Jennifer Harman: How she made it in poker

Whether it’s lasting the test of time in the Big Game inside Bobby’s Room or winning two WSOP bracelets, Jen Harman is a true female poker icon

When it comes to all-round ability, no woman has more talent than Jennifer Harman. Her $2.3 million in tournament winnings over 15 years seems humble but the figure pales into insignificance when you consider three things: she is the only woman to have won two WSOP bracelets in open events, she is a regular in the Big Game and not one penny of her tournament winnings has come from single sex events.

Harman’s achievements are even more impressive when you consider that as a teenager, she underwent a kidney transplant and endures constant health problems to this day. In fact, a second kidney transplant forced her to miss several months of poker in 2004.

Harman’s poker career started when she was just eight, after she played her first poker hand and immediately fell in love with the game. Her father’s regular home games meant she was constantly exposed to different styles of play and it wasn’t long before she was sitting in on the games herself and beating them. She used a fake ID to sneak into the local card rooms around Reno but this was no fairytale beginning. She couldn’t really cope with the level of play and decided to concentrate on studying instead.

Finding Her Feet

After graduating in biology from the University of Nevada around 1991, Harman ended up in LA waiting tables but that lasted three days once she heard about the lucrative cash games at the Bicycle Casino. This is where she built up her renowned limit hold’em expertise and it wasn’t long before she was taking shots at the $200/$400 games. But as Harman has admitted in the past, her bankroll management skills left much to be desired and she struggled to find any sort of consistency. 1992 proved to be a nadir: she was left close to bankruptcy and had to borrow $50k to get back on her feet again. Her bankroll would never reach such depths again.

In 1994, Harman made her first tentative steps into the tournament circuit and had some limited success in the smaller buy-ins but remained firmly in the cash game camp. She had made it into the money a few times in WSOP side events but it wasn’t until 2000 that she made a real impression, winning her first bracelet in the $5k no-limit 2-7 draw. One of the most astounding things about this victory was that Harman learned the game just ten minutes before it started. Howard Lederer handed her a piece of paper with the hand rankings and Harman sat down to play. In the final heads-up she defeated casino mogul and double-bracelet winner Lyle Berman to record her first $100k+ prize.

The win had the kind of effect which is typical for poker players: Harman’s confidence shot through the roof and she began to climb the cash game levels, not stopping until she became a regular in the $4k/$8k Big Game alongside greats like Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese. Her tournament game also hit a new gear. She won another bracelet in 2002, this time in a $5k limit hold’em event and started making WSOP and WPT final tables with consummate ease.

High Roller

By now Harman had garnered a reputation as a smart, aggressive player but it was the ultimate cash game against billionaire Andy Beal which would send her stock stratospheric. A week before she was due to have the second kidney transplant she played as part of the ‘The Corporation’ heads-up against Beal (with blinds starting at $10k/$20k and rising to $100k/$200k) and managed to win a monumental pot of $1.7m. Although she finished up even against Beal, she had proven just how fearless she could be.

Although Harman’s tournament play is less prolific than it used to be, when she does cash, it is for a serious amount. In 2007, she finished runner-up in the £2,500 HORSE at the WSOPE, in 2008, she made it to third in the WPT Shooting Stars and earlier this year she went very deep in the WPT Championship. She continues to rake in profit in the cash games and is regarded as one of the great poker players by everyone in the game from Negreanu to Ivey.

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