Living the Luxe Life
And Why She’s Willing to Leave It All Behind to Battle It Out at the WSOP
by Rebekah Mercer
Everything about Nancy Todd Tyner is larger than life. Well, everything except Nancy herself, who happens to be a petite blonde, standing about 5’6” in heels. But her personality gives her a presence that fills up a room in seconds. And then there’s the big house, the big career, the poker title (WPT Ladies Champion of 2008) and the lifestyle that goes with it—all something that sounds like it’s ripped from a celebrity lifestyle magazine. And let’s not forget the diamonds—they don’t call her the Queen of Diamonds for nothing.
The beautiful estate in the suburbs of Las Vegas, the mega watt career as a political consultant to heads of state, the poker tournaments that take her all over the world to play against the biggest pros in the game, they are all part of the luxurious lifestyle she leads. So what could make her leave all of this to spend long days in cavernous poker rooms butting heads with steely-eyed men over a card game? That was the question on my mind as I made the trip to Las Vegas to spend a few days following her as she moved from her lush 11,000 square foot estate to the comfortable, but decidedly less luxurious accommodations at the Rio Hotel for a month and a half to play the WSOP events.
What I found was a woman as complex as the profundities in David Sklansky’s, The Theory of Poker. She is a poker player who doesn’t care about the money for her personal use, but would rather use it to help others. She is also a poker player who wants to make history by being the first woman to win a WSOP Main Event title, but doesn’t care so much about the gender issue arguments that go along with it. And finally, she is a player who cares more about what she can prove to herself than what she can prove to others.
I met Nancy for the first time in person when she picked me up at the airport a few days before the first event of the World Series. After picking me up, we rushed to pick up her seven-year old twins, Lincoln and Sierra, from school. Then we high-tailed it to her house to meet the videographer who was going to be there to film her packing and moving to the Rio. During all of this, she never seemed stressed or made any of us feel that her time was in short supply, which of course, it was. Then when we got to her house, it was the same way. She always had time to make me feel at home, and more importantly, she had time for every single question from her kids, and time to watch every single “Mom, look at this. Watch me!”
The video shoot was done by a local professional and followed Nancy and the twins as they packed up clothes, food, and a multitude of personal items for the trip to the Rio. One of the highlights of the shoot was a peek inside her 1200 square foot closet that houses what she calls her “collection” of designer clothes, furs, and accessories. Since her closet is as big as my apartment, this was a sight to behold. The moving process from home to the hotel takes several days and involves several carloads of suitcases, boxes, and equipment that have to be moved to her hotel suite at the Rio. She packs everything she might possibly need to feel focused and relaxed while she’s there, including her inversion machine and other health-related equipment, a microwave and blender, and lots and lots of clothes. The WSOP is a very high-profile event and a tournament that all poker players would like to play, but it’s an ordeal of time and effort. You have to be in the best mental and physical shape possible.
Then later, after the cameraman was gone, Nancy took me upstairs so I could watch as she selected some jewelry pieces to take with her to the WSOP. I am not normally overly impressed by diamonds and jewels, but some of the pieces were breathtakingly rare and beautiful. The next morning, we were able to spend a few rare moments when she wasn’t in motion, enjoying the gorgeous pool in her backyard. But these moments are rare in Nancy’s life. She’s a woman on the go, and she was just getting started, as I was about to see.
After we arrived at the Rio, Nancy left the rest of us to head to the poker room to start doing what she came to do—win tournaments and make money to support The Hayden Scholarship Fund. The scholarship fund is her way of honoring the memory of her son, Hayden, who died of leukemia in 2005. The fund is currently helping to support ten students at various universities throughout the United States to complete their education.
Her son’s death led her to poker in the first place and the scholarship fund is what keeps her out there slugging it out with the guys, day after day. “Hayden was the entire reason I got into poker in the first place,” she says. “When he was sick we would watch poker on TV for something to do, and we started playing some at home. He was great at the game, especially the math part, but I was much better at reading people. He was always boasting that we would be the first mother/son team to take down the World Series. He really believed that and wanted to make it happen.” Tragically, his life was cut short at age fourteen and he was unable to realize that dream. As a way to fulfill that pact with Hayden that she made five years ago, she set up the scholarship fund. All of the money from her poker winnings goes to the fund to help other young people complete their education.
For more information on the scholarship fund, please see: http://www.thehaydenscholarship.com/ So if you happen to see Nancy at the Rio during the next few weeks, stop to chat with her for a moment and ask her about the scholarship. Then if you’re a poker player, be sure to stay out of the way. The lady comes to play and she comes to win. And it’s all for a good cause.
UPDATE: Shortly after we arrived, Nancy entered event number 3—the $1000 buy-in no- limit hold’em event. After a grueling thirteen hours in the first day of play, and then after another long day on day three of the touranment, she finished in 35th place (out of 4,854 entrants), and netted $15,642 for the scholarship fund. And she has many more events to play before the WSOP ends. This currently puts her total winnings at over $300,000 for poker. You can see a complete list of her tournament winnings at: http://pokerdb.thehendonmob.com/player.php?a=r&n=79831.