Satellite Qualifier Strategy

George | September 10, 2008

Poker satellites are a great way to gain entry to larger online poker events without risking large chunks of your bankroll. A typical example would be if you’re looking to play in a $500.00 tournament but don’t want to kill your $1,000.00 bankroll. In most cases, a room like Full Tilt Poker will offer several other options to gain entry to this tournament. The most common example is a cash buy-in satellite or “feeder” tournament that may cost as little as $5.00!

Essentially, what the poker room is doing is taking the prize pool and dividing it by the number of “seats”, or entries to the main event that you’re trying to qualify for. So if the tournament you’re trying to qualify for requires a $1,000 entry fee and you’re playing a $100.00 satellite, then for each 10 players there will be one seat available ($100.00 X 10 entries = $1,000.00). So if there are 105 players in the event, ten seats would be awarded and the remaining $500 in cash would distributed to the players that finished 11th, 12th, and so on.

Unlike a tournament however, where you are playing to win and take home the big prize, satellite strategy is fundamentally different. If you’re in 5th place in a satellite that awards 10 seats, you should avoid any big confrontations as the bubble approaches. Think about it, in this scenario first place is the same award as tenth place. So there’s no need for you to risk chips needlessly (so fold that weak ace from middle position!). Just as in a regular tournament the bubble players will sooner or later be forced to play a marginal hand and hopefully, lost to a larger stack so that you have secured your seat to the bigger event.

Early play in a satellite should not differ too much from a standard tournament. Your primary goal at this point remains the same, which is to chip up and be in a good position to make moves on weaker (smaller stacked) opponents as the middle point of the tournament approaches. Again, it’s important to note at this point in a satellite that your play should remain steady just as if it were a standard tournament.

At the middle point, you can typically expect the remaining entrants to be relatively solid poker players. Of course, donks can run deep in poker satellites just like standard tournaments so be careful to try and spot these players also. From this point on you must focus on the donks and the weaker stacks but still maintain a solid starting hand/positional strategy to ensure you’re in a good spot as the bubble approaches. The best tactic at this point is use your reads and exploit patterns that the weaker players have demonstrated.

As the bubble approaches, remember what you’ve already learned in this article and that’s to avoid unnecessary confrontations. Even holding a premium hand like KK may be a wise lay down with only one player to the bubble in a qualifier situation. This is contrary to what you have learned in cash games but again this isn’t a cash game! Take the following example:

You hold KK in middle position and an early player raises 5X the BB. Hand for hand play is in effect as after only one more elimination, you’ve earned a seat to the big one. The raiser has 2X the chips you have and can eliminate you if he wins the hand; you’re currently 6th in chips. Do you call, raise, or fold here? In the author’s humble opinion, a fold is the right move. Early position raises from a chip leader at this point usually indicate strength. He may not hold AA but he could hit a set, a flush, or any two cards to take your Kings. In other words live to fight another battle, the odds of a smaller stacked opponent going out on the bubble are much greater than you getting chipped off due to blinds at this point.

So you must remember to shift gears and also your logic during a satellite. If you’re able to effectively do this, your bankroll will thank you for it!