If you want to play in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event this year, the biggest hurdle might be trying to win a satellite on 888poker. Satellites are one of the most misunderstood formats in poker and, if you only play them once a year ahead of the WSOP, you might be at a disadvantage.
Although on paper, they seem straightforward, satellites are very complex and bring up unique situations you won’t see in any other type of tournament. We don’t have time today to address the full range of adjustments needed in satellites (which is why I have co-written a book on the subject – Poker Satellite Strategy).
So, instead, let’s look at the fundamental difference in philosophy between satellites and regular tournaments.
Just Don’t Bust Out!
There is a joke highlighting the difference which goes like this:
Two men are in the jungle when they see a lion running towards them. One man starts to put his running shoes when the other points out that even with them on, he couldn’t outrun a lion. To which he replies, “I’m just trying to outrun you.”
In a satellite, you are not trying to beat everyone (i.e. outrun the lion) you are just trying to beat everyone past the bubble. In a regular tournament, where the prizes increase with every bust out, the name of the game is accumulating chips.
The fundamental difference in satellites is that all the prizes are of equal value.
This is worth repeating.
All the prizes are of equal value.
If you make the money in a satellite with one big blind and the player next to you has 100 big blinds, you both win the same prize. For this purpose, there is no reason to keep pushing to accumulate more chips when you have a stack which could easily survive the bubble.
In a nutshell, the biggest mistake you’ll see in satellites is from people who ‘play for the win’ when all they have to do is wait for the final few players to bust out.
So when you sit down to play that WSOP satellite on 888poker, your mind should be fixated on not busting more than anything else.
Making the Adjustments
The first adjustment you should make is not calling all-ins with marginal hands. Whatever your normal calling range would be, adjust it upwards three or four ‘pips’. In a spot where you might call with Pocket Nines or better, make your calling range Pocket Queens or better.
In our book, we explore how to make educated calls and folds, especially near the bubble. But assuming you are reading this just before playing in a satellite, at the very least, tighten your range considerably.
To highlight just how significant this adjustment is, there are spots in satellites (usually when you are close to guaranteed to win a seat) where it is mathematically correct to fold Pocket Aces preflop.
This situation demonstrates just how dramatically satellites differ from every other type of tournament.
Poker Satellite Strategy
In general, you should play a tighter version of your regular game at every stage of the tournament. We explain why in detail in the book, but until then, just think of it in terms of the chips you lose are much more valuable to you than the chips you gain in most spots.
Once again, the prizes are of equal value in satellites, there are no bonuses for ending the tournament with the biggest stack. So, that mostly means throwing away speculative hands like small pairs and suited connectors from the middle stages onward. They don’t realise their equity enough to justify bleeding chips away.
However, if you are going to play a hand, better to play it aggressively. Fold equity is the most critical form of equity in satellites. In a regular tournament, we want our big hands to get called and don’t mind the rare times they get sucked out on because, in the long term, we make a healthy profit.
In a satellite the bubble is all-or-nothing, we measure our success on how many times we make the money. If every pot where we raise is taken down uncontested, that’s a huge benefit in a satellite.
We want to avoid showdowns as much as possible.
It is true that WSOP satellites specifically are softer than the average satellite because there are more enthusiastic amateurs hoping to win a seat to a ‘Bucket List’ event.
Even if you have an edge against these players, in general, if you don’t understand the format you are playing in you will be at a disadvantage.
One more time - the prizes are of equal value in a satellite, the biggest philosophical mistake you can make in them is to play for the win.