How to Succeed in Satellite Tournaments

Win your way into bigger buy-in poker events by learning how to win satellite tournaments

Poker tournament players always look for ways to increase their Return On Investment (ROI). Playing satellite tournaments is one way to achieve this goal.

Eric Drache and the late Brian “Sailor” Roberts are credited with inventing satellite tournaments. This format has become one of the most popular formats of tournament poker. Where a standard poker tournament awards cash prizes, satellite tournaments pay out tickets or seats to tournaments with larger buy-ins. Most satellite tournaments are hosted online before a major event, such as the World Series of Poker.

The Most Famous Example of Success in Satellite Tournaments

Chris Moneymaker made online satellites popular than ever before. Moneymaker, then an accountant from Tennessee, entered an $82 buy-in satellite to the 2003 WSOP at PokerStars. The rank amateur won a ticket to the 2003 WSOP Main Event worth $10,000 from this satellite. He then went on to triumph in the Main Event for $2.5 million, beating the pros in their own backyard.

Satellite tournaments are available for almost every larger buy-in online poker tournament. PokerStars and partypoker are hosting dozens of satellite tournaments every day currently because both sites are running major festivals. Players enter a satellite for a relatively low fee compared to the target tournament and, hopefully, play their way into a bigger event.

Winning seats and tickets from satellite tournaments is a great way to boost your ROI. Tournament buy-ins are a poker player’s biggest expense. Being able to reduce these costs instantly increases one’s ROI and therefore overall profit.

Satellite Tournaments Versus Standard Tournaments

Many poker players do not play as many satellite tournaments as they should, citing they find them difficult to win. This format plays the same way as a standard cash tournament, but there are some notable differences in strategy. The main reason for failure in satellites is not adapting to the optimal strategy.

Standard tournaments tend to be top-heavy when it comes to their payouts. It is common for the top three finishing places to award more than a third of the total prize pool. You simply have to go all out for the victory when playing a typical cash tournament. This often means taking a few risks along the way as you need to continually accumulate chips.

This is the complete opposite of satellite tournaments and something that satellite players fail to grasp. It does not matter if you have 100,000 chips or a solitary chip when a satellite awards its prizes. Why? Because all prizes are the same. If a satellite tournament has 10 prizes on offer, first-place receives the same as 10th. It does not matter where you finish once the bubble bursts. Remember that.

Calculate the Average Cash Stack

We have already ascertained you do not have to worry about your stack size as much in satellites than standard tournaments, but you still need to be aware of the average cash stack. This is easy to figure out, thankfully. Simply, look at how many chips are in play and divide this number by the prizes on offer. If there are 1,000,000 chips in play and 10 prizes awarded, the average cash stack will be 100,000.

You can tighten up your play a little once you reach around 70 percent of the average cash stack. Once at 70,000 chips, in our example, you should consider trying to preserve your stack rather than go out of your way to accumulate more chips. Which leads us nicely onto the final point.

Be Prepared to Fold Some Monster Hands

Get used to folding and mucking some big hands if you play satellite tournaments regularly. It is always better to preserve your stack than face a marginal decision towards the latter stages. Sometimes, you will even fold a hand as strong as pocket aces preflop. Yes, really!

This tournament type throws up some bizarre spots where folding monster hands is the optimal play. Folding aces preflop is sometimes correct. Imagine you are almost certain to win a seat, but a player with more chips than you moves all in. You look down at pocket aces. You should probably flick them into the muck. Why? Because your aces will lose approximately 18-19% of the time and you bust empty-handed. Also, you do not need more chips because you have essentially locked up a seat.

It pays to practise satellite tournament strategy when you get the chance to keep your skills sharp. All the online poker sites listed on US Poker Sites offer satellite tournaments, some from $0.01. There is no excuse not to give them a try.

Matthew Pitt

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.

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