Ping Liu Leads WPT Rolling Thunder Final Table, Joe McKeehen Hot on His Heels

The WPT Rolling Thunder began with 440 runners, but on Monday 64 players returned to action and played down to the final table of six. With a first-place prize of $295,128 on the line, tournament grinder Ping Liu holds the chip lead, but not by much over a proven world champion nipping at his heels.

Ping Liu has $585,709 in live tournament earnings, and if he finishes second or better in the WPT Rolling Thunder he’ll beat his previous best score of $133,110. (Image: WPT)

WSOP Champ in WPT Hunt

With nearly $600k in live tournament earnings dating back to 2011, Liu has yet to notch a win. In fact, he’s never finished in second place either. His top three scores have all come from finishing in third place, including $41,436 in the 2017 PokerStars Championship Macau.

It’s enough to rank him as the 63rd most successful tournament player from Illinois in history, and a slightly deeper run here would easily move him into the top 50.

One player at the final table who does have experience closing things out is 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event champ Joe McKeehen, who sits second in chips with 2.755 million. McKeehen is fresh off finishing fourth in the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open for $240,251.

Another player to have made a WPT final table is DJ Alexander, who last August finished fourth in the WPT Legends of Poker for $161,490. You might also recall Alexander finished runner-up in last summer’s WSOP Millionaire Maker, good for $754,499.

If he finishes fourth or better in the WPT Rolling Thunder, Alexander will take his career earnings up over the $2 million mark.

Meanwhile, Ian Steinman, Rayo Kniep, and David Larson are all making their WPT final table debuts.

Close But No Cigar

Sam Panzica (Image: WPT)

Among those to fall during Day 3 action were WPT champs Pat Lyons (9th for $30,228) and Sam Panzica (10th for $30,228), Day 2 chip leader Chris Hinchcliffe (13th for $17,970), MSPT Potawatomi champ Ari Engel (21st for $10,003), and former WPT Player of the Year Anthony Zinno (53rd for $5,990).

As for the 25-year-old Panzica, a two-time WPT champ, he wasn’t even planning to play the WPT Rolling Thunder, but the Nor’easter on the East Coast prevented him from traveling home to Washington DC. He decided to try his luck in the Season XVI WPT Rolling Thunder Main Event, which paid dividends.  

Panzica, who was last season’s Hublot WPT Player of the Year runner-up, took a big hit in Level 23 (10,000/20,000/3,000) when, on a board reading 8♠5♠2♣10♣, he got it in holding the K♣K♠ against McKeehen, who had turned a set with the 10♠10♥. The 2♥ river was no help to Panzica, and he busted a short time later.

In the next level, with the blinds at 12k/24,000/4,000, Lyons followed him out the door after moving all in for roughly 400,000 with the A♥J♦ in the small blind only to run into the Q♦Q♥ of Kniep in the big. The board ran out Q♣J♣8♦K♥4♥ and Lyons saw his dream at a second WPT title go down in flames.

The WPT Rolling Thunder final table will kick off at 1:00 p.m. PST. The live stream complete with hold cards and commentary will begin 30 minutes after that.

Final Table Chip Counts
1 Ping Liu 3,330,000
2 Joe McKeehen 2,755,000
3 Ian Steinman 2,480,000
4 Rayo Kniep 2,435,000
5 DJ Alexander 1,425,000
6 David Larson 700,000

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