World Poker Tour Choctaw Main Event to pay out at least $2 million

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is the third largest federally recognized tribe in the United States. The reservation is the second largest in acreage, covering nearly seven million acres in southeastern Oklahoma. Their history dates back centuries, surviving numerous challenges by the US government – the Trail of Tears is perhaps the most well-known – and pioneering code talking during World War I.

One of the Choctaw Nation’s many economic successes is its gambling operations. It operates three casinos with resorts, four stand-alone casinos, and 15 casinos that are parts of travel stops.

Back in 2015, Choctaw Casino and Resort in Durant hosted its first World Poker Tour festival. Players traveled from all over the United States to play, bringing out names like Erik Seidel, Chance Kornuth, Scotty Nguyen, and Jared Jaffee. That WPT Choctaw Main Event required a $3,500 buy-in but guaranteed that the prize pool would hit $2 million. But when the tournament staff tallied the entries, there were 1,175 of them, and the prize pool soared to nearly $4 million.

The World Poker Tour has returned every year since, the pandemic year of 2020 being the only exception. This May, the WPT, amidst its historic 20th anniversary season, descends upon the Choctaw Nation for its seventh WPT Main Event.

MORE: The complete 2022 World Poker Tour schedule

Big festival numbers

The WPT Choctaw festival began on April 28 with 56 events on the schedule.

It started strong with a $300 buy-in tournament with a $50,000 guarantee. But the number of entries landed at 440, sending the prize pool soaring to more than $105,000.

Already, poker tournament circuit regulars like Rebecca Thompson and Russell Belt have taken titles – two each to be exact. And the series continues through May 16.

This year’s Main Event will be a $3,800 buy-in tournament with a guarantee of $2 million. The survivors of the two starting flights will come together on Sunday and play down to the final six on Monday. Those six finalists will then pause play and convene on May 26 at the HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas to play for the win. The lights and cameras will be on, as will the pressure to win the tournament that will be televised.

WPT Choctaw winners and their stories

Every previous WPT Choctaw champion has a story. In truth, that is the case with every winner throughout all 20 seasons of the World Poker Tour. This tour stop, though, has a particularly diverse history of winners.

The first WPT Choctaw champion in 2015 was Jason Brin, a player who had worked his way through the tournament circuit to play his very first WPT Main Event, defeating seasoned pros like Darren Elias and Jake Schindler to do it. He won $667,575. He remains an inspiring grinder story, through which hard work and perseverance pays off.

James Mackey won the 2016 WPT Choctaw after the seasoned struggled to put a WPT title on his resumé for years. He won $666,758 and put his career tournament earnings over the $4.2 million mark.

Part-time poker player Jay Lee of Texas won the 2017 Choctaw Main Event for $593,173. It was a life-changing amount of money for a food delivery driver who played a game he loved when time allowed. The next year’s champion, Brady Holiman, was another part-time player who won $454,185 and a place in WPT history. He remains a dedicated recreational player.

Pro poker player Craig Varnell took the title at Choctaw in Season XVII, playing for the win in Las Vegas at the televised final table. He did it on his birthday, winning $379,990 as a gift to himself. His story was almost a chip-and-a-chair tale of a comeback, as he had been down to three big blinds at one point but persevered for the win.

Last year, the World Poker Tour was cautious with its $1 million prize pool guarantee, unsure of post-pandemic turnout. The turnout would surpass expectations, with the actual prize pool coming to more than $3.2 million, won by Adedapo Ajayi. Ajayi was a seasoned player when he entered the tournament, though it took a friend to convince him to do it. That decision was worth $558,610.

A new story in the making

Just a few weeks ago, Ajayi commented on a picture of his victory posted on Twitter by the WPT. “Back to back!?” he wrote. That would be quite the story.

He won’t be the only one trying to win this one again, though, as at least one other previous winner will return to Durant this week.

Stay tuned to The Sporting News for more news from the scene this week. Unique stories abound at any World Poker Tour festival, seemingly more so at popular stops like Choctaw. This year shows all the signs of producing more of those stories.