Poker's Only Big Game Lady
|Sexton's Corner, Vol 53, Part 2
erhaps the first question a few may wonder about the high-stakes world of Jennifer
Harman is this: Does she really play on her own money, or is she sponsored or
staked, meaning she is only playing for a piece?
After all, how many people in life do you know actually have to go to work and bring
$100,000 to $300,000 with them to buy in to a $2,000/$4,000 poker game? This is
a fair question, so I decided to ask her as a follow-up interview this past week. Her
answer was very emphatic: "I have never been staked in the Big Game! I've always
played on my own money!
When Andy wanted to play a group of us heads-up for the highest stakes ever
played in the world for $10,000/$20,000 on up to $100,000/$200,000, this is the
only time I played as part of a consortium, where our side had to pool their money
to play that high. Of course, Andy knew this on the front side of our game, just as
the public learned through media reports later on.
"When I was called upon to get in the hot seat to face Andy, the truth is I was only one week away from having a kidney transplant, and was death
warmed over! I thought they were crazy to put me in the game against Andy right then, but they needed someone to fill in and asked me to do it."
I asked, "Do you remember how you did?
Jennifer replied, "Yes, I broke about even, maybe losing just a little bit."
As I'm writing this article, something just distracted me on TV. It is 2:00 AM early Tuesday morning, July 8th. I had been watching the WPT on GSN
from midnight until 2:00 AM, and surprisingly an older episode of "High Stakes Poker" followed it, unannounced, from the Palms Casino/Hotel. There
she was, Jennifer Harman, the only female player in the lineup. Her opponents on this show were Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil "The
Unabomber" Laak, Mike Matusow, Sammy Farha, Minh Ly, Todd Brunson, and amateur Freddy Chamanara. On this show, you can be sure some
players get staked, in order to be able to play, just as it may be true in the 'Big Game' in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio. However, one fact is for
sure… no one ever has had to stake Jennifer Harman! She is the real deal in high-stakes cash games. She uses her own money to play on, which
speaks volumes for her tremendous success over a long period of time.
By the way, the show that aired on "High Stakes Poker" showcasing Jennifer's performance highlighted one hand of hers against Sammy Farha.
Jennifer came out firing $4,000 and $25,000 to take down the pot, holding with a flop of . Sammy held , and felt he had to muck. On an interview on
that particular episode, Jennifer said, "I love to play with Sammy. He is fun and makes people laugh. The first time I was on this show before, I was
really relaxed a ton, and had a ball." Jennifer was implying that the high-stakes scenario that this TV show format features is in her comfort zone,
almost like playing with the big boys in Bobby's Room -- one table with well-known pros and a lot of fun banter between the eight or nine players.
It was interesting that during the taping of this episode featuring Harman, the TV announcer, Gabe Kaplan noted, "It looks like an interested Kathy
Liebert has just entered the room to observe." Jennifer would be the first to tell anyone that Kathy Liebert is the most successful female tournament
player in the world, as it is what she specializes in instead of cash games. Kathy has won the most money in poker tournaments among all woman
competitors, around $4,500,000, while Jennifer has won about $2,200,000 in tournaments. Of course Kathy has literally played in hundreds of more
tournaments than Jennifer, yet Jennifer has two WSOP gold bracelets in open events, while Kathy has recently picked up her first WSOP gold
bracelet. As great as Kathy Liebert is, she doesn't enter the dangerous high-stakes cash games that have been Jennifer Harman's trademark for
many years now. In fact, no other lady poker player enters Jennifer's high-stakes world either. Jennifer's accomplishments in the 'Big Game' for the
past twelve years make her one of a kind.
Jennifer Harman in tournament play
As surreal as Jennifer's successful life is today playing in the world's biggest cash game, combined with her happy personal life that includes two
beautiful 19-month-old twin boys (and a wonderful husband of eight years we will soon be learning more about), not everything has been easy for
her to overcome. Here, Jennifer shares her thoughts with the readers in her own words:
Sexton's Corner: Jennifer, are you comfortable talking about your kidney transplants and some of the adversity it has caused you to have to
overcome in your life?
Jennifer Harman: It's cool… no problem.
Sexton's Corner: Perhaps you can take us back in time when you were a kid and tell us how this affected your life.
Harman: When I was a kid I had to be on a dialysis machine, about two months before I got my first kidney transplant. It was successful as it lasted
about 20 years. This is something I've had to live with my whole life. I watched my mom die from it by age 17. It was hard getting a kidney transplant,
knowing my sister needed one too. It ran in the family, as I said… I had already watched my mom die from the same thing! So it was a little bit scary,
but I pulled through.
The second kidney transplant I needed in 2004 was probably harder than the first, because I was sicker and older. On the first one they only gave
me two months to live, unless I found a kidney quickly. The second one was tougher, as for some reason the old kidney caused havoc on my blood
pressure and my blood pressure was at stroke level for weeks.
I was so scared I was going to get a stroke, I remembered calling my family with instructions in case I did have a stroke -- not to keep me on a
machine, etc. I was sicker than I thought I was. The day I had my transplant I lost 35 pounds, because I was carrying so much water with my kidney
not working… 35 pounds of water and toxins.
Sexton's Corner: Without that kidney transplant there is no question you would have died! I have heard your niece donated her kidney for you in
2004. What a gift she gave you. What was her name?
Harman: Yes… her name is Aunnie. She jumped right in when I found out I needed a kidney, and she said, "I want to give it!" A couple of cousins
and family members, as well as three people I didn't even know offered. I was very fortunate. I thank God every day how fortunate I was.
Sexton's Corner: I'm going to be doing a story on your husband, Marco Traniello, and since you two have
been married eight years and your transplant happened in 2004, it must have been comforting to have his help
and support during this crisis?
Harman: Yes, he would sometimes stay awake and watch me to make sure I wouldn't die on him in the middle
of the night.
Sexton's Corner: You know I've talked to him a few times, and I have to tell you, he is one of the nicest people
I've ever talked to in the poker world. He seems a little shy, but he seems very genuinely nice.
Harman: Marco is great. If I had to write a letter to God in what I would want in a man, he would send me Marco.
Sexton's Corner: (I found this beautiful thought to make me pause in the questioning for a moment, as it was
emotionally touching to me.) You're going to make me cry….
Harman: Don't make me cry, because I cry when everybody else cries.
Sexton's Corner: How long have you been married?
Harman: Eight years, but we were only together about five minutes. We dated for six weeks, and three of those
weeks he was in Italy. So it was a phone dating thing.
Sexton's Corner: Where did you first meet Marco?
Harman: I met him downstairs in the Bellagio parking garage. Our cars were parked next to each other, and we got there at the same time. He
started up a conversation about 3:00 AM. He wanted to go dancing, and I told him he has to be out of his mind. I don't even know why I told him, but
I said I lost $50,000 in a poker game. I think he thought I meant $20 like it was lira. He was very persistent… very persistent. So we ended up
dancing that night in a nightclub outside the casino. We dated the whole week he was here on vacation. Then he went back to Italy for three weeks,
came back and we were married in two weeks!
Sexton's Corner: It is amazing how fate works sometimes. Your cars had to be parked right next to each other in the Bellagio parking lot, and you
both had to head for them from different places in the casino at 3:00 AM. Then he had to be charming enough to convince you to go out dancing
with him that first night. With everything happening so fast, how did his parents react?
Harman: Marco lives a little south of Rome and we both went there right after we got married in Las Vegas. He told his mom on the phone but
thought his dad might have a heart attack, and decided to wait until we got over there. So when we went there Marco's dad asked who is this, and
Marco said, "This is my wife." His dad started crying and was very upset. He didn't speak to me the whole time we were there. His first son running
off getting married was hard for him to accept. In fact, we decided to cut our two-week planned trip after one week, and go back to Las Vegas. After
we got back, his dad decided to hop on a plane and come to Las Vegas to see if his son went crazy or not. He wanted to know how Marco made
this crazy decision. That visit helped, as he began to accept the marriage more after the initial shock wore off.
Sexton's Corner: Did Marco's dad know you were a professional poker player?
Harman: He was from the old school, so he really didn't believe I could play poker… so he challenged me. He wanted to play limit hold'em. I didn't
want to take his money, as he had never played limit hold'em before. He wanted to play for 50 lira. I finally agreed to play him four matches, and I
won all four of them. I gave the money to his mom and brother. I'll never forget when we were back in Italy, Marco wanted me to play in the local
poker game, but they didn't want to have to explain to me what a flush, straight, or full house was!"
Sexton's Corner: From the time you met Marco, he didn't really play poker at all, did he?
Harman: No, he had never played. He watched me play in the Big Game about five years. I noticed he had a lot of natural talent as after a game
he would tell me which player needed to be called more and which player never seem to bluff, etc. I could see he had a lot of natural ability, and he
has become quite a good tournament player himself today.
Sexton's Corner: If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Harman: I wish there were no more wars. I just wish people could get along. In the Iraq war people are getting killed everyday, including innocent
children. In poker we all get along, even though we're all under a great deal of stress. I wish this was the way the rest of the world was. If I could
make a wish and change one thing in the world, it would be no more wars!
I must say interviewing Jennifer Harman was a total joy. She is such a caring person, as is evidenced with all of her charity work for the Nevada
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I attended her 2nd Annual Jennifer Harman Charity Poker Tournament held this past April at the
Venetian. A fantastic turnout of pros and celebrities helped raise about $350,000. The team support that Jennifer received was overwhelming!
Jennifer said, "It was unbelievable the support our charity event received at both the Venetian and Full Tilt poker, where our charity tournament
had 6,000 entries. I'm so happy to be able to raise that kind of money for little animals. Our shelter is a no-kill shelter, where we provide a home,
where they are safe and potentially adopted into a nice home. In the meantime they have a family and a safe home to enjoy. The first year Jennifer
started her charity event $125,000 was raised, which helped build a new wing for the animals. Jennifer is proud that every dollar raised goes
directly to the animals care and well being at the shelter. There are a lot of us who love animals, but we don't follow through and donate our time
and energy to really make a difference. We should all say "Hats off!" to Jennifer Harman, who has led a wonderful cause that is making a
difference in this world.
Last thought about Jennifer Harman: In 2000 she won her first WSOP gold bracelet in the $5,000 No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven. She was not familiar
with this game or its variation, and asked for a 10-minute crash lesson, right before the event started. I was there, as the official WSOP
photographer and remember this. It was Howard Lederer who gave her that famous 10-minute crackerjack lesson of pointers, as Jennifer captured
the title and her first WSOP bracelet! Lyle Berman who was runner-up, has won multiple WSOP bracelets, and Steve Zolotow took third place;
Steve has also won multiple WSOP bracelets. The field was extremely tough, and for Jennifer to come out on top, it truly underscores just how
much natural talent she has in poker.
I finished with this: "Jennifer, you are so fortunate to have it all in life from a wonderful husband, to a beautiful family, to all of your personal
success in the poker world. You seem to have everything in perspective. Jennifer responded with "My life is all about perspective. I'm so thankful
that I have what I have, especially four years ago when I was literally on the brink of death. Now I have two wonderful babies, a beautiful husband,
and a job that I love. I feel very fortunate to say the least!
Poker's Dymanic Couple
Jennifer and Marco pictured above make
a striking couple. Jennifer said, "If I had
to write a letter to God in what I would
want in a man, he would send me
|There is nothing like going home to two smiling babies after a big loss in poker,
because they just lighten your day up, and you're able to forget about everything. I
thank God every day for my good fortune."
Stay tuned for next week, as I share my interview with you about Marco Traniello, who
has been Jennifer's husband for the past eight years. What a dynamic couple these
two make together!
The Cab is Parked,