Poker pro built an online poker room from scratch

Phil Galfond’s Run It Once Poker Isn’t Going To Be A Cookie Cutter Site

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The interest of the entire poker community was piqued when pro player Phil Galfond announced he was creating an online poker site back in September 2016. And for good reason.

Galfond is one of the most respected poker players and poker minds of all time, and to say professional poker players were nonplussed with the state of online poker (then and now) would be putting it mildly.

At the time of the announcement, exactly what Galfond was up to was a bit of mystery. Even though he’s given us a sneak peek at his ideal poker website over the years, at the end of the day, nobody, not even Galfond himself, really knew what the finished product would look like.

  • What kind of software was he going to use?
  • Was Galfond going to cater to professional poker players and aspiring pros?
  • Would he simply structure rake and rewards differently, or would its differences be more original?

A year and a half later, Run It Once Poker is slated for a summer 2018 launch, and details about the site (here and here) are beginning to come into focus.

Here’s what we know about Galfond’s online poker site.

Built from the ground up

Initially, there were some concerns that RIO Poker would be the anti-PokerStars, and simply cater to serious poker players. Based on the details that have come to light, those concerns seem misplaced. The differences between RIO Poker and the existing crop of poker sites will go well beyond player-friendly rake and rewards structures.

Run It Once is a proprietary online poker platform that has been built from the ground up. That means the differences won’t be superficial, nor will it simply diverge in marketing.

From the information that has been released, RIO Poker will take a novel approach to existing features and policies. It appears to innovate in some interesting new ways.

A two-phase launch

The project has proven to be more time intensive than Galfond initially expected. So, instead of adding several more months to the launch timeline, a decision was made that will see RIO Poker launched in two phases:

  • Phase 1: The initial cash game launch
  • Phase 2: The addition of tournaments and extra features, as well as nosebleed stakes

This is a risky decision.

Tournaments tend to bring in a lot of recreational players, and people might stick around to see Phase 2 if the stripped-down software doesn’t live up to expectations.

However, it appears the Phase 1 launch will differentiate RIO Poker from its competitors in a number of significant ways.

[geoip2 region=NJarea][i15-table tableid=28407][/geoip2]

Solving the HUD problem

For the most part, Galfond has spoken of RIO Poker in broad generalities. But one specific thing that was the recipient of plenty of words in the last announcement was heads-up displays.

HUDs will be prohibited at RIO Poker except in the nosebleed games, where their use will be allowed.

HUDs have become a hot topic of conversation in the poker world. Players on both sides offer compelling reasons for and against their use.

For Galfond, it all comes down to the ability to enforce a HUD ban, something he believes RIO Poker will be capable of doing thanks to a two-part process:

  1. RIO Poker will use anonymous tables that display a randomly generated name, e.g. Tommy N., Rita H., Jason S.
  2. To alleviate game integrity concerns, hand histories that reveal every players’ hole cards will be available 24 hours after a session.

RIO Poker’s built-in HUD: Dynamic Avatars

RIO will also use a built-in HUD, but instead of displaying statistics, it will display expressions on the table avatars that give an approximation of their playing style.

“Instead of displaying stats next to your opponents, we will group them into one of eight playstyle categories and communicate that information through their avatar’s emotions.


“An amateur player has no idea what VPIP 14%/PFR 10%/3b 1.5% means, but they’ll know that…

Rake and rewards

The rake and rewards at RIO Poker have been generally communicated.

On the rake front, Galfond has communicated his desire for all games to be fair (read as beatable). As such, Galfond wrote, “We will set sensible rake for sustainable and beatable games.”

When it comes to rewards, Galfond was a bit more specific, writing:

“We will have an innovative player rewards system that I believe will make both pros and recreational players happy. One which will give slightly more rewards to dedicated pros while not leaving recreational players behind, will engage recreational players and pros alike, and will make it impossible for players to leave their rewards unclaimed – a big savings for many poker sites at the expense of uninformed amateurs and aloof pros like me!”

Add it all up and you get…

…a very interesting online poker product launching in the summer.

This isn’t the typical skin of an existing online poker site that has made a high-profile player the face of the site. Nor is RIO Poker a half-hearted attempt to create new software and stand out in one specific way.

It’s starting to look like RIO Poker will be Galfond’s vision of what a poker site should be. What will be interesting to see is if Galfond’s online poker utopia matches recreational players.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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