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How to Approach Online Satellites to Live Poker Events

October 31, 2019
by Dave Roemer

Today we’re going to discuss how to approach satellites to live events. The general strategy is applicable to any satellite, to a target event that is live or online, but before we get into gameplay strategy let’s touch on a couple points relevant specifically to satellites for live events. These will seem obvious to some readers, but they are not always things everyone thinks about.

Make sure you can play the target event!

What date is the event? This may sound strange, but I actually know someone who played an online satellite to a live event they couldn’t travel to play. In many cases the prize is non-transferable, meaning if you don’t use it, you lose it. Don’t learn that the hard way.

Review the Terms and Conditions

Like in the above, is the prize transferable? If you couldn’t make the dates, could you sell the package and transfer it to someone? Is there a “cash option” in lieu claiming the tournament seat? Are there any conditions to playing, like for example, must the winners agree to wear hats or clothes from the poker site while playing at the event? Obligated to do interviews etc. These are all things that are relatively common terms and conditions, which you agree to when you play… so take a few extra minutes and review the T&C’s ahead of time. That way you’ll know what to expect and there won’t be any surprises.

Do you need anything to travel?

If the target live event is in another country, is your passport current? Will you have time to book travel? If the live event is three months off, there’s plenty of time to arrange these details. If it’s 2 weeks away, this can be difficult. Be prepared.

Now let’s get into satellite play strategy. The difference between satellites and MTT’s is in the payout structure of the prize pool. If the satellite is awarding 10 seats to the target event, then the top 10 finishers all receive the same exact prize. Contrast this with a regular pay structure MTT, where there will be a significant difference in the payout received between 1st and 10th, with pay jumps along each finishing position in between. The result of this difference is an impact on the importance of survival. We are not trying to win the satellite like we would a regular MTT, we simply need to survive to 10th in this case, and if we do so with even 1 chip, we will receive the same exact reward as the chip leader.

So with that being said, let’s get into it. We’ll break this down into 3 stages, early, middle, and late:

Early Stage Play

This covers the start of the satellite until well into the middle. At this point, play is exactly like you would approach any regular MTT. While the prize payout structure is very different from a regular MTT, those payouts are a long way off… so far that they don’t impact our strategy from regular MTT’s at all. Both stack protection and chip accumulation need to be considered. Look for solid hands or solid situations to attack in a tight-aggressive manner. Observe and identify your opponents. Press strong value hands against your loose/bad opponents to ensure you accumulate chips.

Middle Stage Play

This occurs when the average stack starts getting around 25 big blinds and below, well into the satellite. While we are still relatively far off from the seat bubble, strategies now do start to differ slightly from regular MTT’s. Survival is more important now as the bubble starts to come within reach. Accumulating chips to stay ahead of the short-stacked red zone is critical. If you’ve played tight-aggressive early, by now you will have either accumulated some chips and/or acquired a tight image. Take advantage of your tight image by attacking other tight players and those you have identified as “folders” during your observations.

Late stage/bubble play

Now is when things change drastically from regular MTT play. Survival is of paramount importance. The more likely it is you can cross the bubble without playing a hand, the less inclined you should be to risk chips and jeopardize that position. It’s very important to not overestimate your position and “shut it down” too early… bubble play tends to be very slow with everyone trying to wait out the short stacks. If you’re close to them, all it takes is a couple shorties chipping up to make you the bottom of the barrel. That said, if a seat is virtually a lock, you should never put your entire stack at risk.

When I was asked if I could write an article about playing online satellites to live events, my first thought was, why? The strategies involved that are specific to a satellite are the same regardless of whether the target event is an online tournament or a live one. So, having won online satellites to the WSOP Main Event, and the LSOP Millions before, I thought about what I might share from my personal experience. While the actual gameplay of the satellite is no different from any other satellites, there are some things to be considered in terms of the logistics before you embark on your satellite quest towards a live event.

Many of you will also be familiar with the story of PokerStars School member John ‘MacDaddy19830’ McCarthy won the trip of a lifetime to the PSPC in the Bahamas via an online qualifier. If you’d like to read how he got on you can do so here. Now let’s look at some of the things to consider…

Can you travel on the necessary dates?

This should be obvious, but people fail to consider it. Unlike an online target event, which is typically a less than a one day affair from the comfort of your home, larger live events usually run for several days and will require you to travel to the venue. Are you physically able to make the trip? Can you take these dates off from work or school? Make arrangements for your children or pets to be cared for? If the dates are prohibitive, or there are other obstacles in the way, that might not be the right satellite to invest your time and money in.

Are you prepared to travel?

If you are traveling across borders, is your passport valid and in order? Is there anything else you might need, documents wise, to be able to make the trip?

When must you be there?

Many large buy-in live events have multiple day-1 flights to accommodate the larger fields they will attract. In some cases, you’ll be afforded the choice of what flight you want to play, while in others you may not have a choice. This speaks to the first point, can you travel on the necessary dates, in terms of being clear on what those dates actually are and if you have any flexibility in the starting date.

Do you agree to the terms?

“What terms, what does he mean?” I hear you saying. I, like many others, often do a poor job of reviewing the T&C’s (terms and conditions) of a promotion. I would encourage you to take the time to read the T&C’s of the promotion before entering the satellite, however, and make sure you’re ok agreeing to them, because by playing you will be doing so.

Some things to look for include:

Is the prize or package transferrable?

Sometimes they are, which would enable you to sell the package at a modest discount if you couldn’t play the target event. Others are not if you don’t use the package yourself, you forfeit the prize.

Live Poker Tournament Table

Are you required to comply with any special rules?

A common example would be that you wear a hat or patch from the sponsoring site, you submit to interviews if asked, the use of our likeness, etc. You will probably also be prohibited from wearing anything that might advertise a competing vendor. Are you agreeing to the use of your image, the right to have it televised, webcast, recorded, or photographed? Are there any other restrictions on what you can wear or do during the event?

These are all fairly common and standard types of terms, and there are others that vary from promotion to promotion. While they may not be an issue for most players, it’s always wise to go into the game with your eyes open and know what you’re signing on for.

By being prepared and knowing what to expect, you’ll be better positioned to focus on your satellite to the live event you wish to play in, and be ready to enjoy the full experience of the prize package you win without any surprises or problems along the way.