After failing several times to satellite into the tournament and instead buying in directly, David Larson fought from the short stack to win his first major poker tournament title in taking the World Poker Tour’s Rolling Thunder in California last night.

Not only did Larson come off the short stack, it was a “life support” short stack. With only 700,000 in chips, Larson couldn’t even double up and pass fifth place D. J. Alexander with 1.425 million chips. They both were in dire straits when looking up at Rayo Kniep (2.435 million), Ian Steinman (2.48 million) and Joe McKeehen (2.755 million) ahead of them on the leaderboard. Ruling the roost as the cards went in the air was Ping Liu (3.33 million), who seemingly had been at the top of the leaderboard since the start of the tournament.

McKeehen, the former World Champion, was an active participant from the start of the final table’s play. After making a bit of a misstep on Hand 2 in doubling up Larson (Larson’s pocket Queens defeating McKeehen’s A-J), McKeehen rebuilt his stack by brutally running over the rest of the table. Down to 2.3 million after the double to Larson, McKeehen would rebuild his stack within five hands to seize the chip lead from Liu and continue to power his way through his opponents.

After that double through McKeehen, Larson was able to sit back for a bit but, when his moment came around, he would take advantage of it. On Hand 43, a short-stacked Alexander pushed his chips in from under the gun and only Larson looked him up. Larson had the pre-flop lead, his pocket tens over Alexander’s K♠ 9♠, and he kept that lead over the run of the A-8-3-7-Q board. Once at the end of his rope, Larson was now up to 2.1 million as Alexander headed to the rail in sixth place.

It took some time to get to Alexander’s elimination and it would take another lengthy span of time to get to the next elimination. Over the next 60-plus hands, McKeehen would lengthen his lead to the point he held over 50% of the chips in play. It also left the other four players scrambling to see who would challenge the former World Series of Poker Championship Event winner.

The first challenger emerged on Hand 104. After another McKeehen raise, Kniep called out of his small blind and Steinman called off the big blind to see a J-10-5 flop. Strangely, all three players checked the flop and, after another ten came on the turn, Kniep checked his option. Steinman put out a big bet on that turn card and got rid of McKeehen, but Kniep fired over his bet with an all-in move for 1.1 million. Steinman didn’t waste any time calling, turning up 10-8 for the turned trips. Kniep saw that his slow play didn’t pay in this case, turning up his pocket Kings, and he needed one of the two remaining Kings to save his skin. The paint on the river was a Jack, however, ending the tournament for Kniep in fifth place.

The elimination of Kniep seemed to open up the action. Only a few hands after Kniep’s departure, On Hand 109, Steinman would take down Liu, his A-Q dominating Liu’s Q-10, to end Liu’s tournament in fourth place and send Steinman into the chip lead. Larson, meanwhile, doubled up through McKeehen (Larson’s Big Slick picking off a McKeehen steal attempt with Q-7 off suit) once and, in another mano y mano fight between the two, ended the WSOP champ’s tournament when McKeehen made another strong but ill-advised move in push with Q-9 on a J 5♠ 4 flop. Larson looked him up with A 7 and, after a King turn and a four river, scooped up the remainder of McKeehen’s chips to go to heads up play against Steinman.

Down almost 2:1 against Steinman, Larson’s comeback was stunning to those in attendance in the Thunder Valley poker room, but he wasn’t quite done yet. Within six hands of heads up play, Larson had reversed the standings, moving out to a slight lead (7.5 million to 5.6 million) over Steinman and he would never look back. Although it would take another 20 hands, Larson would complete the unlikely “worst to first” comeback with a stunner of a final hand.

On Hand 171, Larson raised the betting and Steinman three-bet the action to over a million chips, which Larson called. An A-J-6 rainbow flop saw Larson fire again, but this time Steinman only called the bet. A second ace on the turn slowed both men down with a check, but a Queen river saw Larson check-raise all in Steinman’s 500K bet. Steinman called off his final million chips and was dismayed at the result; Larson had flopped two pair with his A-6 and turned a boat as Steinman’s slow played pocket Kings got crushed. As the final chips were pushed to Larson, he shook Steinman’s hand and reveled in his victory in the WPT Rolling Thunder.

1. David Larson, $295,128
2. Ian Steinman, $201,428
3. Joe McKeehen, $131,081
4. Ping Liu, $97,510
5. Rayo Kniep, $69,650
6. D. J. Alexander, $56,417

The WPT crew will now get a bit of a break before charging out for their end of season run. The WPT will be on hiatus until April, when the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown in Hollywood, FL, and the WPT Amsterdam in the Netherlands take to the stage. Then comes May and the flurry of action in Las Vegas for the WPT, including two new events at the Bellagio and ARIA, that will close the Season XVI schedule.

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