2017 WPT Rolling Thunder Day 1A: Conclusion of “California Swing” Has POY Contenders Out for Battle

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With nary a break from the conclusion of the Bay 101 Shooting Star on Friday, the World Poker Tour literally jumped right back into the action with their next tournament event. The WPT Rolling Thunder, at the Thunder Valley Casino near Sacramento, kicked off its week of activities with the first of two-Day Ones on Saturday. By the end of the day, 166 entries had been received and 86 players will move on for Day 2 on Monday.

The $3500 tournament featured many of the same rules that govern other WPT events. Players were allowed one rebuy should they bust out of the event and that rule (one buy in, one rebuy) could be used by a player on both Day Ones. Players could also utilize a single entry on Day 2 if they got into the tournament before Level 11. Should they run through all those chances, an unfortunate player could spend $17,500 on this tournament, which helps to make for a nice prize pool for the WPT and Thunder Valley.

As the cards went in the air, there were two “player races” that were drawing some attention by those in contention. Arguably the bigger one, the race for WPT Player of the Year, has tightened up considerably since the start of Season XV. After the first few events of Season XV, Benjamin Zamani had run off from the pack after three final table finishes had accrued him 2500 points. That once sizeable lead has now collapsed and is under assault from not one but two players.

Sam Panzica, the champion of the Bay 101 Shooting Star, not only picked up his second career WPT win but also his second WPT win of the Season XV schedule. Those two wins – along with another cash at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio in December – have earned him 2450 points for the season. Simply one more cash, which earns a player 50 points, would tie him with Zamani and any finish above 27th place in a bigger event on the WPT circuit would push him past Zamani.

The second man is as unlikely a contender as you might expect. Despite being prevented for years from playing events on the circuit, WPT announcer and Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton has worked his way into the mix for POY honors. After winning the WPT Montreal and making the final table of the WPT L. A. Poker Classic, Sexton tossed some more points on his resume at the Bay 101 with a 22nd place finish. That whirlwind of success has pushed Sexton to 2100 points, making him a viable contender for the POY crown.

The second player race drawing attention was the WPT California Swing, a special three-tournament event to encourage participation in the three California stops on the WPT schedule – the LAPC, the Bay 101 and the Rolling Thunder – that is in its fourth year. Players must play all three events on the “swing” and receive points for their finishes. After the Rolling Thunder, the player with the most points earns special prizes associated with each event when they return to play in 2018.

Not surprisingly, Sexton tops the field in the WPT California Swing standings with 227 points, but he is ineligible to win the competition as he is an employee of the WPT. With that stated, it is Rainer Kempe who is the man the players are chasing as he sits in second place with his 207 points. It is a good distance back to LAPC champion Daniel Strelitz in third place with 179 points but he, Igor Yaroshevskyy (171 points) and Garrett Greer (161 points), but they all are in contention for the WPT California Swing prize as the Rolling Thunder begins.

As to Day 1A of the WPT Rolling Thunder? Plenty of those battling it out for supremacy in the races mentioned above took their chairs on Day 1A and came out on the other side. Zamani, looking to fend off the POY challengers, ended Day 1A with a decent stack of 104,000 by bagging time. Panzica also made it through the day, although taking two shots to build a stack of 57,900 by the time play was called.

The news wasn’t so good for others, but they will have a chance to get back in the battle on Sunday. Defending champion Harrison Gimbel, Chris Moorman, Marvin Rettenmaier, Matthew Waxman, and Pratyush Buddiga all headed to the rails on Saturday, while the leaderboard features some familiar names topped by an unfamiliar one, Dhaval Joshi.

1. Dhaval Joshi, 181,100
2. Jon Borenstein, 173,800
3. Michael Tureniec, 146,000
4. Kelly Douglas, 139,100
5. Eric Baldwin, 113,700
6. J. C. Tran, 112,900
7. Benjamin Zamani, 104,000
8. Erik Christensen, 101,700
9. Alex Foxen, 95,400
10. Charles Maddalena, 89,400

Day 1B will start at noon (Pacific Time) and, if things hold as usual for the final day of a multi-Day One tournament, the Thunder Valley Casino will be awash with players taking their shots at WPT gold. Last year 409 entrants were received for this event and that number is completely within shot for this year’s combatants. If the field can generate at least that number of entries, the prize pool would be over $1.3 million, a nice pie to divvy up for those looking for the next championship on the WPT Season XV schedule.

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