The level of poker talent produced by Germany over the last seven years has been truly undeniable. Seemingly every major tournament series and every Player of the Year award has been captured by one German player or another at some point in that stretch, with an almost endless wave of young prodigies emerging to announce their presence as the next big thing on a yearly basis.
The very first wave can be traced all the way back to 2009 and two players in particular - a 23-year-old Benny Spindler and an 18-year-old by the name of Dominik Nitsche. Spindler made his splash that January with a third place finish at the PCA and a massive cash, but he was already several years into his poker career.
For Nitsche, the impact was immediate - and it was a sign of big things to come. After qualifying online, Nitsche played his first ever live tournament in April 2009 in Argentina - and with a $5,000 buy-in, the stakes were unbelievably high. Even in the earliest stages of his career the money didn’t faze Nitsche. Once he reached the final table, he absolutely cleaned up - finishing things off in four hours to capture the title and $381,000.
His calm and cool demeanour, one that carries on to this day, was evident even then in the shaggy-haired, baby-faced 18-year-old champion. In a winner’s interview with PokerNews’ Melissa Castello, Nitsche answered a question in a way that spoke volumes - was he nervous at any point?
Nitsche continued his breakout year in October 2009, when he finished second in a WPT High Roller in Marrakesh for over $120,000 to push his earnings for the year to over $525,000. He’d follow that up with $305,755 in live results in 2010 and $432,030 in 2011. He also continued to put up big results online, in a career that’s seen Nitsche win over $3 million across all of the major sites.
And the Wins Just Keep On Coming!
Things reached another stratosphere entirely for Nitsche in 2012, when he turned 21 and could finally head to Las Vegas to compete with the world’s best at the World Series of Poker.
After three small cashes in big field No Limit Hold’em tournaments, Nitsche had just one more shot for the summer before his first ever WSOP Main Event - a $1,000 No Limit Hold’em prelim.
Nitsche was the last one standing among 4,620 players, taking home the biggest prize of his career - $654,797 - along with his first career WSOP bracelet. Just three months later he’d add a WPT title to his resume after taking down a $3,300 event in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The following summer saw Nitsche cash seven times at the 2013 WSOP, but his biggest success of the year came that October at WSOP Europe. The second of two cashes brought Nitsche to the final table of the WSOPE Main Event, where he’d eventually bow out in third for another $540,000-plus result.
All of his previous WSOP results helped Nitsche qualify to buy into the 2014 WSOP National Championship. He took full advantage by winning his second bracelet just before the start of the summer’s action. It only got better from there, as Nitsche captured his second WSOP bracelet of the summer and third overall by beating out another massive $1,000 No Limit Hold’em field.
Even as he became one of the youngest players ever to reach three WSOP bracelets at 23-years-old, Nitsche is very level-headed about the kind of results he put up that year.
“I like to not get too emotional, so for me it was just another year in my career,” said Nitsche. “I'm happy I won two bracelets, and that's obviously something I will never forget, but I will say that I feel like I made a bigger jump in 2015.”
Entering the Lion's Den of High Roller Events
For almost any poker player, it would be hard to top two WSOP bracelets in a year going forward. However, Nitsche saw an opportunity to rise up and succeed in the only level of tournament venue he hadn’t yet put up results - High Rollers and Super High Rollers.
“2015 was when a few things started to click, and I almost instantly started having success in the bigger buy-in tournaments,” said Nitsche.
He already has two results in events with buy-ins of at least $25,000, but Nitsche also put together a pretty tremendous summer again in 2015. There were six WSOP cashes, including a third place result in the $5,000 Eight Handed No Limit Hold’em, along with a summer-making second place finish and a third in the Bellagio Cup.
“I'm very happy, I had an outstanding summer,” said Nitsche. “Making two final tables is obviously way above my realistic expectations. We made a deal at the Bellagio Cup, so there was no disappointment there at the end, even [though] I didn't win. Of course I would have liked to win my fourth bracelet, but this is not [always] how poker works.”
“I will continue to keep putting myself into positions where I can get lucky to win,” said Nitsche. “Eventually the titles will follow - or maybe more 3rd place finishes.”
Things have largely been quiet on the live tournament front since Nitsche made another WSOP National Championship run in late July in North Carolina. However, he’s kept himself very busy in trying to consistently improve his game.
“Playing a lot of poker, mostly on 888,” said Nitsche of his activity over the last few months. “I went to EPT Barcelona, where I played my first [ever] €50K. I enjoyed the experience but busted short of the money. It was a very tough field, but I'm looking forward to playing most of the upcoming High Roller or Super High Roller events; I feel like I'll do quite well in them over a decent sample size, as I see a lot of top pros make silly mistakes.”
While he struck out in the €50K, Nitsche did log a cash in the €10K High Roller before taking a rare, if brief, break from playing.
“After Barcelona I went to Singapore for my friend Andrew Teng's wedding,” said Nitsche. “That was a fun non-poker holiday.”
Getting Back On the Horse
Heading into October, Nitsche was back to business, though, with the WSOPE moving to Germany first time. He was truly excited to have a chance to find the same kind of success in Berlin as he’s had in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
“It feels amazing,” said Nitsche. “Every time you go to Vegas to play, it just feels special. I'm not sure whether it's the bracelets or the feeling of having to beat massive fields, but there is no doubt that any WSOP event is special. I'm excited we finally get a little of that experience back in my home country and hope we will see the WSOPE grow strongly in Berlin.”
He was also very optimistic as far as his expectations for the series itself.
“I expect it to be the biggest and best WSOPE we have ever seen,” said Nitsche. “The schedule looks great, and a lot of Americans I know are making the trip.”
Nitsche and George Danzer currently stand as the only two Germans with three WSOP bracelets, with Danzer having earned all three during a tremendous 2014 to tie him. Both are seeking a fourth WSOP win on home soil to take sole possession of the lead.
“George and I are very friendly off the table and have been joking around about this for a bit,” said Nitsche. “Obviously I'm gonna admit that he is the favourite, but I don't think my chances to win are that bad.”
Nitsche gives Danzer the edge because of his Mix-Game prowess, but he still thinks he has an edge elsewhere.
“I'd also be very happy for George if he manages to overtake me,” said Nitsche. “His knowledge of all forms of poker is simply outstanding. I love seeing hard workers and good people succeed - and George is both. He was long overdue to win a major tournament before last year.”
“I'm a better No Limit Hold’em player than I have ever been,” said Nitsche. “And I feel extremely confident in taking on pretty much any player in a No Limit Hold’em tourney. I would be excited to take down a fourth bracelet and, of course, doing [it] in Germany would simply be amazing. It's a big goal, and I will give it my best.”
It’s a friendly rivalry for sure, and Nitsche thinks falling behind would only be a temporary setback.
“I will just overtake him again next year anyway,” said Nitsche.
Playing the Game - His Way
Nitsche is very confident in his own game, but he’s far from content in resting on his laurels. He puts a lot of work into keeping his game sharp, but even with all of the tools and resources out there Nitsche feels that tournament poker is still beatable for those who are good enough and work hard enough.
“[It’s] a lot harder than 99 percent of professional poker players realize,” said Nitsche. “It's strange, and I have been thinking about this a lot lately, but for some reason tournament poker just didn't evolve as quickly as cash games. If you truly want to be one of the best tournament players, there are just so many things to study.”
A lot of what Nitsche is talking about comes from the many different sets of circumstances players will face over the course of any tournament.
“Tournaments usually start out quite deep stacked - sort of like a cash game,” said Nitsche. “They then become shorter [with], say, a 40-50 big blind average - and that is a whole new game. Then you get to the bubble, and suddenly ICM [Independent Chip Model, a formula that helps calculate the value of players’ stacks] becomes an even bigger factor. One other thing to keep in mind is that stack sizes and ICM also influence postflop play.”
“I could go on forever, but basically tournament play is incredibly complex - and I think that's why players are still quite bad,” said Nitsche. “It's so tough to master all the concepts I just mentioned. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing, due to my playing history.”
Nitsche is referring to his wide base of knowledge and experience in the game of poker. He started as a Sit & Go player, switched to online tournaments, and then expanded into a wide variety of cash games.
“I mostly played and studied deep stack Six Max No Limit Hold’em cash games on 888 Poker, until I was good enough to sit at $5/$10,” said Nitsche. “Then I started playing everything - short-stack Six Max and heads up, 20 big blind heads up cash games. Heads up hyper-turbos. Deep stack heads up games.”
“Recently most of my focus has been on the ‘Push or Fold’ games on 888 Poker,” said Nitsche. “So it's fair to say my short stack game is in top shape.”
The ‘Push or Fold’ tables at 888, where players can only buy in for five times the big blind, are ideal for players hoping to get stronger in determining when to push the smallest edges at the right time. It’s just one part of Nitsche’s current online schedule, when he’s off the road and spending time with his girlfriend in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“I play a lot,” said Nitsche. “Usually I play cash games every day except for Tuesdays and Sundays, when I play tournaments. I take Wednesdays and Fridays off sometimes because the action on these days can be a bit slow. I usually study poker on the side if there are no games, and wait for good action - I believe this is best for my long-term earning potential.”
An Eye on the GPI Prize
While he does play online quite a bit, even when he’s on the road, Nitsche has been spending even more time than usual on the live circuit. There’s one big cause for his increased schedule - the GPI. Nitsche currently sits in eighth place overall in the rankings and 15th in their Player of the Year race - and while he’s racked up individual accomplishments, he’s yet to take down anything that recognises a more complete body of work over the course of a year.
“[I’ve] been kind of busy, since I have a realistic shot at becoming GPI Player of the Year,” said Nitsche. “While it has never been a main goal for me in the past, I now realize that this is probably my best chance at ever winning that title. I have decided I will go for it as hard as I can.”