Sexton's Corner, Vol. 54: Marco Traniello, Rising Star
The day I interviewed Jennifer Harman in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio, I glimpsed her viewpoint of what a remarkable husband she has in Marco Traniello. In a very reflective moment Jennifer said, "If I had to write a letter to God about what I wanted in a man, he would send me Marco."
After she said this, I thought to myself, "This is my lucky day, as I'm scheduled to meet him next over at the Palms Casino for his interview." The two of them remain happily married after eight years with two beautiful 19-month-old twin boys.
As I drove over to the Palms to interview Marco, I wondered how the two of them made it work. On the surface they seemed worlds apart: Jennifer was in a place where no man's wife had ever succeeded, as a big cash-game winner in poker, as well as holder of one WSOP gold bracelet (with another soon to come). Her working hours are varied and often go into the wee hours, if not all night sometimes. She says she's on call like a doctor, waiting for word when the Big Game is going to start, while living in Las Vegas. Jennifer was and still is one of the greatest high-stakes poker players in the world. By comparison, Marco didn't even play poker at the beginning of their relationship. He lived on the other side of the world in a small town just south of Rome in Italy, and was a professional hair stylist. He didn't know the first thing about poker, which was such a big part of Jennifer's world. On a chance meeting in the downstairs parking lot at the Bellagio, while on his first one-week vacation in Las Vegas, the two of them, only due to fate, were parked right next to each other and accidently left the casino at the same time late that night to head for their cars. From this ten-second meeting, Marco would have five minutes to win Jennifer over, asking her to dance, and to do so after she had lost $50,000 in a poker game that night. The odds would seem to be a billion to one all of these elements would fall into place, sparking into a beautiful marriage for eight years that just seems meant to be!
Poker can be a dividing wall in a marriage if one plays and the other doesn't. Not all players are winning players, and this creates the most stress for a marriage above all others in the poker world! Here we have the opposite situation: The wife is a winning player in the biggest daily cash game in the world. How would any potential husband here find a way to join her world, one who doesn't even play the game himself? It would seem to be almost impossible to compete against this and find a way to join her world, yet remarkably, Marco found a way to do it. It is said patience is a virtue, and Marco chose to watch his wife play big-time poker for the first five years! Most people aren't even allowed to enter Bobby's Room at the Bellagio to watch, but Marco is so likeable that all the famous pros enjoyed having him there with a ringside seat. In fact, Marco has become good friends with almost all of the famous players who play in the room, even though it is poker's most exclusive club. Marco definitely reached out to Jennifer's world very quietly, while being extremely observant. Not only did he learn the finer elements of the game from watching Jennifer, but he got to watch her play many of the greatest players on Earth. Studying almost any subject for five years is close to getting a Masters degree in college. Bobby's Room at the Bellagio would be the equivalent to attending the finest university in the world for learning the art of poker. During the last three years, Marco has been competing in tournaments and is fast becoming a rising star in tournament play, by cashing in over 20 events at the WSOP, including five final tables!
There are basically two separate worlds in poker: Playing in cash games, where Jennifer specializes; and playing in tournaments, where Marco is continually improving and making his own mark. What a brilliant solution to bringing poker to the forefront of their relationship, where a huge bond is formed between them in rooting for each other, and talking about strategy as to how a hand might be better played better next time. There are very few couples who enjoy this type of bond in something they both love to do so much. He roots for her in the Big Game and how exciting it is for her when he cashes in or makes a tournament final table. Jennifer is his biggest fan, who is very proud of him and what he has accomplished on his own these past three years at the WSOP. Jennifer and Marco usually enter the big $10,000 buy-ins together in the various main events in the WSOP and WPT events held at the Rio and Bellagio, respectively. Jennifer selectively enters a few other tournaments at the WSOP, which is now part of Marco's world. In my opinion, this makes for a very healthy relationship for both of them, that have led them to be known as poker's most dynamic couple!
All of a sudden, one can see looking in from the outside how the two of them were able to successfully make poker a big part of their happy marriage. In truth, probably 99% of most men would have been totally intimidated from a wife who is regarded as the only lady in the world who over a long period of time has been a successful winner in the daily high-stakes poker world.
Jennifer was right… Marco Traniello is no ordinary man. He is self-assured, modest, charming, bright, and one of those people who has a gift for making others feel comfortable when they are around him. When I met Marco for his interview at the Palms, this is exactly how he made me feel right away. He speaks fluent Italian and some Spanish, and has a charming accent when he speaks English. Marco was an hour early at the Palms, because he was asked by Johnny Chan to help host the All In Energy Drink VIP party scheduled to be held poolside. This worked out nice, as he went out of his way to make time for our interview.
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As I began Marco's interview, I can only say he is about one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, not only in the poker world, but anywhere. He is extraordinarily handsome and in tip-top shape, to the degree one would wonder if he was a professional model on first glance. Here are a few things I want to share with you from our interview:
Sexton's Corner: Marco, after interviewing your wife Jennifer over at the Bellagio, she told me the wonderful story on how you two met in the downstairs parking lot at the Bellagio. It sounded like you two were instantly attracted to each other, as you were married in only six weeks, with you being back home in Italy for three of those weeks. In that first meeting it sounded interesting, as she said she had just lost $50,000 in a poker game. It sounded like you only had about five minutes to win her over in the parking lot, while parked next to her Porsche. From your point of view, can you share with us what you remember about that first chance meeting you two had?
Marco Traniello: Okay, what happened was I asked her out that night. I was with a friend of mine. After talking to her in the parking lot, she decided after about five minutes of my work, that she would take me up on going dancing. So, we went to her house, as she wanted to change her clothes. She called her bodyguard, a big guy named Daniel Negreanu (as Marco laughs), and says, 'I'm here with two Italian stallions in my house. I'm changing my clothes. They are going to wait for me, and then we are going out dancing.' Daniel immediately responded 'Are you crazy? Are you completely out of your mind?' But she felt I was a good guy, I guess. We went dancing, and after a few weeks we both wanted to get married. Now after eight years and two twin boys, we are still very much in love and having fun.
Sexton's Corner: What did you think, Marco, when you met Jennifer and she told you that she was a professional poker player? I mean to me, she looks so innocent and cute. It is hard to believe she can jump in there with those sharks… I mean, I was curious what you thought when you met her?
Traniello: I know. Back then I went to watch her play at the big table, and she played really big limits with Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Howard Lederer, Chau Giang and others. She looked like she didn't need a chair—she needed a high chair! In the beginning of our relationship I thought she must be on a lucky streak, but she just kept on winning!
Sexton's Corner: You must have been completely stunned or shocked watching this?
Traniello: Yes… I was working for two years for what she won in one day!
Sexton's Corner: Jennifer told me you watched her play for about five years. She said you sat there quietly and learned mostly on your own. She said that you were picking up a lot of tells on the opponents, as you would point out to her later how each player plays and the best way to play each player. She said you did most of it on your own, and she began to take notice of the natural talent you had for the game, and your potential as far as your observation skills.
Traniello: I believe a good person is one who asks good questions. My questions were always right to Daniel Negreanu and Todd Brunson, who I became good friends with. They pushed me to play my first WSOP in 2005, and I cashed in seven times! I cashed in five times this year and now 20 times overall at the WSOP. Last year I made three final tables at the WSOP, and now have made a total of five WSOP final tables these past four tournaments.
Sexton's Corner: Wow — that really is a good record. What is the highest you placed?
Traniello: Last year in the $10,000 Omaha Pot Limit I placed fifth at the WSOP.
Sexton's Corner: It looks like you are knocking on the door quite a bit!
Traniello: (With a nice laugh) I'm knocking on the door every day!
Sexton's Corner: You mentioned Daniel Negreanu and Todd Brunson, and it sounds like you and Jennifer became good friends with both.
Traniello: Yes, Daniel and Jennifer are like brother and sister… the best of friends. They talk on the phone a lot and go over hands played that could have been played differently, etc. Todd and I have become very good friends, even though he dated Jennifer before I had ever met her. In fact, Todd is the godfather of our twin boys!
Sexton's Corner: When you and Jennifer got married, where did you do it at?
Traniello: It was a place called The Little White Chapel, located on the Strip going downtown....
Sexton's Corner: I know that place… it is a chapel that has married a lot of famous people, including Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Judy Garland, Michael Jordan, Mary Tyler Moore, and Rita Hayworth. I'll tell you one quick funny story about that chapel when I was driving a cab: I picked up a couple at the valet at the Bellagio, and when they got in the back he said, 'Son, I'm 80 years old and this lovely lady I'm with is 20. We flew in from Germany just to get married in Las Vegas, and we want you to take us to the drive-through wedding chapel! This was a first for me as a taxi driver, but I knew The Little White Chapel offered both a service inside or through the drive-through window, so I took them there. It was quite an experience as we drove through the drive-up window and I was their witness. Remember, he was 80 and she was 20, and as we were driving back to the Bellagio it was hard not to glance at the rear view mirror at the unusual sight, as they held hands and looked romantically into each other eyes. Then she said something that was the understatement of the century, 'George, my parents are going to be so surprised when they get a chance to meet you.'
Traniello: (Marco had a good laugh at this visual) That is a funny story. When we got married, I knew she was what I was looking for in a woman, and I feel lucky I was what she was looking for in a man. I believe we were meant for each other.
Sexton's Corner: That is truly beautiful. When I interviewed your wife earlier, she talked about her mishap in 2004, when she desperately needed a kidney transplant or would surely die. She felt lucky you were there giving her a lot of support, and said you spent many nights just watching her sleep to make sure she didn't die. You were right there for her every step of the way. She is so grateful for the wonderful life she has now, with a loving husband, two beautiful twins, and what she enjoys doing for a living. I remember when she got really sick, needing that operation so badly. With her niece's kidney donation the operation was a gigantic success. I wondered if you had any thoughts about the crises she faced, since you were right there for her?
Traniello: I was always positive she would beat the odds, and she did. Being positive all the time in that situation is the best way to help. She was very weak for a few weeks, but we never lost faith. I kept a close eye on her and stayed positive.
Sexton's Corner: What is your favorite sport, and how do you stay in such fantastic shape?
Traniello: I love boxing. In fact I've been boxing for twelve years, working out in the gym. I do 30 pull-ups six times a day, and have a female workout coach that works on my abs every other day. There is a gym I go to every week, and I eat the right foods. Las Vegas is the greatest place to live in the world, as the shows and boxing matches are fun to go to. With some of my friends we get some of the best seats in the house, so I feel very fortunate indeed.
Sexton's Corner: Marco, it has been an honor to be able to interview you and your wife earlier. I believe you two are poker's most dynamic couple, and it won't be too long before you join one of poker's most unique clubs, where both the husband and wife are WSOP gold bracelet champions, joining Harry and Jeri Thomas and Max and Maria Stern. As young as you and your wife are, your poker future is simply unlimited. More importantly, both you and your wife have life's priorities in proper perspective, which is life's most difficult test.
Congratulations to both Marco and Jennifer for getting an A+ in life's most important category!
The Cab is Parked,
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Poker Trivia Question # 4 and Answer from Last Week's Column
Who was the first player to win $1,000,000 in the WSOP Main Event and what year? Also name the first player to win $1,500,000 and year; $2,000,000; $2,500,000; $5,000,000; $7,500,000; and $12,000,000. This is a seven-part answer.
1) Brad Daughtery, 1991 – first to win $1,000,000 in Main Event at WSOP
2) Chris Ferguson, 2000 — first to win $1,500,000
3) Robert Varkonyi, 2002 — first to win $2,000,000
4) Chris Moneymaker, 2003 — first to win $2,500,000
5) Greg Raymer, 2004 – first to win $5,000,000
6) Joe Hachem, 2005 – first to win $7,500,000
7) Jamie Gold, 2007-- first to win $12,000,000
(In 2007 Jerry Yang won $8,250,000, and this year it will be $9,119,517,000 by one of the nine remaining players, to be crowned on Nov. 11th.)
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Poker Trivia Question # 5 (to be answered in next week's column):
From 1970 through 2007, we have seen a lot of different WSOP Main Event champions. To be sure, each had their own quirks or superstitions. Name the WSOP Main Event champion who had the unusual habit of going to the bathroom during his 20-minute breaks and kicking up to a handstand against the wall to increase his blood circulation. What was his name and the year he won the title?
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Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for PokerNews.com. Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is TSStarbuck1@aol.com.