Foundations by Phil Galfond Review

foundations phil galfond review

9 minutes

Last Updated: June 20, 2024

One of the latest courses to hit the poker world, Foundations by Phil Galfond, represents a step in a direction slightly different from most other training materials out there.

This course is aimed at beginners and low-stakes players and is definitely available to everyone costing just $49.99.

What Galfond has set out to do is to provide viewers with a launch pad of sorts, explaining the very foundations of poker and GTO. Check it out yourself.

Armed with this knowledge, those keen on sharpening their skills will be much better equipped to distinguish between good and not-so-good training materials out there.

Understanding these concepts also allows players to avoid trying to blindly memorize various charts and instead approach learning in a much more structured way.

If this interests you, continue reading our in-depth RIO Foundations review and discover what’s inside.

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Understanding GTO Concepts

The first module of the course explains the Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy: what it is, where the idea comes from, why it works, and how it works.

To make it really approachable and understandable, Galfond starts off with examples from the popular rock-paper-scissors game. Since this is a fairly simple game with just three options, it serves as an excellent introduction to GTO.

In short, it’s fairly easy to find a strategy for rock-paper-scissors that can’t be exploited. When you play this strategy, regardless of what your opponent does, you can never lose.

Galfond builds on this example to expand the idea of the GTO to the AKQ game, a simplified poker version in which only three cards are in play.

One player is dealt the K every hand, the other player is dealt the A half the time, and the Q the other half. There is $100 in the pot, and every player starts with $100. They can only bet all in, fold, or call.

With this setup, the video explores different variations and ideas to devise perfect strategies for every spot. Using this simple “toy game,” Galfond explains different aspects of GTO and the math behind it.

He then goes on to expand more on the idea of the GTO, talking about what the perfect (simple) strategy would be for a game with no blinds or antes, and covers a few other core concepts such as the Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF).

This first section of the Foundations course really explains the basics of the Game Theory Optimal to someone with no or very fundamental understanding of the concept.

Intro to Fundamentals

The second module of the course is something that no beginner’s course would be complete without, even if that’s not at the heart of this particular one. Over the course of a few short videos, Galfond explains the core concepts, such as:

  • Equity & EV – calculations and formulas
  • Calculating Outs & Equity – how to count your outs and figure how much equity your hand has
  • Pot Odds – what they are, how to calculate them, and how they tie in with equity
  • Implied odds
  • Reverse Implied Odds
  • Position
  • Game structure (blinds and antes) & how these influence your plans
  • Board Textures

There is nothing particularly revolutionary about these videos, and they aren’t comprehensive explanations of these concepts. They are a good refresher, but you should already have at least basic understanding of them going into the course.

Preflop Foundations

With all the fundamentals in place, Foundations by Run It Once moves on to preflop play, and right off the bat, Galfond shares his view that memorizing preflop charts is a terrible way to learn the game.

Although you’ll be getting some preflop charts with this course as well, he sees them more as a crutch to help you during the very early days. However, the idea is to use them as a baseline and know how to deviate based on your wider understanding of the game and your opponent’s tendencies (which is covered later in the course).

Some of the main concepts covered in this module include:

  • 3-bettingwhysome players shy away from it because they are afraid to play big pots & why it does make sense for those new to poker to keep their 3-bets tighter.
  • C-betting– when to c-bet, when to skip, how often you should be continuation betting, and what’s the importance of blockers?
  • Multi-way pots – how ranges should get tighter as more people see the flop and the “burden” of defense is shared between multiple opponents.
  • Bet sizing – figuring out the best size based on different situations.
  • Bluffing & semibluffing – overcoming the fear of bluffing, understanding why most players tend to under-bluff, and what you can do to overcome these problems.
  • Stack depths & relevant adjustments – while a majority of the course covers deep stack play, this section addresses how relative hand values change with changes in stack size.
  • Check-raising flops & turns – how to find good hands for this, starting with value hands and adding bluffs to the mix.

Hand Reading

According to Galfond and the Foundations course, hand reading is a skill that’s so impactful to your bottom line that it can’t be emphasized enough. So, it’s no surprise an entire module is devoted to this particular skill.

At the end of the day, if you’re making the right decision on the river a lot, you’ll be making money.

This particular module focuses on trying to answer a seemingly simple but actually quite complex question that’s at the heart of everything we do at a poker table, and that question is: why?

Why do you bet, check, raise, or fold in certain spots? It’s not enough to just look at a chart and say, it’s what the chart says I should do.

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Galfond suggests reviewing your own poker hands and trying to answer why you did what you did. The exercise will get you thinking. You start to become aware of biases and fears that exist in yourself and likely in other players in your player pool.

Armed with this knowledge, you don’t just improve your own game, but also become much better at predicting your opponents’ hands and exploiting their tendencies.

This module teaches the process of hand reading by looking at every step. What is the range of hands your opponent will play this way for value? When certain turn and river cards roll, does it increase or decrease the number of value bets they have?

What can they have as a bluff, and how does this compare to their value range?

You have information across multiple streets – bet sizing, timing tells, etc. Is the story on the river making sense based on all this information? Why is the river the street on which you should take the deep dive and make your reads?

In addition to covering these important questions, the RIO Foundations course discusses a few other important aspects, like:

  • Combinatorics
  • Multi-level thinking & leveling
  • Blockers & why they’re often overrated

Hacks & Tricks

This is the first of the two segments that Galfond refers to as the fun part of the Foundations course. In the first one, called Hacks & Tricks, he shares some simple but quite effective tips on how to exploit players and maximize your value, covering topics like:

  • Why playing tight is right, even if it’s not fun
  • How to maximize value with your strong hands by fast-playing
  • Folding when you’re beat, as most players don’t bluff enough
  • Exploiting weak players in specific spots where they do over-bluff
  • Checking with strong hands on dry boards

Adjustments & Exploits

This section of the Foundations by Run It Once deals with categorizing players based on a few major types, and how to best adjust against each of them.

Every time a player has a strong tendency that deviates too much from the GTO, there is room to exploit them.

  • Loose-Passive players – the easiest to play against. They won’t push you off the best hand; they’re not aggressive and let you dictate the size of the pot.
  • Tight-Passive– not as bad as loose-passive, but you’ll still love to have them at the table. They aren’t playing that many hands and bleeding as much money, but they won’t put you in tough spots and are susceptible to bluffs.
  • Maniacs– many different brands – some bluff too much, some put too much money in with hands they believe are strong. They don’t fold often and apply a lot of pressure, but you can beat them with the right adjustments.
  • Nits / Rocks – tight, semi-aggressive players. It’s hard to make money off of them. They will find some bluffs and semi-bluffs, unlike the tight-passive type. But they are not bluffing enough.

Galfond covers a few other types that don’t have a specific name, such as splashy players who tend to tighten up as a hand progresses and players who like to trap too much, offering some great tips on how to best exploit these profiles as well.

Off the Felt Essentials

The final section of the course features a few parting videos, focusing on what to do next and how to proceed on your path to poker success. A few areas that are in the focus are:

  • Game selection– playing in tough games increases your variance and reduces your win rate, so it is hard. Early on, be selective and play in games that you feel confident about
  • Bankroll management – some useful tips on how to manage and maintain your bankroll, figure out what to expect in terms of variance, and minimize your risk of ruin.
  • What’s next –Where you go depends on your situation, the type of poker you want to play, and what is available to you, but it’s essential to continue challenging yourself and improving.

Is Phil Galfond’s Foundations Right for You?

This Run It Once course is certainly quite different from most of what you’ll find online. Instead of focusing on a particular game type, this course is more about the game of poker as a whole and its main building blocks.

If you’re new to the game or have been playing for some time but don't really understand it beyond learning a few charts and basics like poker odds, this course can really help you. Take a look inside!

It gives a very well-rounded look behind the scenes and dispels many “mysterious” terms like GTO, MDF, blockers, etc. Galfond does a great job of explaining these things in a manner that even a beginner can follow with relative ease.

This course doesn’t promise to make you a crusher on its own, and it’s not designed with that purpose in mind. It will, however, equip you with the kind of fundamental knowledge that will make all your future poker learning much easier and significantly more efficient.

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