Bizarre cheating scandals rock the world of chess, poker, fishing and tap dancing
“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 longtime Instagram model Robbi Jade Lew and one-time Survivor contestant Garrett Adelstein, both now professional poker players. The hand was worth $269,000. Adelstein moved all in – and Lew called.
By all the rules of statistics, she shouldn’t have called. She basically had nothing. According to one analysis, not only would she have lost to a decent hand that had something like a full house, three of a kind or even a high pair – but she would also have lost to many of his bluffs. Except that Adelstein had nothing either. It came down to the high card, which for Adelstein was an 8, and Lew won with jacks.
The hand shocked everyone at the table and immediately led to accusations of cheating.
“I don’t understand what’s going on right now,” a confused 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 broken hay?” Adelstein said, as jack high would have lost to ace high.
“Because you ain’t shit,” Lew said.
Adelstein then left the table.
Meanwhile, Lew offered to return the money (it is not clear if she offered to do this or she was pressured by organizers or someone else). “I was pulled out of the game and forced to talk to him in a dark hallway. Full details to come,” Lew tweeted. Adelstein accepted the money: “When she offered, of course I will accept my money back after being clearly deceived.”
Some saw the return of the money as an incriminating gesture, but legendary player Daniel Negreanu stepped in, saying that is something someone rich and relatively new to poker would probably do.
So how would someone cheat at poker? Well, the easiest way would be to have a device that vibrates when you have the best hand or something like that.
Adelstein gave his analysis of her past strategies, saying he is “aware” of the ways someone can “cheat” during a live broadcast. He said this could include a “hidden device that simply vibrates to indicate you have the best hand.”
He added: “Another common way to cheat is for someone to have the technology to know who will have the best hand at showdown by hacking into the card reader.”
Meanwhile, Lew suggested she misread the hand.
But then things took an even stranger turn. An investigation by the casino where the game took place found that an employee dipped into Lew’s stack and took $15,000 before he was later caught. Lew said she would not press charges, changed her mind and made a series of comments, some seemingly contradictory – but still no hard evidence that she cheated, other than that she bet heavily on a hand she was much more likely to lose than win.
Lew will now take a mental health break, which given how misogynistic the responses were on her Twitter, is totally understandable. The investigation is still ongoing
The cheating bill
The chess world watched in shock as Magnus Carlsen, the highest ranked chess player of all time, retired after just one move. But this was only the beginning of a series of cheating scandals that sent ripples throughout the chess world.
It all started when Carlsen met Hans Niemann, an upcoming 19-year-old who has improved his ranking dramatically in recent years. Carlsen lost to Niemann in a manner he considered 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.
For many, the move seemed shocking. You can’t just withdraw from a tournament because you think someone is cheating, especially if you’re the world champion and everyone’s eyes are on you. But Carlsen did not only do that: but when he met Niemann again in an online tournament, he retired after making only one move.
Behind the scenes, however, many top chess players empathized with Carlsen. Several top players expressed concern for Niemann and expressed suspicions of cheating. Suspicions were only raised when, during a post-game interview, Niemann’s analysis of the game was rather bizarre. In a subsequent interview, Niemann acknowledged that he cheated a few years ago, but he said it was only online and only in non-prize money tournaments.
But then of course it got even weirder.
It is hard to tell when someone cheats in chess, whether they are smart at it and whether they are 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 is quite difficult to find out when someone is cheating. But if someone regularly cheated, you’d expect online platforms to be the first to find out – and that’s exactly what happened.
Chess.com, the largest online chess platform, published an investigation of Niemann’s online play and found that he probably cheated more than 100 times, even in significant games. Now this is not to say that 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 many times, well, it’s not hard to see why people would be suspicious. The analysis was also supplemented by individual chess players looking at the last games of Niemann and finding some very unusual patterns. “Playing the first one [computer] line in any complicated game that isn’t a 12-move draw is pretty damn weird, said Fabiano Caruana, who came extremely close to defeating Magnus Carlsen in 2018 and remains one of the best players in the world at the moment.
The scandal ran in unusual directions. The Chess.com investigation also said it found other leading players likely to have cheated. Not long after, the Norwegian Chess Federation president resigned, admitted to having cheated, and all kinds of accusations began to fly. The problem is that this is a battle for the soul of the game: because computers are so much stronger than humans, it’s easier than ever to cheat, and the principle of honor doesn’t seem to cut it. Many players also feel that online cheating is not taken seriously enough, even though online tournaments now have a lot of money and reputation on the line as well.
Of course, the scandal unleashed an endless deluge of memes and jokes, including one that somehow caught on. What originally started as a joke comment on social media: the anal beads.
The idea is that if someone were to cheat, some kind of vibration system that avoids detection could be used. Since Niemann said he was willing to play naked to prove his innocence, some social media users joked that he might be wearing anal beads anyway. Of course it’s a (bad) joke, but it somehow caught on – and the fact that some media outlets reported it as something other than a conspiracy theory or a joke didn’t help.
At the end of the day, the drama is still unfolding and despite strong suspicion, the direct incriminating evidence is not there yet. But if chess wants to clean up its image and prove it is a fair sport, it needs to make sure it has a way to weed out cheating.
The fishing and tap dance drama
Which brings us to fishing. Sure, poker drama isn’t new; even chess has had its moments. But fishing? Tap dance? What on earth?
Apparently, two anglers stuffed their fish with lead weights and fish fillets to win over $28,000 at a fishing tournament in Ohio. It was also quite a surreal scene.
Apparently the fishing competition tournament thought something was wrong when the two anglers caught appeared to be heavier than you’d expect (good for them for being able to tell something was fishy). The director proceeds to cut the fish caught by the two anglers, and when he finds the scales, he begins to shout:
“We have scales in fish! We have scales 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 another fish .Profanity continues to be hurled by the contestants 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 is not clear if they have cheated in the past as well. The two are charged with attempted grand larceny and possession of criminal tools and misdemeanor charges of illegally possessing wild animals.
But if you thought things couldn’t get any weirder, hold on. Apparently, an Irish tap dance judge appeared to “exchange sexual favors for higher scores”. According to a report, a number of teachers and schools are involved in the allegations, and at least 12 tap dance teachers have either asked for or offered to fix competitions.
Perhaps it is 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. In any case, having four cheating scandals, so different in their own ways, happening at the same time makes for a bizarre circumstance.
Ultimately, while this may gain some temporary attention, cheating diminishes trust in the community and is a toxic act that negates real-world achievement and diminishes interest in the game. We can only hope for a transparent solution to all the scandals. But in the meantime, here’s some popcorn.