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Making Deals In Satellites

by Bernard Lee |  Published: Nov 17, 2021

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In previous years, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) has held one satellite daily, usually at 8 pm. However, this year, the WSOP ran two satellites a day: a $580 satellite at 2 pm (winners receive $5,000 in tournament chips or often called lammers) and an $1,100 turbo satellite at 8 pm (winners receive $10,000 in lammers).

Of course, in the days leading up to the 2021 main event, there was a sea of hundreds and sometimes thousands of players competing in these satellites, hoping to earn their seat at a big discount.

During this timeframe, many players contacted me regarding my most recent book, Poker Satellite Success. Players asked myriad questions about specific satellite situations, but one that kept coming up was the topic of deal making, which I also discussed in the book.

While relatively common in traditional multi-table tournaments, deals are not often considered with regards to satellites. Deals are usually utilized to reduce variance and spread out the top-heavy prize pool more evenly, and that doesn’t always happen in satellites.

However, many players don’t know that making deals in satellites is even possible. At the WSOP especially, many satellites end up in deals. I have been part of several and have even helped facilitate some satellite deals, as seen in the real-life scenario below. Since the prize money is the same for every finisher, all or nothing, there is significant downside if a player ends up missing his or her seat.

Of course, the easiest way to structure a deal would be to just add up the total prize pool and divide by the number of remaining players. For example, if there are five $10,000 seats being awarded with the sixth player receiving $6,000, the prize pool is $56,000. If there are seven players remaining, the easiest way to make a deal would be to divide the prize pool ($56,000) by the number of players remaining (7 players) and, thus, each player would receive $8,000.

However, all players must agree to the deal and it is often not that simple. Some players may have more chips than others, some players may really want to play for the seat, and others may just be stubborn. Other issues may arise such as the influence of backers and sometimes language barriers. I have always said that deal making is half science (or math) and half art.

Example

In previous years at the WSOP, I have spent many hours playing satellites. Players in these events come from diverse backgrounds. On this day, before the satellite began, the player to my left (let’s call him Mr. Chatty) was on the phone with his buddy. He repeatedly said that he must win something tonight or else he couldn’t justify playing the main event.

This particular satellite had 62 players, awarding six seats of $5,050 and $1,010 for seventh place.

At the start, things went extremely well for me. I doubled up early when my opponent shoved Q-Q into my A-A on a 9-6-2 board. I also won another huge pot when I flopped a straight and flush draw on a JHeart Suit 10Diamond Suit 3Heart Suit flop while holding KHeart Suit QHeart Suit. When the 9Heart Suit fell on the turn, we got it all-in and my opponent held KSpade Suit QClub Suit and was drawing dead. I remained among the chip leaders with about two tables remaining.

Then, someone turned on the air conditioner to full blast because my cards got ice cold. Going card dead at the worst time, I managed to steal a couple of blinds from late position and made the final table of nine players as an average stack. Ironically, Mr. Chatty was at the table as well, and had a stack similar to mine.

We played two levels with no eliminations as the blinds continued to increase. Several players, including myself, began to get anxious as our stacks dwindled. Suddenly, two players shoved all-in, revealing a huge cooler hand of A-A vs K-K. After the pocket aces held, we were down to eight players.

The guy with aces now had a monster stack and wasn’t shy about telling us he was going to win his second seat in as many days. With complete confidence, Mr. Monster Stack began to raise every few hands, putting the shorter stacks even more in jeopardy.

As we went on a 15-minute break, Mr. Chatty to my right began talking to his buddy on the rail, trying to figure out who else was short stacked and in jeopardy. He was definitely concerned of being eliminated and reiterated that he just wanted to walk away with something.

The chip counts were as follows.

Mr. Monster Stack – 102,000 (28 bbs)
Player A – 73,000 (18 bbs)
Player B – 71,000 (18 bbs)
Bernard Lee – 56,000 (14 bbs)
Player C – 52,000 (13 bbs)
Mr. Chatty – 50,000 (13 bbs)
Player D – 31,000 (8 bbs)
Player E – 30,000 (8 bbs)

During the break, I overheard Player C talking with his buddy on the phone. He was telling him that he was close but worried. I knew that one bad hand and I could be out myself. I was far from guaranteed a seat, so I decided to initiate a discussion about a deal.

Some of the players were surprised we could make a deal and suggested that we just divide the prize pool evenly (which would have been about $3,914). However, seeing the confidence that Mr. Monster Stack had before we went on break and since he won a seat the day before, I knew he would not take anything less than a full seat (Although in the end, he did give up the extra $50).

Also, the two above average stacks in Player A and B didn’t want to do an even deal as they believed that they had a great chance at winning a seat as well. However, as our conversation continued, one of them said he would be willing to give up a little bit.
Thus, I did some quick math and came up with this initial suggestion. Mr. Monster Stack would get the full seat, Players A and B would get $4,500, myself, Mr. Chatty, and Player C would get $3,750, and the two short stacks would get $3,005.

Of course, Mr. Monster Stack was pleased, but the two above average stacks felt they deserved more. One of them even felt they should receive a full value seat, but the two short stacks were so concerned they would be eliminated, they both gave up an additional $250, while Mr. Monster Stack gave the short stacks his extra $50. While the conversation did get slightly tense at times, I tried to keep everyone calm and focused at getting the deal at hand.

What I Learned

As I mentioned before, deal making is half science (or math) and half art. Every deal is a process and usually takes time and patience. To help in the process, you need to make sure you always listen to opponents whether at the beginning or during a satellite. You will be able to understand your opponents’ objectives and potential willingness to make a deal.

This information was definitely helpful during the negotiations for this specific deal. Since I knew that a few of the players were so desperate to win the satellite, I knew they would be amenable to a deal.

Also, be willing to be creative mathematically. Don’t just evenly divide the prize pool and expect all the players to agree. Often, you will need to come up with numbers that make everyone happy. During the process, remember to remain calm and patient. Also, some players may not be math oriented and have difficulty understanding the specifics of the deal.

Finally, sometimes a deal may just not be able to be agreed upon by all the players. If you do fail the first time, you may be able to give it another try in a level or two when the player’s stack has dwindled some more.

Recently, I interviewed poker pro Shannon Shorr, who made an unusual heads-up deal with David Peters during an event at the 2021 Poker Masters. Check it out at YouTube.com/BernardLeePoker. ♠

Bernard 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 BernardLeePoker.com.