A Poker Site Shouldn’t: A Review of Phil Galfond’s RIO Poker Site Mission and Policies

Well known poker professional Phil Galfond and owner of coaching site Run it Once declared three years ago he would be creating a poker site for the players based on this orientation:

A poker site needs to believe in the dream of poker as a career.”

He announced it would be set to launch in a few months ahead of that time to which my studies lead me to declare:

Poker sites function like banks, and this suggests that their security must arise through evolution otherwise they won’t be able to securely store the accruing value. Since this evolution takes time its safe to suggest that either Galfond’s won’t be ready for any significant launch in early 2017 or Galfond’s team doesn’t understand this requirement for security.

Furthermore I titled my piece “Why Rio Poker won’t bootstrap” and although they recently announced their launch I’m still not at all convinced that this venture can or will be successful.

Nonetheless I mean to speak to the general direction of the policies of RIO, some of the problems with them, and some of the types of “ill-intended” support by a part of the player base (which also refers to a faction on the main online poker community forum twoplustwopoker).

I myself took great pains years ago to give specific definitions to certain poker words in order to highlight an argument that shows a perspective that the average player is not really aware of which is essentially how a poker site sees the “game”. Such as a perspective runs antithetical with the idea of Phil’s statement about preserving the poker dream.

Interestingly, almost as if Galfond had been reading my articles he nearly perfectly chose each word I did and reset the definition back to the narrative created by PokerStars monopoly (this is less a point about organized conspiracy by PS and more a point about the nature of the psychology of a population and the malleability of language at times of “economic” duress).

As Phil re-laid down these definitions that I feel are harmful to reasonable dialogue about the optimal equilibrium policies between players and sites he continued to expound on the poker site policies that would shape the gameplay, rake/rakeback, and ultimately the player pool at RIO.

Phil continued the narrative PS laid out which was undefeatable by the minority of regular players that knew better in the face of the majority that didn’t. Namely the false (and ridiculous) notion that by increasing rake the vast amount of “undesired” mildly winning players would (somehow) leave the game leaving the money left over for the habitual depositors and the “truly deserving” pros.

It is quite an easily refutable argument, however, with the already comparative declining health of the industry (fostered also by the segregation of the player pools around the world especially the loss of the US players in the global player pool) it is a very easy sell since the vast majority of players were frustrated with the game and looking for an evil to combat that didn’t involve some form of self blame or responsibility etc.

Phil didn’t exactly say it this way of course. Rather he noted that the disparity in skill edge between the Rec and the Pros is so big that the habitual depositors lose their money to fast to have fun. I objective this notion wholeheartedly and note that it is very empirically provable and has never been proved by PokerStars or Galfond’s team (and Galfond’s team probable hasn’t never had access to such data-if they did they need to share it out of transparency and relationship with the players they are making such assertions to). In a perfect Machiavellian fashion he explained that poker is a zero sum game therefore the only way to combat this problem is to reduce the disparity in edge. Ergo many policies were announced to do so. (It is Machiavellian because of course from the players view an increase in rakeback or a decrease in rake is quite obviously effectively a non zero sum gain).

A noticeable problem with the community was prevalent in that a group of players, whether implicitly or in purposeful coordination, was constantly berating the concept of a professional poker player. I point to the idea of conspiracy only because I do not believe in the player archetype that wishes for a game in which the best players don’t win yet this has been a very prevalent attitude on twoplustwo forum and the players that tout it are very protected by the moderation (and reasonable arguments against have been disallowed time and time again).

An example of the danger of such ignorance can be found the decreasing time banks for players on sites such as Poker Stars. Many “new accounts” and older “pro high rake shills” talk about how happy they are now that “regs” and “multi-tablers” won’t be able to hold up the game. This is problematic and deceptive especially in relation to the dream of the want to be professional poker player.

I myself played upwards of 30 tables at a time. I was often told by many regular habitual depositors (ie recreational or losing players) that I am one of their favorites to play with. I made very decent money by my standard for about three years. I prided myself on quick decisions and tried my hardest to engage players in a competitive and fun fashion (although I titled on them lots too admittedly).

I played over 100k games and my complaints against those that were taking the longest time for decisions was not against the average multi tabling pro. I don’t believe the professional multitabling player is the general perpetrator here.

Nevertheless, we can steel man that argument and suggest that it is definitively the professional multi-table that is habitually time banking. But why then should everyone’s timebank suffer? Why not create a system in which the time bank lessens for only those that habitually break this etiquette?

Who is an avid poker fan that does not enjoy a truly difficult spot and the suspense behind a timebank?

And what does it do to the edge disparity of the player pool when timebanks asymptotically reduce to zero (hint: sites rake more at the expense of the historically fun nature of the game).

The concept of the multi-tabling pro was also hijacked in a Marxist revolution type fashion. The idea that poker players that actually put in the time and efforts to study the game and eventually earn a reasonably sustainable (professional) income were somehow destroyers of the dream (the Marxists aspect is the absurdity that an unfortunate player could become fortunate by introducing “equity” rules and tearing down the “elite” when such action would really just lead to more wealth/rake leaving the game).

Galfond has continued this narrative enacting a table cap. But a recent interview with Joey Ingram shows Galfond’s views to be somewhat self-inconsistent as he admits that one reason people want scalable table windows is so they can fit in the stack with the other poker sites players multi-table on. Is Phil aware that he isn’t stopping this problem of multi-tabling when he puts table caps down? He is however losing liquidity for it and encouraging his most important player base to seek out his competitors for what he won’t offer.

He means to balance these anti-profitable measures with his rakeback programs. One program is such that streamers can earn up to over 100% rakeback-an idea which I suggested would become integral in the social security of sites of the future some time ago:

Twitch might naturally provide a much needed solution to the igaming industry (from the player’s perspective not 3rd party profit-ers) by re-levating the position of a“verified ‘human’ node” needed to help prove and provide certain game fairness required to secure a decentralized p2p poker or igaming network.

Expanding on this, with certain multitudes of viewers (fans) that themselves may (or may not) have verifiable and credible accounts, viewer support alone maybe be enough to offer a helping hand to securing p2p decentralized igaming (and also possibly in tandem with already supported digital currencies and simple upvote systems (or future complex ones))

I see a possible problem perhaps with this offer if we consider the possibility of getting gamed (which is the assumption a site must make with any decisions) in which so many players could be qualifying for rakeback that the site isn’t making enough to justify operating costs. Although the program is novel and marketable it might be that in the future changes need to be made which make it less lucrative for the general player pool.

Another somewhat novel approach to rakeback is to give 51% back into random splashed pots. However this may become unfavored by the habitual depositors which bonus programs are usually argued to be most valuable targets for. Phil and Joey already watched some hands in which it seems some players Joey would call “fun” (players based on assumptions extrapolated from their actions) did not benefit from the “frenzy” as they incorrectly folded when given such favorable pots.

One reason they might fold is they feel they are forced to put their (small) bankrolls at risk when they really just want to see flops and play streets and outplay their opponents. Obviously the forced max buy-in comes into play here and a dangerous example of a counter adjustment would be forced (proper) bankroll management such that the recreational or habitual depositor is always playing well within there no-bust zone.

Its a little tricky for the vast majority to understand but that a situation is all of a sudden more +ev does not necessarily transfer to more fun for the average player that doesn’t want to put their stack on the line without seeing a board first.

In regard to the poker dream. I feel its a really strange and a sad direction to take away player’s ability to have screen names and avatars. This was one aspect of the game I think many recreational and professional players rather enjoyed and the free marketable creativity I think was an obvious boon for the game and allowed players to look up to each other and dream. This in trade-off with forced huds, cheesy animation, and anonymous gameplay does not at all speak to the dream of “ poker as a career” nor do I believe at all it speaks to the wants of the recreational player that want to idolize and outplay the pros.

Somehow Phil has missed the most unique aspect of poker even though he played this role so perfectly his whole career. Poker is a “sport” in which you can actually pay to enter the arena and literally compete and interact with your favorite competitors.

(I believe I noticed RIO poker doesn’t offer player to player chat as well).

Lastly I call attention to the prevailing myth which Daniel Negreanu sold to the players that professionals follow the recreational players (and regardless of the rake) and thus only the latter need be catered to. This is quite ironic coming from the position of a player who’s iconic status has lead him to lucrative sponsorship contracts for what his argument would lead one to conclude would be a waste of money for the poker site that pays for the “marketing”.