Credit to Author: Brendan I. Koerner| Date: Mon, 21 Sep 2020 10:00:00 +0000
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Mike Postle was on another tear. The moonfaced 42-year-old was deep into a marathon poker session at Stones Gambling Hall, a boxy glass-and-steel casino wedged between Interstate 80 and a Popeye's in suburban Sacramento. The September 21, 2019, game, which Stones was broadcasting to audiences via YouTube and Twitch, had attracted several top players to the casino's card room, a gaudily lit space done up like an Old West saloon. One pro from Las Vegas had flown in on a chartered jet with $50,000 in cash. Yet, as usual when he appeared on Stones' livestream, Postle was shredding the competition; he was the evening's chips leader by a comfortable margin.
Five hours into the show, a curious hand took shape. Like all games of Texas Hold 'Em, the most widely televised form of poker, the action began with each player receiving two face-down cards—the hole cards. Five community cards were then to be dealt face-up in three rounds, with opportunities for betting in between. The first face-up batch, called the flop, would consist of three cards. After that, the dealer would add a single card (“the turn”) followed by one more (“the river”). Players would vie for the pot by assembling the best hands using their two hole cards plus any three from the shared array.
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Even before the flop, though, seven of the nine players chose to fold. Postle, who'd been dealt the queen of diamonds and jack of hearts, pressed forward with the hand. His sole opponent would be Marle Cordeiro, a Las Vegas-based pro with a large social media following.
The flop contained the 8 of spades, 9 of diamonds, and jack of diamonds—a promising trio for Postle, who now had a pair (jacks) and was just a 10 away from a queen-high straight (8–9-10-jack-queen). There were two shared cards left to be dealt. The turn produced the relatively useless 4 of spades, after which Cordeiro placed a $600 bet.
Postle, his white baseball cap nearly concealing his eyes, clutched his right shoulder with his left hand as he mulled his options. Most seasoned players would call or raise in his situation: The statistical likelihood that his hand would yield a favorable monetary outcome was high enough to make proceeding to the river an easy choice. But Postle had an unorthodox style of play, and he often made decisions that his rivals deemed either wildly aggressive or inexplicably meek. Those instincts had served him well in recent months: He was in the midst of an epic winning streak—a “heater”—that had turned him into a local folk hero. He'd become such a force on Stones' livestream, in fact, that casino regulars had taken to calling him the Messiah and even God.
Postle spent half a minute in quiet contemplation, almost motionless in his black leather chair. Then, pursing his lips in resignation, he chucked his cards forward to fold.
Postle's surrender, though counterintuitive, turned out to be a canny move because Cordeiro was holding “the nuts”—poker slang for the most valuable hand. Her hidden hole cards were the 10 of diamonds and queen of spades, so she'd already secured a queen-high straight before the river; she had a 96 percent chance of maintaining her edge once all the cards were dealt.
Justin Kelly, one of the livestream's two commentators, gushed over the genius of Postle's eccentric play. “This is what I'm talking about people!” he exclaimed from his broadcast booth across the room. “Postle takes the weirdest lines and gets people to lay down huge hands all the time. But when he has top pair and a straight draw, he is able to just lay down against the nuts. Postle is just like a freak! He's just a freak of nature.”
Kelly's co-commentator, 42-year-old Veronica Brill, did not share his sense of awe. She had been observing Postle up close for a while, both as an opponent at the table and a broadcaster, and she'd come to believe there was a nefarious reason for his success. For months she'd resisted mentioning her suspicions on the livestream, hoping that Stones would handle the matter behind the scenes. But the fold against Cordeiro struck her as so fishy that she could no longer keep quiet. Brill leaned back, gently shook her head, and took a half-step toward calling out God.
“It doesn't make sense,” she said, her soft monotone tinged with mockery. “It's like he knows. It doesn't make sense. It's weird.” Sounding caught off guard by his cohost's skeptical remarks, Kelly continued effusively—“Absolute insanity, guys!”—before managing to change the subject.
Late that night, as she drove in silence toward her Bay Area home, Brill turned the broadcast over and over in her mind. Her insinuation about Postle, though subtle, had the potential to cause a stir. Fellow players would gossip that jealousy had driven her to smear a more accomplished rival, a decent man who'd just come through a harrowing family drama. Gliding west on Interstate 80, Brill realized she had no choice but to commit one of poker's cardinal sins.
Like many others who spent huge chunks of time at Stones, Brill had long considered Postle a friend. A generous soul who exuded a puckish charm, Postle was the sort who'd pay for everyone's drinks while regaling the bar with bawdy tales. (He was particularly fond of a story about getting banned from Caesars Palace over a misunderstanding involving a sex worker.) But up until the summer of 2018, few of the pro players at Stones thought much of his poker prowess. “He was playing well enough to support himself, it seemed,” says Jake Rosenstiel, a Sacramento pro. “But none of us thought Mike was this great poker player.”
Everyone was thus surprised when Postle began to dominate the casino's livestreamed Texas Hold 'Em games starting in July 2018. The once middling Postle suddenly turned formidable, even taking thousands of dollars off some big-time players during their swings through Northern California. (Stones is not ordinarily a mecca for high rollers, but its popular livestreamed games occasionally draw big names from Las Vegas and points south.) As Postle's heater stretched over months, Stones' broadcast team did its best to turn him into a poker celebrity. They created a series of graphics designed to hype his talents: One was a mock book cover that listed Postle as the author of a guide to “crushing souls and running pure”; another showed Postle's face superimposed over that of Jesus.
Brill, a self-described analytics geek whose day job is building medical software, was among those who got clobbered by Postle at the table, and she served as a livestream commentator during much of his streak too. By early 2019, she had seen enough to surmise that Postle's success didn't make mathematical sense. She thought he was winning far too often, particularly for a player whose strategy didn't jibe with game theory optimal, or GTO, the prevailing strategy in Texas Hold 'Em today.
The fundamental idea behind GTO is that there's a single best decision for every imaginable betting scenario—a decision that will maximize a player's winnings over time. In any given hand, a player who perfectly executes game theory optimal may still lose; there's only so much you can do if your opponent lucks into the nuts. But in the course of thousands of hours of poker, a player who adheres to GTO at every moment is virtually guaranteed to come out ahead.
Tremendous effort is required to develop the ability to know which single move to make in the millions of possible betting situations. There are 2,598,960 possible hands in five-card poker, a figure that vastly understates the game's intricacy. Players must also have a feel for how their opponents are likely to react to each gambit. To hone their GTO chops, top pros spend hours a day analyzing past hands with software that pinpoints the precise moments when they flubbed a probability calculation.
Brill could detect no trace of such a cerebral approach to poker in Postle's game. Time and again he made decisions that seemed to fly in the face of game theory optimal. The biggest oddity that stood out to Brill was the high rate at which Postle stayed in games prior to the flop, as measured by a statistic called “voluntarily put in pot,” or VPIP. Postle often stuck around with hole cards that would lead most elite players to fold. But he rarely seemed to be punished for his audacity, and Brill thought this might be because he was operating with more complete information than anyone else at the table.
In March 2019, Brill approached Stones' tournament director, Justin Kuraitis, and shared her concerns about Postle. The table used for Stones' livestreamed games is embedded with RFID sensors that scan the hole cards and pipe that information into the livestream. Brill wondered whether there was any way Postle could be peeking at that data, even though the stream is broadcast on a 30-minute delay to prevent cheating.
Kuraitis dismissed Brill's inquiry as ridiculous. “Justin insists Stones is 100% secure and there is zero chance of cheating,” Brill texted a friend who asked about the conversation. She added that Kuraitis said that most players simply failed to grasp Postle's brilliance.
Brill was not the only skeptic to confide in Kuraitis that month. On March 13, Kuraitis texted a pro named Kasey Mills to invite her to play in a livestreamed game. Mills asked whether Postle would be there, and then opened up about her misgivings. “I have concerns he may have found a way to cheat somehow,” she wrote. “Or else he is a god which is very probable … I've just never seen anything close to what happens to him and it can't help but draw questions.” Kuraitis assured Mills that he conducted quarterly security audits, and that “game fairness is one of my highest priorities.” (Mills declined the invitation, but she continued to play against Postle in the months that followed.)
By the late summer, however, there were so many whispers about Postle that his rivals were no longer content to take Kuraitis at his word. Rosenstiel, the Sacramento pro, says he approached the casino's management and proposed they look for potential security flaws that Postle might be taking advantage of. But management refused, assuring him there was no truth to the cheating rumors.
By blurting out her suspicions on the September 21 livestream, Brill had ensured that the buzz about Postle would intensify. She now felt obliged to detail her allegations in public. She didn't anticipate that doing so would make her persona non grata at Stones.
Veronica Brill felt obliged to go public with her suspicions.
On September 28, Postle became aware of a story making the rounds on poker Twitter. Shortly before noon that day, Brill had posted an 18-minute video that contained clips of Postle's most unusual hands. “Am I sure that this player is cheating? No,” Brill wrote in an accompanying series of tweets. “Do I think that there is a greater than zero % chance that he is? Yes … I feel that with such a high VPIP and play style, if we run the SIM a hundred times with players of equal competency he's running in the 95th percentile of results.” Brill added that even though cell phones were banned at some point, she thought Postle might still be receiving signals, perhaps through “a small device on his leg that lets him know when he's ahead.”
By evening, Postle's phone was blowing up with messages and calls from worried friends. “I asked him directly, ‘Mike, did you cheat in our game?’” says Joe Blackwell, a poker host who worked the September 21 game. “And he said, ‘No, Joe, I respect you too much for anything like that. I would never cheat anybody in this or any other game.’ And I believed him.”
After a sleepless night, Postle sent a long and rambling text to Brill. He blasted her for going public instead of coming to him to discuss the matter privately, and he wrote several hundred words in defense of his poker skills. “I played against and consistently beat some of the best players in the world,” he claimed. “I profited over 2 million online from summer of 2003 until the beginning of 2008.” He could not believe that Brill, a person who'd never been anything but nice to him, “would betray me like this and throw me to the wolves of public opinion.”
Postle became such a poker force that people took to calling him the Messiah and even God.
Postle was hardly the only person to criticize Brill after her video went viral. She was roundly scolded for presenting a purely circumstantial case against Postle. In poker, it's sacrilege to accuse a peer of cheating without airtight proof. And all Brill had done was offer a speculative hypothesis based solely on math. “I told her, ‘You're not providing enough evidence,’” says Matthew Berkey, a well-known pro who has earned more than $4 million during his career. “In this game, trust and your word and your morality is currency … So I kind of warned her that, hey, you're going to get a lot of backlash for this.”
That backlash quickly turned vicious. On October 2, a player on Twitter launched a particularly cruel attack on Brill, one that made her curl up on the floor of her Santa Clara condo and cry. Brill, the author stated with poor punctuation, “couldn't wait for her own baby to die how sick is that.”
Growing up in Edmonton in the 1980s, Brill was always slightly embarrassed by her parents' struggle to assimilate to Canadian culture. The family had fled communist Poland when Veronica was 6, and they'd lived in an Austrian refugee camp before moving to Canada. Though he possessed an advanced degree in engineering, Veronica's father had to work as a janitor in his new homeland. He and Veronica's mother both worked punishing hours and refused to treat themselves to even small luxuries.
When she was old enough to take charge of her own social life, Brill indulged her yen to perform: In her twenties she competed in beauty pageants and spun hip hop at Edmonton clubs as DJ Lady V. She took a meandering route through university and became a licensed practical nurse, an occupation that enabled her to buy her first home at 28. (She later became an RN.) The place came with a broken satellite dish that picked up three channels, one of which showed British poker nonstop. To her surprise, Brill found herself glued to these games into the wee hours each night. She was captivated not just by the mathematical intricacies of the action but also by the players' attitude toward money. “Growing up so poor, my parents pinched every single penny,” Brill says. “I watched poker players take their money and turn it into a tool. They were able to separate themselves from that monetary value, and they were able to grow this chip stack and use it as a tool and then invest in themselves.”
After seeing a boyfriend lose entire weekends to poker, Brill was inspired to teach herself the game through trial and error at a casino in a West Edmonton mall. Soon she was trouncing the well-paid roughnecks who traveled down from the Fort McMurray oil fields with thousands of dollars to burn. She'd then take her winnings to Las Vegas and lose it all to stronger players—the price a poker novice must pay to get better at their craft.
In 2008, Brill moved to Del Rio, Texas, to marry a US Air Force fighter pilot she'd met while he was taking part in a training exercise in Alberta. Four years later, the couple relocated to Sacramento when her husband was promoted to fly U-2 spy planes out of a nearby base. Though she had little professional experience outside nursing, Brill convinced a local hospital system to hire her for an IT job. She was put in charge of building software that streamlines how medical orders are processed. The new career sparked a deeper interest in advanced analytics, and in 2013 she began pursuing an online master's degree in predictive analytics from Northwestern University. At the time she was several months pregnant with her first child, a boy due to be born that June.
“Stones became my one place I could go to not feel any pain, or just to numb it.”
Brill's life was transformed by the arrival of her son, David, whose genetic luck could scarcely have been worse. The infant boy had lissencephaly, a rare disorder that caused him to have frequent seizures. Brill devoted herself to caring for David, who doctors said was unlikely to survive until his first birthday. On the infrequent occasions she was able to leave the house, she headed for local casinos where she could lose herself in the rigid logic of Texas Hold 'Em. Stones Gambling Hall became her favorite haunt.
Brill noticed that Stones, which had opened in July 2014, was trying to boost its visibility by livestreaming its most competitive games. If Stones could build a digital audience, top pros would be more likely to play at the casino and sing its praises on social media. That publicity, in turn, would lure more amateur players—the so-called fish who are the lifeblood of poker rooms in California, which earn their money by taking a cut from every game.
The gregarious Brill cajoled Stones into letting her host a monthly livestreamed game. She proved to be such a magnetic presence at the table that Stones asked her to work as a regular commentator for other games. Brill was a natural, adept at alternating between ribald jokes and deft observations. Few at the casino knew how much she was struggling with her son's illness, or what an alarming amount of red wine she was consuming to cope. “Stones became my one place I could go to not feel any pain,” she says, “or just to numb it for a little bit.”
David made it to his third birthday and seemed to be thriving, but then a devastating complication arose: He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, leading to his death in December 2016. Brill's marriage soon failed, a casualty of the couple's overwhelming grief. Desperate for some form of solace, she retreated ever deeper into the booze-soaked poker scene at Stones.
On October 1, as Brill was about to be savaged as a monster who'd neglected her dying son, one of poker's biggest names was busy rallying to her cause. Joey Ingram, a well-known player and host of the Poker Life podcast, had taken a keen interest in the video Brill had assembled of Postle's questionable hands. He had experience doing quasi-journalistic investigations of poker scandals—in 2018 he accused a Costa Rican poker website of using bots to undermine its human users. But he'd never heard of shenanigans in a live game streamed from a brick-and-mortar casino where thousands of people watch the players' every move.
Ingram doubted there was anything to Brill's story, but he decided to check out a year-old game on Stones' YouTube channel. Before long he was deep down the Mike Postle rabbit hole, reviewing hours of Texas Hold 'Em footage in lieu of eating or sleeping. “I watched every hand he played. The guy's running and gunning and making these amazing plays, amazing bluffs,” Ingram says. “I watched four sessions that first night, and it was the same thing in all four sessions. And I'm like, something's really messed up here.”
Around 4 am on October 1, Ingram began to livestream himself evaluating Postle's old games at Stones. For five hours he narrated hands, noting each time Postle made moves that seemed bizarre but still led to wins or minimized losses. He also noted that Postle had a habit of staring down at his lap—the place where he happened to keep his cell phone during games. “I was like, all right, he's looking at his crotch and he seems to be playing like he's a god,” Ingram says.
Ingram's livestream was such a hit that he followed it up with another extended session the next day. Tens of thousands of poker aficionados tuned in, captivated not just by the brazenness of the alleged offenses but also by the implications it held for the poker industry at large. According to many poker observers, Postle's supposed deceit had only come to light because he'd gotten greedy and neglected to cover his tracks by occasionally losing on purpose. That meant smarter cheaters might be flying under the radar by keeping their win percentages from getting suspiciously high. “It's like when Sammy Sosa got caught—he wasn't the only one with a corked bat,” says Jonathan Sofen, a poker journalist and semipro player. “Or the Houston Astros—they aren't the only ones who cheated in baseball.”
Ingram's fans soon began to inundate poker forums with their own investigative work. A thread on a site called Two Plus Two quickly grew to hundreds of pages long, and its contributors posted spreadsheets and graphs that purported to show that Postle had won money in upwards of 86 percent of the Stones livestreamed games he'd taken part in—an accomplishment that should be next to impossible given the mathematical strictures of Texas Hold 'Em.
The amateur detectives also highlighted several moments and visual details they claimed to be telltale signs of Postle's chicanery. They pointed to a clip from one game, for example, in which Postle appeared to resweep his hole cards over an RFID sensor because they hadn't registered. How, the sleuths asked, would Postle have known to do that unless he had access to the livestream? And was there a bulge beneath his omnipresent baseball cap that might be some sort of bone-conduction headphone, a receiver for inside information?
The crowdsourced investigation caught the attention of Scott Van Pelt, an anchor on ESPN's SportsCenter. On the night of October 3, Van Pelt spent three and a half minutes discussing the drama at Stones, and he made clear where his sympathies lay. “If you were this good, why would you be playing in games only with a videofeed at $1/$3 tables at Stones' poker room?” he asked as he wrapped the segment. “Why wouldn't you be in Vegas winning all the money in the world?”
With public opinion turning against him, Postle sought to seize back control of the narrative. He agreed to appear on an October 4 podcast hosted by Mike “The Mouth” Matusow. Sounding groggy and disjointed, Postle pleaded his innocence and argued that he'd been targeted by opponents who envied his minor fame: “There was a secret hatred for me for being made into, I guess, what you would compare to a reality TV star.”
When Matusow invited his guest to refute the accusations, Postle replied in vague terms. “There aren't words to describe what I do,” he said. “It's creative, diabolical, and predicated on having an MO of always trying to be the most unpredictable player at the table … There's no book or anything out there that can explain what I do.”
The interview did little to quell the poker world's growing belief that Postle was guilty as charged. Strangers started showing up at his house, in a subdivision near Stones; they would bang on his door at odd hours and threaten him with violence. Postle began to worry not just about the future of the only career he'd ever known, but also about the safety of his 8-year-old daughter.
Even as a child in Wisconsin, gambling was central to Mike Postle's life. Games he played with his five siblings often involved a wager—when they played Monopoly, for example, real money changed hands. Postle also invented games of skill and chance, including a prize wheel that he installed at the roller rink his father owned. Kids would pay 50 cents a spin for a chance to hit the $5 jackpot. But as Andrew Postle, one of Mike's brothers, recounted on a Stones livestream in August 2019, the game was rigged. “My brother put some quarters behind the wheel so when you spun it, you'd always get so close to the $5 bill,” he told one of the evening's commentators. “If there's an angle for my brother to do it, he'll do it.”
When he turned 18, as Andrew recalled, Postle got a job at one of the Indian casinos near his home. He started out making change for customers before becoming a dealer, a gig that deepened his interest in poker. In the early 2000s he moved south to work in the casinos of Tunica, Mississippi, a poker hotbed. He soon found that, given his natural analytical gifts, he could make more money as a player than a dealer. By mid-decade, he was winning big tournaments. In one he claimed nearly $120,000 in prize money. “He was ahead of the curve back then,” says Michael Weyer, who came in second to Postle in a 2005 tournament. “He didn't amass that amount of chips by being a dummy.”
While riding high in Tunica, Postle joined the masthead of a poker magazine called Rounder Life. He wound up dating one of the models featured in the publication, the Las Vegas-born daughter of a professional bowler. When she became pregnant in 2010, the couple moved to Sacramento so Postle's parents, who had relocated there, could help take care of the child. A year after giving birth, Postle's girlfriend told him she'd been diagnosed with a brain tumor that required a risky operation, and that she wanted to get married before she died. Two days after the couple's hasty wedding in December 2011, Postle's now wife had her supposed surgery; for months afterward, she wore bandages on her head and spoke of undergoing follow-up radiation treatments that her husband was not allowed to attend.
But the brain tumor story was a lie: An MRI taken just over a week before her “surgery” showed that her brain was normal. Before Postle became aware of how thoroughly he'd been fooled, he also learned that his wife was struggling with serious mental health and substance abuse issues. The couple tried to work out their problems in therapy, but the marriage was doomed: Postle filed for an annulment in December 2015. (Postle's ex-wife, who has changed her name and is now engaged, told me she regrets some of the ways she acted while drinking to excess during the marriage. She describes her relationship with Postle as “toxic” and says that, toward the end, she was desperate to get “out of the gambling lifestyle.”)
An ugly custody dispute ensued, filled with restraining orders and accusations of domestic violence on both sides. In 2016, Postle's soon-to-be ex-wife took their daughter to Idaho to live with her new boyfriend. Postle spent a small fortune to press for his daughter's return—a financial burden in the best of times, but one that he must have felt even more acutely because his career was on the downswing. In the years since his move to California, poker had been overtaken by studious practitioners of game theory optimal, some of whom hold science and engineering degrees. Less scholarly players like Postle found themselves eking out a living at low-stakes tables. “The past five or six years, you have to constantly be improving your game, otherwise you lose,” says Jonathan Sofen, the poker journalist. “Everybody today, they're studying game theory optimal, they're watching training videos and reading books. The field of players who don't study? They've mostly gone broke.”
Postle was still tangling with his ex-wife in family court when his heater at Stones began in July 2018. His winnings came in handy as he continued paying legal fees. Over the next several months, to Postle's relief, the courts agreed he could have sole physical custody of his daughter, and his ex-wife was granted unsupervised visits. After nearly a decade of heartache and hard luck, all seemed to be going right in Postle's world.
As the Stones scandal gained national attention in October 2019, the conventional wisdom held that Postle's results were so anomalous that something hinky must have occurred. But there was still a giant hole in the case against “God”: How could he have gotten his opponents' hole-card information in real time?
The man best equipped to answer that question was an Australian named Andrew Milner, the inventor of the RFID-equipped table that makes livestreamed poker possible. A former IT worker who plays Texas Hold 'Em as a hobby, Milner cobbled together his first table in 2008 with an eye toward using it as a training tool. But he found there was a huge demand from casinos, which sought a low-cost way to reveal hole cards to spectators so they could broadcast games via the internet.
Justin Kuraitis, Stones' tournament director, called Milner in October and asked whether the RFID table had vulnerabilities that Postle could have exploited. Milner all but ruled out a theory that Postle might have tapped into the signal that's relayed from the table's sensors to the room that serves as the casino's broadcast center: That data is encrypted using the same technology employed by online banks, and it seemed unlikely that Postle had the technical skill to overcome such strong security. Milner did think it possible that Postle had installed a tiny webcam on the wall of the broadcast center, pointed at a PC screen that showed the livestream without delay. But the likeliest scenario, he suggested, involved an inside job. “I asked [Kuraitis], do you trust your people?” Milner recalls. “It doesn't matter how secure your environment is, if you can't trust the guys running it, all other measures are irrelevant.” (When contacted for this story, Kuraitis' only response was to direct me to a Rounder Life story that suggests Brill fabricated the cheating scandal “to become ‘a name’ in the poker world,” a charge she vehemently denies.)
If Postle did have an accomplice at Stones, they would have had little trouble avoiding detection. According to multiple people familiar with how Stones operates, security in the broadcast room was lackadaisical at best. One former contractor told me that he was able to have a masseuse come into the supposedly secure room while he was working on the livestream, and that no one batted an eye. (In a text message exchange with Kasey Mills, Kuraitis says that his rules forbid technicians from even bringing their cell phones into the control room.)
On October 8, the accomplice theory made an appearance in a $30 million federal lawsuit filed by Veronica Brill and ultimately 87 other players—including Mills—who claimed either fraud or negligence by multiple defendants: Stones, Postle, Kuraitis, and an indeterminate number of unnamed collaborators. The plaintiffs' lawyer, Mac VerStandig, is an avid poker player who focuses on casino-related cases. The complaint contended that Postle had won at a clip “not known to have been achieved by any other poker player over such a significant period of time.” The document spelled out what VerStandig and his clients believe went down:
“The Plaintiffs have reason to believe the mechanisms through which these myriad acts of wire fraud were carried out by Mr. Postle, John Does 1–10 and Jane Does 1–10 involved Mr. Postle's cellular telephone being grasped by his left hand while concealed under the poker table and/or Mr. Postle's baseball cap being imbedded [sic] with a communications device creating an artificial bulge in its lining (that is notably absent in photographs of the same baseball cap on Mr. Postle when he is not playing on Stones Live Poker).”
VerStandig also wrote that the plaintiffs had “a good faith basis upon which to allege the identity of the person who is John Doe 1,” but added that he would prefer to refrain from doing so until the discovery process had run its course.
Stones hired the elite law firm of Boies Schiller Flexner to fight the suit, while Kuraitis retained one of Sacramento's top specialists in white-collar crime. Postle, however, decided to represent himself; according to one of his close friends, this was in large part because he was now broke, despite having won an estimated $250,000 during his heater. (Postle has said he earned just $80,000 from the winning streak, and that his accusers have erroneously included chips he bought or loans repaid by fellow players.)
As the legal pressure mounted, the dwindling number of people from the Stones scene who'd stayed in touch with Postle worried that he was buckling under the stress.
I made numerous attempts to get in touch with Postle this past winter, including by visiting his home. I could tell right away the place was in rough shape. There was a downed tree in the overgrown front yard, the knob on the security door was loose, and the bent second-floor blinds were shut tight. I thought I heard a slight commotion when I rang the bell, but no one ever answered.
On March 7, Postle finally returned one of my many calls. He said he was at the airport on his way to Florida, where he planned to stay for an indeterminate amount of time. Though he declined to address the specific allegations against him, he did tell me that his appetite for poker had largely vanished, and that he'd instead been focusing on spending time with his daughter. He also railed against poker vloggers and social media figures for attacking him for their own cynical, money-grubbing motives. “I didn't really understand the whole fake-news manipulation that happens for the sake of a story until this happened,” he said. “More or less all of the information that's out there? Honestly, none of it's true. The exaggeration, the manipulation? It's just sickening.”
In the weeks that followed, Postle promised to respond to a list of written questions about his past, and then apologized multiple times for blowing our agreed-upon deadline for his answers. After a while he stopped bothering to make excuses and fell silent.
Postle finally piped up again on June 4, a day after he'd received some welcome news: The federal court in California had granted Stones' motion to dismiss, largely on the grounds that California's gambling laws generally do not make poker losses recoverable through civil action. The judge left open an opportunity for VerStandig to refile if he could provide more information about how much money Stones had collected from the affected games, but Postle was in the clear. (At the time, Postle was still a defendant in a separate $250,000 lawsuit filed in Nevada by Marle Cordeiro, the player whom he folded against during Brill's last broadcast at Stones. The Nevada court dismissed that case on August 14, citing its lack of jurisdiction in California.)
Postle did not seem to be in a jubilant mood when he reached me by text after his June legal victory. “Veronica is a toxic pathological liar who has proven narcissistic and sociopathic traits and has really gone off the deep end recently,” he wrote, citing no evidence. He seemed convinced that Brill had concocted the charges against him to build her following on YouTube, where she was still posting videos about the case. Postle later apologized for his invective but declined to speak any further, stating that he'd only be able to reveal all once he was no longer in legal jeopardy: “I'll be able to give not just the truth, but the shocking events of everything in detail … with the corresponding truth to corroborate it.”
I did not hear from Postle again until mid-August, when he called to request that I delay publication of this story. I said I might be amenable to doing so if he could finally share some evidence to back up his assertion that Brill had plotted against him. After talking in circles for a while, Postle said he'd check with a lawyer and get back to me. In the end he didn't send anything. He also declined repeated requests to answer detailed fact-checking questions for this article.
Veronica brill was bewildered by the dismissal of the federal lawsuit in California. “You can cheat on live TV and get away with it,” she told me just minutes after learning of the judge's ruling. “So frustrating. It's not the money, per se. It's the lack of accountability.”
Several weeks later, Brill received another bit of disconcerting news: Rather than refile an amended complaint, VerStandig asked her and the other plaintiffs to accept a settlement from Stones. Brill refused when she learned that, in exchange for a paltry sum, she would have to sign a public statement conceding there was “no forensic evidence that there was cheating at Stones.” (In a statement to WIRED, a Stones representative emphasized that plaintiffs who settled would have to acknowledge that both the casino and Kuraitis “were not involved if there was any cheating by Postle.”)
In the wake of the dissolution of her legal case, Brill began receiving a torrent of abuse from anonymous Twitter accounts. “You're a FN idiot!” wrote one user who went by KarmaIsComing4U. “20 years ago we would of beat you ass for even accusing!!!!” (The account has since been deleted.) Brill fears that Postle plans to file a libel suit against her, which she assumes would take her years and her life savings to defend.
But Brill maintains she has no regrets about calling out Postle, an act she now views as part of a subconscious effort to move on from a dark period of her life. Stones was where she'd gone to mask her grief with an unhealthy amount of red wine and gambling; by blowing up her relationship with the casino, she liberated herself. “The game has gotten harder, I haven't been studying as much, and I'm very frustrated because I'm super-competitive,” she says. “I'm actually better at analytics, at IT—y'know, everything else that I'm doing—and I'd rather put my time into that, where I can actually make some gains in lifelong terms.”
Postle has an opportunity to put the Stones saga behind him, too. Though he says he's intent on marshaling evidence that will prove he's the victim of a grand conspiracy, there is a far simpler way to reclaim his reputation. “How do you prove you're not cheating at poker? You go play poker,” Ingram says. “You would imagine that one of the best players you've ever seen in your life would have no issues saying, Let's play then. I can't really figure out an answer to why he won't do that.” The livestream audience for God's return would surely be immense.
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