James Mackey Finds Something Special in Second WPT Choctaw Win

James Mackey became just the second player in World Poker Tour history to win the same event twice, taking down WPT Choctaw for more than $361,000.

Jeff Walsh
May 31, 2024
James Mackey won WPT Choctaw for $361,600.

For James Mackey, there was no real celebration to be had. Not tonight anyway. It was less than an hour after he made World Poker Tour history by winning this year’s WPT Choctaw Championship Event for $361,600, but there were no drinks in hand. He has just become just the second player in WPT history to win the same event twice, but he had no entourage in tow. Instead, Mackey was in an elevator by himself, headed straight up to his room, about to get ready for a 5 am flight back to Kansas City where his wife and son were waiting.

“My wife’s currently at home taking care of my 1-year-old, so she couldn’t come out and make it,” Mackey said. “And then most of my friends were playing the World Series events, but that’s just how it kind of goes sometimes.”

Mackey may have been flying solo on this grand occasion but that’s not to say he wasn’t incredibly happy. Even in the elevator, he had a generous grin seemingly basking in the afterglow of a major moment in his nearly two-decade-long career.

“It feels so good, it’s hard to describe how good it feels, honestly,” he said in a post-tournament interview. “In poker, you lose and lose and lose so getting that win…it’s special.”

In the early online poker days, in the immediate years after the 2003 poker boom got underway, Mackey was well-known as one of the toughest online opponents, playing under his screen name “mig.com”. In 2007, just four months after turning 21, Mackey took home his first World Series of Poker bracelet becoming one of the youngest bracelet winners in history. Since that time, he’s accumulated just under $5 million in earnings, more than $1.5 of which he’s made on the World Poker Tour. He’s played a lot of poker in that time and not every tournament gets that tag of being memorable.

“I’ve played so many tournaments at this point that just playing a tournament is not really fun, but making these big final tables is fun,” he said. “So I wouldn’t say I get nervous anymore, but excited for sure. It’s so rare that you make one that it’s fun every time.”

This final table was indeed notable. In fact, it was one of the most celebrated in recent WPT history as it included Champions Club member Erick Lindgren, three-time WPT Champion Eric Afrait, and high-rolling regular Adam Hendrix among the final six. But Mackey, 37, who won this very event in 2016, showcased his own experience throughout the night.

“It was a very tough final table. I think everybody played very well throughout the whole thing,” Mackey said. “The first few hours I was just pretty much just staying steady of about the same stack. And then just at the end, the blinds got really big and since I was the chip leader, I was able to push people around more. So it’s kind of just fortunate circumstance.”

Mackey entered with the chip lead and only relinquished it briefly, staying focused and measured early and then opening up his game at three-handed. He put on an impressive performance that showcased what has made him such a well-respected, tough opponent who has stood the test of time. He actually had the chance to make history just last year by making the final table of WPT Choctaw again (his second time). However, he finished in 6th place leading him to call this year’s win a bit of “redemption.”

But it’s clear he used all of his final table experiences to his advantage on this night and found a way to get the job done.

“I would say just in general, the more of these TV final tables you make, the better it is for you,” he said. “Because sometimes all the cameras, all the interviews, pictures, everything can kind of throw you off of your game a little bit. So I think just the experience of doing it helps.”

Mackey noted there’s something unique about playing a World Poker Tour event in Choctaw for him. He lives a seven-hour drive away, which may seem far, but with so much success in the venue – with the win he becomes Choctaw’s all-time money list leader – and high praise for the staff he simply loves playing in Choctaw.

With all of his past success, including now nearly $5 million in earnings, as he stood by himself on the stage at the HyperX Arena at the Luxor in Las Vegas he noted that this experience and title was something he was elated to bring back home to share with his family.

“I would say this one’s way up there. Obviously being one of the only people to ever win a same event twice is that’s special, you know? Being one of the only people to ever do it is. Yeah, for sure. It means a lot.”