Every year poker players worldwide dream of winning the World Series of Poker Main Event and stamping their name on poker history.
To win the WSOP Main Event, though, you have to be in it. And that takes $10,000 just to get your seat.
Or does it?
If you're at all familiar with poker tournament play either live or online you know that satellite tournaments - tournaments with smaller buy-ins that offer buy-ins to higher-stakes events as their prizes - are the bread and butter of all poker dreamers.
Pay a smaller buy-in, work your way past the bubble or to the final table, and bam - you're in the show with the heavy hitters.
No more tournament offers a better spin-up - or, for that matter, "poker trip of a lifetime" experience - than the WSOP Main Event. And every year hundreds of players do in fact make their way to the best poker tournament in the world for less.
Here are a few of those options and how to give yourself the best shot at winning a seat. If you're looking to qualify online, the only game in twon as at the official 888poker/WSOP.com online site.
WSOP Steps Tournaments
If you're really on a budget one of the best places to start is "steps" tournaments. Steps tournaments are essentially a series of sit-and-gos.
You win your way from the first level to the last where eventually the winner of the final sit-and-go takes a WSOP Main Event prize package.
If you want to cut the process short you can also choose to buy in directly at any step along the way including the final tournament.
How to Beat Poker Steps Tournaments
Steps tournaments are probably the most secure bet in online poker to win your way to the Main Event. As an example of a good WSOP Steps program, let's use 888poker/WSOP.com as a base.
Step 1 — $0.01 buy-in, win a Step 2 ticket worth $0.10
Step 2 — $0.10 buy-in, win a Step 3 ticket worth $1
Step 3 — $1 buy-in, win a Step 4 ticket worth $5
Step 4 — $5 buy-in, win a Step 5 ticket worth $30
Step 5 — $30 buy-in, win a Step 6 ticket worth $160
Step 6 — $160 buy-in, win a Step 7 ticket worth $1,050
Optimal Strategy for Poker Steps Tournaments
With the unique setup of steps tournaments you must employ a particular strategy to succeed.
First and foremost, you must be familiar with proper sit-and-go strategy. You should be playing tight early and avoiding confrontation and when the blinds increase you should open your game up.
If you're not confident in your sit-and-go game the steps tournaments may pose a challenge. If multi-table tournaments are your game you should probably straight for the $160 or $1,050 super-satellites (read more on those below).
The key to success in steps tournaments is being aggressive. You must always know how many players are left and how your opponents react to the different bubbles.
Players naturally tighten up at each bubble. At the first bubble they do so because they don't want to leave with nothing. At the next bubble they want to at least stay on this level. Then on the final bubble they don't want to be the one who doesn't advance.
This dynamic makes these steps tourneys the perfect environment for blind stealing. When the other players tighten up, you loosen up and exploit them. You must be looking to steal frequently.
How to Steal in Steps Tournaments
You can win Steps tournaments with or without cards just by looking for the right opportunities. Here's an example of solid steal attempts where you don't even need a hand:
You're playing a Step 4 tournament. There are five players left. Blinds are 250/500 with a 25 ante. The player under the gun has 600 chips and folds. You're next on the button.
You have a stack of 4,800. Your hand = xx. The small blind has 3,200 and the big blind has 2,900.
You should shove practically any two in this spot. The blinds know that the under-the-gun player is about to be blinded out completely. They're not going to look you up unless they have an absolute monster.
The blinds will likely only call with AA, KK, QQ, and maybe A-K. They do not want to risk busting when there is a super-short under-the-gun player. Opportunities like this allow you to supplement your stack just by playing the situation.
This works for re-steals as well. If you've noticed another player raising a number of pots and you can re-steal where he simply cannot call because of another stack about to bust, that too will yield you free chips.
Poker Aggression: A Double-Edged Sword
Advancing to the next round is the goal. You do this by knocking players out of the tournament. You must never bet a dry side pot, especially in the steps tournament format.
You would like the small stacks eliminated so bluffing out their competition is not a good plan. If a small stack gets all-in with you and another live player, just check it down and hope to eliminate him - unless you have a monster.
Play aggressive but smart poker. If you have a healthy stack and the other guy is steamrolling that last short stack, you don't need to stand up to him. Instead, let him eliminate the short stack and you can just coast to that top-two finish.
Note that this is a less common situation. Usually you'll need to be the aggressor.
It's generally accepted that one should have at least 10 tickets at each level before moving on to the next level. The reason being, if you're playing optimal strategy you're going to be getting all-in quite a bit.
You'll want to have some sort of cushion so you're not playing with scared money.
If you eventually win it will be because of your aggressive play. But that aggressive play will also get you knocked out of some tournaments. It is a double-edged sword; hence the need to have more than one ticket for whichever level you're working on.
If you're already a winning sit-and-go player and you have the kind of roll that allows you to take a shot at a few of these tournaments, by all means do it.
Steps tournaments are probably the best bet on the Internet to win your way to the Main Event. Just make sure you're aware of the bubbles and who tightens up and then exploit those players.
That's the only secret to these tournaments. Follow this strategy and you'll have a very good chance at getting yourself a seat.
How to Beat "Winner Take All" WSOP 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 coin flip earlier when you have more chips than waiting to flip 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.
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.
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.
- Tournament Tips: How to Take Control of Coin Flips
- 10 More Essential Hold'em Moves: Push or Fold Strategy
Find WSOP Satellites with Most Seats
If multi-table tournaments are your thing though super-satellites are the obvious choice to invest most of your qualifying time in. And all of the main online poker sites offer this type of satellite.
Without overstating the obvious, your best bet is to seek out the super-satellites with the highest number of seats available to be won. A multiple-seat satellite still gives you the best chance to win even if it means having to outlast more players.
Tight Is Right in WSOP Satellites
The early stages of a super-satellite should be played the same as the early stages of an MTT or sit-and-go. In other words, you should be playing tight.
In a super-satellite there is no need to have all the chips in play to win so don't put yourself in situations where you risk your stack. Instead, play tight, solid, fundamental poker.
By playing tight and in position you can minimize the risk to your stack while still accumulating chips. Be patient. Don't get involved in hands with garbage.
Just as in a regular tournament, when the blinds start going up you can begin to open up your game. You do not need to go Gus Hansen-crazy, stealing with abandon, but you do need to identify the weak players and good situations and accumulate some chips through blind-stealing.
Watch the table: many of the players will be playing tight; others will be loosening it up in an attempt to fatten their stacks by stealing from the tight players. Identify who is playing which style, and use it against them.
If they are playing tight, make moves on their blinds. If they're stealing themselves, then it's okay to resteal against them. They will only be able to call with the very best of their range and will often be forced to fold pre-flop.
The Magic Number
In super-satellite play, if your goal is to earn a seat at the end of the tournament, what size of stack do you need? Well, it boils down to a magic number.
To get that number, calculate the entire number of chips in play (multiply the number of players entered by the amount of the starting stack) and divide the total chips by the number of seats to be awarded.
Once you hit that magic number it's time to coast. Take that "tight is right" motto and live by it. You should be playing in super-rock mode. There is no reason at all to risk a good portion of your chips.
If the situation is the least bit marginal, just fold. Maintain this stack by stealing once an orbit just to keep up with the rising blinds.
Regardless of your holdings don't get involved in a big pot if you have enough chips to win a seat and it's late in the tournament.
If someone shoves in front of you and you have A-K and are way ahead of his range, but calling and losing will put you out of the seat range, fold.
Remember, if you've attained your magic number, you're pretty much golden. Don't sabotage yourself by sherriffing up some cowboy making a run on your table.
Playing to Get Past Bubble
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. 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 - to coast on their large stack into an assured win.
On the other hand, when the bubble draws near the majority of the field will tighten up and hope to avoid confrontation until they make it through.
If your stack isn't 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.
Choose Your Spot
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!