A guide to satellite poker tournament strategy

A satellite online poker tournament is one which is hosted with the aim of players attempting to qualify for a larger buy-in event, be it an online or offline tournament. It’s an opportunity for poker players to participate in events that their bankroll would not otherwise be able to afford.

Undoubtedly the best-known tale regarding the use of satellite events to win big bucks came back in 2003 when Chris Moneymaker qualified for the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event via a $86 satellite tournament, eventually going on to scoop the $2.5 million first prize and gaining superstar poker-playing status as a result.

In essence, a satellite poker tournament sees entrants stump up an entry fee which all goes towards the winners or the top percentile of players receiving a ticket to a bigger online or offline poker tournament. However, they should not be treated the same as normal sit-and-go poker tournaments for various reasons which we will touch upon in the remainder of this article.

The biggest difference between satellite payout structures and those of normal sit-and-go tournaments is that you don’t need to win all the chips to succeed in a satellite tournament. As we’ve already mentioned, normally a certain percentage of satellite entrants receive entry into the next tournament while, in a normal tournament, players will battle it out to the end of the first prize and the biggest winnings.

What does that mean when it comes to strategizing your satellite poker game plan? The biggest takeaway for anyone reading this article is to be conservative, particularly near the bubble i.e. the part of the tournament when the next couple of players knocked out will receive nothing.

It might seem like a very foreign play to fold monster hands such as AK suited when your opponent to the right of you goes all-in on the bubble, but folding that hand gives you a better chance of qualifying. AK suited is by no means a guaranteed winning hand and a bad flop in your opponent’s favour could see you dip out of contention despite being in really good shape in the previous hand. Of course, leading online poker networks offer even faster tournament structures. At 888poker, for example, the turbo and super turbo tournaments increase the blind levels more rapidly. This can turn your conservative strategy on its head with it being more important to play your big hands aggressively before being “blinded out”.

But enough of what to do when the bubble comes, how about when you’re in the early-to-mid stages of a satellite tournament? How do you get the right balance between risk and reward?

In the early rounds, it’s a good idea to try and accumulate some chips to give you the chance to apply pressure on smaller stacks as the blinds steadily increase. The last thing you want is to be the one being pressurized, so ensure you play all premium hands aggressively, especially against the players you perceive to be weaker who are already haemorrhaging chips.

By the mid-stages of a satellite poker tournament, you should have some reads on your opponents by now and will be able to ascertain the rocks from the loose cannons. This should help you identify opportunities to steal blinds and pots on the flop to weaker players and on the flip side, fold to tighter players who bet big with their monster hands.

In summary, it’s important to always stay ahead of the eight ball and ensure you have a chip stack big enough to soak up increasing blinds and one or two unfortunate turns and rivers thanks to good old variance. If you can apply that kind of consistent strategy to satellites long-term, they can prove a valuable investment to qualify for bigger tournaments that yield immense cash prizes.

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