WPT Rolling Thunder Shatters Long-Held Records At Thunder Valley

A surge of late-day entries pushed the WPT Rolling Thunder prize pool to record numbers.

Jeff Walsh
Apr 2, 2023
It was a packed house at Thunder Valley for WPT Rolling Thunder.

The tag team partners of the World Poker Tour and Thunder Valley Casino Resort proved, once again, to be a winning combination. With the support of the players and the Northern California poker tournament scene at large, long-held Thunder Valley property records for both attendance and prize pools were shattered at an electrifying, season-opening 2023 WPT Rolling Thunder.

By the time registration had closed, after the first two levels of Day 2, a total of 590 entries pushed the prize pool to $1,888,000. That sum is a new all-time record prize pool for the card room, and the number of runners exceeds the previous best number of WPT Rolling Thunder entries – 465 in 2014 – by 125. Add to that, the announced first-place prize of $361,660 (which includes an entry into the $10,400 WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas in December) is set to be the largest tournament payout in Thunder Valley history.

While officials obviously hoped for such a turnout, it was never guaranteed. Unlike many modern major tournaments that include multiple starting flights, WPT Rolling Thunder opted for a single Saturday starting flight with registration open through the start of Level 11, two levels into Day 2. But for this event, the tournament staff employed a strategy that used the Friday before to give players, both local and incoming, as many chances to satellite into the $3,500 event as possible. When all was said and done, more than 150 players won their way into the event for less, and those qualifiers were key to its success.

2014 WPT Rolling Thunder champion J.C. Tran.

Early in Day 1, those qualifiers were hanging tough and new registrations were on a slow, but steady, pace. However, after the second break, registration saw an uptick as players who opted to skip the early levels made their way into the field. Of course, there were plenty of locals that call Thunder Valley home who were out in support, but one didn’t have to look far before you caught a glimpse of top-tier pros taking a shot to have their names inscribed on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.

Brian Altman, Anthony Zinno, and Eric Afriat were each in their seats early, each vying for a fourth title. Top flight pros including Jesse Lonis, Adam Hendrix, Angela Jordison, Matthew Wantman, Tyler Patterson, Shannon Shorr, and the original WPT Rolling Thunder champ J.C. Tran were among the pros that were in action.

At the end of Day 1, the player count read 474, already a record for the event. But the entries were nowhere near done. Another 116 buy-ins took place before registration ended, taking the event into new territory and making history for the card room.

Perhaps the success shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Prior to the weekend, all of the WPT prelims events outperformed expectations, including the $1,100 buy-in obliterating its $1 million guarantee to the tune of a $1.4 million prize pool.

In the end, one player at WPT Rolling Thunder will cash in on their shot at grabbing a piece of personal history themselves by becoming a WPT Champions Club member. Follow along over the next few days via our live updates, and watch the conclusion at the livestreamed final table of WPT Rolling Thunder on Tuesday, April 4.