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Poker Satellite Success: Real-Life Scenarios

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Oct 20, 2021


Throughout my career, I have played in numerous satellites and have had many good AND bad memories. When I initially wrote the satellite chapter for Jonathan Little’s Excelling At No-Limit Hold’em, I wanted to illustrate my strategies by including some real-life scenarios. Unfortunately, they were left out due to space constraints.

So when I was asked to write an entire book of my own on satellite play (Poker Satellite Success: Turn Affordable Buy-ins Into Shots At Winning Millions!), I immediately dug through my original drafts and unearthed my previous notes on my play.

As I became completely engrossed in transcribing these memories, these real-life scenarios became the basis for my first completed chapter. Since the release of the book, this specific chapter has received tremendous positive feedback from readers.

There are eight such hands discussed in the book, but as an exclusive for Card Player readers, I’m going to spend my next two columns expanding on some examples that just missed out on making the book.

There’s No Need To Play Sheriff With Pocket Queens

Key Concepts

• The main goal is survival
• Don’t worry so much about the average stack
• Bigger stacks don’t have to play table sheriff


Prior to my run in the 2005 World Series of Poker main event, I tried to qualify for the World Poker Tour main event at Foxwoods Resort Casino. During this era, the WPT was must-see television on the Travel Channel. I dreamed of not only playing in the main event, but also making the final table. However, I couldn’t afford to buy directly into the $10,000 tournament.

This particular satellite had 130 players and awarded exactly 13 seats. During the early levels of the satellite, my chip stack remained fairly constant as I won a few pots and lost some others. During level five, I was fortunate to win a huge race when my A-K out flopped my opponent’s pocket tens to garner me a full double-up. Then a couple of levels later, I eliminated a player when my A-J flopped top two pair against my opponent’s A-K. Over the next few levels, my cards started to heat up and I was able to win a few solid pots. Also, I was able to steal several blinds as the players to my direct left were playing very tight, folding almost every hand.

With only two tables left, we were getting close to the bubble. With 15 players remaining, I picked up pocket kings and eliminated a short stack (he had only 15% of my stack) directly to my left, putting us on the direct money bubble. I had solid chip stack with about double the average stack and was in clear position to earn my $10,000 seat.

The tournament director moved a player directly to my left to balance out the tables. The player, who came over with an average stack, was definitely not shy as he made a comment during every hand thereafter. Let’s call him ‘The Commentator.’

As the bubble dragged on for another level, the Commentator’s stack began to dwindle. He looked up at the tournament clock and noticed that his stack was now below the average stack. “Ugh! I hate when everyone tightens up. Someone better get knocked out soon or else I’m going to have to make a move,” he announced.

On the next hand, a mid-position player with an average stack pushed her entire stack forward. The action folded to the big blind who seemed utterly shocked as he looked down at his cards. “Can I get a count please?”

The big blind, who had an above average stack, realized that he had her covered. But, if the big blind lost, he would then become the short stack of the remaining 14 players and in jeopardy of being the bubble. He wavered back and forth and finally showed his buddy on the rail, POCKET QUEENS, just before he mucked his hand!

The Commentator saw the hand and couldn’t believe his eyes. “Are you crazy?!” he screamed. “We only need to bust one more player! How can you fold that hand?” He turned to me and said, “Can you believe this guy? He is just horrible. Now we are going to have to do the dirty work ourselves.”

What would you do?

What Happened

After the Commentator made his comment to me, I just shrugged my shoulders and continued to play. A few hands later, another player went all-in at our table and it folded to the Commentator in the small blind. Without even asking for a count, he snap called with his slightly below average stack. (Note: There were now about four players remaining in the satellite who were on fumes as they barely had enough chips for one complete orbit.)

After the Commentator revealed his pocket nines, the other player showed KClub Suit QSpade Suit and the race was on. After a 7Spade Suit 4Heart Suit 2Club Suit flop, the dealer dealt a deafening blow to the Commentator, turning the QHeart Suit. Once the 10Spade Suit completed the board, the dealer counted down the stacks and the Commentator was eliminated on the bubble. Two short stacks at our table and two at the other table all let out a collective cheer as they had barely survived. But most importantly, this quartet all earned their main event seats, unlike the Commentator.

The Commentator left, mumbling under his breath about “the stupid player” who folded pocket queens.

“It’s just so ridiculous that I had to be the sheriff and try to eliminate the final player,” the Commentator complained to me as he packed his belongings. “Had he made the call with his pocket queens, we would have been done and I would have gotten my seat!”
As we sat there, awaiting the paperwork for our tickets, the player who folded the pocket queens asked me if I thought he played the hand incorrectly.

I told him that I completely agreed with his decision. He had an excellent chance of getting his seat, probably over 90% as he was an above average stack with multiple short stacks. I told him that it was not his responsibility to be sheriff and his top goal in a satellite was to survive.

We asked the other player what she had and she disclosed A-K, so it would have been a race to survive. And you definitely don’t want that situation on the bubble of a satellite.

What I Learned

Remember, any player in a satellite who qualifies earns the exact same prize – a main event seat – regardless of how many chips they end the satellite with. In regular multi-table tournaments, a player with more chips has a greater advantage to move up the money ladder and earn more money. However, in a satellite, a player with the chip lead doesn’t get more than the player who is the shortest stack, even if that player has only one chip remaining.

Had the all-in player shoved with a relatively smaller stack size, like 10-15% of the player’s stack, then it would be reasonable to make the call as he wouldn’t be putting his satellite life in jeopardy if he lost.

When The Commentator noticed he was below the average stack, he suddenly felt like he had to make a move even though he was not in immediate jeopardy. More importantly, he should have recognized the stack sizes of the short stacks and realized that he was relatively safe.

Finally, although I did not agree with the Commentator’s assessment, I was not going to teach him the proper strategy during the satellite. In fact, I would rather him continue to play incorrectly and make a mistake. In the end, his play helped me turn my $1,100 entry into a $10,000 WPT main event seat. ♠

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