Run It Once made waves in early January when they announced one of the biggest names in poker was joining their elite training roster. Justin Bonomo, long considered one of the best tournament players of the modern era, is renowned for his success in high roller and super high roller events worldwide. With over $33 million in live tournament earnings, Bonomo currently sits at #2 on the all-time money list.
For Run It Once, adding Bonomo is certainly a significant move for the poker training platform. He brings unmatched experience and expertise at the highest levels that will be invaluable for their students.
However, not all reaction to the news was positive, given Bonomo’s controversial history on social media, especially in recent months. Most recently, the poker icon caused quite a stir with his controversial remarks following Israel’s military operation against the Hamas terrorist organization, which has caused more than 24,600 deaths and over 61,800 injuries, according to CNN reports.
On his end, Upswing Poker founder Doug Polk took to Twitter with tongue-in-cheek remarks acknowledging the divide caused by Bonomo’s hiring within the poker community.
While some saw Polk’s tweets as poking fun, Run It Once owner Phil Galfond defended the signing, emphasizing Bonomo’s unparalleled skills and accomplishments at the felt. Galfond pointed out that with four of the top five players on the all-time money list, results are Run It Once’s top priority.
Bonomo’s Polarizing Views Online
Bonomo, a four-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and one of the game’s all-time money leaders, has garnered notoriety in recent months for his outspoken views on social media, particularly regarding Israel’s war in Gaza and West Bank.
He has never been shy about voicing strong political opinions on Twitter and other platforms. In particular, his stances on issues in the Middle East have drawn significant criticism and backlash from some within the poker community.
His tweets, often laced with humor and sarcasm, have drawn both praise and intense criticism, igniting heated online debates and fracturing the poker community. While freedom of expression is important, many argue public figures should consider how their views may empower or marginalize others.
The polarizing nature of Bonomo’s social media presence is nothing new. Three years ago, fellow poker icon Daniel Negreanu said that Bonomo was out to ruin his career with smear campaigns and disinformation. The rift became clear in a heads-up challenge in which Daniel was trailing Bonomo by $500,000 in chips, according to Gamblers Daily Digest.
But Bonomo’s high-profile role with Run It Once gives him an even larger platform to spread viewpoints that some poker players and stakeholders feel will actively harm or offend some groups. For those players and fans, having him represent a major training brand they support is understandably upsetting.
Polk Weighs In With Wit
It was against this backdrop of division that Upswing Poker founder Doug Polk entered the fray on Twitter. In his characteristic tongue-in-cheek style, Polk acknowledged the controversy surrounding Bonomo while also poking fun at the situation.
Polk is no stranger to lively debate and uses humor as a way to start important conversations. However, some saw his tweets as needlessly inflammatory. Run It Once owner Phil Galfond quickly responded, defending the signing and emphasizing results over personal views.
Polk’s satirical jabs, while seemingly lighthearted, reveal deeper tensions brewing within the poker community. The Bonomo signing has exposed a rift between those who prioritize poker prowess and those who value personal conduct and a more inclusive community.
It has also raised questions about the role of online platforms in navigating sensitive topics and managing the public image of their brand ambassadors. The news carries more weight especially given that Leaf Trading Cards and Poker Royalty have partnered to feature big-name players, including Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Dan Weinman.
Navigating Moral Minefields: Principles Versus Pragmatism
The discussion highlighted the competing priorities at play. On one side, principles of inclusion and empowering all people regardless of beliefs. On the other hand, the practical realities of running a successful business.
For Run It Once, Bonomo’s unprecedented accomplishments and value to students far outweighed any concerns about his online persona. Results, experience and skill are their sole criteria. However, others argue that platforms should come with responsibility, and certain views do real harm.
The Run it Once-Bonomo saga certainly highlights the challenges faced by the poker industry in navigating issues of personal responsibility, freedom of speech, and brand reputation. While platforms have a right to choose their ambassadors, they also face potential backlash if those choices go against the values of a significant portion of their audience.
An Ongoing Debate: Upswing vs Run It Once
There is disagreement in the poker community about Justin Bonomo’s past comments and whether he should represent Run It Once. Some feel his previous statements were offensive and he treats some groups unequally.
However, Phil Galfond defends the hiring by pointing out Run It Once has 4 of the top 5 all-time tournament money winners as pros, while Upswing has 0 in the top 10. He argues Bonomo’s poker skills make him qualified despite controversies.
Critics counter that Bonomo seems driven by “hate” in some of his statements and can’t be trusted to treat all students equally. There are questions if his temperament suits a coaching role.
Part of the debate stems from different philosophies. Upswing seems to aim for a mass market, celebrity-style lineup while Run It Once stresses transparency and continual self-improvement.
There are good arguments on both sides. Ultimately it’s a business decision by Galfond but clearly many in the poker community disagree with hiring Bonomo in an influential role, despite his tournament resume. Concerns over his treatment of groups he “despises” raise red flags for some about Run It Once’s model going forward.
Only time will tell if this adds more fuel to the ongoing complex debate around the intersection of beliefs, business and community standards in poker. In the short term, focus has returned to the felt as the new season begins.