Secrets of poker Poker

To satellite or not to satellite: that is the question

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the May/Jun 2013 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Some major poker tournaments (especially large main events) are very expensive to enter – most are around the US$10,000 mark. This might not be much to the pros or wealthy businessmen, but to the average card player this is a hefty sum to hand over for just one tournament. Is there another way?

Organizers of big poker tournaments always strive to set the perfect entry fee. If the figure is too small they can’t offer an attractive prize pool, leaving the bigger names looking elsewhere. But if the figure is too large it makes it impossible for the majority of recreational players to play, and organizers run the risk of a very small turnout for their event. This particular conundrum gave rise to the idea of the “satellite tournament”. Satellite tournaments are popular on the poker scene, and make up a large part of the worldwide poker tournament schedule.

So what is a satellite?

A poker satellite is a small tournament that awards entry fees (commonly referred to as “seats”) into bigger tournaments, instead of cash prizes. For example, 100 players might all pay $540 ($500 to the prize pool with a $40 house fee) to try their luck at winning a $10,000 seat in a major tournament. These 100 players will play down to the final five players, who will all win a seat in the major tournament. It’s like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th prizes all paying $10,000 – and that prize money must be spent on entering the major tournament.

Satellites are a great addition to poker tournaments as they boost the number of players playing in the main event, and also give some players the chance to play in a huge tournament, for huge money, for a relatively small investment.

There are a few things to remember about satellites:

  • different skill sets are required in satellites compared to regular tournaments
  • satellite structures are nearly always on the quick side, so you have to be more proactive and make things happen fast
  • some players are excellent satellite players but not great tournament players, and vice versa
  • online poker sites offer an excellent range of satellites where you can win seats to live events all over the world

Why you should play a satellite

There are some very good reasons to play in a satellite. They are good practice and it isn’t going to cost you your life savings to play. You can also find what is known as a “step tournament” which is a satellite into a satellite. Most of the time you can play multiple satellites for entry into one particular tournament. The usual rules here are that you must play the first seat you win, but can sell any other seats you acquire.

Here are some tips on how to play satellite tournaments:

  • Set yourself a budget. There is no point playing countless satellites for the one tournament, unless you are constantly winning seats and then selling them for cash.
  • Remember there is no difference in winning a seat with one chip remaining or being the chip leader.
  • The secret of satellite play is knowing when you have enough chips to secure your seat, meaning you don’t have to play any more hands and risk losing your hard earned seat.
  • Don’t wait too long to play proactively. You may find yourself too low on chips mid-way through the tournament.
  • Blinds will increase very quickly so make sure you stay in front of the game.

Why you shouldn’t play a satellite

There are some reasons to refrain from playing satellites. Some factors include:

  • Knowing your own game – if you don’t play short structure tournaments very well, stay away from satellites
  • If you are one of those tournament players who either has a mountain of chips or bows out very early in tournaments, you are once again not particularly suited to the structure of satellites
  • Are you intending to play the main event (or the tournament you are aiming to satellite into) regardless of whether you win a seat or not? Is it worth the money trying to get in cheaply?
  • Don’t be one of those players who wanted to play the main event but wasted their buy in on playing too many satellites. Trust me – it does happen!

If your budget doesn’t stretch far enough to buy in to the big tournaments, but you still want to mix it up with the best, try playing some satellites. The practice will help improve your game, and if you are good enough for the big time, your seat may well be waiting for you.