I’ve been asked many times over the last couple of months to write a blog about satellite strategy, so here are some of the key differences between a satellite and a standard MTT.

First off, we are NOT trying to win the tournament.  In an MTT, the winner is the one player that has all of the chips in the end, with no opponents left.  In a satty, the winners are anyone that has a chip left when it gets to the designated number of places paid.  It doesn’t matter whether you have 1 chip left or a million chips, everyone gets the exact same prize.  This will have a dramatic effect on how we need to play in the tourney, which we will get into later. 

The point being, in a satellite, unlike a regular MTT, our entire goal is to accumulate as many chips as are necessary to obtain the ticket… then after we have that many, we do NOT want to play another hand.  If we have enough to get the ticket, every hand we get is in the muck, even AA (unless we’re obligated to call a shorty’s shove, say they shove under 3bb and we’re in the BB AND it will not have a bearing on whether we get the ticket or not.  If it could potentially cost us the ticket, then we still muck).  The foremost pro that has written about this is Bernard Lee with his “Muck Aces Preflop?” article/blog… there’s a reason he’s smart enough to have won over 2 million dollars, per the Hendon Mob database (and a whole lot more than that, from the satellites that aren’t listed on there).  Mr. Lee also has a chapter about this in Jonathan Little’s book Excelling at No-Limit Hold’Em.   Most players don’t have the fortitude to fold big hands or aces, but as he explains, it’s absolutely the correct play.

We need to play slightly different in the early and middle stages of a satellite too.  Due to the number of chips that we have not being as big of a concern, we do not want to be all-in without a monster hand and we do NOT want to call shoves with unmade hands.  We want to be tighter than normal and we do want to be aggressive, but we want to try to avoid being all-in without the nuts, as all that matters, is that we have a chair.  As an example, for all of you that use the trackers, in a standard tournament, I may be at say a 20 VPIP and 16 PFR in an MTT… but in a satellite, I’m closer to a 15 VPIP and 12 PFR and can be even tighter if I’m not getting cards. 

This directly translates to the middle stages of satellite play too, as when we get to be a shorter stack, we don’t want to just rip anything that can be in a typical very wide Nash shove range.  We do want to shove a bit lighter and steal when appropriate, but we really need to take off the middle to bottom parts of our shove range, so that we’re not value-owning ourselves and getting knocked out.  The only thing that matters is that we have a chair.  The same thing with calling shoves… we want to let go of the marginal middle to bottom part of the call range, as while it may be +chipEV, the bottom of the range for plus chips will be -$$EV.  Another part of this is that if we do have marginal hands, instead of just ripping at 10bb, like we would in a standard MTT, we can let ourselves get lower in chips if we need to (I’ve made it thru many, many satellites where I’ve gone down to 5 bb or even less than that).  Don’t get anxious, we need to find the right spots to get our chips into and we need to have a real hand or be isolated against one opponent playing a hand with decent equity in it.  Yes, we’d like to have more chips, but we don’t want to risk throwing our chair away.  Patience in these tournaments is absolutely mandatory if you want to win consistently.  It’s much better to be too tight in these than it is to take chances or play looser.

As we get down toward the bubble, we always want to know exactly where we are in chip position and also where the blinds are on every table.  If say there are 25 seats and we’re in 20th with 30 left and there are 8 players that will blind out before us... throw your cards in the muck.  We cannot gain a thing by playing a hand in a spot like this, the ONLY result we can have is to lose the ticket.  By playing this way, yes, we’ll be short near the bubble a lot, but we also will not be taking the chances that the uneducated players will end up knocking themselves out by doing so.  Yes, sometimes the shorties will keep doubling up and cause us to bubble… that’s a part of the game.  It’s going to happen and there isn’t anything that we can do, as we do NOT want to be taking chances.  Any play that can put our chip position of being in the top 25 at risk in this type of scenario, is a play that we cannot afford to make. 

This is exactly the same, regardless of whether you’re playing live or online.  The one thing that is harder if you’re playing live, is watching everyone’s chip stacks (you don’t have a lobby that you SHOULD have open, with everyone’s stack size and position right in front of you). 

I ran a report on both my live and online satties since the start of 2016 and came up with these numbers.  Live 44.4% ITM and 140% ROI (over 9 tourneys).  Online for 171 tourneys, ITM of 43.3% and ROI of 46.8%.  Satellites are a great way to build up T$,  pad a bankroll and also a great way to get into tournaments that are normally outside of our bankroll, but in order to be profitable at them, we need to adjust our play accordingly and to take advantage of the uneducated players that will throw their chips away because they’re playing too many hands and trying to get all of the chips, instead of what the goal should be… to get the ticket.