Beam me up - How to play satellites

Beam me up - How to play satellites

Thursday, 14 July 2011

For a long time the phrase online qualifier was a synonym for bad player. These days, the very best pros in the business use the satellite system to qualify for the big buy-in events in order to keep their costs down. But how do they do it? What’s the secret? Let’s ask them.

The 2003 WSOP Main Event was special. Moneymaker was special. This prestigious event had been won many times before but this was the first time it had been won by an online qualifier. In fact, whilst most people were ponying up the $10,000 buy-in, Moneymaker managed to qualify for the event for a measly $40.For a long time the phrase online qualifier was a synonym for bad player. These days, the very best pros in the business use the satellite system to qualify for the big buy-in events in order to keep their costs down. But how do they do it? What’s the secret? Let’s ask them.

Martin Jacobson, EPT Season 7 Online Qualifier of the Year

The greatest thing about satellites is that they give anyone a chance to compete in a tournament they most likely could not afford to buy into directly. It gives them an opportunity to take a shot at the big bucks with a small investment, but it also increases the value of the tournament. The prize pool gets bigger and that’s certainly in everyone’s interest.

I’d like to admit that it's thanks to satellites that I’m playing poker full time and have been doing so for almost three years now. It all started back in 2008 when I registered for a last chance satellite to EPT Budapest. It was the first satellite for that stop on the tour that I had played and also the very last chance to win a package. I remember it had 44 players and only one package, but after a couple of hours I had sealed the deal and began packing for Budapest. I had very little live experience back then; in fact, this was just my third live tournament worth mentioning.

After four long days of play, I finished third out of more than 500 players. I’m still not sure how it happened, but it did, and it gave me a chance to spend more time to learn the game and gain experience while playing.

If you feel like the buy-in for a certain satellite is too high, then don’t worry. Most satellites have super-satellites, which are basically satellites that win you a seat into the main satellite. These can start for less than $1, and you can work your way up through different rounds until you finally qualify for the final which often has a buy-in of $500.

Another popular form of satellite, and my particular favourite, is the step system. Every step consists of a single table tournament where usually the players in the top two spots advance to the next round. Even if you don’t qualify, there are consolation prizes in the form of new step tickets. You can begin from any step you want or start grinding from Step 1, where the buy-in is just $7.50, and try to work your way to the final, Step 6, where the buy-in is $2,100.

I encourage everyone to try to satellite their way into one of the big live tournaments because it really is a great experience and it gives you the chance to change your life.

Nicolo Calia, EPT Regular and Serial Casher

There’s a big difference between one-table satellites (SNGs) and multi-table tournament satellites (MTTs). Normally I like to play MTT satellites and I have a philosophy when playing in these.

The starting stack sizes for this type of satellite are not very big and so my strategy is to save chips and play only A-A, K-K (from all positions) or A-K, Q-Q (from the cut-off and button). This strategy requires a lot of patience – easy to say and to write – but far more difficult to practice. Many players find it impossible to sit and wait patiently for these hands. It’s not easy avoiding playing a hand for 60 to 90 minutes but this is the strategy that has been very successful for me. A good player knows he will not be card dead indefinitely.

Another important point is observation; knowing who to attack and when. Normally it’s useful to avoid the bigger stacks, but in these satellites I often get my stack in against big stacks for two reasons: the first is because they can lose chips without fear of being eliminated, and secondly because they start to believe they are invincible.

These simple rules (which are personal and, I feel, suited to my character) permit me to attain my goals. I am not interested in finishing first; I only want to obtain the free seat for the main event, and so, when I think that my stack is of sufficient size for me to attain this goal, I won't play a hand, not even A-A or K-K.

Mathew Frankland, EPT Season 7 Berlin and Deauville Casher

I personally think that the Pokerstars 3x Turbo qualifiers are the best things in the world. They’re really easy to find, as well: just clear your filters and type “3x” into the search bar. You can qualify for anything from UKIPT's to EPT Grand Finals in this manner, and if you get the strategy right it is probably one of the cheapest tickets in town.

Basically, the idea with these things is that you start with 3,000 chips for €20 (using an EPT satellite as an example), with five-minute levels. After the first 90 minutes there is an add-on period, where, for the same €20, you get a whopping 30,000 chips. So it doesn't take a genius to figure out where the value is in these things. But it doesn’t stop over half the field failing to make the add-on period in almost every one I play, and this is because the blind levels are 5,000/10,000 at the end of the rebuy period.

I don't really see the point in gambling before the add-on period, since the add-on is worth so much more than the initial value of the chips. My aim is to reach the add-on period as cheaply as possible. I am not going to win a seat as often as people who go crazy in the rebuy period, but I am going to get the seats that I do win for a much cheaper price, on average, and that is what we work with in poker, long term averages.

Since I want to get in for as cheaply as possible, I leave registration to the very last minute. When I do finally start playing, I hardly play a hand, because the value of the chips is one tenth the value of the majority of chips that will end up in play (add-ons usually account for about 50% chips in play). The value of winning chips pre add-on means each chip only has a value of one fifth of the value of the "average chip price" of a chip in play, so my range pre add-on is limited to around T-T+, A-Q+ for open shoving, and I call off my chips in the blinds when I’m getting a price I can't really refuse.

On top of doing this, I time out EVERY SINGLE HAND. Obviously, if my aim is to reach the add-on period for the cheapest possible amount, then the more time I can waste the better. The only exception to this is when I get close to the add-on period where I try to fold quicker or slower in order to be on the button after the add-on. This takes some practice but you'll get used to it after a few attempts.

After the add-on period, it's really easy to play, just work on your positional shoving ranges in turbos, which will be the same for any low stakes buy-in turbo, and you can't go wrong. There is pretty much no ICM to consider in these things because there's usually only one seat up top, so after the add-on period just play for the win.

Tags: strategy, satellites, Martin Jacobson, Mathew Frankland, Nicolo Calia