By Sean Chaffin
Choctaw brings some Southwest flair to the WPT Main Tour each year and now boasts a second event on the schedule. The second WPT Choctaw event in Season XVII features a $3,700 buy-in and $1 million guarantee and runs May 17-20 in Durant, Oklahoma.
This one offers a bit of a special twist. The last six players will travel to Las Vegas to play the final table on May 31 at HyperX Esports Arena at Luxor Hotel and Casino, filmed for broadcast on FOX Sports Regional Networks.
With a unique feel and great atmosphere, the Choctaw Casino and Resort has become a popular stop on the tour since debuting in Season XIV (July 2015) and has seen some big moments. Here’s a look back on four years of poker fun on the Red River Plains.
Season XIV – Brin Goes All In
It was a player from Kansas who added his name to the Champions Cup in the inaugural WPT Choctaw. Jason Brin, who hails from Desoto, Kansas, faced a stacked final table that included three-time WPT Main Tour final tablist Jake Schindler, four-time WPT champion Darren Elias, and WPT Champion Andy Hwang, who was appearing at his second WPT final table.
Getting to the title wasn’t easy for Brin. He was fifth in chips when the final table cranked up, but was eventually heads-up with chip leader Hwang, who is from Sugar Land, Texas. In the end, it would be Brin besting a field of 1,175 entries – including a massive bluff where his topped Hwang’s . Brin took home $682,575, and the first major title of his career.
Season XV – Mackey Attacks
James Mackey already had plenty of success going into Choctaw in 2016. In 2007, he won a World Series of Poker bracelet in a $5,000 No Limit Hold’em event for $730,740. Numerous six-figure scores followed and in 2014 he came close to adding a WPT title, when he finished third at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown for $441,128.
Only two years later, Mackey was back at a final table. Included among the Top-six were eventual Season XV WPT Player of the Year Benjamin Zamani and WPT500 winner Craig Varnell. After 1,066 entries, Mackey entered the final table third in chips (6.3 million) behind Bastian Fischer (8.8 million) and Varnell (7.5 million). Mackey ended up facing Zamani for the title and consistently held a 2-1 or 3-1 chip disadvantage before finishing off his opponent. He took home $681,758 for his efforts, and now has $1.4 million in WPT earnings and $4.1 million overall.
CONGRATS @migcom, #WPTChoctaw Champion!! @ChoctawDurant @WPT pic.twitter.com/u0m4m1yUdN
— Lynn Gilmartin (@LynnGilmartin) August 3, 2016
Season XVI – A Longhorn Conquers Oklahoma
One thing that stands out about the Choctaw since its debut is that recreational players seem to be finding their way to final tables and even becoming additions to the Champions Club. That was the case in 2017 when Jay Lee took the title. A graduate of the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, Lee had been playing part-time in recent years while also working in food delivery in Austin.
There were some interesting turns of events at this final table. Michael Stashin finished third for $202,617 at only 20 years of age. Gambling is legal at age 18 in Oklahoma. Jeb Hutton finished second for $366,895 after barely squeaking into to the final six. At a break in the action with seven players left and on an extremely short stack, he’d jumped up to head to the restroom as a final hand played out. Just seconds later, Zachary Smiley was eliminated in seventh place after his bluff was picked off by Stashin. A friend texted Hutton while he was in the restroom that he’d made the TV final table.
Before the win, which brought Lee $593,173, he had only two tournament cashes for about $10,000 in winnings. Lee still plays occasionally on the tour, but used some of his winnings to invest in a bar in Austin. He told WPT.com that so far things are going well and the establishment has a pretty interesting name – Pour Choices. At this final table, Lee’s choices were anything but poor (or pour).
Season XVII – Car Dealer Dealt a Title
Yet another recreational player emerged from the field to take the title in August 2018, the first Choctaw event of Season XVII. Brady Holiman, a 38-year-old car dealership sales manager from Athens, Texas, topped a field of 755 to take home $469,185 and a seat in the WPT Tournament of Champions.
Holiman took a mountain of chips into the final table with more than twice his next opponent. However, he faced some formidable competition at the final table including three-time WPT champion Anthony Zinno and two-time champion Tony Ruberto. Surpisingly, the final table was played at lightning pace and it only took Holiman a bit less than four hours to claim the championship.
As the WPT adds a second stop to this top-notch property, which players will emerge at the final table? Maybe it will be another well-known pro looking for a resumé enhancer, or maybe it will be yet another recreational player living a dream. It’s a tournament that shouldn’t be missed so make plans to be in the Sooner State for the action.
For more information on the spring WPT Choctaw, click here. For a complete schedule of preliminary events, click here.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.
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