Thunder Valley Casino Resort, a staple of the World Poker Tournament (WPT) in California since 2014, just wrapped up WPT Rolling Thunder with Scott Eskanazi winning the largest tournament payout in Thunder Valley history.
Here are the final six winners and their payouts:
- 1st place: Scott Eskanazi $361,660
- 2nd: Jeremy Joseph – $234,000
- 3rd: Alejandro Jauregui – $172,000
- 4th: Albert Tapia – $128,000
- 5th: Victor Paredes – $97,000
- 6th: Tony Dunst – $73,400
How did the payouts get so big?
Thanks to a surge in late-day entries, WPT Rolling Thunder prizes were pushed to record numbers at the California casino resort just outside Sacramento.
By the close of registration, after the first two levels of Day 2, a total of 590 entries had hiked up the prize pool to $1,888,000.
For the card room, that was a new record prize pool. Also, the number of runners exceeded the previous best number of WPT Rolling Thunder entries, which stood at 465 in 2014.
And to top it all off, the first-prize place of $361,660 includes an entry into the $10,400 season-ending WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas in December.
New Thunder Valley strategy pays off
Tournament officials who hoped for a successful turnout were not disappointed. Part of that success can be attributed to a new strategy tournament staff employed during this event.
Instead of having multiple starting flights, as they do in many modern major tournaments, WPT Rolling Thunder opted for a single Saturday starting flight with registration open through the start of Level 11.
For this event, however, the Friday before was used to give players, both local and incoming, as many chances to satellite into the $3,500 event as possible.
In the end, more than 150 players battled their way into the event for less. Those qualifiers were key to the competition’s success.
Day 1 – 2023 WPT at Rolling Thunder Casino
On Day 1, qualifiers like Brian Altman, Anthony Zinno and Eric Afriat positioned themselves comfortably, each vying for a fourth title. Top flight pros were seated nearby and part of the action included the original WPT Rolling Thunder winner J.C. Tran.
Day 1 ended with a player count of 474. Although that was already a record for the event, the entries kept coming. An additional 116 buy-ins transpired before registration closed, breaking new ground for the California card room.
Day 2 – California poker tournament prize pool jumps to $1.9 million
By Day 2, the prize pool was worth $1,888,000. The final 74 players finishing in the money were battling for a first-place prize of $351,660.
At around 9:45 p.m., the money bubble burst, and action ended shortly after midnight with 44 players remaining. The following players made it to the top of the leaderboard by the end of Day 2:
- Rayo Kniep – 2,370,000 (158 bb)
- Albert Tapia – 1,830,000 (122 bb)
- Chuc Nguyen – 1,800,000 (120 bb)
- Dann Turner – 1,690,000 (113 bb)
- Tsz Shiraz – 1,275,000 (85 bb)
- Jeremy Joseph – 1,155,000 (77 bb)
- Zachary McDiarmid – 1,075,000 (72 bb)
- Tony Dunst – 905,000 (60 bb)
- Henry Acain – 875,000 (55 bb)
- Scott Eskenazi – 860,000 (57 bb)
Day 3 – Two players dominated WPT with 4.5 million chips
With two days of play remaining, the field played as many one-hour levels as it took to reach the six-handed final table.
Alejandro Jauregui came out on top after a long day’s battle. WPT Ambassador and WPT Champions Club member Tony Dunst, who started the day in eighth place, kept up a steady chase. Those two dominated most of that day’s play, as nobody else had more than 4.5 million chips.
The final table was determined when Jauregui eliminated Dann Turner in seventh place.
Day 4 – The final table
Heading into the last day of the tournament, only six of the original 590 entrants still had a shot at the $361,660 first-place prize:
- Scott Eskenazi – 2,150,000 (22 bb)
- Alejandro Jauregui – 10,340,000 (105 bb)
- Jeremy Joseph – 2,050,000 (21 bb)
- Albert Tapia – 4,500,000 (45 bb)
- Victor Paredes – 3,125,000 (31 bb)
- Tony Dunst – 7,125,000 (71 bb)
Alejandro Jauregui, the 2021 Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) champion, held the chip lead in his first-ever WPT cash.
On the ninth hand, Eskenazi eliminates Dunst, leaving five at the table. The next man to fall was Victor Paredes in the 49th hand.
By hand 70, Eskenazi took the chip lead from Jauregui; they had 11,700,000 and 11,500,000 respectively. At this point only four remained at the table — Jeremy Joseph and Albert Tapia were the other two players.
Five hands later, Tapia took a bow after moving all in against Eskenazi who won the pot with a full house. Joseph at seat 3 steadily increased his chips by winning a series of hands against Eskenazi.
In hand No. 109, Joseph won the pot with a pair of kings thereby eliminating Jauregui in third place. The official chip counts for the start of the heads-up play stood at:
- Scott Eskenazi – 11,175,000 (45 bb)
- Jeremy Joseph – 18,225,000 (73 bb)
The battle raged on for 76 more hands. Finally, during hand No. 186 Eskenazi called Joseph’s all-in move for 12,800,000.
Eskenazi won the pot — and the WPT title — with an ace high and a king kicker. Joseph finished as runner-up, earning $234,000.
California poker tournament sees record attendance and prize pools
The pairing of the World Poker Tournament and the Northern California casino, Thunder Valley, has proven profitable.
Owing to the support of players and the California poker tournament scene at large, records for both attendance and prize pools at the resort were surpassed at a sensational season-opening 2023 WPT Rolling Thunder.
All but one of the WPT Rolling Thunder Main Events had over 400 entries through 2018. In 2019 and 2020, there was a sizable drop in participation, with 280 and 250 entries, respectively. That, however, can be ascribed to the rise in buy-in from $3,500 to $5,000.