The World Poker Tour wasted little time getting back into action. The final leg of what used to be the “California Swing” of the WPT season (the L. A. Poker Classic and the WPT Shooting Star at Bay 101 were the other two legs), the WPT Rolling Thunder at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Northern California, wrapped up its Day One action on Saturday. By the time the chips were bagged and tagged, three-time WPT champion David ‘Chino’ Rheem was atop the standings.

Nice Opening for Rolling Thunder

The Rolling Thunder event, with its smaller buy in, wasn’t going to build the $5 million-plus prize pool that the LAPC Main Event was, but it is still looking like it will be a decent sized field. Nearly 100 players were in their chairs for the opening of the action and the field steadily increased throughout the day’s action (thanks to late registration being open until the end of Level 11 on Sunday and unlimited reentries, at $5000 a pop, until the beginning of Level 11). By the time the eight level of action were completed on Saturday, 195 entries had been received and there wasn’t a weak table in the field.

Defending champion Erkut Yilmaz, who used his victory in the Rolling Thunder tournament to earn the WPT Player of the Year award, was a part of the field for the start of action. He was joined by 2020 WPT Fallsview champion Eric Afriat, current WPT POY leader Brian Altman, four-time WPT champion Darren Elias, Kevin Eyster, Lee Markholt, 2020 WPT LAPC final tablist Matas Cimbolas (who will complete that final table in Las Vegas on April 2) and a slew of other top professionals. But it was Rheem who outshone them all by the end of the night.

‘Chino’ Takes Command

After the first half of the day’s action, Rheem had established himself as a force in the event. Sitting with 135,000 in chips (good for the lead at that time), Rheem continued to battle his way through the field but didn’t make much more movement forward. It was a battle with another top pro that would solidify Rheem’s chip lead just before the close of action.

Chris Hinchcliffe pushed all in from under the gun and everyone folded around to Rheem. In the big blind, Rheem had a decision to make – did he think that Hinchliffe was just trying to steal the blinds and antes, or did he actually have a hand? Rheem, never one shy to put his chips into action, decided that Hinchcliffe was on the steal and made the call of Hinchcliffe’s bet, devoting three-quarters of his stack to the effort.

It turned out that Rheem’s gut was somewhat right. Hinchcliffe held a K-Q off suit, which Rheem topped with his A♠ 5♠, but the five cards on the board would decide who was totally correct. The 8-4-3 flop brought two spades to put Rheem in a stronger position and, when the 8♠ came on the river, it gave ‘Chino’ the unnecessary nut flush to capture the hand and the 220K chip pot that came with it as Hinchcliffe was sent to the rail.

1.David ‘Chino’ Rheem, 276,600
2. Brian Altman, 201,000
3. Rayo Kniep, 183,700
4. Tyler Patterson, 163,700
5. Shankar Pillai, 157,500
6. Jake Schwartz, 157,000
7. Derek Wolters, 152,000
8. Michael Faulkner, 148,000
9. Adam Sutch, 134,100
10. Allen Detberner, 132,900

Fans will recognize Altman’s name there due to his run at the WPT POY for Season XVIII. Currently leading Afriat for that honor, Altman will be a part of the “Final Table Frenzy” that the WPT will hold at the HyperX eSports Arena at the Luxor in Las Vegas at the end of March. Altman is a part of the final table action in the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open, where he can earn anywhere from 800 to 1400 points, depending on his finish in the tournament on April 1. If he is to go deep in the WPT Rolling Thunder, he will put together a nearly insurmountable lead.

For now, however, the concentration is on the WPT Rolling Thunder. Action will continue today at noon (Pacific Time), with the plans to take the 94 players remaining of the 193 original entries (plus whatever show up today by the end of Level 11). After Level 11, the prize pool will be determined as will the number of players who will receive a payday. It could be a long Day Two at the WPT Rolling Thunder as the action won’t be called for the night until the money bubble has been popped.

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