First Rounders: WPT Rolling Thunder

First Rounders sets its sights on the 2023 debut of the WPT Main Tour at Thunder Valley Casino.

Jeff Walsh
Mar 29, 2023
Tyler Patterson, Brian Altman, and JC Tran are featured in our WPT Thunder Valley First Rounders.

Season XXI of the World Poker Tour starts in earnest this week when the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup makes its way to Thunder Valley Casino Resort just outside of Sacramento, CA for WPT Rolling Thunder.

This $3,500 buy-in, single starting day event is the first opportunity in 2023 for players to win their way into the WPT Champions Club and, by many accounts, the anticipation for this event has set this up to be a special week. Rumors have it that Thunder Valley’s massive hotel has been sold out well in advance, and the $1,100, $1 million guaranteed opening prelim event drew a record-setting field for the property with 1,448 entries and a prize pool of more than $1.4 million.

For years now, Thunder Valley is been a major artery for the thriving Northern California poker scene, and players from all over the Bay Area and beyond come out to support its efforts whenever a major series comes to town. This time around, in addition to the local grinders and up-and-coming stars, we’re expecting to see a number of WPT superstars eager to get back in the mix and kick off the WPT’s latest season with a score.

In this edition of First Rounders, we’re doing things a little differently. We’re setting our sights on a wide variety of players, from the well-known experienced pros to rising stars who have found success at the property and seem poised for a breakout score. So, let’s get into it – here are the First Rounders for WPT Rolling Thunder.

#1. Brian Altman

Three-time WPT champion Brian Altman is dead set on winning his fourth World Poker Tour title and joining Darren Elias on the top of Mount WPT. It’s a determination that makes this WPT specialist one of the most dangerous opponents in nearly any field and on any stop on the tour. Add to that the fact that he’s on a bonafide heater, and Altman becomes our top pick for doing damage at WPT Rolling Thunder.

More than $3.1 million of Altman’s career $7.3 million in lifetime tournament earnings have been collected at WPT stops. He’s collected 34 cashes, eight of which were final tables. His last major score on the tour took place in November, in the Season XX stop at WPT Seminole Rock N’ Roll Poker Open where he finished in fourth place for $290,000. However, that’s not his last six-figure score. Altman recently binked his fourth WSOP Circuit ring in North Carolina, taking down the $1,700 Main Event for $391,753 – and he’s looking to carry that momentum into Thunder Valley.

One of the tough parts about picking large-field events is having a beat on who is actually going to show up. Barring unforeseen circumstances, you can bank on Altman registering (many times if needed) in nearly every WPT Main Tour event. It’s true that the LearnWPT instructor has had most of his WPT success on the East Coast, but Altman’s a master at navigating fields the likes that will show out for Thunder Valley making it a prime opportunity for him to carry his confidence into another deep WPT run.

#2. JC Tran

When it comes to the kings of the California tournament scene, one of the first names that come to mind is Sacramento’s J.C. Tran. Tran, an old-school tournament veteran, is a fixture at Thunder Valley and a supporter of all of their biggest events. He’s second in all-time MTT earnings for the card room as well as second among all Californians in all-time tournament earnings, behind only Brian Rast, who boasts over $23 million.

In addition to that success, Tran is going to have home field advantage at WPT Rolling Thunder, where he won one of his two career WPT titles. Back in 2014, Tran topped a field of 465 entries and took more than $300,000 for the win. This year, the field is expected to be considerably larger, growing the first-place prize as well – only making it more favorable for a player of Tran’s skillset.

Coming off a busy 2022, it’s been a slow start for Tran in 2023; however, he did just make a deep(ish) run in early March at the Wynn Millions Championship, where he finished 74th for more than $12,000. But one look at his long resume shows the fact that he’s a large-field, mid-stakes crusher and we’re thinking that the time is right for Tran to book another solid outing at his home casino.

Cherish Andrews

#3. Cherish Andrews

Perhaps no one went on more of a late-year heater than Cherish Andrews. Her streak of final tables in late December 2022 at the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas has been well documented. It included two six-figure scores, one of which was a victory in a $1k side event for $131,912 and the other a runner-up finish in a $10k high roller for another $259,200. Her end-of-year surge put her in a position to be celebrated at the most recent Global Poker Awards, walking away with 2022 GPI Female Player of the Year.

But just because the calendar turned the page, that doesn’t mean that Andrews was ready to stop winning. So far in 2023, she’s kept her volume up by grinding mid-stakes tournaments in Las Vegas and recently booked another win in a 671-entry $400 NLHE side event at the Wynn for which she walked away with over $42,000.

It’s not only that winning begets winning as they say, but Andrews, who has live results dating back over a decade, is clearly continuing to learn from her successes and is putting in the work to replicate them. She was recently spotted mixing it up in the high rollers at the PokerGO Studio, but if she decides to skip the final few events of that series and make her way to Nor Cal, she’s a favorite to add her sixth live result of the year.

#4. Ian Steinman

Sometimes you have to go with your gut and pick one of your favorites. In this case, we’re highlighting a Northern California tournament stalwart, Ian Steinman. Steinman went from playing the daily tournaments at Bay 101 and (then) Garden City over a decade ago to becoming WSOP Online Player of the Year (2016) and ultimately making one of the sickest folds in Thunder Valley and WPT history.

Steinman is the type of player that is perennially on the precipice of catching a breakout score. The model of a true grinder who fires both online and live, day in and day out. He has the kind of consistent results throughout the years that prove he belongs. In the first months of 2023 alone, Steinmann has recorded at least 15 ITM finishes in live tournaments from Las Vegas to Tunica to Durant and Sacramento. Steinman has been in big spots before and come through, with a WSOP bracelet and six WSOP Circuit rings to his credit, and there’s no doubt that he’ll be in big spots again.

#5. Tyler Patterson

Not every poker room has a player representative. In fact, most don’t. To be asked to be a face for a poker room you need to have a unique set of characteristics – a reputation for being a great player, the personality to be a welcoming ambassador, and, loyal to the location. That’s exactly what long-time pro Tyler Patterson is to Thunder Valley and that’s why he’s got that gig for them.

Patterson has been in the game of poker for nearly two decades and had accumulated more than $3 million in career earnings along the way – $1 million of which he’s picked up by playing on the World Poker Tour. He secured his own WPT title in 2016 when he topped the 379-player field of WPT bestbet Bounty Scramble for a career-high score of $375,270. However Patterson doesn’t only play big-time tournaments – the Sacramento native plays everything…and we mean everything. In 2023 alone, Patterson has posted results in events at high as the $3,500 Wynn Millions Championship Event (87th, $11,600) down to the $60 South Point 10pm Turbo (7th, $175). Clearly, either he loves it the most or there’s another Tyler Patterson out there padding the pro’s stats with regular results in the Las Vegas daily scene.

Either way, it’s clear that this Tyler Patterson not only has a love for the game but a love for Thunder Valley as he was seen all week prior to the Main Event firing in all of the prelims and taking part in the festivities. It wasn’t that long ago that Patterson made a deep run in the WPT Prime Championship at Wynn Las Vegas where he finished 15th for $36,000, just days after locking up a six-figure score on the RunGood Poker Series. So, perhaps, he’ll represent himself here with another deep run in a major event.

Brett Murray

#6. Brett Murray

North Bay local tournament pro Brett Murray has found so much success at Thunder Valley that he’s earned the nickname “God of Thunder” for his accomplishments at the venue. Currently sitting as Thunder Valley’s all-time money list leader, Murray has won $749,339 of his career $2.1 millon at the Lincoln, CA casino.

His resume at Thunder alone garners incredible respect. He celebrated three of his five career six-figure scores here, including a 2022 victory in the RUNGOOD Poker Series for $172,845, a WSOP Circuit Main Event ring win in 2018 for $151,145, and a runner-up finish in the 2019 WSOP Circuit Main Event for another $119,644. In total, he has 51 ITM finishes at the venue, good for top 5 all-time.

Murray has also found success in WPT events. He racked up more than $170,000 in earnings over the course of 11 cashes, including making a run during the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas, where he finished 180th for $23,100. With the field of this Main Event expected to potentially create a record-breaking top prize for an event at Thunder Valley, it would be a good time for the God of Thunder to strike.