Artilce about my bro-- WSOP

Keeler: Novak prepares to take on Ben, Leo


If this hasn't happened to you yet, it will. It's 3 in the morning. The adrenaline is flowing. You cheer or curse in hushed whispers, but to no avail. Your wife/girlfriend wanders over and asks what you're doing up. You tell her it's online poker or computer golf. She rolls her eyes, stomps back to bed, and makes another mental note to Oprah.

But you have an explanation now, my friend, a method to your madness. A patron saint.

You have Rick Novak.

Novak, a former Iowa wrestler who runs his own construction company in the Cedar Rapids area, is competing in the 35th annual World Series of Poker this weekend at Las Vegas. He'll join a field of nearly 900 players shooting for a first prize of $3 million and a shot at national stardom when ESPN televises it next month.

Novak, 36, will spend the weekend in the company of big-money players such as Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 champion, and Ishan "Sam" Farha.


He might even take down Spider-Man (actor Tobey Maguire) or Daredevil (Ben Affleck). Maguire (odds: 415-to-1, according to one Vegas Web site), Affleck (500-1), Matt Damon (450-1) and Leonardo DiCaprio (425-1) are among the Hollywood big shots who're also expected to descend on Sin City.

The Series game of choice, No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em, is a psychological wrestling match. Novak has been polishing his moves.

"When Leo sits down next to me," he says, "I'm gonna tell him: 'If you think the Titanic was a disaster, wait until I get done with you.' "

And here's the best part: You know how Novak got here? By staying up on a computer all night!

"I was just surfing around, checking my (e-mail) and a pop-up came up on my screen," Novak says. "It said, 'Want to compete in the World Series of Poker?' I said, 'Hey, that sounds fun.' That was about 9:30 at night."

Novak went to the pop-up's home page,, and plopped down $25 on March 27 to join a field of about 1,400.

He logged out at 7 a.m. March 28 as the tourney winner, with a berth in the World Series and a prize package of $12,000 - including $2,000 cash for air fare, hotel and meals.

The winning hand was a straight. "The best possible hand that could have been made," Novak explains.

It was, to date, the high-water mark of 10 years of chips, cards and cans. Novak has bulked up from Friday night beer-and-pretzels games to "training" online for 20 to 30 hours a week. The regimen includes clips from the '70s sitcom "Welcome Back Kotter." One of the best celebrity players projected in the Series field is Mr. Kotter himself, comedian Gabe Kaplan (250-1).

"That's who he's gunning for," says buddy Dennis Hynek, a fellow Hawkeye letterman in 1988 and '89 and now Cedar Rapids Kennedy's wrestling coach. "He wants to raise the pot and say, 'Not this time, Kotter!' "

Just as in wrestling, Novak says, you've got to practice moves in private before bringing them to the mat - er, table.

"You can read all the books in the world, and they're going to give a reference point," he says. "But until you see how it works in real life, you won't know how to do it. There are hundreds and hundreds of moves in no-limit poker. It's a very easy game to learn and the hardest game to master."

Hynek has helped him master it - at the expense of his checking account. He likes to crack that Novak has a "401K with my name on it."

"(Rick) was a darn good wrestler," Hynek chuckles. "I'll tell you at this point he's a much better poker player because he's 36."

If Novak's online win was a straight, the immediate aftermath was a royal flush. With only the impending dawn to serenade him, Rick was about to celebrate - and stretch - when he heard a noise behind him. Mrs. Novak.

Ahem. Busted.

"Would you come to bed?" Tracy pleaded.

"Look at this," Rick said, pointing at the computer screen, a blow for competitive insomniacs everywhere. " I just won."

"At first, she was like, 'Uh-huh,' " Novak says. "She was a little in shock."

Now Tracy gets to go to Vegas, too, and rub elbows with Damon and Affleck, DiCaprio and Mr. Kotter. Take that, Oprah.

If you're not going to stand by your man, the least you can do is stand by his mouse.

"She's actually pretty good about it," Rick says. "She watches me play a lot on the computer. If I lose a hand, she tells me I played it wrong. If I win, then she says I played exactly the way she would have."

Good luck, lots of chips to work with.

He is going to have fun.. thats for sure!

I'm jealous of the guy.

I've been so close to winning several qualifiers on party poker but just can't close the deal.

good luck to your bro.