It’s the dream of every poker player, amateur and professional alike: win the WSOP Main event, etch your name in poker history, and become a multi-millionaire almost overnight.
In 2003, Chris Moneymaker did it. In 2004, Greg Raymer did it.
Even better, both got their seats into the Main Event by winning a low buy-in satellite.
In fact, at $39 it cost Moneymaker more money in cab fare getting from his hotel to the tournament and back than he paid for his $10k seat.
Not only have satellites become more common since then but you can find them on almost any poker site, for almost any amount of money.
With the start of the 2011 World Series of Poker we're now in prime time WSOP satellite season.
Chances to win an all-expenses paid shot at the biggest prize in poker are everywhere you turn, and these are a few tips to help you get yours.
"Winner Takes All" Satellites
The majority of satellites for the WSOP Main Event are set up as multi-table tournaments, but require a slightly different approach than for your standard cash MTT.
Typically, the smaller buy-in WSOP satellites are structured as "Winner Takes All" events.
When it comes to an event of this sort the Ricky Bobby maxim rings true: "If you're not first, you're last."
In other words, you're playing to win.
In most cash MTTs you can have a really decent day financially simply by making the final table. Even getting close can be enough to make your efforts worthwhile.
In a Winner Takes All satellite, making the final table is only the first hurdle. After that, you still need to beat every player at the table for the win.
Second place is no better than last. Regardless of your playing style, you're playing these tournaments to win, nothing else.
Push or Fold
Upon reaching the final table, the style of play typically becomes push or fold. And if you didn't come in with a big chip stack, you're going to need some serious help from lady luck to take it down.
Your only goal in this kind of tournament is to collect as many chips as you can before that point.
Aside from catching some cards, very aggressive play is your best bet. You want to be willing to take coin-flips much earlier than you would in a standard cash MTT.
If you're no better off finishing in 2nd than you are in 22nd, it makes more sense to take a coinflip earlier, when you have more chips, rather than waiting until your stack dwindles, flipping simply to stay alive.
If you're willing to take a flip before any of your opponents, your aggression will win you pots when they fold. And by winning a flip early, you'll have enough chips to lean on the other players at the table and take the next flip against a shorter stack without having to risk your tournament life.
This style of play may not be optimal for cash MTTs, as there are less-aggressive styles that may still give you a decent shot at winning and a very good chance at making the money.
A simple example of the difference between playing a standard MTT and a Winner Takes All MTT is playing against other big stacks.
Say you're second in chips with a large field left. In a standard MTT It's almost never correct to get into a large pot against the chip leader at this point in the event.
Why put your tournament life on the line when you stand a decent chance at going deep by simply playing against the smaller stacks, minimizing your risks?
In an all-or-nothing satellite, this is the exact scenario you're looking for.
Letting a player amass a huge chip stack is a big threat to you. If you make it to heads up, you're ultimately going to have to overcome that chip advantage.
Taking them on in the earlier stages will ideally make you "that guy" with the huge stack, and give you a legitimate advantage at the final table.
Playing for Multiple Packages
In a multiple-package tournament, winning is irrelevant. You're playing to get past the bubble.
It makes no difference to you if you have one chip or one million chips when the bubble bursts. As long as you're still in it, you win a package.
In these events you're simply looking to stay alive. Collect enough chips to make the bubble, and you've as good as won.
In fact, when the bubble draws near, it's common for the chip leaders to refuse to play any hand - including aces, choosing to coast on their large stack into an assured win, rather than take any risk.
On the other hand, when the bubble draws near, the majority of the field will tighten up, hoping to avoid confrontation until they make it through.
If your stack is not large enough to coast through the bubble, you need to take this opportunity to pick up as many chips as you can.
When the other players are looking to fold, you should be looking to steal, as often as you can get away with.
Being the chip leader in a tournament like this is nice but unnecessary.
Your goal is to keep an eye on the bubble and make estimates as to what size of stack is needed to make it through. As long as you have any chips in play when the bubble has burst, you've won.
Simply put, if you're above your legitimate estimate, it doesn't make sense to take large gambles for chips.
Small-ball poker is much more common in multiple-package tournaments than in Winner Takes All ones.
Although it's possible to win a package without ever being involved in a huge pot, chances are you're going to need to come out on top of multiple coin flips just to keep yourself in enough chips to make it.
Choose your spots wisely, and try to be the aggressor, rather than the caller.
Being the aggressor will at least give you a chance to win through your opponent folding. But in the end you're most likely going to have to win a flip or two: good luck.
Most online poker rooms also offer multiple free poker tournaments awarding WSOP Main Event packages.
Check out the selection on the WSOP How to Qualify page. Fields are usually small and per-player value is high.
WSOP packages typically run around $12,500 and include flights, hotel accommodation, the $10k Main Event buy-in and some spending money.
See you there!
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