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Rayo Kniep Uses Balance To Dodge Poker’s ‘Dark Side’

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There have been plenty of players in poker who, after finding early success, have dived straight into the game. Going for broke. And it could have been forgiven if Rayo Kniep did just that.

After all, back in 2018, within two years of when Kniep first starting playing poker of any kind, he had a taste of the kind of success a lot of poker players only dream of. He picked up a pair of mid-five figure cashes to start 2018, nearly winning a WSOP Circuit ring before finishing in fifth place at WPT Rolling Thunder. He was on livestreams, and things were only looking up. It was a fast start for the German-born, Bay Area Software engineer, and with poker dreams full of energy and enthusiasm, even bigger successes on the stage of the World Series of Poker were still to come. 

Even though variance in poker can bring you back down to earth rather quickly, for Kniep, the way he’s been able to maintain those positive poker vibes has been about moderation. Finding the balance between his passion for the game and his dedication to his day job. Not that he wouldn’t change a thing or two if he could.

“Well, first of all, I would love to go back in time, and tell myself a few tips when I was on that final table. Maybe I would’ve done a bit better,” Kniep laughed. “But I mean, poker has become definitely a hobby. I think there was a finding phase of how much time I wanted to invest into studying and how seriously I wanted to take it. And I think now I’m settled in the sense that I have my day-to-day job and come here as a hobby and try to make as much time for it as I can.

“I feel much more confident than I did in the past. And I think in the beginning I was striving to be as good as I can, which obviously I still would like to be, but I’ve decided, okay, I’m good where I am. I try to avoid the people who are better than me. I know I’m good enough to make it through the field somehow. And it feels good. It’s fun to come and feel confident enough to have fun at the table.”

But Kniep’s not only having fun at the table, he’s also putting in work. Literally. Kniep’s never had a problem standing out from the crowd with playful fashion choices or distinct facial hair stylings, but if you want to locate him really quickly just look for the guy working on a laptop on a tray right next to table in between hands.

No, he’s not running sims, he’s working his day job – finding the perfect balance between day-to-day and poker, he simply does both at the same time.

“I was working for SpaceX for quite a while. It was super fun. I had to be living in LA so at some point I quit because I love the Bay Area better. And now currently I work for a blockchain company. It’s all super fun, remote only so I can do my job at the table. And I think it’s beneficial to both sides because, for the poker, I don’t play too many hands. I’m already playing too many, I think. But I can focus on something else when I’m not paying.”

“And the funny thing is I’m pretty focused. I get work done because people don’t distract me…I’m completely focused on poker and work.”

He loves what he does, but he says what keeps him coming back to the poker tables is the competition and the goal of winning a title. He’s never won a tournament outright and the one he’s credited for “was a chop.” It’s his main goal in the game right now and one that he still feels at some point will happen for him.

After his WPT Rolling Thunder final table introduced him to the poker world, Kniep also found success at the World Series of Poker. An 18th-place finish in the WSOP Main Event in 2021 and a notorious bustout in fourth place in the 2023 WSOP Millionaire Maker has allowed Kniep some modicum of poker notoriety. Some of it good, some of it bad, but all of it he takes in stride.

“Quite a lot, yeah,” he said about being recognized. “I mean I had one event right after the [ Wsop ] last year where a girl said, ‘Oh, you look so similar to this poker player: Kniep.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, Kniep -that’s me.’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, I’m so starstruck!’ And I’m like, how…there’s so many poker players on TV? But I mean, I think I get recognized quite a lot and it is fun. The little five minutes of fame in the poker world, I don’t mind it. People are usually super friendly.”

But despite his successes – Kniep boasts more than $1.3 million in live tournament earnings since 2017 as a part-time player – he says that he’s been able to maintain his positive poker outlook by always keeping his real life a priority while still striving to reach his goal of winning a title.

“So it’s funny always. Always in the back of my head, I should give [playing poker as a pro] a chance for one or two years. So just to see how it would be to live the life of poker player. Every time there’s a two-week stretch…I rarely play longer than a week, first of all….but even if there’s a week where I don’t win anything I feel like the pain. And then I’m happy to go back to my normal life.

“So maybe I always avoided that grind or that dark side of the game where I feel on the wrong side of the variance and not seen by the poker universe. So I don’t think I’ve seen it really. I felt it. I felt the touch of it and I was always happy to leave it again. But I mean, I think as a hobby, it’s a nice thing to do.”

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