Satellites: The Best-Kept Secret In Online Poker

If you’re interested in winding up any of your friends who have been playing online poker for a few years, all you have to do is ask them about the “good old days.” Just make sure you have some time and a high tolerance for extended whining, because that’s what you’ll be in for: Whining for how easy the games used to be. Whining about how much money they used to make. Whining about how simply playing ABC poker was enough to dominate the games, even at higher limits.

While your friends will no doubt exaggerate during this diatribe, they’re not lying. Online poker was an easier game a few years ago. Does that mean the games aren’t beatable in the here and now? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that smart players have to be more selective about the games they do choose to play, and I’m here to offer you a useful insight into a corner of the online poker world that is still quite beatable: Satellite tournaments.

Why are satellites still a profitable endeavor for skilled players? What edge can you achieve over the typical player and how do you exploit it? Those are just a few of the questions I’ll answer as I drill down the five reasons why satellite tournaments offer smart players one of the best values online.

Reason One: Satellites Have More Players Who Are Out of Their Comfort Zone Than Typical Tournaments

Online satellites are generally heavily tiered affairs. For example, consider a $35 dollar satellite to the PokerStars Sunday Million. While it seems strange to some players, a large chunk of the participants in a $35 satellite will actually come from a super-satellite with a smaller buy in (or possibly even a satellite a level or two below that, perhaps a free roll or FPP satellite). Any time you have opponents who are playing above the buy in level they’re used to, you can be sure that those opponents will be under greater pressure, have less familiarity with standard plays and be far more likely to tighter at the bubble than you.

Reason Two: Satellites Attract More Causal Players Than Typical Tournaments

Think of a friend you know who has a casual interest in poker. Now imagine the typical MTT lobby on a major poker site and imagine what tournaments are going to attract the attention of your friend. Is it going to be the Super-Turbo NLHE with 1 rebuy and 1 add on? Is it going to be the Sunday Million with the $215 price tag? Or is it going to be a super-satellite to the World Series of Poker with a $20 buy in? Nine times out of ten, it’s going to be the last one. Satellites have a mainstream appeal (when connected with a major live event) that other types of tournaments simply can’t match, and that appeal should equal a far softer field for experienced players such as yourself.

Reason Three: Flat Payouts Reward TAG Play

The majority of online poker grinders fall into a TAG (Tight-Aggressive style) category. That doesn’t mean they’re bad players – it just means that they’re unlikely to accumulate massive stacks in tournament play unless they run like god himself. That’s a shame in normal MTTs, because payouts are so heavily weighted to the top 2 spots that TAG players often don’t stand a chance. They come to the final table with an ok stack, but not enough to bully or gamble. If they get cards, they might win, but all things being equal, they’ll likely to make an early exit. Since sattys have a flat payout (the top ‘x’ of players all get the same prize), this deficiency is muted. TAG players can have a field day in satellites, picking up enough chips from terrible players to coast to the bubble and watching hyper-aggressive players knock out the opposition for them.

Reason Four: Satellites Force You to Expand Your Game

You often don’t have to play the tournament you win a seat to in a satellite. Both Full Tilt and PokerStars allow you to cash in the seat for tournament dollars, which can easily be redeemed for cash (we run a site called PSMoney where you can sell your PokerStars T$ for up to 97% of their face value). However, if you choose to play the tournament you’ve won a seat to, you’ll get a valuable experience that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. It’s all too easy for poker to become a grind if you play the same games day in and day out, and while it’s a bit of an intangible benefit that satellites force you out of this rut, it’s a real benefit nonetheless that shouldn’t be discounted.

Reason Five: The Gap Between Good Satellite Players and Bad Ones is Much Bigger Than in Other Games

Anyone with a book and a brain can play reasonably good cash game poker or typical tournament poker. The logic of both is pretty straightforward, and good decision making is typical easy to express in straightforward, logical terms. That simply isn’t the case for satellites. Satellite play requires counter-intuitive decision making at several points (the most common example being the fact that it’s often correct to fold Aces in a satellite), and there’s a general axiom in poker that the more counter-intuitive the basic strategy for a game is, the greater the skill gap between the good players and the bad players will be. With a little bit of math and work with a ICM program (such as SNGWiz), you can discover unorthodox (yet optimal) plays that even a bright opponent working from standard assumptions regarding “good play” would miss entirely.

Hopefully that gives you a bit of motivation to try online satellites. You might discover a genre you enjoy casually, or possibly even add an entirely new format to your regular roster of play. Either way, enjoy the soft games and good luck beating the fish – now that you know where they’ve been hiding.

Chris writes for and the T$ purchasing site

photocred to NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.