Harman is among the upper echelon of poker players
in the world, male or female. Few players can
boast a resume of her caliber. Not only is she
successful in the highest cash games in the world,
but she also has two World Series of Poker (WSOP)
bracelets, 11 WSOP
finishes in the money, and 8 cashes in major tournaments
in the past twelve months. In part one of this
exclusive two part interview, we sat down with
Jennifer to discuss, ESPN’s
'Tilt', poker’s explosion, and what makes
a poker pro. In part two, Jennifer talks “The
Big Game”, her kidney transplant, and what
it was like writing her Limit Hold’em section
of Super System 2.
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PokerLizard: How long have you seriously been
Jennifer: I've been a professional for about
15 years, and I've been playing poker my whole
life. I might have been a professional before
that since I didn't have another job, but…well
15 years sounds good.
PokerLizard: In your bio, it says you learned
to play poker when you'd take over for your Dad
when you were young.
Jennifer: Well he wasn't very good…when
I was 13, my Dad's friend was having a poker game
and I was just over there watching. My Dad was
losing in the game and he asked me to play for
him. So I did. And I got even! And he kept coming
up to me saying, “Now don't be drawing to
any inside straights” and I'd say “I
know, I know, leave me alone!”
But I had been playing poker before then…and
I really don't know how I learned the game. I
used to play with cousins and I just knew how
to play. I don't remember the very first time.
PokerLizard: I noticed that in the new show,
Tilt, they show one of the main characters playing
in a game when she was a young girl. Are they
using your story?
Jennifer: Seems like it. When I saw it, I thought,
“Hey that looks like me.” So they
might have [used my story], I'll have to ask them.
I did a cameo for it, but I had no idea the show
would be about cheating and scamming.
PokerLizard: They do seem to portray all poker
players as cheaters…
Jennifer: Yeah, they make us look like scum.
If they'd just focus on young poker players trying
to make it, I think it would be a better story.
Maybe I'm wrong. But I guess in the end all the
good is supposed to come over the bad…at
least that's what I hear.
PokerLizard: Well, let's hope. Ok, back to your
game. What do you consider the strongest part
of your game – reading opponents or calculating
Jennifer: Definitely reading. I mean the math
side is non-existent with me. [laughs] I mean,
I know the math, and I know when to raise, when
I should call, etc. And cash games are different.
If you're a slight favorite, raise. But in a tournament,
the chips are much more valuable, you know, to
where a call would be more appropriate than a
Sklansky asked me a math question the other day
and I got it wrong…according to him. He
asked me what I would do with A-10 suited in the
small blind. I mean, mathematically you're going
to win the hand…well, I don't even remember
what he said… [laughs], but mathematically
I guess it's correct to raise it there. But as
far as I'm concerned, you're out of position,
and with a lot of people in, you're making the
pot so big they'll be taking cards off, and end
up beating you with their mediocre hands. I mean
even if you do flop an Ace, someone might have
a bigger kicker with an Ace. You do have more
outs just because they're suited, but I don't
think it's as clear as he thinks it is.
But I don't know the math, I just go by feel,
and if the game is playable and I can control
the table, then I'll raise. But if I feel like
I don't have much control over the table, I'm
going to call and see if I can flop something.
And that's how I play poker.
PokerLizard: What is the one thing that has helped
your poker career the most?
Jennifer: Hmm….. a lot of experience and
actually talking to poker players about hand situations.
You know once in awhile I'll get stuck in a hand,
and I'll go to who m ever's best at that game.
So if it's NL Hold'em, you know, I'll ask Daniel
[Negreanu] a lot of questions, or I'll go to Howard
Lederer or I'll go to Doyle. I may ask three different
people the same question, and that just helps
a lot, talking about the game.
So I would say table experience and talking about
poker with friends.
PokerLizard: Do you think those players, Doyle,
Daniel, etc., think about math the same way that
Jennifer: Well it depends. I mean, most pro poker
players play by feel. Now, tournaments are different
– there may be a way to mathematically figure
a system to win in various tournament situations.
But cash games I don't think you can just have
a system. You have to adjust your play every couple
of minutes. It's not about always doing what's
mathematically correct…you have to play
that person and how he's playing. So I may be
a huge dog with a marginal against his stronger
hand, but if he's losing, then I'll take advantage
of him because I know he's going to fold a lot
of hands and he's playing real tight. And that's
not a mathematical approach.
I remember talking to this poker player who got
mad at me because I went after him when he was
losing. He said, “how can you play those
hands when I'm raising…” yada, yada,
yada…but I know those players are losing,
they're not playing their best game, and they're
losing their capability to bluff. So I can take
full advantage of that and take the pot away from
them. That's what I mean by playing the player.
I've read interviews about myself that say I'm
a mathematical genius and I start laughing.
PokerLizard: So you play in pretty much the highest
stakes games in the world. Is it strange trading
money around with people who are basically your
colleagues /friends ?
Jennifer: Well, it's the nature of the beast.
Everyone knows that anyone sitting down in that
game is going to play their hardest to win. There's
no friendship in poker. There's friendship outside
of poker, but at the table, there's no friendship.
Like Doyle was telling someone the other day,
“I love Jennifer, but I freaking hate her
in a poker game.” So, you know, that's just
how it is.
PokerLizard: So has there ever been a “poker
intervention” where everyone sits down with
a fellow player and says, “dude, you're
just getting slaughtered. Take a break.”?
Jennifer: Yeah, that does happen, like if I'm
playing with friends and they have a short bankroll,
I'll advise them not to play. But once they sit
down and they make that decision, it's no longer
in my hands. I just have to do my job. If it means
going after that person because they have a smaller
bankroll, then that's my job. Do I feel bad? Well
yeah, but once they make that decision to sit
down, I've done all I can do to keep them out.
PokerLizard: “Buyer beware.” One
thing I've always wondered – at what point
does an amateur player who plays all the time
officially become a “poker pro”? Do
you have to play so many tournaments? How does
Jennifer: All you have to do is say you're a
pro and you're a pro. I mean, people say some
outrageous things, then it's written, and that's
how it goes. I read so much stuff that's just
plain bullshit. If you say it, then it's true.
It's the same with pros and amateurs. “I'm
a professional poker player.” When in fact,
probably half of the poker-playing population
can actually make money at it. Maybe more with
all the big tournaments, because when you cash,
you cash big. But still, it's hard to make money
PokerLizard: Do you still enjoy poker even though
it's your job?
Jennifer: I love it. I love poker, love thinking
about it…I'm working on my cash games right
now, since I'm playing more tournaments and haven't
played as well in the cash games. I'm missing
bets…so I'm constantly working on my game,
and I love it. It keeps my mind sharp, and I love
PokerLizard: You've been playing more tournaments
recently – is it because of the bigger payouts?
Jennifer: Well you know, who knows where poker
will eventually go, and you don't want to miss
the boat. As far as fame goes, I think that's
all fake. As far as sponsorships and money down
the line, that's all real.
PokerLizard: So do you have anything in the pipeline
to take advantage of the poker craze – book,
Jennifer: I'm actually writing a book for the
WPT on cash games. Harper's and Collins is publishing
the books for the WPT – Mike Sexton did
the first one, Eric Lindgren and I are doing one,
and I'm not sure who else they have.
PokerLizard: You're affiliated with FullTiltPoker
– are you on there frequently? How busy
are you with that?
Jennifer: Yeah, I try to play on there regularly.
When I do, I try to talk to the players, the email
me and I try to help them out with poker questions.
So yeah, I'm pretty active with FullTilt.
They don't sponsor me , though, at tournaments.
I put up my own money to play. But I do wear FullTilt
gear in tournaments sometimes to advertise for
PokerLizard: Speaking of tournaments, what is
your favorite venue?
Jennifer: Hmm …, the Bellagio…[laughs]…because
it's in my home, Las Vegas . The Mirage is pretty
cool, too, and then we'll see how the Rio is.
I mean, the Horseshoe is great. The WSOP –
I don't think anything can compete with that tournament.
Because when you walk in the room of the Main
Event, there is just so much energy…I can't
even describe it. It just makes your skin perk
up! It's unbelievable, and I've never experienced
anything like that.
PokerLizard: How does the WPT
hold up against the WSOP?
Jennifer: The WPT isn't quite to that level yet.
I mean, it is very exciting playing a WPT event
– they're great. It just doesn't have the
history that the WSOP does. But give it enough
time, and it'll catch up.
PokerLizard: How about the WSOP Circuit Events,
like the recent one in Atlantic City ?
Jennifer: They're still working on getting the
blinds structure right. This first one in AC had
blinds go up too fast [making luck more of a factor
], but they are changing it up for the coming
circuit events, which is good. But what really
makes these great tournaments is the $2M free-roll
at the end of the year. That qualifier is a huge
reason to play in the circuit events.
PokerLizard: So are you just blown away by poker's
recent boom in popularity?
Jennifer: Yes and no. Because everywhere you
go, people are always playing poker. So it's always
been popular – TV has just made it acceptable.
So I guess I have to say I am blown away, because
it's just unbelievable. I mean, how many people
do you think will play in this year's WSOP –
I was talking to Phil Ivey the other day at a
game about the WNBA, and I said, “You know,
you're probably more famous than any of the women
basketball players.” TV has turned poker
players into celebrities.
People ask me if they should increase the buy-in
to the WSOP, and my thoughts are, the more the
merrier. It's a great challenge to make it through
6,000 players in an event, especially with so
many of them first-time amateurs. I mean you have
to constantly adjust your game depending on who
you're up against – either pros or amateurs.
And that's where reading your opponents comes
into play, instead of a mathematical point of
PokerLizard: You won a WSOP bracelet playing
"2 to 7 draw", your first time to play
it. How'd you pull that off?
Jennifer: Well, I really wanted to play it. I
had a bankroll, it wasn't very huge, which didn't
make it a good decision to play, But I was out
that night with some friends at dinner, and I
really wanted to play in that tournament...so
everyone who walked by, I'd ask them to stake
me. And they looked at me like I was out of my
Well, it got to be 3:00, and the tournament started
at 4:00, and I wanted to play...I really wanted
to play so bad. So I said, "Screw it, I'm
gonna play." Then I saw Howard Lederer who
was coming in to play in the tournament, and I
pulled him aside . So I said, "Give me the
starting hands, and when I should stay, draw,
etc." And you know, it's [2 to 7 draw] all
a feel game. Once you know what to play, when
to call, then it becomes a complete feel, which
happens to be my strong point in poker. I got
lucky in some hands, but by the end, I had a really
good feel for the game - it had been like 10 hours.
So I ended up winning it.
I know a lot of the players were like, "I'm
gonna squash her like a bug at the final table,"
you know, which I think they were trying to intimidate
me. But it only made me more driven, like, "I'm
gonna show you."
PokerLizard: So are there a lot of players out
there who still think they can "squash you
like a bug"?
Jennifer: Well, I don't know, I'm sure there
are. A lot men still think that women don't know
how to play, but lately I have a lot more respect
than I used to.
PokerLizard: Did you learn anything about yourself
or the game while writing for Doyle's book, Super/System
Jennifer: I learned that I can't write...[laughs].
I know Limit Hold'em so well, that I wanted to
give other people some of my ideas. I didn't really
learn anything new, but it was a great experience.
You know, to think about poker and actually put
it down on paper. It wasn't that easy...it took
me six months.
PokerLizard: Is it geared to more the beginning
player, or advanced?
Jennifer: I think it's geared to the experienced
player, but it has a lot of beginning concepts.
It has situations that apply to all different
PokerLizard: You mentioned your kidney transplant
before. Can you tell us a little about the 'Jen
Jennifer: Sure. Right now, we're looking for
a place to hold it. It's called CODA - Creating
Organ Donor Awareness. I've been through this
huge experience, and I want to bring out the positives.
There are so many people on the waiting list for
organs that are dying everyday. If someone had
not come forward for me, it would be another five
years for me to get on the list. And even the
most popular blood type takes three years...so
if you're on dialysis that long, you probably
won't make it. Once you get the organ, it's an
instant cure. I think most people are not aware
they can donate their organs, and I'd love to
create that awareness.
A lot of people came up to me after my operation
to tell me they were on the list, and I knew they
wouldn't make it. Many people don't sign up for
the organ donor program because they're afraid
of the paramedics or doctors looking to get their
organs instead of save their lives - when that's
completely not the case. The donors/injured patients
take priority, and then second is actually taking
the organs if they don't make it. Just having
it on your driver's license is not enough - your
family has to give consent. So I'd like to use
my experience to educate people.
PokerLizard: What do you enjoy the most about
the poker lifestyle? The least?
Jennifer: I like the freedom - I can do what
I want, when I want. I don't have an alarm clock
that I have to set my day by. The things I don't
like are the swings, where you won't get a paycheck
during bad times. You feel trapped, like you don't
want to spend any money. You think you don't know
how to play poker, or that you'll never know how
to again. Your mind plays horrible tricks on you.
PokerLizard: How about the professional crowd?
Are there players on a "blacklist"?
Meaning, are there some people that are not welcome
in the regular high-stakes cash games anymore?
Jennifer: Oh yeah, but they have to be pretty
But for the most part, poker players are good
people because they understand the business and
lifestyle. All the great poker players have been
broke, and when that happens, you count on friends
in the industry to help you out. So you understand
that side of it. When players stop realizing this
and stop caring, that's when they become "blacklisted".
PokerLizard: Do poker players make up the majority
of your circle of friends?
Jennifer: Mostly, yes. We're all vampires. I
get phone calls up to 4 or 5 in the morning, but
never before noon. It's just a different lifestyle.
The more popular poker has become, I find myself
talking about it with my family, other friends...just
groups where I would never talked poker before.
I owned a sandwich shop for a year, and had to
play poker at night to support myself while the
shop wasn't doing well. So I understand the "normal"
side of working peoples' lives. Now it seems crazy
that I ever tried running a shop...
PokerLizard: What kind of advice would you give
to an aspiring poker pro?
Jennifer: I would tell them to read as much as
you can about the game, and to actually think
about how you play every time you're at the table.
PokerLizard: What about the common answer we
get which is to not even consider going pro?
Jennifer: Well, no, if someone comes up to me
with that question, then they want to play. Everybody
has to go through their own lessons. Being a pro
player is a great life if you can make it . And
if someone's not going to make it, they'll find
out real quick.
If my kids came up to me and wanted to be a poker
player, I would probably persuade them to do something
else. [laughs] It takes a long time, a lot of
work, and is a very emotional thing to get to
that level...takes a lot out of you. But if they
really wanted to be a player, then I'd do my best
to help them out.
My father disowned me for being a poker player,
which gave me more incentive to be a better player.
Now he's really proud of me - but it comes from
understanding what it's about. People don't realize
at first that it isn't gambling and that luck
is only short-term. It's hard for the 9-5'er to
PokerLizard: You're a part of that big game with
Andy Beal from Dallas , which has gotten a lot
of press, even in the Wall Street Journal. Are
you ever out of your comfort zone playing at those
Jennifer: I have two stories about that game,
the first story is we were playing heads-up Hold'em
for $1 million buy-in, with $10K/$20K blinds,
and I couldn't win a pot to save my life. I was
running so bad. So I decided to stay home, and
my husband was kind of watching me play, but didn't
really know the game. So he said, "Why don't
you play me for a million dollars heads-up."
And my husband was a beginner, just like Andy
was, so I played him. And my husband beat me!
So my confidence is brutally destroyed. Next thing
I know, Doyle calls from the Bellagio saying,
"Andy wants to play you next so get down
here now." What do I say to that?? "My
husband just beat me in poker." [laughs]
So I said ok and I went down there. It took like
seven hours and I finally beat him, but it was
really stressful. My mindset was a complete lack
of confidence. So I felt much better after that,
but it was brutal.
Andy kept coming back, and I played him every
time. I wanted to pass on the one during the WSOP
last year because it was the Friday before my
scheduled transplant, and I had the flu on top
of that! But Doyle called me up and said we were
running out of people to play, so I was up. It
was the highest limits ever - $100K/$200K. I was
really sick and tired, but I sat down, and it
was amazing trying to focus on the biggest game
of the world. It was quite stressful. But I actually
broke even. I won like $6Million right away, then
gave it back within an hour. He actually had to
leave, and I was like, "man, I wish I could
play you when I was healthy." [laughs]
Was I scared? Well, when you sit down with those
limits, at first there are butterflies. But that
goes away in like 3 minutes. It's kinda bizarre
throwing around bets of $200K, but you after a
little bit, you don't even think about it.
PokerLizard: too bad you couldn't just call it
a day when you were up $6M!
Jennifer, thank you very much to taking the time
to enlighten us on all things poker, and we'll
look for you on an upcoming episode of Tilt!
Jennifer: Haha...take care guys!
You can play and learn from Jennifer at Full
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