With A Few Critical Strategy Adjustments, Satellite Qualifier MTTs Can Be An Easy Way To Win Your Seat In Big Online or Live Poker Event!
Satellite qualifier tournaments have become a mainstream offering at almost all online poker rooms. You can qualify for online tournaments and special events – or take a shot at the big time by winning a seat at the World Series or European Poker Tour.
This article covers the key strategy changes required to succeed in multi-table tournament satellites, going through the stages of the game and highlighting the key considerations. While the main difference is at the ‘bubble’ (where just a few players need to bust before the rest of the field win their seat), the strategy changes actually need to start from the very first hand you play.
Multi-Table Tournament Satellite Strategy – How Many Get The Prize?
The number of prizes / seats (and any runner up cash prizes) will have a big effect on how you approach the game. Some satellite qualifiers have a small number of valuable prizes, while others will pay something like 1 in 5 of the field – with many combos in between.
While some poker sites have late registration and some tournaments feature rebuys / add-ons, you should be able to make an estimate of the number of chips that will be the average when the prizes are awarded.
It is not just the overall number of chips required to cash that is important here. Where there is a large field and small number of seats to win, your risk is that several players will chip up quickly and put a big gap between them and the rest of the field. In these fields cautious play is more dangerous, you might find yourself approaching the bubble as a smaller stack and will almost certainly face a lot of pressure. I counter this by playing more hands early than where the number of prizes are bigger… Of course a +ev situation is the same whatever the structure – the important take-away is that the risk of being ‘left behind’ is proportionally bigger.
Not All Sites Are Equal (In Terms Of Your Opponents)
One thing that many players miss is that the skill levels and experience of your opponents in satellite qualifiers vary massively between sites. Some places are home to 1000’s of ‘pro grinders’ while others attract players through their big sports-betting brands or casinos… making the games much easier to beat. My strong recommendation is for satellites at 888 Poker (formerly known as Pacific Poker), who benefit from tons of cross over traffic from their huge online casino - making the satellites the easiest anywhere! Check out qualifiers for the $100k gtd Sunday event, and the latest live events at 888 Poker now!
Satellite Tournament Strategy – The Early Stages
Your need to accumulate chips and the (relatively) higher number of recreational / amateur players dictate your strategy early on. Later in the game, those players with chips will be able to put a lot of pressure on shorter stacks… you need to avoid getting into the situation where you are the one being pressurized.
With multi-way pots common, opponents who believe any ace, any 2 high(ish!) cards and any-2 suited are playable, you need to play premium hands strongly and set-mine at any opportunity. Since your chances of being paid off when you hit that monster are high, you can also play solid speculative hands like suited connectors and suited aces.
I do not recommend going crazy while the blinds are low, just remember that the bad players will be giving their chips away, and those same chips will be much harder to take from the better players later in the game. Solid, positional poker with a bigger value bets and a few more speculative hands is the right balance for most situations.
Satellite Tournament Strategy – Mid Stages
For me, this is the part of satellite qualifiers which are the most similar to a standard tournament. You hopefully have a few reads on opponents. The combination of knowing who is tight and who is loose along with stack sizes relative to the blinds will give you opportunities to steal pots – or to exit them when a tight player suddenly wakes up with big bets!
Keep the ratio of players to prizes in mind, blind levels of 150 or 200 can quickly eat into your stack if you allow people to keep stealing from you. For more information on middle stage moves you can check out this article on restealing or this one on how stack sizes relative to the blinds affect your play.
Satellite Tournament Strategy – Here Comes The Bubble
As you get to closer to the end of the tournament you need to start looking at the stack sizes of other players relative to the blinds and to your stack. This is particularly important where there are many seats being awarded, as it will affect how willing you are to take risks.
Where there are multiple tables worth of prizes, several short stacks and only a couple of players to go before the seats are awarded – you need to shut down with any mid sized stack. I will explain using a simple example why there is virtually no benefit in taking any risks in these situations.
Imagine have 21 players left, and 20 get paid with a seat worth $100 each. If everyone had equal stacks (and ignoring who is next to post the blinds for now) then over the long run the expectation of each player is $95.
Now, stack 1 goes all-in next hand… Stack 2 has to make a decision on whether to call the bet.
If stack 2 calls he is risking his entire equity of $95 – but for what reward. The best possible outcome is that he wins the hand… in which case his equity increases to $100 (he wins the seat along with everyone else).
In this extreme example we could (mathematically) give Stack #1 7-2 offsuit and stack 2 aces… and he would still be correct to fold, since he only wins 85% of the time. I can never find a fold for aces in these spots, though have happily ditched Kings when I had a comfortable stack on a satellite bubble before.
Now… lets bring a couple of stacks who will be forced all-in with the blinds in the next orbit or two into the mix. You have a comfortable stack and the big stacks are (correctly) playing aggressively. Here there is just no point taking the risk, you should ‘shut up shop’ and wait for the prizes!
Satellite Tournament Strategy – Things Are Not Always So Easy!
Ideally you have a big (or at least a comfortable) stack at the bubble… only poker is never quite so easy. There will be times when you are getting short, or where you start off ok, only to see 3 smaller stacks double up one after the other. What should your strategy be when you start feeling the pressure to win some chips?
Here I recommend you pick your opponents carefully, and wait to be first to enter the pot – preferably from later position. Stacks who are currently comfortable, but would be halved (or close to it) by losing an all-in to you make ideal targets. Smaller stacks might be desperate, bigger stacks might feel they have enough chips to take a risk… those mid-sized stacks will be playing the waiting game. You could also try restealing (this will usually involve re-raising the raiser all-in), though I like to have enough chips to make a big dent and to have seen that particular opponent fold after raising on at least one previous occasion before making that move!
Right, you now know the outline of how to win a seat in a satellite qualifier MTT… all you need now is to decide what event(s) you want to qualify for – check out my main Poker Satellites page for the latest choices!
Oh, and don't forget to check out the softest satellites anywhere online over at 888 Poker!