I had the opportunity to speak at length with 888poker ambassador Dominik Nitsche during the 2020 888poker LIVE Madrid festival at the city’s famed Casino Gran Via.
Over the course of our interview, Dominik provided a great deal of insight into the mind and thought process of poker’s high rollers. Through his answers, it became quite clear how elite poker players study differently, react differently to all sorts of situations at the felt, and truly think about the game on a different level. Aside from that, he told us about what it’s been like developing and marketing his DTO poker training app and shared some of the experiences he’s had exploring the Spanish capital.
A full transcript follows the interview below.
Dominik Nitsche Interview Transcript
Hey everybody, it’s Robbie Strazynski here for Cardplayer Lifestyle. We’re at the 888poker LIVE Festival in Madrid. It’s a festival, but it’s not a festival without Dominik Nitsche. How are you doing?
Did I pronounce it correctly? Nitsche?
Well done, yeah.
Thank you. Like the philosopher.
Sure, yeah. Close enough.
It’s good to see you again.
Thank you, likewise.
This is the first time 888poker has held a live event in Madrid. Have you been to Madrid before?
Actually, yeah, I’ve been to Madrid. I don’t even remember, once or twice, and certainly it’s my first time in this casino. Many years ago there was a PokerStars EPT here. Played that, obviously. And yeah, this casino’s much nicer, so my first impression coming here is actually very positive. I really like it so far.
So what’s your favorite part of the venue? It’s pretty magnificent.
Yeah, it’s just. The poker room is really beautiful, it’s very nice. That’s all I saw, and then I walked around the city, and it’s nice to be actually in the city of Madrid.
That’s true, instead of on the outskirts. Like you’re right here. Are you staying nearby?
Yeah, staying at the casino.
My favorite spot, though, is the sandwich place next door. It’s incredible, actually. Really nice place. And it’s open 24/7.
We’ll give them a free promo. Do you know what it’s called? Does it have a name?
Oink! Gotta love Oink. It’s good stuff. I think it means “pig” in Spanish.
Something like that.
OK, so, let’s talk a little high roller stuff. Anyone who looks at your HendonMob stats can see that you’ve had plenty of success over the years playing tournaments; over $18 million in earnings. But numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Are there one or two specific moments that you could perhaps describe as THE highlights of your poker career?
I feel that poker tournaments are never about the highlights because it’s always easy to say “Oh, I won this tournament,” but it’s never what it’s about. You win a tournament, that’s always mostly luck, so you try to not make that your highlight. You know, it’s nice that I won the $100k in Rozvadov, that’s the one that I’ll always remember because it was the big high roller and I was lucky to win on the stage. But overall, you try to not focus on that too much.
I understand. You’re saying that winning a poker tournament is mostly luck, so you’ve just been luckier than most people?
In those instances, yes. In some instances, the opposite. But if you look at it this way, then you don’t get attached to the emotional highs and lows, you just play. So if you then start picking highlights like this, then you’re sort of doing the same thing again, which is attaching emotions to that win.
But I, can I really say that I played much better in that tournament than in the one next year where I only came fifth? The answer’s no, but I played a lot better in the one the year after, and I think I played a lot better last month, for example. Because the goal is always to get better.
Interesting way of looking at it, and we’ll talk about emotions a little bit later. You play a ton on the high roller circuit, where it goes without saying that – at the felt – the competition is fierce. With that said, what’s the vibe like among the high rollers away from the tables? Maybe you can give us recreational players some insight. Do you have a specific group of fellow high rollers with whom you discuss strategy? Do you guys hang out and do non-poker-related stuff? Eating, chilling, beer, all that stuff?
Some of that, yeah.
You care to share a little bit? Like, what’s the kind of stuff that happens when the cameras are off and you’re off the felt?
That’s the thing, we all kind of have respect for each other and it all kind of comes down to the fact that it’s just luck. You don’t really get too upset at the guy because he was playing well, and you just really don’t get too upset at one another, because it just mostly comes down to luck.
So it’s easy to not get big egos, it’s not like chess where it’s cutthroat, the winner played better today. And in poker there’s a mentality that most of the winnings come from the recreational players, all the good players, they’re all sort of on the level. So it’s easy to not have any animosity towards someone.
Also when you travel a lot, you end up going to different spots, you see the same people, but not your entire crew comes with you, so who else would you hang out with? It’s competitive, but it’s also friendly.
So you’re not all like talking strategy and talking hands, it’s more like chilling, talking sports or something like that?
Yeah, you do talk strategy with certain people. Occasionally, the group gets a bit wider and you talk with some people about some hands. But actually I find that people are actually incredibly open when it comes to talking about strategy as well. People like to share.
Sure. Is it all people, or is it specifically other German-speaking professionals?
You do tend to sort of naturally go toward your people. I have a lot of friends from the UK, from all over the place, but it was nice obviously when I got connected to the German crew because I got to speak German.
Living in the UK, I don’t really get to speak German that often anymore, so that’s kind of nice, you do connect in that way. And I find that for some people it’s like the lack of English, they tend to then go towards their group, and it’s just how it goes. With the Germans I think it’s a little bit easier, but it also sometimes happens.
OK, so let’s talk some more about the emotion part. I really did wonder, and I’m not any kind of high-rolling professional, I’m not even any sort of low-rolling professional. I’m just a recreational player. And like you said, all you guys, you’re playing on a different level. When I watch the streams, I watch the featured tables and stuff, it’s intense. And you guys are all calm. And this is what I see, as a viewer. Beneath the surface, what we don’t see – are your hearts racing? Are you saying, “oh my god, if I lose this, like the EV is just horrible, it ruins my year? Like, there’s got to be some emotion underneath there.
Well, it comes down to what I said, right? Everyone’s calm, and that’s because once you understand poker to a certain extent, you’re just thinking in EV and numbers and then you’re like OK, maybe there’s this bet, but if it’s bad, it doesn’t cost you your whole tournament. Or it doesn’t cost you all that money. So that one time it costs you your whole tournament, yeah, but just because you lose this time it doesn’t mean that… you look at it in terms of EV, as you said, so maybe you’re like, so maybe this loses a little bit. Or like, this call wins a little bit.
So once you start quantifying decisions like this, it’s a lot easier to remain calm, because you’re just sitting here like “OK, if I made a mistake here, it’s going to cost me a little bit. That’s fine.”
And I find other people, they’re just like “Oh my god, if I lose here my entire stack is gone! Ahh!” Panic, panic, panic, then they give something away. Then it’s easier to call them or whatever. So yeah, I find that if you don’t get emotionally attached, I think it helps with that part, and that’s why, it goes both ways. It helps with your understanding, and it also helps with your not giving away tells, because you’re just thinking out loud. It’s just aimed at a bigger idea.
Well, it’s always interesting to me. I know you see people winning a huge tournament or losing a huge hand, I know the way if cameras were on me I would react, and I don’t usually see that from the high roller crowd, and I’m sort of wondering how that happens. So it’s interesting to hear that sort of like, detach yourself emotionally, it’s more matter of fact, like “yeah, sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t win.”
Yeah, I think we’ve all been there. It’s a lot easier if you’ve been there. And then certain times, you haven’t been there, or you’ve only been there a few times, and it still matters at the big final tables. But if I’m talking to someone at the super high roller or something, been there.
Right. Gotcha. I think, well, at least as a recreational player, what separates the regular players from the good players from the elite players, like Dominik Nitsche, is the studying. The amount of effort you are able and willing and do put into sitting and studying and working hard. Just like anything else in life, you work hard enough, you can succeed. To me, that is the difference-maker. For a professional elite player, such as yourself, could you perhaps describe or, in layman’s terms – for we don’t understand that sort of stuff – what level or extent of study are we talking about? Like, how many hours a day or a week or, what’s the extent that you put time and effort in the lab?
Oh, it’s everything. I confirm everything you said. The thing about this is there’s so much you can do, so it’s actually sort of overwhelming if you tackle something like poker, to get good at poker, so if you ask me what’s the extent you do I’m like “oh, I don’t know. There’s so many things you can do.”
You can review your hand histories, you can work with the newest study tools, put in hours and hours practicing. But I find the main thing that separates the top from the lesser players, it’s mostly precision. Precision in their bet sizing, precision in what hands they choose to bluff with, and that just makes people overall tougher to play against. If you know how to bluff more efficiently, you know what the right concepts to use are to bluff, then you’ll do much better.
But I find that the lower-tier guys, they have sort of like a basic understanding of this, but the true elite really understands all these concepts and they understand them much better. There is no real secret, it’s just understanding everything a little bit better, and it all adds up.
Is there some sort of like, absolute amount of hours—I forget the, someone says like 10,000 hours of study—is that really a thing? Like, 10,000 hours you’re sitting and studying the charts and looking at the percentages and stuff?
If you put in more than 10,000 hours of poker … yeah, you’ll be good.
I sure hope so!
You’ll play fantastically. It’s not rocket science, I could be doing something much tougher, I think.
For me, it’s an incredible thing to hear that. Wow. Maybe 10,000 hours from now, we’ll be switching roles, I’ll be sitting there.
Well, I’ve got to put in 10,000 hours there, then. Actually, what’s very interesting is—a thought I just had, I find that it’s this little bit of progress, yes, that’s very important, but it’s also understanding how the game works from a fundamental standpoint. If you understand it as it’s all about EV and it’s not about emotions and do or die, do I lose a hundred thousand here or there. You understand it’s all about these tiny edges, that helped me a lot.
And also from an emotional standpoint, you’re saying.
Yeah. From everything. From emotion and strategy. To understand that.
When you’re doing all that playing, all that grinding, it’s obviously very intense. You need to be concentrating and you’re very focused, and especially during the World Series of Poker you’re kind of like, well, “poker, poker, poker; everything else can wait.” After that, though, you need a little bit of downtime. We’re human beings, after all; you need to rest, relax, recharge. What do you do during that downtime, and approximately how long do you usually take?
I don’t do enough, and what I then decided to do with my downtime is to launch a poker app and work on that all the time when I’m not playing. I’m not sure I’d recommend that part. I should take more downtime, yeah. When I do, yeah, I just try to, I travel a lot. I like to go Japan, eat a lot of good food and just hang out there.
Up to 140 trying to win it all so me and my friends can afford a trip to tokyo #tokyofund
— Dominik Nitsche (@DominikNitsche) January 25, 2012
What do you like about Japan?
Sushi, steak. I’m really into food, so going to Japan is always a highlight for me of the year. I went to Tokyo four times now, and I went to Osaka for the first time. I did Kyoto as well.
You take the bullet train, right?
Yeah, yeah. It was fantastic.
One day. Well, you did mention the app, we’re talking about the DTO app, DTO poker. I remember last year in Las Vegas you told me about this DTO app, at least at the time, it was theoretical. You were about to launch it, or something like that. Now it’s of course out there and we can check it out. What’s the response been so far over these last few months?
Fantastic. People have been really kind to us even though we’re still early. I always say to them, “that’s very nice of you, but we have so much more planned.”
And before you go further, what is the app about?
Oh! OK, so, it’s just a poker training app, where you can practice your poker training. Because we always found that poker videos are getting sort of outdated, so let’s give the people something where they can train on their phone, practice while they go, and receive immediate feedback on any decisions they make. And it’s been really, really good so far.
So what would you say the unique, distinguishing factor of the DTO app?
Well, it’s two things. One is the fact that you get immediate feedback whenever you play a hand. I think a lot of people, they always want feedback from their hands. And then also they tend to go towards coaches, you know. And if you get a human to tell you something, they’ll always be a bit biased because they don’t know the proper answer.
So in many games, we’ve already decided that machines are far superior to humans. Chess, for example, you take a chess program. So there’s the goal basically is to make the app your own personal poker trainer where you can play. It’s going to show you what areas you need to improve in, that’s what’s coming next. And it’s also on your phone, so you carry it with you everywhere you go.
And this is for Hold’em and Omaha?
Currently just Hold’em. There are plans for Omaha, it’s no secret. PLO, yeah. People have been asking us about it. The thing is, it’s a lot of work to calculate Omaha.
You don’t say! If it were easy, we’d all be doing it.
If it were easy, there would already be another app before ours. The thing is, there’s so much that already has to be done before, and our developers are currently working on making the app better for the no-limit crowd. So once that is done, we can start talking PLO, but realistically, not before next year.
Is the DTO app something for the $1/2, $1/3 guy like myself and a lot of the audience at Cardplayer Lifestyle, or is it more for your opponents at the super high rollers?
The beautiful thing about this is that it’s for everyone. Small disclaimer: it works best if you play tournaments –because I don’t want to get anyone in there and give them false illusion that this perfectly applies to a cash game.
In cash games, you’ll see more multi-way pots; DTO is better for heads-up play. And also, antes, you know, if there’s an ante, the strategies change, so with all that in mind, it’s much better for tournament play. Especially because we do many different stack sizes. In cash games you’d be more interested in more deeper stack play. We do offer some of that, but we offer all the tournament stack sizes
So it’s really just a good tournament app, and we specialize in it.
What first sparked the idea for you to create the app, and what was the process like?
My partner Marcus and I, we have pretty big egos and we saw some training videos, and we were like “That’s trash, let’s do it better.” Like, what is this nonsense? We can do it better. We basically said that. But the thing with training videos, as good as they are, it’s like, these poker training sites, are they good enough? We think they’re always going to be outdated, because you film something a year ago, the advice the guy’s giving you is flat-out bad.
So like, this sparked the idea that actually, “hang on a minute, they’re not giving us advice that is actually useful.” When all I do is study with a solver, or how I told Marcus how to play was “You look at a solver, you apply that strategy, then you win.” And then like, you watch a coaching video, and the guys say things that are sometimes flat-out wrong, sometimes are oversimplified, or whatever. Do you know what? We could just build this into an app that’s user-friendly, unlike a solver, which is like, oh, a solver, it’s scary.
And then you could update it frequently in the app store.
Yeah. We are consistently putting out new features.
Fantastic. It’s on the App Store and Google Play, I imagine?
Yeah. That’s the thing, right? You can always make the app better. We have a nice community built up, we have some money coming in that pays for the developers to make the app better. And so we’re currently very happy developing it even further.
Certainly. I’ve helped create an app as well, Poker Notes Live, try that, App Store and Google Play. I know that it’s sort of like a baby, it’s a big undertaking. Besides the technical aspect, what would you say is maybe a big lesson or life lesson you’ve learned from this whole process of creating an app?
If you build something that’s sort of “disruptive” in this industry of poker coaching, people… have interesting reactions. Polarizing reactions, you know? Some are like, super into the idea, like way too nice to us, and I’m like, “guys, this is really awesome but we’re just getting started. DTO in three months from now, you’ll laugh at what we had right now, basically, but it’s really nice that you’re saying this.”
Then there are other people who are saying, “oh, we don’t need this, you can just watch a training video,” and that’s what I find very fascinating. Because before we had training videos, we had books. And I can only assume that whenever something changes in an industry, there’s going to be like this group of people rioting against it. “We don’t need solvers! We don’t watch video sites! The guys are not giving us their secrets!”
You have all these people shouting at you against something. But eventually, if it’s good, it’s going to do well. You know, Run it Once is a great video site that’s done well. You have all these courses. But I can also assume there’s also been resistance at first. I find that, from a poker player perspective, I always embrace new programs, and that’s why I think I’ve done well throughout my career.
Good lesson there.
Yeah, that’s a good lesson for one. And from the business side, it’s the other way. That people don’t always; they’re not always like me in that they aren’t always receptive.
Like you said, it’s disruptive, it very well could herald the next evolution of learning in the game. That’s pretty cool. Do you see yourself basically continuing to invest your time and effort in this for a long time to come, or “let’s stick to pure poker at the table?”
As you said, it’s kind of your baby, right? That’s how I feel about it, too. I love hanging out with the guys in Discord and talking hands, yeah, just talking to them. It’s nice to build a community around this, actually. It’s much more than the app; it’s what’s around the app. The app can be the greatest app in the world, if you don’t have people using it, talking about it, what good is it?
When you build a community around the app, that’s what is super enjoyable for me. I say I don’t really take time off, because whenever I’m anywhere I’m always talking to the guys, and it’s actually really enjoyable. Yeah, we’re all learning poker together, I find, and that’s for me very interesting. Would I have more money if I just played poker and never started the app? Oh, yeah, you can be damn sure that’s the case, yeah. But it’s not just about that.
It’s good to see that enthusiasm, that’s cool.
I believe in the potential and I believe that one day that statement may or may not be true anymore. There’s potential.
Fair enough. Also very humble. I will let you know that Dominik, it’s the end of January now, we’re at 2020 888poker LIVE Madrid festival. You’ve got the whole year ahead of you. What sort of goals do you have for yourself in the poker realm, and perhaps with your app, that we can expect to see from you?
Yeah, I mean poker goals are always tough to set first of all, right. And then you already need to say that I took a couple tournaments off; I wasn’t in the Aussie Millions, which I usually play. It’s one of my favorites. Just because I had so much stuff going on with the app, and also there was this tournament as well, so it just didn’t work out. I didn’t want to do a 24-hour trip to come to Madrid, unlike some here.
I hear that.
It’s rough. So, my main goal is just to continue playing. I’m going to play a lot of World Series events, I think, and before then, not really much planned. I’ll be at most of the 888poker LIVE stuff. I’m looking forward to Bucharest, actually, I’ve never been.
You going to chase WSOP Player of the Year?
I’m not going to chase anything, I’m way too busy these days. I can’t commit to tournaments. I just want to continue growing the app, and then at some point it’s going to be World Series time and I’ll just be a full-on poker player trying to win a bracelet again.
Well, that’s what we love to see, and that’s the reason we interview players like Dominik Nitsche. Guys, this is Dominik Nitsche. Robbie Strazynski here for Cardplayerlifestyle.com, again, from the 888poker LIVE event in Madrid. Thanks for watching.