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Final Table Takedown: Valerie Novak

Novak Captures First Five-Figure Score at Seminole Hard Rock Series

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: May 11, 2022


Valerie Novak Credit: Omar SadarValerie Novak had read a few poker books, watched some videos, and followed the changing scope of game, but for the most part remained a casual, recreational player with cashes dating back to 2009.

Like most, she dreamed of winning a live event, but had never put a lot of time into studying and improving her game. That all changed during the pandemic. With her kids now grown and support from her husband, Novak found herself with the time to really apply herself and see where the game took her.

Novak began to dive into the game in a much deeper way then before. She immediately noticed an improvement with a few min-cashes and the occasional deep run in local tournaments.

In January, she made two final tables in consecutive weeks at her home casino of Maryland Live! Then in April, she nabbed her first big live tournament win at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in South Florida, defeating a field of 475 entrants in the $1,100 no-limit hold’em event for a $91,835 payday.

Event: Hard Rock Poker Showdown 
Buy-In: $1,100
Entrants: 475
Prize Pool: $460,750
First-Place Prize: $91,837

Craig Tapscott: Congratulations. That must have been quite the rush for you making this final table with all those great players. Your hard work has really paid off for you this past year.

Valerie Novak: Thank you! Yes. As an amateur player so many thoughts were rushing in all at once. I did make sure that I took in each moment. And quite frankly I was just happy to have gotten this far and to be amongst some of the best poker players in the world. I was just in awe of my present reality. Very surreal.

CT: Set up the final table for us.

VN: The final table was an experience. If there was ever a time to apply my training, it was now. I came to the table second in chips with 1,330,000 (44 BB), Robert Kuhn was first with almost double 2,410,000 (80 BB) and Chance Kornuth was right behind me with 1,120,000 (37 BB).

I looked around at the table which also included Kristen Bicknell Foxen (18 BB) and Duff Charette (20 BB). I knew who most of them were and I also knew I was most likely the least experienced player, especially when it came to final tables.

CT: Did you have a plan? And who were you mainly keeping an eye on?

VN: I had to be super vigilant, and aware at all times. My first instinctive job was to figure out the chip stacks; there was only one person that had about 10 BB and the rest were 20 BB and above. I knew immediately that Robert and Chance would be the ones to apply the most pressure, so I was very aware of that if and when I would be in a hand with them.

I knew I better make it count while also watching shorter stacks and my position at the table. Not having experience at this level, I wanted to keep an eye on my own chip stack and not get myself into a position where I would find myself short. I didn’t want to freeze up, but I didn’t want to blind off either. As the table became shorter, I definitely started to feel the weight of those large blinds on my stack.

CT: Was there any one hand that got you to the final table?

VN: Yes. We had just passed the money bubble…

Stacks: Valerie Novak – 150,000 (30 BB) Under-The-Gun – 220,000 (44 BB)
Small Blind – 100,000 (20 BB)
Blinds: 3,000-5,000 with a 5,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 45

Action: The UTG player at a nine-handed table raised to 10,000. Novak raised to 25,000 from the cutoff holding 10Diamond Suit 10Spade Suit.

CT: Did you have a read on the UTG? And why did you choose that bet sizing?

Valerie Novak Credit: Omar SadarVN: He had been opening a decent number of hands throughout the day, such as A-x, K-x, A-K suited combos, etc. I felt confident that my reraise would represent a big hand.

The small blind went all in for 100,000. UTG called.

CT: What was going through your mind at this point?

VN: UTG had me covered. I knew that they could be sharing cards, but also realized that the SB hadn’t done this without premium hands previously. I really didn’t want to race against overs, and I would be way behind better pairs. So, I put the small blind and UTG on A-K and A-Q type hands and then…

Novak folded.

VN: It turned out to be the best decision. I think about that hand, because in the past I would have put it in there, and this time I didn’t. It didn’t feel right, and I wanted a chance to go far in this event. I felt I wasn’t in control of the situation. I wanted to wait for a spot where I would be the one putting pressure on and in control of the hand. In this situation my read was correct, as I would have lost to them both.

Stacks: Valerie Novak – 650,000 (26 BB) Middle Position – 550,000 (22 BB)
Small Blind — 575,000 (23 BB)
Blinds: 15,000-25,000 with a 25,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 15

Action: A player in middle position raised to 50,000 and the small blind called. Novak called in the big blind holding AClub Suit 9Club Suit.

VN: This was a new table to me. I didn’t know the raiser, but couldn’t help thinking that he wouldn’t necessarily be too wide given his position and stack size. I didn’t necessarily put him on a premium hand as he had less than 20 BB and he didn’t shove. But again, this was a new table to me.

The small blind I had played with before and felt he didn’t have a hand good enough to apply pressure and would have a much wider holding than the first villain, perhaps hands like suited connectors/combinations and small pairs. If he held anything better, he would have reraised.

Flop: 9Diamond Suit 7Heart Suit 4Club Suit (pot: 175,000)
SB checked and Novak bet 75,000.

CT: Why did you bet?

VN: My first thought was I really didn’t want to take the chance of letting either of them get there. And I didn’t want it to get checked behind me. I knew that MP most likely had overs, and SB could have connectors or a small pair.

MP called and SB folded.
Turn: 6Club Suit (pot: 325,000)
Novak bet 150,000 and MP folded.

VN: I bet 150,000 knowing that if he went over the top I would have to call. I really didn’t expect him to call since I felt he didn’t connect. But the plan was to bet each street.

Valerie Novak Credit: WPTNovak won the pot of 325,000.

Stacks: Valerie Novak – 1,125,000 (11 BB) Duff Charette – 5,000,000 (50 BB)
Blinds: 50,000-100,000 with a 100,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 3

VN: Up to this point I had played a few hands, one that resulted in a double up from Chance. And with five players remaining it left me with about 60 BB. And then I wasn’t getting any cards that I could get in the mix with, especially given the action, all-ins, and eliminations that were happening.

I watched other players battle it out and laddered up a few spots. Still, I was now approaching the SB and BB and I was short in chips. Then I was dealt the jacks, and things turned around quickly.

Action folded to Novak in the small blind and she shoved holding JClub Suit JHeart Suit. Charette called and flipped over 6Heart Suit 6Club Suit from the big blind.

Board: ADiamond Suit 8Heart Suit 2Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit 8Spade Suit (pot: 2,350,000)
Novak won the pot of 2,350,000.

Stacks: Valerie Novak – 2,950,000 (24 BB) Chance Kornuth – 5,050,000 (40 BB)
Blinds: 75,000-125,000 with a 125,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 3

CT: You had some stiff competition, including high-stakes pro Chance Kornuth, who has been running hot this year so far.

VN: I knew any hand I played against Chance I would have to be prepared. Throughout the final table I watched how he positioned himself and opened most of the raises. So, I knew if I was to tangle with him, I would most definitely need to be ready to put my chips in there.

Kornuth raised from the button to 250,000.

VN: I had expected he would raise most of the time from the button. So…

Novak reraised to 500,000 from the big blind holding AClub Suit JHeart Suit. Kornuth four-bet to 900,000.

CT: What now?

VN: I knew from the start of the hand that this would be a hand to go all in on.
Novak moved all in and Kornuth folded.

CT: After this hand you doubled up again with J-J versus Charette, who held pocket sevens. That catapulted you to a heads-up battle with Chance.

VN: I started the heads-up play with 46 BB and Chance had 30 BB. I will say, it didn’t matter how many chips Chance had. I knew he was much more experienced and proficient at the final table, let alone heads up. He knew I didn’t have much experience, but also knew I wanted this win badly. My approach was to take my time and do my best to remember everything I had learned up to this point about heads-up play. And how very different it plays then a full table.

CT: Did you talk about a chop?

VN: There was no conversation about a chop, so winning this tournament outright was huge for me. It was an amazing opportunity to play these very experienced players and I felt like I learned a few things along the way. The experience was better than any class I could have taken.

I was lucky with the heads-up cards. He definitely had the upper hand, but I was very pleased with how it turned out at the end. Chance was genuinely happy for me, as he tweeted later in the day, and he couldn’t have been nicer. ♠