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Key Poker Satellite Concepts: Part 1

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Sep 22, 2021


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Back in 2014, two-time World Poker Tour champion, prolific poker coach, and Card Player columnist Jonathan Little asked me if I was interested in writing a chapter for his upcoming book, Excelling At No-Limit Hold’em. The book included authors ranging from the likes of Phil Hellmuth to Mike Sexton.

Honored to be considered, I suggested the topic of satellites since I had been presenting this topic regularly during poker seminars. I already had a presentation and outline finalized. Additionally, I had extensive satellite experience having played in countless qualifiers over my career (and still do). Overall, I felt confident I could deliver an insightful chapter for Little’s book.

Since Excelling At No-Limit Hold’em was released in 2015, I have had many people pay me compliments on the section, while other poker fans have even asked me to autograph the chapter and take a picture with them! With all the positive feedback, D&B Poker Publisher Dan Addelman pulled me aside and asked me if I would be interested in writing an entire book on the subject. Needless to say, I was thrilled and gladly accepted his invitation to write my third poker book. (My first two books, The Final Table Volume I and II are based on my past Boston Herald columns.)

Initially, the plan was to release the book, entitled Poker Satellite Success: Turn Affordable Buy-ins Into Shots At Winning Millions!, during the 2020 World Series of Poker. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic put a wrench into those plans, delaying its launch. In April 2021, however, when the WSOP announced its return to live poker, we finally released the book to the poker world.

So far, the feedback has been great! I like hearing compliments, but what I really love are the stories of players winning their satellites after reading my book. I want to thank everyone for their kindhearted words, and especially Chris Moneymaker for writing the foreword.

Many poker players still dream of playing in the $10,000 buy-in main event, the most famous poker tournament in the world. But even though $10,000 isn’t what it once was when the series started in 1970, it’s still quite a big chunk of change. Most poker players can’t fathom putting down that much cash, and winning a satellite could be the only way to live out their poker dream.

But even if your bankroll can stand a five-figure swing, satellites still provide tremendous value. You could potentially save yourself significant money by earning a satellite seat. Even though I regularly buy directly into main events, I still play satellites to this day.

The Most Important Thing Is Survival

In typical poker tournaments, the goal is to accumulate as many chips as possible and ultimately become the champion. By winning the tournament, the player will take home not only the title, but also the largest monetary prize. Other players who finish in the money will also receive money, albeit less than the champion based on their finish.

However, poker satellites have a different objective since every player earns the exact same prize: a seat into the main event. It doesn’t matter if the player has the majority of the chips, or just one solitary chip, they all earn the exact same prize. Thus, the number one goal in a satellite is survival!

Although this concept may seem obvious, I repeatedly watch players misunderstand, forget, or ignore this strategy and play satellites like a typical tournament. They often take unnecessary chances to win additional chips, instead of conserving their chip stack to lock up a seat.

Remember, survival must be prioritized over collecting additional chips, especially during the late levels. The extreme version of this strategy is folding pocket aces preflop, a concept and real-life scenario that is discussed in detail in my book.

Don’t Worry About The Average Stack Size

In a satellite, especially during the late levels, players often focus unnecessarily on the chip average. Most tournaments will even calculate this figure for you and post it on their clock during play. Some players become highly concerned when their chip stack falls below this average, which can result in playing hands unnecessarily. Ultimately, these players can be eliminated just shy of the bubble and lose their main event seat.

The reason why this statistic is overvalued becomes apparent with only a few eliminations remaining when approaching the bubble. During this time, there are usually one or two players with massive chip stacks. Therefore, the “relative average stack” is lower than the “actual calculated average stack,” which is posted on the tournament clock. So even though a player has less than the average stack, they still may have plenty enough chips and be in excellent shape to win their main event seat.

You Don’t Have To Play Table Sheriff

As previously mentioned, in typical poker tournaments, the goal is to accumulate as many chips as possible and ultimately become the champion. During a tournament, there can be opportunities to eliminate a player, even though their chip stack is significant compared to your own stack. However, since you would add their chips to your stack, the risk may be worthwhile. If you end up winning the hand and subsequently their chips, you may end up taking home more money and possibly the title.

In a satellite, the strategy changes significantly. Since everyone receives the same prize in a main event seat, your chip stack is not as critical. Obviously, you want to have enough chips so you are not eliminated. However, once you reach a certain threshold, survival becomes paramount.

Also, these satellites are not a team effort and you must do what is right for yourself. You don’t have to play sheriff or feel the need to try and eliminate a player for the rest of the table, especially when making the call represents a significant portion of your chip stack. If you have enough chips to earn your seat and the chip stack that you would have to call is a significant portion of your stack, you should just simply fold.

These are just a few of the key satellite concepts that I discuss in detail in my latest book, Poker Satellite Success: Turn Affordable Buy-ins Into Shots At Winning Millions! But there are many other areas to explore as well, including satellite-specific formulas, deal-making, and both real-life scenarios and practice examples.

Stay tuned for my next column, however, as I will describe a real-life scenario that will utilize the three specific concepts I discussed here. I was unable to include this scenario in my book due to size constraints, so the column will be an exclusive for Card Player readers. ♠

Bernard LeeBernard Lee broke into the poker world after a deep run in the 2005 WSOP main event. He has two WSOP Circuit rings, and is an author, having written for Card Player, the Boston Herald, Metrowest Daily News, and ESPN, where he was a host of the show The Inside Deal. His radio show and podcast, The Bernard Lee Poker Show, recently celebrated its 14th anniversary, and his latest book, Poker Satellite Success: Turn Affordable Buy-Ins Into Shots At Winning Millions, is now available on Amazon as well as D&B Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @BernardLeePoker or visit his website at