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Final-Table Takedown: Aaron Massey Captures First Live Championship Title

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Dec 12, 2012

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Aaron MasseyAaron Massey grew up playing poker with his grandmother before moving onto cash games in underground card clubs in Chicago and at Horseshoe Casino Hammond. In 2009 he quit his job to chase the dream of being a professional.

At the same time, his college girlfriend of six years left because of that career choice. She gave him the ultimatum to choose poker or her. He chose poker. She left and took all the furniture (a scene straight out of the movie – Rounders). He also won the first ever pot-limit Omaha event he had ever played at the 2012 Chicago Poker Classic Event, a $350 Rebuy event for $40,940. Massey has over $1,000,000 in career tournament earnings since joining the live circuit a year ago.

Event Winstar River Poker Series
Players 1,396
Entry $2,100
First Prize $651,559
Finish 1st

Hand No. 1

Key Concepts: Independent Chip Model (ICM) equity management; Hand range assessment; Patience

Massey raises to 325,000 from the button holding 9Club Suit 9Diamond Suit. Newcombe re-raises to 860,000 from the small blind.

Craig Tapscott: What’s your read on this three-bet from this particular player?

Aaron Massey: I am thrilled because I am confident that my hand is good against this player from my past experience with him. I have position and am very comfortable getting this hand in preflop against him as well. But then… 

Robinson moves all-in from the big blind.

CT: You really can’t call, can you?

AM: I was facing a decision for all my chips, with what is most likely the best hand. I thought about it for almost two minutes…

Massey folds. Newcombe folds.

AM: Newcombe folded very quickly, and Robinson took the pot. 

Robinson wins the pot of 1,395,000.

CT: Did your previous history with Robinson affect your decision in anyway?

AM: I had a lot of history with both players and their tendencies. I knew Andy was the tightest and the least combative of the three of us (this is not a slight against Andy; it just is what it is). He was very competent and aware of ICM and I knew he wasn’t going to be taking an enormous risk here. He had to have a premium holding. What am I hoping for, 8-8?

CT: Take us through every step of your thought process. Obviously there is a pay jump from second to third place. You probably had the best hand and were flipping. So what goes through your mind in this spot?

AM: I had decided that although it isn’t very likely that he has a hand that beats me, it is very likely that he has a hand that I am flipping with. There was a $450,000 difference between first and third place, and I did not want to flip for this type of money. I had the other opponents outmatched (not out-chipped), and was going to win this tournament by playing poker, not by gambling. I have taken the gamble in previous spots at other final tables and it has never worked out for me. I passed on this spot and waited, assuming I would meticulously pick my opponents apart instead.

CT: What are some costly mistakes you see players make once they have reached the final table?

AM: These are some of the things I’ve learned over the past few years. I also give a lot of credit to my friend and mentor Kevin Saul for teaching me the fundamentals of good tournament poker. I’ll go through my top four observations. 1. The willingness to play all-in preflop. This high variance approach can cost you huge equity when mistimed. Also it takes the matter out of the players hands, leaving fate to decide the outcome. 2. Impatience. Being too eager to end the match causes players to press. It’s the home stretch of a marathon and players are very tired and aware that the end (and finally rest) is near. At times, diverting from the game plan to try and “end it right here.” 3. Inexperience. Players may feel awkward playing three or four-handed with deeper stacks if they haven’t been in the situation before. They are prone to make mistakes in the biggest equity spots (the end of a final table). A player, who has made many final tables before, can learn from previous mistakes and situations and be prepared. 4. Finally, the lack of ICM awareness. This goes without saying. Players should be aware of their current equity and value at all times. Many aren’t.

Hand No. 2

Key Concepts: Bet sizing for value/deception; Understanding each opponent’s tendencies; Balancing bet-size ranges

Newcombe raises from the button to 310,000. Massey raises to 800,000 from the big blind holding 9Club Suit 9Heart Suit.

CT: Share a little about your three-bet from the blinds?

AM: Well any pair three-handed should be considered a strong holding. Preflop, I have to assume that I have the best hand, far ahead of the button’s opening range. I took the lead with a standard sized three-bet to build a pot for value.
Newcombe calls.

Flop: ASpade Suit 9Spade Suit 5Heart Suit

CT: Bingo!

AM: Yes. Obviously the flop came out perfect for me. Not only did I flop a set, but the ace on board is great for me as well. My opponent may have an ace and be stuck in this hand with me, drawing near dead.  It is also a good card for me because my opponent may think I am “betting through” the ace, which is common for the preflop aggressor. If he doesn’t believe I hit that ace, he may try to make a play at me to take me off my non-ace hands. So this scenario was ideal for me. 

Massey bets 500,000.

CT: Seems like a pretty small continuation bet?

AM: Well I bet very small with my set for a couple reasons: I wanted to build a pot and look weak at the same time. My continuation bet was much smaller than my preflop bet.  I wanted this bet to look vulnerable, further camouflaging the strength of my hand and encouraging my opponent to make a move at this pot. 

CT: Is it possible that this small of a bet could also send out a big warning signal that you are begging him to re-pop you or to come along in the hand? Talk more about the read on this player as to what the implications of this bet are from his point of view.

AM: I need to describe the dynamic between me and Newcombe. It was “game recognize game.” Not only had we played together for over 30 hours, but we had hung out a bit away from the table, so we were both very aware of each other’s ability. We shared somewhat of a fundamental understanding, so “leveling” was prevalent when we played pots together.

Over the three days of play together, he had seen me bet-size small several times, both with and without hands, so my range here was very balanced in his eyes. Also, he had recently regained a lot of chips and a lot of confidence at this final table. He had reverted into the player that I had watched run over the tournament on Days 1 and 2, and I was fully aware of his previous tendency to take most spots. I created an attractive opportunity for him. I knew what he was prone to do, and was confident that his perception of my small bet size couldn’t be very clear. Preparation meets opportunity.

Newcombe calls.

Turn: 6Spade Suit

CT: Does the spade concern you at all?

AM: I am certain he did not make the flush (I would have heard more from him on the flop if he had two spades). I once again lead for value.

Massey bets 925,000. Newcombe shoves all-in. Massey calls. Newcombe shows KSpade Suit 8Club Suit.

AM: I snapped him off because I was certain he could not have a made hand that beats mine. As expected, he sheepishly turned over his hand.  He had floated my 500,000 flop with nothing but king-high, but the turn gave him both flush and straight draws.

River: KClub Suit

Massey wins the pot of 12,695,000.

AM: For the first time in my life, the river was clean. I won a massive pot that both crippled him and propelled me to the dominant chip lead. It was my deceptive flop bet of 500,000 that won me this pot and maybe even the tournament. ♠