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Satellite tournaments, also known as qualifiers, aren’t difficult to beat. However, they do require some well thought-out decision-making, a skill that enough of your opponents may be void of. If this holds true, you’ll have a significant edge over your competition, consistently making you a favorite to take down either a single-table satellite or a lengthy multi-table event. Regardless of the duration, you’ll want to be equipped with the appropriate tactic to succeed in both, not only because one may be more advantageous but also because some readers may have bankroll restrictions. Here we’re going to lay out the tools one-by-one you can use to elevate into the next big major tournament.

What is a satellite?

To start off with the basics, a satellite, – also known as a qualifier – is a smaller buy-in tournament which eventually progresses to entrance into another larger buy-in event. Satellites can be either single-table or multi-table, and through the accumulated prize pool of the players one or sometimes multiple finishers are given entry into a larger entry fee tournament. Satellites often include prize packages, depending on the amount of the buy-in and event field.

Satellite tournaments typically begin and end very quickly, nonetheless, its speed depending almost solely on the amount of entrants. What’s important to understand about satellites, is that they’re organized in a tier-based format. In efforts to reduce your cost of entering the bigger tournament, you’re often required to move through multiple fields or tournaments in order to enter the destination event.

I.E. If you were looking to enter the $10,000 World Series of Poker Main Event, you would have the ability to enter small $50 satellites (or similar) and progress through that tournament into a $1,000 event, which you would then need to win or place to gain entry into the $10,000 tournament.

Why play in satellite events?

For most players, the possibility of entering an event as large as the WSOP Main Event or Aussie Millions Finale is out of reach. Unless you’re capable of finding fellow poker friends, family or colleagues to stake you financially in these tournaments, you won’t be able to enter. Ideally, if you’re talented, you would have little issue with fronting the thousands of dollars yourself, as you would consider it a valuable investment.

In order to help make entering these tournaments more feasible, they’ve introduced the satellite. You can enter into low cost or even free qualifying events, which require you to weave your way through multiple opponents or levels to earn entry into your tournament of choice.

Despite the increased difficulty of making it through various tables and players, even if you end up playing multiple satellite events to win a seat it’s substantially cheaper than buying in directly. Many players who were unknown prior to their wins in major live tournament fields – such as Chris Moneymaker or Greg Raymer – became household names shortly after they won through a qualifying tournament. It’s every poker players dream; spend as little money as possible for a massive return. While entry into a favorite live poker tournament is the ultimate goal of most players, satellite tournaments can have another less-transparent function. Many great tournament players who have become adept at winning satellite seats into big events sell their tickets! Yes that’s right, after investing $1,000 into a single-table satellite and succeeding they turn and sell their seat to another person! Whether it’s for a discounted price, or for the full value of the seat (which you could likely acquire on the day of the event), you’re making a huge profit in comparison to what you’ve spent. If your conversion rate is high, it’s likely much more beneficial for you to spend your time earning seat tickets and transferring them!

While some seats into tournaments are non-transferrable, for events that do allow such transactions they’ve become a magnet for satellite and tournament specialists. Being able to make a quick buck to enlarge your current bankroll, or use towards other important expenses is a true luxury. We don’t advocate scalping, but it’s a very nice way to make a profit. There are many other online forums and poker mediums to facilitate the process as well!

Where can I find satellite tournaments?

Located in many different venues, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a qualifier event. Most local casinos will offer them in their poker room weeks or even months before the bigger tournament is scheduled to give players plenty of time to play multiple satellites. The satellites within brick and mortar casinos usually hand you a tournament ticket into the next satellite tier, or if you’ve won direct entry, a ticket into the desired big buy-in tournament. Playing in the satellites at a local casino is usually much easier, understanding that there’s a steady influx of recreational players from the casino floor who are hoping to hit it big for a tiny expenditure.

However, one of the disadvantages of playing satellites within a casino is that there are severe limitations in terms of buy-in range, and you’ll usually have to allocate a little more money to join in on the action.

On the flip side, players who are intrigued by the idea of playing online will have to deal with larger player fields and tougher competition. Online has been the more threatening setting for several years, with most of the pros fleeting to this locale. But despite its tougher demographic, it remains the best value for satellite tournaments. There are stakes and levels of all ranges – from free events to $5,000 – that give players the opportunity to enter where they feel the most comfortable.

The biggest online poker sites on the web correspondingly create the widest array of satellites, both for live events and for tournaments that run on their respective sites. Sites that sponsor enormous online tournament series’ such as PokerStars give their consumers as many chances as they need to qualify for their highly-anticipated WCOOP and SCOOP events. Online sites succeed because of their immense traffic, and necessity to cater to a broad spectrum of clients. In turn, it’s advantageous to the players to be given a comfortable selection of options so that they can choose the one with the highest return.

When should I be looking for qualifying tournaments?

Commenting on this earlier, you should be searching for satellite events just before the start of a major live event, or the event you wish to enter. You usually can’t qualify for a tournament if it’s many months or years away, so you’ll need to start looking a few months or weeks before your scheduled tournament to begin qualifying.

Depending on what tournament you’re qualifying for, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to win a seat. For the tougher events such as the World Poker Tour Main Event or WSOP, you’ll likely be spending hundreds if not thousands in fees trying to qualify, so you should plan your time accordingly for the best shot at success.

Now that you have a grasp on the essentials, the last thing you’ll ask is how do I win a satellite tournament?

Some professionals will tell you to exercise aggression in the early stages. Some will advocate a modest approach up until the payout bubble. Some suggest that you only play single or two-table satellites to maximize efficiency. To be honest, there’s a multitude of ways to win a satellite, but depending on many factors you’ll need to adjust your tactics for a shot at taking it down.

As in many forms of poker, one thing that typically reins true in any style of satellite tournament is that you need to act aggressively. In satellite events that only give away entry to one winner, there are very few reasons to play conservatively at any point in the event. Since you won’t win bronze for third place and you’re not receiving a trophy for second, why would we exercise restraint when it comes to our satellite approach? The goal is to accumulate as many chips as possible, so when we do get heads-up for the final seat we’ll have a substantial advantage.

But let’s be clear: We’re not telling you to go around spewing all your chips in poorly-timed spots. But taking risks in 50/50 situations is promoted, and can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing a valued prize. As many are aware, a bit of luck is needed to make it to win a major live event anyway, so we’re better off seeing where we stand early on in our qualifying tournaments.

By utilizing aggression early on, you’ll both be able to win more pots through fold equity and build a larger chip stack for the later stages when you’ll need it most. If you instead wait selectively and let your stack dwindle, when it’s finally time to get it all-in, your stack will be so small that you’ll essentially be staying afloat. Instead, let’s make sure that when we have the chance we’re putting pressure on our opponents.

As the bubble approaches, just as in any tournament, this is either a time to be more cautious or be implausibly active. Almost entirely dependent on your stack size, this is the time to think about setting yourself up for the end result. Obviously, if you’re way ahead of your opponents in terms of chip count you have little incentive to take monstrous coin flips that could double-up your adversaries. However, if you are a short stack, you shouldn’t be terribly selective about which hands you should be going all-in with. Picking up the blinds can be profitable at a time such as this, when most players are being more cautious and trying to stay alive. Force them into tough decisions regularly, and after a while they may oblige your request to get action by calling you with a holding that you have good equity against. The bubble is a prime spot to accumulate chips, so don’t miss it.

Let’s also note this: If you happen to be playing in a satellite that awards multiple packages or entries into the event and you’re close to the bubble, you should adjust your approach. This scenario is similar to the previous in that your opponents will likely be trying to sneak into the winners circle, however, the risk-reward ratio is far too great. The importance of building a big chip stack is nullified due to the fact that the 7th place finisher receives the same award as the 1st place finisher, so instead exercise restraint. Even if you had a big stack and held pocket aces, why take a chance on elimination when you could cruise to victory?

That also leads to one, if not the most important factor in winning a satellite – know what average stack is needed to win. In satellite events where there’s only one winner, we don’t need to do any math, just take it down. However, if you’re in the final stages of a multi-table satellite and there will be multiple seats given away, there would be nothing worse than giving chips away unnecessarily because we were unaware that we held a viable position.

Known by many as the “magic number”, calculating the total chips in play divided by the places paid will give you the average stack necessary to win the prize. It’s a rough estimate that can be used at the final table to make critical decisions. You may be more willing to surrender to aggression if you know that it’s going to be impossible for your villain to overtake you otherwise!

We hope this information proves to be helpful in your ascent to the top of the satellite leaderboard. Good luck in winning your seat to the next major live tournament event! frequently provides satellite tournament information to big events such as the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour. Check back frequently during those tournament times for more information, or sign up with one of our online poker affiliates to begin playing in qualifier tournaments today!