The record-breaking Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) FireKeepers – the tour's largest Main Event outside of Las Vegas – attracted 820 entries (165 Day 1a, 310 Day 1b, and 345 Day 1c) and created a $820,000 total prize pool. On Sunday, 167 players returned to action, and 15 hours later, Aaron Massey emerged as champion to capture his first MSPT title and a $174,658 first-place prize.
"I'm feeling really good," said Massey, who fired two bullets on Day 1c. "Perfect timing right before the summer, great for my morale. I'm heading down to New Orleans tomorrow and the World Series of Poker is after that. I thrive in these big fields over my career. I do really well in the mid-majors. That's my bread and butter. I'm just really happy to close it out in such a big field.
Massey, a top pro now with nearly $2.9 million in lifetime earnings, broke through back in 2012 when he topped a field of 1,394 to take down the Winstar The River Guaranteed $4 Million Poker Series of $651,559. Since then, he's continued to dominate by finishing third in the 2014 WSOP Event #55: $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em for $255,209, runner-up in the World Poker Tour Borgata Open $500 Big Stack Reentry for $219,209, and a win in the 2014 Heartland Poker Tour East Chicago for $177,502.
Prior to this event, Massey, also a former HPT Player of the Year, only had one MSPT cash on his poker résumé -- 155th in the MSPT Venetian for $2,512. Now he's the winner of the MSPT's largest-ever event outside of Vegas.
With 81 players slated to cash, 86 players needed to hit the rail before the money was reached. Among those to leave empty handed were former champ Ryan Dykhouse, reigning MSPT Player of the Year Mark Hodge, defending champ Michael Ferrarotti, and 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event champ Joe Cada, who fell three spots shy of the money after running pocket fives into the nines of MSPT Pro Matt Kirby.
Once the bubble burst, the eliminations came at a rapid pace and included Dan Heimiller (67th - $2,223), Tom Midena (59th - $2,540), Kirby (57th - $2,540), Nick Pupillo (54th - $2,937), Mark Johnson (43rd - $3,334), and Adam Lamphere (19th - $5,002).
Jason Smith began the final table as the chip leader, but first blood would go to MSPT Season 3 Running Aces champ Rodger Johnson, who on the fourth hand picked up pocket tens and survived Ryan Lally's ace-queen. Lally earned $11,354 for his tenth-place finish.
That's when Smith got to work eliminating players in back-to-back hands. First, he sent Brian Brenneke to the rail in ninth place after flopping a set of threes to vault past tens, and in the next hand he called David Berman's shove with ace-three, which flopped two pair to pull ahead of his opponent's ace-jack. Neither the turn nor river helped Berman, and he had to settle for eighth place and an $18,498 payday.
Not long after, Al Singletary, who had been extremely aggressive, opened for 500,000 in Level 29 (40,000/80,000/10,000). Smith pushed back with a three-bet to 1.2 million, Singletary moved all in for 2.8 million, and Smith called. Both players held ace-king, but Smith's were suited diamonds. The flop brought two diamonds and the river one more to send Singletary out the door in seventh place.
After Richard Bai bowed out in sixth place – his queen-eight failed to get there against the ace-ten of Ron Krux – newlywed Chris Blik hit the rail in fifth place after shoving his short stack with ten-nine and running into two players with pocket pairs. Interestingly, Blik was married on Friday, and the best man at his wedding was none other than Casey Carroll, who was less than a week removed from winning the HPT Ameristar East Chicago for $174,469.
Four-handed play lasted awhile, and that is when Massey came on strong. Eventually he and Smith collided in a cooler hand, and Massey doubled big when his kings held against Smith's queens. Smith was crippled but still managed to outlast Johnson, who fell in third after shoving his short stack with a weak ace only to run into Kruk's pocket jacks. Smith followed him out the door one hand later.
That set up a heads-up match between Massey and Kruk with the former holding a little less than a 2-1-chip lead. The two jostled back and forth for awhile, but before long it came to a head with Massey holding Big Slick and Kruk the inferior ace-queen. Massey's hand held and Kruk had to settle for runner-up.
"The fact that it was such a big field, it does make me feel good," Massey added. "It feels more prestigious to me. The MSPT is fantastic. You offer a great product, and I can speak for me, my brother, and my friends, we're always thrilled to be able come out here and compete for a good amount of money for a reasonable buy-in. It's definitely something special."