Interview with German High Stakes Pro Rainer Kempe

German high roller Rainer Kempe talked with Somuchpoker’s Gaelle Jaudon in this exclusive interview. He touched on a vast array of subject, including the time he rose to the highest stakes in tournaments, his poker study routine, and even about where he will travel first to play after all the COVID restrictions are finally lifted.

This interview is by Gaelle Jaudon.

Reiner Kempe
Rainer Kempe – Credit WPT

Somuchpoker: You’re part of the No Limit Gaming group. No Limit Gaming is linked with many other names like Stefan Schillhabel, Steffen Sontheimer, Fedor Holz, Manig Loeser, etc. Can you tell us more about that project and what you want to achieve?

Rainer Kempe: It’s kind of a tough stretch from the gaming world to the poker, so I’m not really sure how to explain it. Because, for one part, the gaming side, some of the public we want to address is under 18, and on the other hand, you don’t want to get them towards gambling. But people like Steffan and Fedor also think that a lot of the work done in poker is really helpful for gaming, building good teams, and being more effective. So it’s a lot about professionalism to that extent. The Counterstrike team is doing very well this season, and there will be a League of Legends team coming very soon. A few cool things are coming too.

SMP: You have more than 41 cashes over $100K, you have around $21 million in live tournament winnings, you’re third on the All-Time Money list in Germany. It’s difficult to compile a list when you look back at your career, so what are you the happiest and proud about?

RK: For live poker, it was definitely the time around 2015/2016 when I had great runs in main events, and I transitioned into high roller tournaments. I was finally able to play whatever tournament I wanted to play.mani It was a super unique situation because you usually look at the schedule of an event, and there is only a range of the tournaments that you can afford to play, and then suddenly you can play literally every tournament in the world. You make your own plans around that and travel to all the stops that you want to go to. So I really enjoyed that position and that lifestyle and the freedom it gives you for a couple of years.

SMP: As you said, 2015 and 2016 were huge steps in your career. Did you have what some players call a key moment in your game? Did you have that moment where you felt like, “ok, I get it now”?

RK: I assume that I had a sit-and-go background, especially when it was more like a niche. You put every decision into a tool, and you got the right results. Every decision comes a little closer to what is considered to be perfect. It wasn’t very flexible to that extent, and when I transitioned into the live tournaments, it’s actually when I got that feeling that the game is not just something that you learn and do but that you’re able to implement it very well. I realized it was something very flexible when I transitioned into live. Mainly because in online sit-and-go, everybody was kind of on the same level. It was always 4 really good players and 1 or 2 a little less good. I would never have felt that I was better because almost everybody in the field was making the same decisions and had the same style of play. That feeling came a bit later, probably around 2015, where I could adapt and change my game more.

SMP:  About your victory in the super high roller bowl in 2016, it was one of the biggest SHR at that time, with lots of media coverage and tv. How did you feel the pressure and attention on you at that time? You were also HU against Fedor Holz, a good friend of yours, and you said you didn’t plan on playing it but that Fedor pushed you to participate.

RK: Oh yeah, those were a long 4 days. As you said, the media coverage was really big, and also the whole event was streamed live, so it was 4 long days with every one of your moves being under surveillance. It was also one of my first super high roller and my first 300k event. All the big names at that time were there. To be honest, in regards to the attention and the visibility, I didn’t realize it at the moment because it was the start of the summer. We were in Vegas, and there were poker events to play every day. So I probably didn’t even realize and enjoyed the moment as much as I hope I would now. It was kind of business as usual because the WSOP was about to start right after, so I dived into that. Being HU with Fedor was amazing. We had been pushing each other for quite a while at the time, and we were both together on the biggest poker scene. He had kind of pushed me to play with him in the tournament because he thought it would be ridiculous to be just the two of us left. It was definitely one of my favorite moments of poker.

SMP: Matt Berkey said that entering the super high roller fields is like joining a secret or private club, where you kind of have to prove you deserve your place. Would you agree with that feeling?

RK: When you enter, it has completely different vibes than any other tournament. There is no late registration. There is a dress code, or at least for the first SHR there was. You see cameras everywhere. Everybody is there, and there is small talk before the tournament starts. Everybody shakes hands. You shake your opponent’s hand at the table. You don’t really see these manners at other tournaments. So yeah, in some regards, there is something special in SHR. And the other thing in regards to the pressure that comes with that type of event is that with the televised tables, everybody can see your cards. You know that people watch and that you will be judged for the bad decisions that you make, but you will also get credit for the good ones, and with the amount of money on top of that, it can be challenging, you know. You’re not necessarily used to playing for millions and have people see how you play and know what you folded or not. It definitely influences how you’re perceived in the community.

SMP: In what way do you think the booming of the super high rollers in the last 5 years or so impacted the poker industry? What did it change? 10 years ago, nobody would have thought that such tournaments would have success.

RK: I think in high rollers and SHR, the economy might be healthier than in regular tournaments, I would say, just because people who lose money on those very expensive events are different types of gamblers. Nobody buy-in into a 50k with his last 50k, but many people can enter a 500$ tournament with their last 500$. So in that regard, the SHR seems more healthy. Obviously, it also depends on the recreational players. If the recreational players leave, those events will stop running too, but fortunately, these games are very exciting, and many amateur players don’t mind losing those events. Percentage-wise, I think, there are fewer of those people in the lower stakes.

SMP: And do you think it’s a good advertisement to bring new people into the game?

RK: I would think so. I personally like watching the best players in the world competing for a lot of money. Again, watching the best players playing isn’t that exciting because they have very similar playing styles, very similar attitudes, and are super focused, and don’t talk much. There are not a lot of good television moments. If you want to script a tournament to make it exciting, you would add some breakdowns, some drama, some uncertainties in there, and you don’t get a lot of that during SHR shows. People who will break down under pressure are a lot less likely to make it to that level. It’s a place, as we said, where people get judged for the mistakes they make, so if they show that side of them and show their vulnerability, there’s a chance they won’t be back in the SHR club if we can say that.

rainer kempe poker
Credit: Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood Poker

SMP: Do you have specific training before big series or a big event?

RK: No, I don’t have specific training before big events. It’s just about improving as a player in general and being in the best conditions, so it’s more basic things like sleeping well, not being tired, being healthy, fit, and totally ready to go. So there is really no secret. It can be different depending on what makes you feel well and what makes you get closer to your 100%.

SMP:  And today, what does your study routine look like?

RK: That has also changed over the years with how specific tools progressed. Personally, it has always been imperative for me to surround myself with people equally motivated and focused. Whether I was studying sit-and-go, Hu, or PIO, whatever it was, it was so helpful to just be around people with the same motivation and different type of skill sets like me, who are very open about it, share their thoughts, and, at the same time, also take my thoughts into account. For me, it’s always been about having a good group of productive people with a good work ethic.

SMP: For a certain period of time, a few years ago, the Scandinavian players were on top of the game and dominated the poker fields, but then the German players started to crush and took that place. How would you explain this rise?

RK: I think the setting was right. There were many talented players in Germany at that time, and we had a pretty big poker school that was giving away 50$ to people to start playing along with basic strategy lessons and a good rake back in return. So there was a big pool of people who registered and played all types of games. It created a breeding ground of players. And the second thing is that there were buyers on the selling market, so many players could sell action and play at tournaments they couldn’t have afforded otherwise, thanks to people who were ready to invest in the higher buy-ins. All those things combined helped to push the German community and bring variance as well. Also, if people like Fabian Quoss, Marvin Rettenmaier, Fedor Holz, etc., the first world-knows, didn’t have that success, maybe it would have been the Russian community, for example, who would have a crush. So the setup and the timing were right, and many talents had the opportunity to emerge.

SMP: The past year and a half have been really strange for many people. How did you live that time of lockdown, travel restrictions, and no live events? What did you focus on?

RK: Yeah, it basically stopped the live events I was earning my living from for 5/6 years. For me, I honestly feel it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was already ready to leave that behind, at least by a little bit, because the live circuit can become a bit exhausting. It becomes repetitive. It sounds exciting for sure, but actually, it’s kind of always the same destinations, the same locations, it’s always the big casinos and big hotels, and it might not be how you want to spend your life. But it’s also tough to walk away from that life, so in that regard, it kind of helped me a little bit that traveling wasn’t an option any longer. And also, I genuinely enjoyed playing online a lot. I understand it’s obviously hard to say those things when so many people are suffering because of that, but it’s been a pretty smooth and easy journey for me. I loved spending time at home in the UK, and I loved spending time outside of Vegas in the summer for the first time in a decade. Now it’s been one year and a half, and I’m slowly starting to feel that I maybe want to travel again to play a WSOP event in Vegas. But I’ve played more hand of poker in the last year than in the previous 5 years, and it’s been a very pleasant grind, and I’ve been enjoying the change of pace in my life.

SMP: All the sites launched really big online series; it’s all over the place since the beginning of the covid crises. Do you think there is a risk of stifling the market by offering so many big tournaments all the time?

RK: Yeah, it must be. Everybody is seeing the difference in the games now versus when the covid crisis started. The market will dry out if there is 300/400k in rake going out of the system every time. This can work if a constant market is being integrated, but this is not really the case in poker. But in fact, it’s the opposite – with many countries being excluded from the market. So yeah, I definitely believe that too much money being taken out of the system will affect the poker market, but I don’t really have a solution. We’ll see how things evolve.

SMP: Everything is reopening now, so where do you think will be your first trip for a poker event?

RK: I will for sure not travel for live poker this summer. Europe is really a great place in summer, and I’ve been skipping too many European summers in the past. So I’ll keep the live poker out for a few more months, and I’ll probably not be able to set it out any longer in September or in October when the WSOP series starts.

SMP: And the last question, lately we have seen lots of challenges like Hellmuth/Negreanu, Fedor/Limitless, Polk/Negreanu, etc. It seems everybody challenges each other; is it something that you would see yourself doing one day? Would you be interested in a public challenge?

RK: There is definitely some charm in that. I liked the setup between Fedor and Viktor, but I feel that you have to be either very aggressive or loud on social media to get good action or in the case you get the action from someone who is better at you in heads up . So neither of those options entirely speaks to me. But to some extent, I definitely like the idea of going into the battle, like a personal fight – you dive in headfirst and battle it out. It’s pretty cool, really, but I didn’t have a spot or anything that was close to it.

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Gaelle Jaudon

Travelling and working in the poker industry for 8 years, Gaelle is working on a regular basis for different poker media in Europe and the US such as for the live reporting, club poker radio where she does live interview of poker personalities, somuchpoker and also as a freelance event manager for the WPT. Originally from Paris, she has a master degree in journalism and marketing.

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