Interview With Jennifer Harman
By Steve Marzolf
You grew up playing poker, so were you a total shark by the time you were in high school?
"No. I wasn't. When I started going into casinos and playing when I was 16, I felt like I knew nothing. It was a real reality check because everybody was so much better than me. I had a fake ID, but actually, I never got carded. Isn't that weird? I don't know if I was winning for the first two years or not - I probably wasn't. It takes a little while to learn those games."
Any wild tales of underage casino hopping?
"Not really. I remember one of my very first hands I played in texas holdem. Before I went to play in a casino, I went and watched one of my father's friends play. I watched him for about two hours, sitting behind him, and I thought, 'I can do this. I can play this game.' So, the next day I was going to go down and play, but I had an eye doctor appointment first. I got to the casino, and my eyes were all dilated. We were playing seven-card stud, and I couldn't even see the up-cards because my eyes were so dilated - everything was so blurry. Here's my first time playing in a casino, and I can't even see the cards."
So, did you essentially become a pro the day you turned 21?
"Not really. I had no plans to become a professional poker player. I wanted to move out of Reno, and I decided to go to L.A. and got a job as a bartender at this Japanese hotel downtown. I was working there for about three days, and I ran into a friend from Reno at the grocery store in L.A. He told me I had to go down to the Bicycle Club and play poker because these games were amazing. I went down there and immediately quit my job after five days and started playing poker. But, I never thought it about as my profession. I was just having fun playing poker and I would get a job later."
Was there a point where you did feel like a pro?
"Yeah, but it was years later - like 10 years. I was just having fun; that's not a job. I was in L.A. for about two years; then I went to Maryland. I gave up poker for a year, started a business and went broke. So, I had to come back and play poker because I was in debt. I'd never been in debt in my life, so I borrowed some money and came to Las Vegas. I might get yelled at for this statement, but I feel like all players have to go through Las Vegas to become great players because it has the toughest competitors. That's where you get your learning experience. I may be wrong, but that's my opinion."
You're also known as a cash game player, where most pros rarely play them and mostly play tournaments. Why do you stick with them?
"Cash games are what poker's all about. To be a professional poker player means freedom, and that's what cash games are - they give you that freedom. You don't have to set your alarm, and you play when you want. You go on vacations when you want, and that's the ultimate freedom. Whereas tournaments, you do have to set your alarm and take your dinner breaks and go back and do it again the next day."
What are the tradeoffs between tournaments and cash games?
"Tournaments vs. cash games ... Tournaments can change people's lives. They can win a big pay day, and their life is changed forever - tournaments are over $1 million for first place. It's a small buy-in compared to the prize pool."
Tell us about the $4,000-$8,000 game at the Bellagio - that's one of your regulars, right?
"Yeah. It's way too high. It's a big game; a lot of great players play in it. You always have to be on top of things and focused. I played until 5:30 this morning, although the game started at 10, so it's not that bad. Everybody's yawning, but they're still on top of their game. You always have to be focused and read every player. It's a very mental game, and it can be exhausting. But, it's so competitive that it's a rush when you play well or bluff players whose greatest strengths are reading players. Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu - they all play it."
You said the limit is too high, how so?
"You see people lose a lot of money, and it can be painful. I'm sensitive. Sometimes it hurts you too when you see somebody lose that kind of money. And, it really hurts when you lose that kind of money. You just have to be really detached from money and think of it as chips. You have to have a lot of confidence to take those kinds of swings. I've lost $450,000 in one session and I've won about $470,000."
That's like half a million in one night...
"You just try not to think about it. Please don't say that: 'half a million.' That's just one of the challenges. You can't be attached to the money. You need a pretty big bankroll to play that game; I'm probably the poorest player at the table. If someone's taking a shot, they could do it with half a million. If you're ready to play non-stop ... it just depends what you feel comfortable with. Some people would do it with $1 million and a half, others would need $5 million. It all depends."
What's the deal with the Corporation and Andy Beal?
"Andy first came to town five or six years ago. He wanted to play $10,000-$20,000 at first, and nobody felt like they could afford him. And, he likes to play heads-up because he can play more hands; he got bored in ring games. So, we decided in order to make it fair for everybody, that we'd pool our money, have one person play him and take pieces of him. And, the Corporation has grown - from seven players to around 20. When we find out Andy's coming to town, everybody has to post up and have their money there. If people are in Europe, they'll make arrangements to get money to the Bellagio. It makes it a little chaotic for people when he comes to town. The bankroll depends on the stakes we're playing and how much we decide to raise. The limits got up to $100,000-$200,000, but we only played that once."
You're a two-time WSOP event champ - what advice do you have for amateurs jumping in for the first time this year?
"Get plenty of rest, eat well and stay focused. You're going to have different decisions against different opponents, and the more you watch them and study them, the easier your decisions will be. In no limit, the biggest mistake I see is a player going all in instead of making a big raise that would be just as effective. They'll risk all their chips instead of some of them. I think TV has a lot to do with it; especially if you're a beginner, you have nothing else to go by. The poker on TV is mostly highlights, so it's hard to understand the whole game."
When we talked to Annie Duke, she told us she gets lots of fawning email about how she should pose naked for magazines and all this stuff - do you have to fend off admirers in such a male-dominated game?
"I've been really lucky. The question I get from emails is 'Will you marry me?' Maybe I look like a wholesome girl, and they don't want me to pose nude. The emails I get are more like people saying their proud of me and that kind of thing."
You wrote a chapter of Super System 2, what other projects are you working on?
"Nothing. I like to enjoy life, so I try not to make myself that busy. I might be working on a book about the psychology of poker, but I haven't decided. The main thing I like to do is play poker, so that's what I do. The other thing I love to do is be home with my family, so I play tournaments based on geography - what's close to home? I go to charity events - I really believe in that kind of stuff."
Speaking of charity, you founded Creating Organ Donation Awareness, and have had two kidney transplants now?
"I'm trying to create donor awareness because a lot of people are dying, waiting for organs. People are undereducated on how important it is to give that kind of gift. It is truly a gift. My mother died from the same disease my sister and I have when I was 17. In 2004, I was under the knife during the main event. I wish I could have been in both places, but you have to set your priorities [laughs]. Going through stuff like that always makes you realize how everything is so important in your life. My health now is doing great. As far as I know, I'll be at the Series this year, and I'm very excited about it. I'm going to take, like, two weeks off and go hang out in Tahoe beforehand so I'm nice and rested. The World Series is long."
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