Cock of the Walk

Aaron Massey is the walking embodiment of a classic Eddie Murphy joke — the short Italian guy that just saw “Rocky” and thinks he can take on the world. Massey had whirlwind of success and he’s been brash, loud and overtly offensive with his choice of TV final table clothing.

The 30-year-old Chicago native earned $2.3 million in live events inside of four years, while winning two World Series of Poker Circuit rings, named a World Poker Tour One to Watch and, most recently, won the Heartland Poker Tour Season X Player of the Year.

“This has been the craziest ride,” Massey said. “I couldn’t have imagined it. I love what I’m doing and I want to be the best live tournament player.”

His goal merits discussion — he already had 94 career cashes and a third of those (34) are final tables, of those, he has 11 wins.

Aaron massey
His success didn’t come overnight; Massey worked as hard as anyone over the past couple of years on casino boats while living out of a suitcase in places like Tunica and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Massey entered the poker world a little rougher around the edges than most but that’s also what makes him shine a little brighter.

Where most see a quaffed, cocky poker player that shows up at a final table wearing a shirt with a giant rooster on the front and “COCK” in the biggest, boldest font that would fit across the back, Massey is a guy that earned his seat at the table through dedication and hard work.

Massey founded a faux stable of pros subtly named Big Cock Poker as a joke, which started as a jab at the world they were trying to break into. The tight nit group of friends — Jacob Bazeley, his brother Ralph, Kevin Saul and Zo Karim — is a support system for guys who found success in a post-UIGEA/Black Friday poker world where sponsorship and patch deals were long gone.

Massey made his way up the poker ranks for the last few years, grinding tournament after tournament on what he and BCP cohorts call the “mop tour.” He has been in the top 20 of BLUFF’s Power Rankings for the better part of a year and half with a run of big finishes.

His first big moment was the at the 2011 WSOP — he made a $1,000, 2,800-entrant field, No Limit Hold’em final table and was admittedly intimidated by the setting, but he sat elbow-to-elbow with Antonio Esfandiari and learned from the experience.

A couple of months later, Massey found himself at a turning point in his life — the final table of the WSOP Circuit Southern Indiana main event final table — and wasn’t going to be another face at the table.

He met Bazeley for the first time, was a new horse in a big stable and needed a standout cash. He had a real chance at a six-figure score but his ego got the best of him the first time he played on a live stream.

Massey flamed out in third, ate a big piece of humble pie but walked away with a $48,000 score. During three-handed play, he had over 60 percent of the chips in play and stacked his chips 30 high in a wedge moving well past the line on the felt, essentially giving Bazeley and Robert Castoire the middle finger.

“God he (Bazeley) hated me,” Massey said. “He met me on Day 2 when I had the chip lead and thought I was an asshole but by the final table he hated me. But all my best friends didn’t like me when they first met me.”

“I was running my mouth and he thought I was the cockiest person — he couldn’t stand me,” Massey said. “I texted him the next day and said he should have won and got robbed — now he’s my best friend in poker.”

A second big score got him noticed and Massey spent the next 10 months on the road building a bankroll, cutting his teeth on the WSOP Circuit.

“That was a particularly tough year for us financially — we were both tight on cash,” said Ralph. “Aaron had that score and made a little bit of money, but he was in makeup prior to that. He didn’t end up keeping that much.”

“He was really hungry — hungry to win, he wanted it really badly,” Ralph continued. “His game hadn’t matured to where it is now but he was still good, He was definitely really immature. He was still playing the bad guy role.”

Massey’s next turning point he looks back to was at the 2012 Winstar River Poker Series main event. He traveled there with Ralph and Bazeley, along with almost 1,400 other entrants. He played his way to final table and promised his travel mates a trip to Hawaii if he won.

Aaron Massey 2
As fate would have it, he didn’t let the title slip through his hand and won the largest prize of his career — $651,559. Massey was so overcome by the moment he broke down in tears after the win.
He made good on the Hawaiian promise but aside from a few days in the sun, Massey kept working on his game — and his results showed it. There was a $30,000 cash at Harrahs Atlantic City, a $57,000 win at the Borgata and a $73,000 win in a Chicago Poker Classic event.

He lived on the road, returning to Chicago and crashing on friends’ couches. His 2013 WSOP wasn’t spectacular, but he kept on the grind. He took a break from the road for some much needed time at home during the holidays.

The HPT held a Chicago event in December while Massey was in town and he couldn’t miss a tournament in his backyard. He played his way to the final table, finishing runner-up for nearly $100,000.
“To be honest, it was part coincidence that I won the Player of the Year. I had no idea that event counted towards points for the next year,” Massey said. “I didn’t have to travel for it — I ended up getting second.”

“I kind of put the HPT in the back of my mind I focused on the other tours, the WSOP and I nearly won a bracelet,” he said. He navigated another huge field (2,396 entrants) to the final table and earned a quarter million dollars for a third-place finish.

After the WSOP, Massey retreated back home to recover from a summer at the Rio, “The HPT came to town while I’m hanging out and I won it,” he said.

He faced off against fellow Chicago pro and HPT standout Craig Casino. “I had no idea at that point that I’m leading POY because the previous cash I had was in 2013. They told me that I’m now leading Player of the Year by a long shot.”

“It was so validating and I had some close people there from Chicago with me on the rail and I was just really happy to bring a major title home and do it in Chicago,” he said. “The feeling and being around all the Chicago grinders that I’ve come up with, it made it a special tournament experience for me, all the way through, from day one on.”

He followed to the tour west to Fresno in October with the clearest plans he’s had yet as a poker player. “Ideally, I’d like to hold every record HPT has,” he said. “I’m third in career earnings and I plan on being first.”

Brimming full of confidence Massey notched another HPT win but during the live broadcast, things got heated with the Masseys and the rail of runner-up Danny Gonzales.

“Ralph literally got kicked out of the rail three or four times and in the end, the good guys won,” Aaron said. “We slayed the villain, won Fresno and locked up POY. It wasn’t even close, I think I had twice as many points as anyone else,” Aaron said. “I wanted to make sure that the whole country couldn’t get me — and they couldn’t.”

“I’ve worked really hard all year long and going back a lot of years, I’ve always wanted to accomplish as much as possible in this game,” said Massey. “I’m just happy that getting the accolades these days in the form of this POY, it means a lot because I’m getting the recognition and the respect that I think I’ve earned.”

“He has really gotten to the next level and I see it,” Ralph said. “He wants it more than anything and that’s the biggest thing it takes.
“Aaron is one of the hardest working … I mean a lot of people really talk about his work ethic but you don’t understand how much he’s really sacrificed for poker,” Ralph continued. “He has given up everything, and if people want to know how to win at this game, I think that’s what you have to do. Aaron has given up absolutely everything else in his life and a lot of things have suffered.”

“His personal relationships have certainly suffered, you know, with both family and friends. He’s been detached somewhat, but he has to perfect his craft. He has dedicated everything to winning in poker, so people who think he’s lucky or blame it on rungood or variance or give credit to that have no clue how hard this kid works,” Ralph said. “He is the hardest working most relentless person that I’ve ever met, and I know some pretty impressive people.”

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January 2015