Marvin Rettenmaier – The Heart of a Winner

Winning is the one thing poker players want. They crave it, they need it and every single one of them thinks they deserve it more than their opponents. German pro Marvin Rettenmaier is not just one of those pros; he’s one of the best. Rettenmaier became European Poker Player of the Year, BLUFF Player of the Year, finished second to only Dan Smith in the GPI Player of the Year ranking and above all that he won more than $2.5 million in live tournaments. His results are stunning as he notched up four victories of at least six figures. Rettenmaier’s biggest success to date was the WPT Championship, just over a year ago when he took home the $1,196,858 first-place prize. In this in-dept interview right after the EPT Grand Final Rettenmaier speaks openly about the highs and lows in his career, the heart condition that left him sober for quite a while as it also helped him improve his poker game.

Does a bust out from a big event still hurt, or is it easy to shake off?
It definitely hurts. Especially this one, since I haven’t always played my A-game in EPT Main Events. I really told myself that I was going to focus 100%, and I feel like I did, but things just didn’t go my way today.

Do you know while you’re playing if you’re focused or not, or is that something you realize only after the fact?
It depends, there are some hands that you could’ve played differently, which you realize a day later when you think about it. I don’t think anyone ever plays 100% perfect all the time. Sometimes you’re tired because you didn’t, or couldn’t, go to bed for some reason.  Then you definitely notice the difference, and there has even been a time where I thought I was bluffing, but I actually later saw that I had a straight. That’s when you know that you’re really tired, but luckily that happens only once every three years or so.

Do you think that you should be taking more rest?
Definitely. I really felt like I needed some time off right now, and that’s why I came here after a one-week vacation.  I was working as well during my holiday, but I wasn’t playing poker. It definitely helps to get your mind off it, but I still find it difficult to actually do that. It’s hard to tell myself, “You need a break,” just because there are so many events, both good and prestigious. Every week there’s a new tournament and you need to choose between a couple. It’s hard to say, “I’m not going to play this event,” because there’s always a reason to play. This year I’m not even going for Player of the Year and I still have that feeling. Last year, when I was going for Player of the Year, I just played everything that I could. Now I’m just thinking, I can’t skip EPT Grand Final because it’s the Grand Final, I can’t skip EPT Berlin because it’s in my home country and so on.

Is there a voice in your head that tells you why you can’t skip a certain event?
It tells me that I need to win an EPT, and I can’t skip the World Series in Melbourne because I need that bracelet. I really want to win and I love competing. Even when I was on my little holiday I was trying to beat my grandparents playing rummy. It felt good. (Laughing) No mercy!

So it’s not a thing for you to look at a certain event and think, “If I don’t play I’m missing out on a certain amount because of my ROI.”
It is when I plan it. It’s a bit of both, but when I’m playing I’m not focused on the money at all. It’s just my competitive nature that makes me want to compete all the time.

Do you approach poker like a business, and do you track everything you play and spend in an Excel sheet?
I do, I’m good at doing all my accounting. If I have a decision between playing one tournament and another, I will decide based on which gives me the better EV. Then again, if one of the tournaments is very prestigious, I will choose that over a smaller event. That’s mainly because of future EV as well, with sponsorship deals and other things like that. Because of my results I have a deal with PartyPoker now.

Rettenmaier after winning the EPT Prague High Roller (Photo: Neil Stoddart – PokerNews)

How do you make sure that your finances are all in order, is that a difficult part of being a professional?
I think I’m pretty good at it with buying shares and writing down my swaps in tournaments. Sometimes it’s a little much though when you’re booking a lot of flights and hotels. In that case I might forget to write something down occasionally. I’m trying to keep that to a minimum though.

Do you have any idea how many live events you played last year in total?
I should, but I really don’t know. Mohsin Charania told me that he played 100 last year, so I assume that I played around 150 or maybe even more.

Do you know how much that is in buy ins?
No, that’s really everything from 1k Turbo events to High Rollers.

Do you keep an eye on your travel spending at all?
Not really, It’s not like I just write down every time I take a cab or something like that. I know about what I spend on traveling, which is a lot of money. I played around 150 tournament over 30 stops, so around 30 flights and that adds up to maybe €15,000. I’m on the road around 250 days per year, and I’m not even a big spender on hotel rooms but that’s still around €35,000. Besides that maybe some extra’s so €60,000 in total seems about right.

You had a great 2012 so that is easy to deal with I assume, but what if you don’t have any big scores this entire year from now on, would that affect your life?
I wouldn’t be happy about it, but it wouldn’t destroy me financially. You shouldn’t play that high if it does affect you in that way, but let’s not think about that! That’s not going to happen (Laughing). I just want to win more tournaments, but I would financially at least be okay if something like that would happen.

In earlier interviews you pointed out that you were lucky from the start. Was there never a stretch where you were doing badly for a longer period of time?
Back in 2011 I had a stretch of 32 events without a single cash, that’s quite a lot in live poker. That was right after I won the FPS in Paris and it took me until I got back to Paris a few months later to end that series. I’ve been very fortunate to have the success that I had, but I also want to keep on having it.

Is that realistic?

In what sense?
Is it realistic in the sense that I’m going to have a year like last year every year from now on? Probably not, but there are guys that have won big tournaments many years in a row. Of course there are also very good players that have not won anything in a very long time. Last year for me was amazing with two big wins, but in 2011 for instance I had a lot of beats deep into tournaments. I still profited over the year, but something like that can also happen. Before I won the WPT I had so many chances at winning a big one. It’s not like I win every tournament I play even though it look like that sometimes.

How do you deal with people who think that you just win everything?
If someone tells me that I just tell them every single bad beat story I have. And then when I do have chips I make sure to run over to them on every break, and point out how well I’m doing. I think you can’t really be jealous in poker because there is so much variance. It’s always going to happen that someone else is having a lot of success over a couple of months while you’re not. It’s just going to bring you down if you’re jealous at other people’s results.

Is there a player in your group of friends who’s due a big score because of his skill?
There are a couple of guys actually. I was close with Manig Loeser and he’s had a ridiculous amount of final two table finishes without a big win. Even for someone like Tobias Reinkemeier it has been a while since he’s won a big event, but there are just so many good players and sadly not all of them can win all the time.

Is there a difference between you and highly skilled online MTT pros that try to make the switch to live tournaments?
I definitely think so, as I’m pretty good against bad players but I can also take on the good players. The really good online players are more so used to playing against other very good online players. They don’t really play a lot against amateurs that are supposed to fold in spots where they are actually never, ever going to fold. The whole concept of tournament strategy that live poker has to offer is also something I think I’m really good at.

Is there a difference between the way you played deep in events now, compared to before you had a lot of success?
My first major final table was at the World Series three years ago and that flew by. I think I was focused, but it still seemed like a dreamland scenario. To be at that final table after beating thousands of players and having Durrrr on my left, that was special. I had no idea what I was doing there but I did play well. It was more a thing that I just couldn’t believe that I was actually there. I have definitely gotten more aggressive deep in tournaments, and I am putting more pressure on players that are scared of not making the next pay jump than I used to.

Are the pay jumps at the final table still as important to you, or is winning the only thing you look at?
That’s very opponent depended. In the $50,000 event at the WSOP APAC in Melbourne I really just had to survive the bubble. Everyone was playing so ridiculous, while I was just blinding down from 20 to six big blinds. Players were limping in five-handed with just 15 big blinds, and basically every hand someone was supposed to go broke. That did not happen, and in the end I finished on the exact bubble. So there are definitely situation where you have to nit it up, but on the other hand when you feel like your opponents are nitting it up, you should just apply a lot of pressure. I think I was chip leader at at least half the final tables I made, and that makes them focus on the ICM game while you can punish them. It helps so much if you have chips so you can put pressure on other people.

Bubbling the $50,000 at the Aussie Millions, was that the toughest bubble of your poker career?
Definitely. I only played two $50,000 events in my life, the one at the WSOPE in Cannes and the one in Australia and I stone cold bubbled both events. They were both very painful but the one in Australia was the worst.

You said you were lucky from the start in your poker career, but I’ve never really read anything about how that start was. How did you get comfortable playing in these big live events?
I had a really bad injury, well not really an injury but a problem with my heart muscle. I couldn’t play sports for six months and I couldn’t drink for about nine months. During that time I played a lot of poker and that helped me to get to that level.

A problem with your heart muscle sounds very serious, what happened to you and how did you recover from it?
I felt some random pains in my chest, nothing absurd but I told my doctor about it. He said that it wasn’t a big deal and that it was probably nothing. I was like, “Really?” and eventually he said that I could go to the hospital for a check up. That was about a year after I finished high school, and I was working at the time. So I went to the hospital and I didn’t know what I had at that point. I walked into the hospital feeling really good, so I thought it was really stupid that I went there in the first place. They took some of my blood and after that I went outside since you can’t use your phone inside the hospital. I stood there and called one of my buddies to make party plans for that night. At that point a nurse comes running out of the hospital asking me if I was Marvin. Five minutes later I was in the emergency room hooked up to all these machines and I stayed there for about a week. The weird thing was that I still felt very good while all of this was going on. For about two weeks they did all sorts of tests, and after that I couldn’t do sports or drink alcoholic beverages. Especially at that age it was really hard because those are the things you do!

So did they find anything specific from doing all those tests?
It’s called heart muscle ache. There was something wrong with my heart muscle and they found a little gap somewhere, but I couldn’t tell you the exact terms for it.

And then you played a lot more poker because you couldn’t do a lot of other things?
I was playing poker from the hospital, and I actually had some friends coming in that were also playing. It wasn’t like I couldn’t do absolutely nothing, for instance they didn’t tell me that I couldn’t walk up any stairs or something like that, it was just that I couldn’t play sports or drink alcohol. I think poker was okay to play, but I wasn’t even sure about that. When you first start playing live poker your heart is racing like crazy, so I’m not sure if that’s good for you in that situation. Online it’s a little different and that’s what I did, a lot.

Where your parents okay with that?
Of course! (Laughing) I was the injured boy. I already played before that and had some decent scores. They were also fine with it as long as I didn’t lose money that I didn’t have. Parents are always worried when you tell them that you’re going to be a professional poker player. When I told my parents that I was going to try it, which was not even that long ago, I was already making money with poker. It was my last semester of college and while it had always been just a lot of fun to play, I then realized that I could play it professionally. I went to a good University, the European Business School in Oestrich-Winkel, and I always figured I had to do something with my degree even though I didn’t get the best grades, because I was playing poker all the time. So I thought that I was going to do something in the business world, but I decided to give poker a shot because if that would succeed it would be the best thing in the world. It really did and I’m so grateful that I was able to get that chance, and that I’m able to win good money with it. I definitely don’t regret any of my choices.

Was it a very conscious decision to become a professional when you reached a certain bankroll?
I didn’t even know what bankroll management was at the time. I didn’t really care and I just said. In the beginning of 2010 I started playing professionally and that summer I went to Las Vegas for the first time. I told myself I will just go there for a month and play as much live poker as I can. Every day after about four, or five hours of play I was just completely exhausted. I was trying to focus on every little thing and I was dead tired every single session. I would sleep for 12 hours and then start playing again. After every couple of days I took a break and played online for a few days, back when you were still allowed to do that from the US. So that got me started and I became a sponsored player after the summer.

Rettenmaier during the EPT Grand Final. (Photo: Neil Stoddart, PokerNews)

Did you sell a lot of action in the beginning when you just started playing live poker?
Even during the first six months that I was playing professionally I didn’t even know that you could sell action. I didn’t even know that you could get backed, or how any of that stuff worked. Like I said, I didn’t even know what bankroll management was. I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t just risk all my money in one tournament, but I didn’t know how many buy ins you need to have to play a tournament responsibly. We did a lot of road trips through Europe back during the beginning of my live poker career, and we played some weird tournaments even in Slovenia and Croatia for instance. Alexander Debus is probably the only one of that group that people would know.

About the selling of action, I’ve probably only done that two or three times. Very few people are rolled to play a €100,000 event out of their own pocket.  I sold action for one 50k event that I played and the €100,000 event here in Monte Carlo. I also sold action for the One Drop, but I eventually ended up not getting in because it was full. That really hurt, because it cost me an insane amount of equity.

In a thread I saw you were selling action for the €100,000 in Monte Carlo at 1.06, where does that .06 come from? How do you determine that?
It’s really just demand and supply. Nobody really knows what your ROI is in a tournament like that. Usually you just say that the staker and the stakee share the profit. To make that work I would have to have a 12% ROI, and that way they would make six percent and I would make six percent. That’s the general idea of it and that could vary as well. If someone doesn’t need to sell the percentage could be a lot higher and for some stakers that doesn’t matter, they just want a sweat and don’t care if it’s +EV or –EV.

How much do you need to sell from a €100,000 buy in, in order to feel comfortable?
It’s hard to say really, but I would definitely not play if I had to put it all up by myself. I didn’t sell at all for the $50,000 event in Melbourne and that was kind of stupid. I didn’t sell because I thought I couldn’t sell for anything close to what my ROI was in that event because the field was so soft. I was just going to take a shot, but than it all of a sudden got really expensive when I had to fire another bullet. In the end I felt bad about it because it doesn’t feel good to lose $100,000 in one day. I had a swap that was doing well so I was lucky it wasn’t quite that much.

Was it your biggest losing day ever?
Probably not, because I lost very big in a cash game once before as well. Luckily I had won even more in the same cash game the day before.

The four Germans that are playing all the big events, Fabian Quoss, Tobias Reinkemeier, Igor Kurganov and Philipp Gruissem have been on a different level lately. Are they so much better than other players? Do they have a good investor? Do you think you can learn a lot from them?
Yes, yes and yes. They definitely have a lot of money and they are really, really good players. Of course I can also learn from them, but that’s the thing, you can learn from everyone. That’s a thing that people really don’t get a lot of the time. People think that you need to talk to the best in order to become the best. It helps to understand how they think, what good spots are and what a good strategy is, but if you look at most fields you’re playing against then it’s mostly amateurs or professionals who are not by any means the best. So you also need to understand how they think about the game. That’s a problem many professionals have, they don’t know how to adjust to amateurs because they think on their highest level. They are not able to go down there where the amateur is thinking. They misanalyse because they can’t adjust the way they think. I’m not talking about Fabian, Phil, Igor and Tobias now but I’m just speaking in general. There are many high level players that are not nearly as good against amateur players. What I’m trying to say is that you need to talk to players from all levels in order to become a better player. You can learn from everyone.

Are there amateur players you seek out specifically to talk to and to learn from?
Amateur players like to talk. They talk a lot of strategy at the table even though they don’t know what they are doing. You can pick up a lot there from just listening to what they have to say. In live poker you don’t get to see a lot of hands but encouraging them the show cards is helpful. If they show their hand you can start a conversation and say, “I didn’t expect you to do that, why did you play it like that?” There have been some very interesting hands where I had no idea what my opponent was doing and therefor it’s always good to pay attention and talk to them. A lot of professionals don’t know how to adjust properly. Maybe they shouldn’t do all the six and seven-betting for instance. A lot of players find that attractive and say, “Yeah but it only has to work 20% of the time.” Against some players it’s just never going to work though.

Are you superstitious?
Not really, but I do the same stuff sometimes during a tournament. For instance during the $25,000 WPT Championship I listened to the same music every morning. I also had the same food every day during that tournament. It’s not like I feel like I can’t win if I don’t do that but I like the routine. If the restaurant I went to was closed on one of the days I wouldn’t have panicked or anything.

Marvin’s winning songs:
Drak ft. Wiz Khalifa, Skrillex & Nero – Promises
Machine Gun Kelly – Half Naked and Almost Famous
DJ Khaled – All I do is Win

Don’t you put too much pressure on yourself by saying you want to win both of those prestigious events?
My goal is really to win tournaments, but of course the main goal is to play well. The victory and the trophy will come along with playing well. In the end it’s poker, and there are huge elements of luck involved. You can bust out of the money every single tournament for 32 tournaments straight and you might not even play bad. If you’re not unhappy when you bust out of the WSOP Main Event then something about your attitude is wrong. If you don’t win, you’re down for a bit, that’s normal. After busting the $50,000 in Australia I really was not happy. I came back up to the room and my girlfriend was there. She said she had read what happened and tried to comfort me. I told her that I just wanted to lay down on the bed for a while, but she wanted to be all sweet and helpful. At that point I couldn’t really take it and she wasn’t too happy about me not acknowledging her willingness to help. At that moment I can’t be “Happy and nice Marvin,” but a couple of hours later I was doing well again.

In earlier interviews you said that winning a WSOP Bracelet and an EPT is a goal. Are those realistic goals to set?
I think so, definitely. Earlier we talked about ICM and it’s not that I’m playing 100% for the win; I’m still trying to be a good poker player and make the most money I can. In the end I want to win and it almost always hurts when you don’t. When you start a final table nine out of nine you might be happy with a third place finish, but besides that you are almost never happy when you don’t win.

Remko Rinkema

Remko Rinkema has covered the biggest poker tournaments in the world since 2008, including many WSOP, EPT, Aussie Millions, APPT, MCOP and Unibet Open events. As an in-depth interview and story enthusiast he tries to do things a little differently. Besides the usual writings Rinkema grabs every chance to appear on podcasts, live streams and in the occasional video.

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