History of the World Series of Poker Circuit Choctaw Durant

WSOP Choctaw Durant

Choctaw Durant, located near the Texas/Oklahoma border about an hour north of Dallas, has grown into one of the most popular and frequent stops on the World Series of Poker Circuit. It regular draws some of the largest fields and pays out some of the biggest Main Event prizes on the Circuit.

However, it hasn't been a staple from the beginning. In fact the WSOPC took several seasons before first visiting Choctaw for the first time in January 2011.

With live poker still on hiatus and the immediate future of the Circuit in question, PokerNews will continue tracing the Circuit's history event by event, featuring a look at Choctaw Durant this week.

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January 2011: Top Two in Main Event Earn Championship Seats

Huy Nguyen
Huy Nguyen was the first WSOPC Choctaw champion.

The first trip of the WSOP Circuit to Choctaw proved right away there was an eager market as 808 entries were logged for the very first Main Event, creating a prize pool north of $1.1 million.

No surprise that the final table proved to be Texas and Oklahoma heavy, and it included a Circuit legend in all-time cashes contender Charles "Woody" Moore. However, he'd have to settle for 10th place, watching the likes of Robert Cheung (ninth) Drazen Ilich (sixth) play on.

It would be Oklahoma's Huy Nguyen, though, emerging as champion after besting Traci Brown heads up. Nguyen would go on to add two more rings to his trophy case in the coming year.

To this day, the $232,706 he won still stands as a lifetime best.

1Huy NguyenNorman, Oklahoma$232,706
2Traci BrownAustin, Texas$143,462
3Shallum LynchCarrollton, Texas$105,764
4Jeff GibralterRockwall, Texas$78,828
5Bobby HempkinsFairview, Texas$59,537
6Drazen IlichLincoln, Nebraska$45,552
7Victor HaynesNorman, Oklahoma$35,290
8Andrew WatsonTulsa, Oklahoma$27,680
9Robert CheungVancouver, Canada$21,979
10Charles MooreBossier City, Louisiana$17,662

While Brown had to settle for second in the Main Event, that lone cash was still good enough to net her a ticket to the WSOP National Championship. In those days the points system was a bit different, and the 75 points she earned for second — it would be 50 points today — boosted her ahead of the other points chasers at the stop for Casino Champion.

January 2012: Araya Adds a Second Banner

Abraham Araya
Araya won two events at Choctaw.

Choctaw's poker room has a tradition of hanging a banner with the face of each major tournament champion. They ring the seating area of the convention center where the tournaments are held, so that players can look up at idle moments and aspire to one day join the decor.

One player who already had a major title at Choctaw added a second in the January 2012 Circuit. Abraham Araya, winner of the TJ Cloutier Choctaw Poker Challenge the previous fall, triumphed over an extremely stacked final table to win $270,380 as an even bigger field of 978 showed out.

Other tough competitors included DJ Alexander (ninth), Justin Gardenhire (eighth), Michael Sanders (third) and Choctaw greatest of all-time contender Dan Lowery (second).

 ArayaCarrollton, Texas$270,380
LoweryPeter Pender, Arkansas$167,230
 Antonio, Texas$92,352
 BrowningAustin, Texas$53,675
 GardenhirePonca City, Oklahoma$32,771
9DJ AlexanderHouston,

Raja Kattamuri emerged as Casino Champion with a dominating performance throughout the stop. He won two events — $555 No-Limit Hold'em and $555 Heads-Up No-Limit Hold'em — and logged a sixth in $345 Pot-Limit Omaha and second in $345 No-Limit Hold'em Six-Handed.

January 2013: Fielder's Dream

Jeff Fielder
Fielder had to get through Matt Kirby heads up.

If the previous turnouts at Choctaw had established it would be a solid destination for the Circuit, the January 2013 Circuit stop blew expectations out of the water and made clear Choctaw would be a poker hub for years to come.

The Main Event saw 1,140 entries logged for a prize pool that edged past $1.7 million. That meant more than $300,000 for first place, and another tough final table emerged, including original sixth-place finisher Drazen Ilich — he'd repeat the finish — and future bracelet winner Bryan Campanello, who got fourth.

The title and the massive prize money came down to Midwest regulars Jeff Fielder and Matt Kirby. The Iowan would triumph over the Minnesotan in what would be Fielder's second taste of WSOP gold. Amazingly, he hasn't notched any ring wins since, although more than $1 million in winnings has followed.

1Jeff FielderDes Moines, Iowa$312,080
2Matt KirbyBemidji, Minnesota$192,751
3Dale RoeselJacksonville, Florida$143,230
4Bryan CampanelloSouthlake, Texas$107,730
5Krissi McFarlandFort Worth, Texas$82,092
6Drazen IlichLas Vegas, Nevada$63,202
7Clifton StewartIrving, Texas$49,265
8Paul PhillipsDallas, Texas$38,834
9Doug AshmoreHouston, Texas$30,951
10Brant HaleMoore, Oklahoma$24,949

Choctaw regular Andy Robinson claimed Casino Champion honors thanks to two final tables and another near miss. He finished second in $365 No-Limit Hold'em, fourth in $365 No-Limit Hold'em Turbo and 13th in $365 No-Limit Hold'em to eke out a points win ahead of Ilich.

January 2014: Another Monster Field

Tyler Morris
Morris won a career-best $369K.

Four figures again turned up the following year for the Choctaw Main Event, but this time, the number was even higher at 1,428 for a prize pool surging past the $2.1 million mark. The field was the fourth-largest in Circuit Main history at the time.

Tyler Morris of Tyler, Texas would secure the whopping $369,503 first-place prize. It was the first of two Circuit rings for Morris, who never came close to that sort of prize money again.

Sanders made a return visit to the final table after his 2012 run but couldn't quite replicate his third place as this time he settled for eighth for $45,967.

1Tyler MorrisTyler, Texas$369,503
2Shelby PenkaSargent, Texas$229,194
3Clyde WaltersOklahoma City, Oklahoma$167,954
4Preston HarwellHouston, Texas$127,685
5Jeffrey GibralterMesquite, Texas$97,204
6Joshua EvansDenton, Texas$74,863
7Jesse CappsHenderson, Nevada$58,327
8Michael SandersRussellville, Arkansas$45,967
9Julie WalkerChoctaw, Oklahoma$36,650
10Allan HedinKeystone, Colorado$29,560

Tyler also produced the Casino Champion. Chris Bowen won his first and to date only ring in $365 No-Limit Hold'em Reentry, and it was a lucrative one as he got $122,567 for first. Along with his fifth-place finish in the opening event, it was enough to claim the points title and book a trip to the season-ending championship.

January 2015: Montes Leads RunGood Charge

Jose Montes
Montes grabbed a six-figure win and then went on to bag one more right after.

Another prize pool north of $2 million was built when the Circuit returned the following years, which meant another winner's purse north of $300K in a field of 1,363.

This time, Jose Montes, who was coming off a hot run winning $90K at Parx, stayed hot as he added another $352,669 to his winnings, still a career-best for the RunGood-sponsored pro. He had to get through fellow tourney grinder Ben Keeline heads up, with Keeline taking home $218,762.

RunGood Ambassadors would be sprinkled throughout the final table as Ben Reason took sixth and Ryan Tepen ninth.

After the win, Montes would go on to nab another six-figure score when he won HPT Black Hawk a month later for $240,523.

1Jose MontesBronx, New York$352,669
2Ben KeelineOswego, Illinois$218,762
3Douglas FusellaDallas, Texas$160,309
4Nancy NguyenDenton, Texas$121,873
5Marc MaxeyProsper, Texas$92,779
6Ben ReasonWhitehouse, Texas$71,455
7[Removed:321] Abedi-AraniDallas, Texas$55,672
8Alex GreenblattAtherton, California$43,875
9Ryan TepenBowling Green, Missouri$34,981
10Bronson TuckerAustin, Texas$28,214

While Reason had to watch his teammate fly past him for Main Event gold, he did get to content himself with locking up a trip to the National Championship thanks to winning Casino Champion. In addition to his sixth-place finish in the Main, Reason shipped a $365 event for $20,233 and notched a fourth-place finish in another 365 event for an easy points win.

January 2016: "Doctor" Authors Successful Op

Andy Philachack
Philachack put together a $393K win at Choctaw.

WSOP Circuit Choctaw Main Event continued to grow as the January 2016 edition brought a record crowd of 1,565. That meant a staggering first-place payout of $393,188, the highest yet at the venue and one of the biggest in modern Circuit history.

"Doc" Andy Philachack laid claim to that handsome sum by getting through another very tough final table. He had to get by the likes of bracelet winner Justin Liberto (sixth), Choctaw crusher Will Berry (fourth), and New York pro Andy Spears before he beat Jeff Landherr heads up.

That sum was nearly identical to what the chiropractor pulled in for getting second in a bracelet event several years prior. It was his second and to date latest gold ring after he'd previously won the WSOPC Harrah's New Orleans Main Event.

1Andy PhilachackGarland, Texas$393,188
2Jeff LandherrWentzville, Missouri$243,694
3Andy SpearsBuffalo, New York$181,321
4Will BerryNorman, Oklahoma$136,812
5Noy RatsaphangDallas, Texas$104,393
6Justin LibertoFallston, Maryland$80,566
7Jim CarrollRichardson, Texas$62,866
8Melvin LyonMoore, South Carolina$49,603
9Nathan RusslerJackson, Mississippi$39,579
10Steven SnyderHuntersville, North Carolina$31,926

The points race proved very close in 2016, and TJ Thondup edged out Kevin Haines by the narrowest of margins, 75 points to 72.5, meaning only a min-cash separated the two. Two $365 final tables would be all Thondup needed, as he took victory in one for $20,089 and got fifth in another.

January 2017: Grant Hinkle Adds Ring to Family Trophy Case

Grant Hinkle
Hinkle added to the family treasure trove of poker hardware.

Will Berry and DJ Alexander made repeat final table runs in the 2017 WSOPC Choctaw Main Event, but they'd have to settle for ninth and fourth, respectively.

Instead, with a massive $375,427 earmarked for the winner thanks to a 1,451-entry field, another notable pro emerged as champ. It would be Grant Hinkle, a former bracelet winner, who added a different sort of WSOP gold to his trophy case as he bested John Patterson heads up.

It remains Hinkle's second-biggest cash after said bracelet win and is his only Circuit ring, trailing the three owned by brother Blair.

1Grant HinkleOverland Park, Kansas$375,427
2John PattersonSan Antonio, Texas$232,866
3Shino FujiwaraAustin, Texas$170,659
4DJ AlexanderHouston, Texas$129,741
5Austin PeckAllen, Texas$98,770
6Viet VoPearland, Texas$76,069
7Allan HedinKeystone, Colorado$59,266
8John RichardsRoxana, Illinois$46,708
9Will BerryNorman, Oklahoma$37,240
10Larry GolemanArlington, Texas$30,036

Nathanael Kogel nabbed two ring wins plus a min-cash to score 102.5 points at the stop, enough to secure Casino Champion honors. He won two $365 events for about $50K in combined prize money to go with his ticket to the Global Casino Championship.

November 2017: Lowery Finishes the Job

Dan Lowery
Lowery has been one of the most successful players in Choctaw history.

In the second running of the WSOPC Choctaw Main Event, Dan Lowery finished second as he came up just shy of the title when Abraham Araya managed to wrest it from him heads up. He didn't let the same thing happen in 2017 when he found himself heads up once again, this time against Walter Rodriguez.

No, Lowery built on his impressive ledger of Choctaw success with his sixth ring — he now has nine — and won $258,784. The field size dropped for the first time in several runnings, down to 908.

Other notables at the final table included Kevin Eyster (eighth), "Minnesota" Jon Hanner (sixth), and Nick Schwarmann (third).

1Daniel LoweryPeter Pender, Arkansas$258,784
2Walter RodriguezN/A$160,062
3Nick SchwarmannOrlando, Florida$118,140
4Jared HemingwayGreenville, Texas$88,394
5Mason ViethWindthorst, Texas$66,970
6Jon HannerMinneapolis, Minnesota$51,375
7Chance SteedCollege Station, Texas$39,893
8Kevin EysterDenver, Colorado$31,367
9Venkata ChintaDallas, Texas$24,952
10Jon BennettOklahoma City, Oklahoma$20,090

Two Circuit stalwarts were knotted at the top of the standings for the points lead, but it was money won that vaulted Jeff Trudeau Jr. to the seat while Josh Turner had to settle for padding his at-large resume. Trudeau cashed four times and won his second ring in the $1K event, and that big cash plus the $38K he got for fourth in the reentry gave him the cash he needed to withstand Turner's charge.

January 2018: The Return of "strassa2" to Circuit Glory

Jason Strasser
Jason Strasser showed he's still got it.

Back in the early days of online poker, Jason "strassa2" Strasser emerged as one of the top cash game players. He even had some live tournament success with a deep run in the WSOP Main Event and a Circuit ring win in Foxwoods Main Event despite having walked away from the game as a profession.

Five years after that, Strasser found himself back in the winner's circle in Choctaw, taking down a field of 1,249 for $332,539 in prize money. That's easily his best live cash.

Strasser beat another successful Circuit player, Krzysztof Stybaniewicz heads up. Will Berry made his third trip to the final table, this time placing eighth.

1Jason StrasserNew York, New York$332,539
2Krzysztof StybaniewiczLakewood, Colorado$206,085
3Viet VoPearland, Texas$151,248
4Trung PhamTemple, Texas$114,284
5Gil GeorgeDallas, Texas$87,211
6Mark Van KeirsbilckEdmond, Oklahoma$67,128
7Casey BrownCypress, Texas$52,271
8Will BerryNorman, Oklahoma$41,180
9Jeff Trudeau Jr.Winter Garden, Florida$32,824
10Daniel JonesLas Vegas, Nevada$26,454

The points race in January 2018 was close. So close, in fact, that it ended in a tie at 75 points between Trung Pham and Joshua Clanton. However, as money won serves as the tiebreaker, the former's fourth-place finish in the Main Event netted him the win, allowing him to take the seat to the Global.

November 2018: Max Young's Fifth Ring

Max Young
Max Young has had a very successful Circuit career thus far.

Max Young already had four Circuit rings, including a Main Event win, by the time he rolled into town for the November 2018 Choctaw Circuit. He was used to having some success there as it was the site of two of his wins, but he'd have a much bigger victory in the 893-entry Main Event.

Young earned $263,815 for topping a Jared Hemingway heads up. Hemingway was on his own Choctaw heater after coming fourth the year prior.

Young has since gone on to add one more ring to his trophy count.

1Max YoungSeaside, Oregon$263,815
2Jared HemingwayGreenville, Texas$163,024
3Jonathan BloyenDenton, Texas$120,083
4Rolando LozanoChannelview, Texas$89,616
5Robert DeleonPlano, Texas$67,753
6Nivedan NasinaAllen, Texas$51,884
7Terry PresleyHuntsville, Arkansas$40,235
8Wayne LovellKilleen, Texas$31,590
9Charles JohnsonNorcross, Georgia$25,110
10Todd RebelloOak Bluffs, Massachusetts$20,199

Bart Bogard would lap the field in the points race by a laughable margin, racking up 122.5 points so that he didn't even have to sweat a win in the final event as next best was 70. Bogard notched six cashes for about $30,000, highlighted by a ring in $400 No-Limit Hold'em for $11,916.

January 2019: A Repeat Casino Champ

Dave Alfa
Dave Alfa won his second Circuit ring.

The January field wasn't quite up to par with previous years either, likely thanks in part to many players making the trip to the Bahamas for the special PokerStars $25K. However, 1,161 entries were still logged for a first-place prize well north of $300K.

Dave Alfa grabbed his second ring and a career-best score, topping a final that included Will Berry for, amazingly, the fourth time. Dapo Ajayi made a big run to heads-up play, forecasting a year in which he'd cash for $748K.

Like a metronome, Will Berry again made the final table, this time finishing ninth.

1Dave AlfaAustin, Texas$320,998
2Adedapo AjayiLittleton, Colorado$198,265
3Kevin RandAustin, Texas$147,327
4Arshin GaminiPlano, Texas$110,812
5Austin LewisWaco, Texas$84,375
6Amir KaikhahSan Marcos, Texas$65,009
7[Removed:321] Abedi-AraniDallas, Texas$50,674
8Brendon O'NealCape May, New Jersey$39,945
9Will BerryNorman, Oklahoma$31,836
10Srinivasa VadlamudiSaint Charles, Missouri$25,663

A repeat Casino Champ emerged as Andy Robinson once again topped the points race, just as he had back in 2013. Robinson dominated at the stop and finished nearly 50 points ahead of his nearest competitor, but it was an interesting sweat nonetheless as Alfa actually outscored him. Only a win by Alfa and therefore a claim to the automatic bid would secure Robinson Casino Champion but that's exactly what happened.

July 2019: An Extra Dose of Choctaw

Hollis Holcomb
Holcomb grabbed a win in July 2019.

For the first time in Circuit history, three stops would take place at Choctaw in the 2019/20 season. Despite the extra saturation and the time slot right after the WSOP, a solid field of 976 showed up.

Though he's had plenty of Circuit success, Vinny Moscati had yet to win a Circuit Main among his seven ring wins. He nearly got his hands on Main Event gold at long last in July 2019, but he'd be denied heads up by Hollis Holcomb, who won $255,535 for first.

1Hollis HolcombBartlesville, Oklahoma$255,535
2Vincent MoscatiVerplanck, New York$157,929
3Jesse SolanoSan Antonio, Texas$118,349
4Tony NguyenFort Worth, Texas$89,536
5Braxton DunawayMidland, Texas$68,390
6Matt RussellSpring, Texas$52,747
7Steven WilliamsLittle Rock, Arkansas$41,082
8Shomari WilliamsFort Worth, Texas$32,314
9Scott HallFayetteville, Arkansas$25,672
10Joseph SkinnerCorpus Christi, Texas$20,602

The extra running at Choctaw was lucrative for more than just the Main Event winner. David Larson pulled off a double ring win, taking a $400 event and a $250 event for about $20,000 combined. Along with one other cash, he earned Casino Champ honors.

November 2019: Kogel Wins the Other Seat

Nathanel Kogel
Kogel added a Main Event win to his resume that already included Casino Champ.

Storylines galore developed in the November 2019 WSOPC Choctaw Main Event, as 983 entries were logged for a prize pool just shy of $1.5 million.

First, there was Dave Alfa's attempt to go 2-for-3 and take it down 10 months after he shipped the January edition. However, he'd fall in fifth for $68,829.

Then, there was Max Young trying to grab his own second Choctaw crown. He'd go down in third for $119,038, though.

Finally, it was Nathanael Kogel who emerged as champ, winning $256,915. Kogel had taken down two rings and Casino Champion honors back in January 2017, and he added a third ring here and being the first to take both Choctaw Casino Champ and a Choctaw Main Event win.

1Nathanael KogelPflugerville, Texas$256,915
2Jesus MartinezSan Antonio, Texas$158,793
3Max YoungSeaside, Oregon$119,038
4Andrew BarfieldMt. Sterling, Illinois$90,085
5Dave AlfaAustin, Texas$68,829
6Marquis MccainTyler, Texas$53,097
7Lily KilettoKew Gardens, New York$41,363
8Mason ViethWindthorst, Texas$32,540
9Timothy BurdenRochester, Kentucky$25,854
10Robert KeelingPortland, Missouri$20,749

Another big story ran out in the points race as Andy Robinson cemented himself as a Choctaw legend by winning Casino Champion for the third time. Robinson's 90 points proved just enough. He cashed five times for about $35K, including nabbing his seventh ring in $400 Double Stack.

January 2020: Schoonover Takes It Down

Dustin Schoonover
Schoonover came out of nowhere to win the Choctaw Main.

The only 2020 running of WSOP Circuit Choctaw Main Event would see 1,065 entries logged and a few familiar faces make the final table. Former final table competitors Trung Pham (ninth) and Austin Lewis (eighth) made return trips, with each just outlasting Circuit ring leader Maurice Hawkins. Three-time ring winner Chris Staats also made it but finished fifth.

Instead, it was Dustin Schoonover winning the $272,846 first-place prize. Schoonover had never won a live tournament and his career-best cash was shy of $15,000.

1Dustin SchoonoverFrisco, Texas$272,846
2John SkrovanGranger, Texas$168,642
3Brant JollyFayetteville, Arkansas$126,988
4Matthew NewcombeAda, Oklahoma$96,485
5Christopher StaatsOklahoma City, Oklahoma$73,976
6Allen BrivicHouston, Texas$57,239
7Montana BillsFort Scott, Kansas$44,699
8Austin LewisWaco, Texas$35,233
9Trung PhamOklahoma City, Oklahoma$28,034
10Maurice HawkinsWest Palm Beach, Florida$22,519

An amazing performance by Steven McCartney enabled him to win Casino Champion with extreme ease. He tallied an outstanding four top-four finishes among six cashes, including taking down his first ring and $15,761 in $400 No-Limit Hold'em.

At a Glance: History of WSOPC Choctaw

EditionMain Event ChampPrizeCasino Champion
January 2011Huy Nguyen$232,706Traci Brown
January 2012Abraham Araya$270,380Raja Kattamuri
January 2013Jeff Fielder$312,080Andy Robinson
January 2014Tyler Morris$369,503Chris Bowen
January 2015Jose Montes$352,669Ben Reason
January 2016Andy Philachack$393,188TJ Thondup
January 2017Grant Hinkle$375,427Nathanael Kogel
November 2017Dan Lowery$258,784Jeff Trudeau Jr.
January 2018Jason Strasser$332,539Trung Pham
November 2018Max Young$263,815Bart Bogard
January 2019Dave Alfa$320,998Andy Robinson
July 2019Hollis Holcomb$255,535David Larson
November 2019Nathanael Kogel$256,915Andy Robinson
January 2020Dustin Schoonover$272,486Steven McCartney

Photos courtesy of WSOP

  • Take a look at the history of WSOP Circuit Choctaw, one of the most popular stops over the years.

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