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Childhood and early years
Even at such an early age, she showed great talent. She still remembers the times when her father asked her to fill in for him when he was down; most of the time she won him back enough money for her father to break even. Nevertheless, it was not her father who taught Jennifer how to play poker — it was her mother.
During her teenage years Jennifer worked odd jobs but spent most of her time playing poker. Yet her blossoming career came to an abrupt halt due to a serious health problem: a chronic kidney disease made life difficult for her and led to a kidney transplant. Thanks to successful surgery she was able to finish high school and continue playing poker.
At 16, Jennifer got hold of a fake ID and could therefore take part in poker tournaments. These first experiences at the casino were a reality check for Jennifer, as she had to face bigger, better, and tougher competition than she had been used to and as a consequence she ended up losing most of the time.
Career aspiration: poker player
After graduating from high school, Jennifer enrolled at the University of Nevada to study biology. To support herself financially, she worked part-time as a waitress at several different cocktail bars. This allowed her to keep a watchful eye on the poker table and after her shift, lose all her hard-earned money. Poker was more than just a hobby for Jennifer though. She loved the game and proved she had talent.
Jennifer dropped out of university before she could finish her degree. Instead she decided to leave Reno and move to Los Angeles to work as a barkeeper at one of the hotels there. After only three days one of her friends told her to check-out the Bicycle Casino, to see some amazing poker. She followed his advice and was just as taken by the casino as her friend was. So after only five days at her job as a barkeeper, she decided to quit and play poker full-time.
At the beginning, Jennifer was just playing poker for fun, and did not see it as a career. Her father though, was not at all pleased with her giving up the job at the hotel, and they did not talk for several years. Once he saw that Jennifer could support herself playing poker though, nothing could keep her and her father from patching things up again.
After spending two years in Los Angeles, Jennifer Harman decided to take a one year break from poker and try her luck at starting a business instead. She moved to Maryland to test her entrepreneurial skills. But leading a business did not seem to be one of Jennifer’s strong points and, within a year, she had to declare herself bankrupt. Jennifer Harman knew that her only chance to get out of debt was to start playing poker again. A good friend of hers lent her enough money to go to Las Vegas and try her luck there.
The following years she predominantly played mid-limit games. She took her time and only occasionally played for higher stakes.
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Ups and downs
1993 was full of disappointments and losses for Jennifer. She almost went broke again and yet again had to borrow money from a friend to be able to continue playing. The loan got her back on her feet and she has not had to worry about money since. Today she even admits that at the beginning of her career she often overestimated herself. Yet she believes that she has learned from her past mistakes and that she is not the only pro that has lost all their money more than once.
Although she sticks to cash-games most of the time, she started playing in tournaments beginning in the mid 90s. At the 1995 WSOP (World Series of Poker) she finished 6th at the $ 2,500 pot-limit Texas Hold’em event and in 1999 she placed 13th in the $ 1,500 limit Texas Hold’em tournament. In the meantime she also won the “Commerce Casino No-Limit Texas Hold’em Championship” and the limit Texas Hold’em tournament at the "Orleans Open".
Her biggest triumph though was at the 2000 World Series of Poker where Jennifer Harman Traniello, who had never before played no-limit 2-7 Draw, won the tournament, along with her first Gold Bracelet and $ 146,250. At the 2002 World Series of Poker she won her second Gold Bracelet at the $ 5,000 limit Texas Hold’em tournament and $ 212,440 in prize money.
Jennifer Herman Traniello has also been successful at the World Poker Tour: her best result so far was fourth place at the 2004 championships, where she won almost $ 300,000 in prize money.
In 2004, she suffered from another set-back of health, which made it impossible for her to take part in the WSOP: Jennifer required another kidney transplant. Fortunately, her niece was a suitable donor and she recovered quickly. During her break from the tournament circuit, Jennifer had enough time to write a chapter on limit Texas Hold’em for Doyle Brunson’s book “Super System II”.
After recuperating from surgery, she returned back to the poker table.
The biggest amount in prize money Jennifer Harman Traniello has ever won was at the 2005 WSOP where she collected $ 384,000 for coming in second place. Her 2000 and 2002 WSOP wins make Jennifer the first woman with two Gold Bracelets.
Yet nothing tops her superior playing in “Bobby’s Room”, the poker room at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Here, the best cash-game players gather to play for some of the highest stakes in the world. It is these games, with other poker stars such as Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu, that Jennifer regularly takes part in and excels at.
A deep friendship binds Jennifer to the famous and popular poker player Daniel Negreanu, from whom she learned a lot about no-limit play. This is what he has to say about this remarkable woman:
“In my opinion, she is without a doubt the best female poker player on the planet, but that’s not a fair title at all. She is also one of the best all-around players in the world — full stop!”
Not only Daniel Negreanu has great things to say about Jennifer Harman Traniello though. Doyle Brunson also praises Jennifer in the introduction to his book:
“I’m convinced she’s not only the best all-around female player alive, but also ranks among the elite poker players in the world.”
When asked about her opinion on poker events for women only, she is not especially enthusiastic. There is a ladies-only event at the World Series of Poker which she never takes part in because she says there is always an open tournament going on at the same time with more prize money to be won.
Today, Jennifer Harman Traniello is one of the best-known and popular figures of the poker world. She regularly appears on television channels such as ESPN and the Discovery Channel, and also took part in a radio broadcast by the radio station NPR. Furthermore, she has been a guest on “ABC Primetime Live” and on the “Ellen Degeneres Show”. “Sports Illustrated” even featured an article on her. She has also appeared on the American TV show “High Stakes Poker” a number of times.
Away from the poker tables
When Jennifer is not playing poker she likes to play with her four dogs who she shares “custody” for with her former boyfriend Todd Brunson, the son of poker legend Doyle Brunson. Jennifer loves all animals and lobbies against cruelty to animals. Among other things, she organizes a charity tournament at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. All the proceeds of this event go towards an animal rights group called “Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”.
Jennifer also enjoys spending time with her friends and skiing. She does Pilates and loves watching movies, as well as listening to music. She also lists torturing her husband by singing Christmas carols as one of her hobbies.
It seems as if Jennifer is not able to separate her poker career from her personal life. She has been in relationships with both Howard Lederer and Todd Brunson. She is now happily married to Marco Traniello, an Italian, who she lives with in Las Vegas. Marco, who was a professional hairdresser, is now a promising poker star as well and the father of her twins. They met in 1999, while Marco was on a holiday in the USA to see the sights of Las Vegas. As fate would have it, Marco parked his car right next to Jennifer’s. He first laid eyes on his future wife in the parking lot of the Hotel and Casino Mirage. Today, both claim that it was love at first sight. He asked her to go out dancing with him and although it was already very late and she had just lost $ 50,000 in a poker game at the Bellagio, she said yes.
The only problem that tested their relationship in the early years was the fact that Jennifer was a professional poker player. Although Marco knew about her profession from the beginning, he did not understand the game or the intricacies of it until much later. It was only with the help of mutual friends such as Daniel Negreanu and Howard Lederer that Marco began to understand that a life playing poker was full of highs and lows. Although Marco spent most of his time getting the hair salon he had opened in Las Vegas up and running, he started to watch his wife play poker. At the 2005 World Series of Poker he surprised Jennifer Harman Traniello by saying, “You know what? I think I’m ready to play. I want to play all of the Hold’em events.” Jennifer supported his decision and together they played at numerous tournaments at which most of the time, poker fledgling Marco did not do much worse than his wife, the professional. Marco sold his hair salon and also became a poker professional, much to the relief of Jennifer.
Poker and freedom
One of the advantages of living the life of a poker professional, Jennifer says, is the freedom that comes with it. In an interview she once said,
“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.”
Especially playing cash-games gives you that freedom. She says,
“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 can 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.”
Jennifer Harman Traniello will continue to support her husband’s professional poker career in the future,
“I’ve been through the pain of losing streaks, and he’ll go through it too. He’s very intense, and I know the right things to tell him. We have such a good relationship. We’re best friends.”
With her delicate frame she often misleads her opponents at the poker table. At 1.57 m and weighing only 47 kg, Jennifer is not that threatening physically, which is why her opponents often underestimate her. Most players soon realize though that she does not lose heart easily, and respect her for the skill and talent she reveals at the poker table.
Jennifer Harman Traniello is the living proof that women can also flourish in the predominantly male poker world. She was one of the first female poker players and proves that, by working hard and believing in your dream, you can be successful at anything you put your mind to.
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