresistible catnip for a true crime fanatical poker audience because all the videos were in the public domain. You may have actually been able to solve a mystery. The Lew/Adelstein story is similar in that there are three televised streams to comb through and explore for all their evidentiary worth. The difference, however, is that there was a point quite early on with Postle where the writing was on the wall and that same inflection point has not been reached right now with Lew.

One hand does not make a summer. No smoke without with a vibrating gizmo. Sometimes a phone shaped device in your leggings is just a cigar.

Will the uncovering of Hustler employee Bryan Sagbigsal’s theft be the turning point in the case? It could certainly be a separate issue, a coincidental crime of opportunity, but it is noteworthy that Lew has decided not to press charges:

This has led some to speculate on the possibility that Sagbigsal is her accomplice and that palming her chips was him taking his cut. If so, it is bizarre that a partner-in-crime would take his piece in clear sight of the cameras on a day when he must have figured that every frame of film would be dissected. 

Another significant development last night was Lew embracing the idea of doing a lie-detector test:

Investigation vs “Investigation”

These days, the highly interconnected, highly interactive modern consumer of content relies less upon television and more on mediums in which they have a greater level of involvement. Ingram has certainly tapped into that zeitgeist with his “investigation” streams, but it is worth illuminating a point well made by the great Norman Chad:

Enjoyable as it may be to listen to the phone-in contributions of the Mike Matusows and Charlie Carrels of this world, they do not constitute, nor should they be confused for, real inquiry. While not for a moment doubting the well-intentioned nature of the effort, these streams have devolved into something of a talking-shop and should not be confused for the real investigation, which is being done and apparently done well and trasparently by Bulletproof – Gaming Laboratories International (GLI).

While this latest development, uncovered by GLI is certainly cause for concern, it is worth exercising caution when speaking publicly on this issue and recognizing that there are different levels of responsibility at play here depending upon which side of it you fall. If you voice your opinion that Lew is innocent and it turns out that she is not, then the worst thing that can be said about you is you gave her the benefit of the doubt and exercised the principle of innocent until proven guilty. If you voice your opinion that she is guilty and it turns out that she is not, then you have defamed her character and you cannot put the genie back in the bottle.