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Satellite Poker Tournament Strategy

Satellite tournaments require a slightly different set of skills than your average tournament. Since you are only battling for what is typically a min cash, you don’t need to worry about building a massive stack and beating the entire field. For all intents and purposes, 10% of the field (or whatever percentage gets paid) will finish in first place.

This sounds a lot easier than is, so there is strategy that needs to be applied if you want to find regular success. Satellite tournaments are also notable for their overflow of weak players. Depending on the actual prize, be it a World Series of Poker Main Event seat or a spot in a random $10K guarantee, there will be a lot of players who want a cheap shot at a bigger prize. You will be facing a lot easier opponents, but this certainly does not mean that a cash is a lock. Even the weakest of players will call for some type of strategy.

Satellite players tend to play very passively throughout the course of the event. Everyone knows that first place doesn’t even matter, so there aren’t too many players who will be going all out. You can take advantage of this passiveness by chipping away at the players who are trying to slide their way into a win. Aggressive players are often an anomaly in satellites because the field tends to play scared. You may even want to play scared when you realize that a min cash only requires that you outlast a portion of the field. It is important to keep the pressure on, though, because there is always going to be another player who is willing to cash in on your cut of the prize pool.

Early Satellite Strategy

The early stages of a satellite tournament will make up for a much larger portion of the event than any standard tournament. This is the time where you can build your stack in order to ensure safety and security when the bubble starts to near. Some players will be playing passive right from the get go, but you should be kicking it into gear so that you have a head start on the rest of the field. This is a complete contradiction to the most common strategies that are used in almost every other tournament. Normally you would want to wait around for premium hands when a tournament is just starting out, but satellites essentially wipe out that phase of an event.

If you build up a big stack early in a regular tournament, you will have an increase chance of going to the final table, but it is also very likely that your lead will dwindle away by the time the bubble comes into play. Now, if you can hold onto a lead only until the bubble in a satellite, you have already won. This is the difference between the strategies applied in standard tournament formats and satellite tournaments.

Approaching a Cash

Don’t be afraid. The number one issue for satellite players is apprehensiveness when the idea of a win becomes a reality. No one wants to bust out of a tournament ever, but even less want to bust out when a min cash is in sight, especially in a satellite. Your stack size will help determine how you play when the bubble is drawing closer.

If you have a very small stack, it may be wise to try and ride it out. You will need to calculate whether you have a better chance of making the min cash or being knocked out due to the blinds. This is a judgment that can only be made on a case by case basis. No matter what you do, don’t try to get involved in any sort of small ball.

If you have a small stack and are trying to chip away at other player’s stacks, all that you are doing is looking for a way to knock yourself out. If you are set on trying to accumulate chips rather than coasting to a win, go all in. Going all in will increase the odds of you winning the blinds as opposed to having to actually win at showdown. In fact, if you do decide to go all in with a short stack near the bubble, your primary goal should be to double up without a showdown. Even pocket aces can lose with a little bit of bad luck, but a few forced folds guarantee a win.

Playing a big stack near the bubble is not nearly as stressful as playing a small stack. You can push players around if you want (though it is not advised), or you can just wait for other players to do the work for you. If you have a sizable pile of chips and are near a cash in a satellite tournament, the only thing that can happen when getting involved in pots is a downwards spiral. You are better off guaranteeing a cash because there really isn’t anything worth fighting for. Hopefully this piece of strategy was a forgone conclusion, but if not, always keep it in mind. Self-destruction is always the worst way to lose in poker, whether you are playing a satellite tournament or a cash game.

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