German stars torch EPT circuit

Sandra Naujoks' victory at PokerStars' EPT Dortmund this week was just the latest in a long line of recent successes for German poker pros.

Team PokerStars Pro's Katja Thater is likely the best-known of the German poker contingent, but a veritable army of rising stars has taken the European tour by storm in the last year.

"Poker is huge in every single way in Germany," EPT founder John Duthie told "They've really taken poker to heart."

Thater, who took down her first WSOP bracelet in a Razz event in 2007, agreed.

"We're the second-largest poker market after the U.S.A.," she said, "so of course we're going to have a big community."

"The German people are known for their love of learning and I think the German poker nation, over the last two years, has seen a lot more people playing poker and they're getting better and better."

Katja Thater
Hot for teacher!

The horse breeder-turned-poker pro got her start in the live games in Hamburg, but has since been instrumental in helping the younger generation hone its skills online.

"We have a very good poker education here, with IntelliPoker, our online poker school."

The school was founded by Thater's husband, Jan von Halle, and features input and instruction from Thater, Daniel Negreanu, George Danzer and Benjamin Kang, among others.

"We are providing a great poker education for people and I think as a result the level of poker here is very high."

The strength of the country's youth movement certainly backs up that claim.

Naujoks and EPT5 Barcelona champ Sebastian Ruthenberg headline the Shooting Stars team, a collection of the country's best young pros that also includes serial EPT casher Johannes Strassman, Jan Heitmann, Danzer, Kang and Florian Langmann.

"We're a group of the most promising German newcomers who are getting ready to become top players," said Strassmann.

They're not exactly household names just yet, but they're getting the results.

Sebastian Ruthenberg
The Hamburglar!

"In the last year I think we've made twice as much money as Team PokerStars Pro," said Ruthenberg, whose own contribution to the kitty includes the €1,361,000 he won in Spain, as well as a World Series of Poker bracelet and a third-place finish at the first-ever EPT German Open, both for mid-six-figure scores.

Ruthenberg is now Germany's all-time winningest pro, with $2,933,298 to his name.  His success is emblematic of the enthusiasm with which his countrymen have embraced the game.

"There are a lot of young players who have learned the game on the Internet," said Johannes Strassman, whose career earnings amount to over $720k in under two years of work. "I think there will be more German poker players having success in the future."

Naujoks agreed.

"We have so many fantastic tournament players," she said. "We have a strong game and I think we have a good chance at the WSOP. I think together we can win two bracelets."

More than just spectacular results, the Shooting Stars are notable for the strong sense of community that characterizes the team dynamic.

"We all like each other," Ruthenberg said.  "Jan Heitmann and George Danzer are two of my good friends."

German solidarity!

"We're all friends," said Strassmann. "We talk a lot amongst ourselves and exchange strategies or just go out and have a beer."

Thater, too, pointed to the support of her compatriots as a defining factor in her bracelet win.

"We are a group of 20 or 25 people from Germany here and we're all doing good," she told after the victory. "We have a lot of cashes, a lot of final tables. We're supporting each other and rooting for each other and it's great."

Beyond simple solidarity, Thater cited a strong casino infrastructure as one key to Germany's success as a poker powerhouse.

"I've been playing the live cash games for 10 years in Hamburg and my husband has been playing for 20," she said. "There are two casinos in my hometown. We have cash games and tournaments every day, so you don't have to fly to Vegas to play."

Ruthenberg, however, thinks his country's success is due to a different factor.

"It's luck, I guess," he said. "Tournament variance is a bitch and we're just running good lately."

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