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3. Satellite Strategy
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To get to the WSOP, most people win a satellite tournament. The optimal strategy to succeed at a satellite tournament depends on the structure of the tournament. There are three common types of satellite structures that people compete in:
1. A winner-take-all satellite. This is a satellite that awards only one seat to the WSOP.
2. A satellite that awards a relatively low number of seats to the WSOP. For example, a satellite that awards one seat per 80 people. If 320 people entered the tournament, only 4 seats would be given. These satellites tend to have lower buy-ins.
3. A satellite that awards a relatively high number of seats to the WSOP. For example, a satellite that gives out a seat to one of every 20 players. These satellites typically have larger buy-ins.
The strategy for a winner-take-all satellite is fairly simple. Bet, raise, and raise again! To win the prize, you are going to have to win all of the chips. There is only one way to win chips in poker; win pots!
Basically, play smart poker and do not be afraid go all-in. The absolute worst thing to do is get blinded away in this type of tournament. Since you need to win all of the chips, you do not want to give away your chips without a fight.
If you are fairly new to poker or if multi-table tournaments are not your specialty, then I recommend that you play this type of satellite. First, a lot of people playing this satellite are so used to their standard multi-table strategy that it handicaps them. These people play too conservatively and end up wasting their time. Furthermore, there is a very high luck factor in these tournaments, so it really does give a newer player a chance at reaching the WSOP.
Small Stack Psychology
The strategy for the other two types of satellites is more complicated. A lot of the tactics involved with these types of satellite tournament has to do with how players treat larger stacks versus smaller stacks. People tend to challenge smaller stacks more than larger stacks for two reasons.
First, a person can lose a large hand to a smaller stack and remain in the tournament. There is something comforting knowing that you will still be in the tournament no matter what, and people tend to gamble when they feel comfortable. Even if this gamble could be very costly, they still feel more at ease at challenging a smaller stack. Of course, there is sometimes merit to this line of thinking, especially if the person has a much smaller stack than you and it is later in the tournament.
Furthermore, there is a lot of excitement that goes along with knocking someone out. Most of the time, this is an emotional high that really has little relevance to the tournament. Suppose five packages are awarded in a tournament, and there are 30 players left. If someone busts out of the tournament, it really does not change anyone's chances of winning the tournament that much (except for the person who won the chips!). Since it will have little affect on the outcome of the tournament, and people unnecessarily let their emotions sway their thinking.
There are ways of exploiting this mentality. The best way to do this is to analyze the tournament from the end towards the beginning. For example, consider a tournament that awards 5 seats. When there are six people left, everyone will be gunning for the person with the smallest stack. There is nothing to be gained from attacking someone with a large stack because that person will likely not be knocked out of the tournament. By attacking a large stack, you would also risk dwindling your stack down and risking your own exit from the tournament. Thus, everyone will be attacking the smallest stack.
Since you probably do not want to be in the position of the smallest stack, the best method is to be selectively aggressive at stealing the blinds. As long as you keep your stack as high as the average player, people will not be gunning for you towards the end. You do not need to have the largest stack, you just need to have a medium-sized stack.
If you are in the unfortunate case of having the smallest stack, you will need to consider fighting back quickly. You do not want to get to the point where a double up will still leave you as the smallest stack. If you double up, you want someone else to be that small stack. No one wants to be the person that risks their chips to knock you out, so you should be aggressive in fighting back. If your stack is small but not microscopic, you will be amazed at how many blinds you still might be able to steal.
However, if people are idiotically attacking each other, then you should be more selectively aggressive. Even though you are in last or close to last, you may be able to squeak into the money because the other players are foolishly getting in raising wars.
The end-game strategy for all multi-winner satellites is similar. However, the strategy for the earlier rounds of the tournament differs based on the buy-in of the satellite.
Low buy-in satellites
A lot of satellites cost around $100 to $200 to enter. These satellites tend to award relatively few number of WSOP seats because each player contributes a fairly small portion of the WSOP package. When relatively few seats are awarded in the qualifier, you are still going to have to gamble. If over 1,000 people enter and only 10 win, those 10 people will need to get lucky. The key is to elect a strategy that positions yourself to fall within those ten spots. You do not need a strategy to win the tournament; you just need aim to place in a spot that would win a WSOP package. The tournament in which I qualified had 419 entrants and 6 people received a package. I placed sixth.
We already analyzed what will occur at the end of a satellite tournament. The small stacks will be attacked and chewed up by the larger stacks. The key is to avoid being that small stack in the later rounds. You want to be at least a medium-sized stack as the later rounds near, so you are not the one people are trying to eliminate.
If you are able to build a decent stack size, you will be able to survive the tournament without being frequently contested. Your method of survival is primarily stealing blinds. When you have a larger stack, you will be more able to steal blinds in the middle and later rounds. Winning these blinds can really pad your stack size because the blinds get to be fairly large and there is generally an ante to boot.
To accomplish this, I would suggest playing aggressively in the earlier rounds. Do not be scared of getting into confrontations. This way you will build up a large stack size, and you will be able to steal the blinds in the later rounds.
Basically, confrontations at the beginning of the tournament are fine. You are going to have to get lucky to win this type of satellite anyway, so you are going to have to gamble at some point. If you are able to build a big stack, you will be able to keep on building your stack later by stealing the blinds. People will not want to challenge you since you can bust them out, so you will win a lot of important pots uncontested. If you are consistently able to steal the blinds, you will be much more able to cruise into a WSOP package.
High buy-in satellites
A lot of satellites have buyins of $500 or more. These tournaments tend to award a relatively large number of WSOP packages in relation to the number of entrants. For these tournaments, a typical ratio is one package per twenty entrants.
You do not want to foolishly lose your stack at the beginning of this type of satellite. You do not need to be overly aggressive because there are not as many people you have to defeat. The key is being selectively aggressive and trying to achieve a stack size that is simply above-average.
Again, you are going to want to be contested as little as possible as the end of the tournament nears. The ability to steal blinds is still of high importance.
For this type of tournament, the end game of the tournament begins quite quickly! Don't lose your whole stack on an idiotic play, but try to achieve an above-average stack before the large blinds and antes kick in.
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