Coming right on the heels of the WPT L. A. Poker Classic, the WPT Rolling Thunder kicked off action on Friday for the next WPT event. Located outside of Sacramento, the WPT Rolling Thunder has become one of the popular stops on the WPT circuit and, if Day 1A is any indication, the $3500 buy-in tournament is still a favorite of the players.
The newly redecorated and expanded poker room at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort was ready for action at noon on Friday and the players didn’t disappoint. For their $3500 buy-in, the players would receive a stack of 30,000 in chips and, should they be eliminated in the first Day One, would be able to re-enter once on Friday. If they shot both of those bullets off, then they could come back on Saturday and have the same two-shot option. If those four options didn’t work for players, then they could buy-in one more time before the start of Day 2, meaning that players (if really unlucky) could enter as many as five times ($17,500) if they so desired.
Defending champion Mike Del Vecchio led the professionals in the field to the line as Day 1A began. Del Vecchio was joined by other WPT Champions Club members such as Tyler Patterson, Daniel Strelitz and three-time champion Darren Elias. There was also a strong contingent of pros looking for their first WPT title, including Ari Engel, Eddy Sabat, Blair Hinkle, Amir Lehavot and Zachary Gruneberg.
After Level 2, 67 entries were already in the kitty as other pros began to stake out their patch of felt in the Thunder Valley poker room. Kathy Liebert, Darren Rabinowitz, Allen Kessler, Matt Salsberg and Jared Griener were among those players as the halfway mark of the first eight levels of play were reached. And the players continued to quietly stroll into the event, with 111 entries into the tournament at this same mark.
Although it was relatively quiet, contenders rose to the top of the standings around this point. In what would eventually become a pot that would crown the chip leader, Sean Yu was able to get his final chips in the center. He was met by a call from Sean Marshall and William Murray, who saw a J-10-8 and had the opportunity to bet into a dry side pot. Marshall took this opportunity, but Murray wasn’t ready to let it go yet and made the call. A five on the turn brought about the same action – a bet from Marshall, a call from Murray – but the river six opened several options and shut down action from both men.
When the cards were turned up, it became evident that Marshall had survived a run through the gauntlet. His K-J off suit had caught on the flop and dodged the straight outs of both Murray (K-Q) and Yu (9-8) to take the hand. With those chips, Marshall improved to 143,000 in chips, knocked Murray down to only 51K and sent Yu out of the tournament.
While Marshall was cruising to the end of day chip lead, others would have to take their chances (perhaps) on Saturday. Liebert, Engel, Curt Kohlberg and WPT DeepStacks Player of the Year Rex Clinkscales all were eliminated on Friday and have the option of returning on Saturday. One player who won’t be returning on Saturday is Marshall, who powered his way to the chip lead by the time the final hand was dealt on Friday.
1. Sean Marshall, 142,100
2. Eddy Sabat, 140,400
3. Matt Salsberg, 139,200
4. Ping Liu, 130,100
5. Jesse Rockowitz, 126,200
6. Joseph Alban, 122,000
7. Glenn Larson, 100,100
8. Jared Greiner, 93,900
9. Brian Green, 89,600
10. Gauran Raina, 88,000
Of the 132 entries received on Day 1A, 71 players came through the carnage. This number is expected to increase tremendously on Saturday as the newly redesigned Thunder Valley poker room can handle a large throng of players. According to WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage, the Thunder Valley poker room “could host 1000 players” and he would like to see this event crack its record of 465 from Season XII. That would mean that another 333 entries would have to come out between now and the start of Day 2 on Sunday, a number that isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for the 2018 WPT Rolling Thunder.