The writing on (and off) the wall: Who can hold a candle to these low-grade scandals

Tom Hoffarth /

From chess. To poker. To fresh-water fishing.

Scandal, after scandal, after scandal.

So, so predictable. Yet even founding members of the Houston Astros’ “Trash Can Bangers Club,” circa 2017-19, are embarrassed.

From rook to royal flush to rainbow trout, all this unethical behavior comes to light when the simple act of maintaining a poker face — literally, in one case — is so difficult that the opponents sense deceit and the violation of being cheated. That’s the issue with all three. Let’s “Judge Steve Harvey” some video-evidence outrage while the dialogue is fresh:

Chess master Magnus Carlsen has alleged that rival Hans Neimann has been up to no good, twice withdrawing from head-to-head matchups in two separate events against him last month. In a subsequent statement, the 31-year-old Carlsen said he knew something was wrong when 19-year-old  Neimann “wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying me as black in a way I think only a handful of players can.” Masters can sense that in an opponent, when the other is too fast or skillfull.

Carlsen says Niemann poses an “existential threat” to the sport’s integrity.

The other day, something called, an online platform where many top players compete, issued a 72-page report reviewed by, of all media outlets, the Wall Street Journal. It’s research accused Niemann of receiving illegal assistance more than 100 times in his online professional career, as recently as 2020, with prize money on the line, doing it with a pattern of “remarkable signals and unusual patterns.”

Yeah, you’ve heard about the anal beads. And artificial intelligence. Or whatever other gizmo will help you decide how a rook moves versus a pawn.

Neimann had supposedly admitted he cheated twice in online chess way back when he was age 12 and 16, but he’s outgrown that. Matured. Learned from his mistakes.

Washington Post master sports columnist Sally Jenkins writes that “the Carlsen-Niemann confrontation raises the important matter of ‘techno-solutionism.’ Too much machine intelligence in problem-solving, as it happens, can be more confusing — and weakening — than helpful. The long-term cost of techno-solutionism can be a fatal slackness, both mental and physical. You don’t want to lose your conditioning for decisive human judgment. … ‘Recommendation algorithms’ can solve some problems, but they don’t always make us smarter or stronger.”

Kinda like when SABR masters fill MLB R&A offices and pollute the decision-makers in the dugout into yielding to their data about how to circumvent things like extreme defensive shifts (soon to be eliminated), use relief pitchers as starters to mess with lineups strategy, or even resort to a need for an electronic system in the ear of the pitcher and catcher so they can discuss slider/curveball selections – all to avoid the ballpark nuanced sounds of thumping trashcans?

We all feel like pawns in a system of checks and checkmates. No solution yet — just a stalemate. Please, show us all your cards.

Which leads to …

Poker veteran player and TV reality star Garrett “Gman” Adelstein has accused newcomer Robbi Jade Lew of cheating after she pulled off an improbable upset win at a Hustler Casino Live event in Gardena.

(We’ve always been taught: What happens in Gardena usually has a stay-over at a Circle K in Harbor City where justice is ultimately carried out).

When confronted, Lew didn’t admit to anything, but reportedly offered all the money back from the $269,000 pot to him that she won. Even though she felt bullied into doing so. 

Late at night on Sept. 29, Adelstein may have looked like the bigger boob by posting on social media that he reviewed Lew’s previous 11 hours of footage and thought what she did was “extremely out of character compared to prior hands.”

(Personal question: Is Lew married? Can we cross-examine her husband as a character witness?)

The poker world chimed in, trying to stay abreast with Lew’s every move.

Commentator Bart Hanson put up a 27-minute dissertation on the subject on YouTube and said “maybe there is a 20-to-30 percent change of cheating” in this case, but it’s not likely. There’s a zero percent chance we’ll watch his video for verification of this assessment.

Lew isn’t buying it either.

That was “either an insane hero call, or cheating,” is how one summed up the play in which Adelstein had an open-ended straight flush draw and went all-in on the turn, at which time Lew had a weak jack-high hand but also curiously went all-in and messed up everyone’s strategy.

We have no idea what the paragraph above means, or if it’s even possible. Our anal beads tell us to move on. This all feels like a problematic way of playing “Go Fish.”

Speaking of which …

A fishing tournament in Cleveland last weekend, the Lake Erie Walleye Trail, went sideways when the tournament director held up five live fish that were estimated to be four pounds each — 20 pounds total.

They ended up weighing in at nearly 34 pounds. Enough to make the guy working the fresh meat section at Ralphs have a double take.

Alleged fisherman Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky stood to win a prize of about $30,000 for their haul. But then they were left to answer — or not — as director Jason Fischer took a knife, cut the fish open, and weights started falling out of it.

Teach a man to fish, and he loads the catch with thirty pieces of lead.

This also cast a shadow of doubt of the Runyan-Cominsky previous wins over the last three months. Obviously. Experts in this competition say technology and increasing prizes has incentivize cheating to a point where many can’t be trusted any more.

This makes us all uneasy — like shooting fish in a barrel of monkeys who are playing poker with a bunch of dogs who think they are playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.

We assume these people are in the cerebral worlds of chess, poker and fishing because they like being off the non-intellectual sports radar of fantasy football. They don’t have the villainous tendencies for something as wicked as throwing 20-pound cornhole bags, hollwed-out horseshoes or using illegally modified 3-D printer paintball guns (purchased without an intelligence background check).

There is a way to resolve these three stains on our competitive sporting landscape.

First, make all chess, poker and fishing part of the Olympic movement, preferably by 2028 when the Los Angeles Organizing Committee people can take ownership of another toxic-mess cleanup. That’s our thing.

Next, invite Magnus Carlsen and Hans Neimann, Garrett Adelstein and Robbi Jade Lew, and Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky to a Hollywood studio (Gardena-adjacent), trust enough that we can give them a plane ticket and a phony brochure, then invite them to participate in a three-part episode of a revival of the mashed-up reality show “Temptation Island: Cheaters Edition.” Martha’s Vineyard will be accommodating host on short notice.

Each day, the six of them rotate partners as they compete in extensive exercises of chess, poker and fishing. Rule books be damned. The players enforce things themselves on the dis-honor system.

Poetic justice.

The trickster’s triathlon hosted by Alex Rodriguez.

Losers, and winners, get a weekend of soul cycle cleansing with Lance Armstrong.

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