Most poker players, at one time or another, have dreamed about winning a major tournament and taking down a huge prize pool as a result. As today's online tournaments get larger and larger, it is becoming more and more common to see players taking in 1st place prizes of over $100,000 at least a few times a month. But alas, for most of us who learn the hard way to practice a disciplined bankroll management program, buying in to a $200+ tournament just isn't in the poker budget. This is where the fork in the proverbial road lies.
There are in fact two paths to major online tournaments, if playing in large tournaments is what you intend to do. One could simply fork over the funds, bankroll management be damned, or there is the satellite route to major tournaments. Again there are different schools of thought on satellites. Some will say that even if you win a satellite you should sell the ticket and take the cash to build your bankroll. Others will say that satellites are a great way for people on a tight budget to play in the bigger games. So if the goal is simply to play in major tournaments, then building your bankroll may not be your main objective. In the end, it's your choice… if you want to take a shot at a big score, go for it. Just know that it won't be recommended by most experienced players for bankroll purposes.
Once you decide to start playing satellites you need to have a plan and know what you are looking for. Aimlessly going through the tournament lobby can be very time consuming and counterproductive. Focus on one site and really get to know their satellite system. Let's take Full Tilt Poker for example - they offer a huge amount of tournaments, almost all of which can be accessed via satellites.
You have several options for satellites at Full Tilt. For one, you can play Sit & Go satellites. These are just like standard SnG's except that the prize pool is a ticket to another tournament. There are often other prizes paid, such as a second chance in the same satellite, Full Tilt Points, or even cash. These SnG's can either gain you direct access to a large tournament, or they can be what Full Tilt calls a Super Satellite. This is when winning one satellite will gain you access to another satellite. Then if you win the second satellite you gain entry to the large tournament. This can be a very economical way to enter some major tournaments. Full Tilt often runs these SnG's for entry to their large FTOPS (Full Tilt Online Poker Series) tournaments. SnG's run all the time, so all you need to do to enter one is open up the Full Tilt Lobby and filter for Satellites.
The other option for satellite tournaments at Full Tilt is the scheduled satellites, which run very often. In fact, with just a quick check of the lobby, they currently are running more than 25 satellite tournaments every hour! With that many satellites running, there is little doubt that if you really want to get into that big money guarantee tournament, there are plenty of opportunities.
In fact, one of the best things about Full Tilt Poker's Lobby is that when you open up a tournament, you get a second lobby, just for that tournament. Well, that lobby lists all of the satellites available for that particular tournament! This is a huge time saver and is really the best way to search for your satellite. Just find the tournament you want to play, open the lobby, and see if there are any satellites running for that tournament. Take a look at the example below:
As you can see in this picture, this tournament is a $100 + $9 buy-in, $30,000 guarantee prize pool tournament. That's a very nice guarantee and the tournament is not too expensive really. However, $100 is still a good chunk of change to drop on one tournament for most people. Fortunately, we can see that we could satellite our way into this tournament for as little as $3 + $.30! That would be a great way to play a tournament with a first place prize of over $7,000.
Alright, so $7,000 is a nice prize, but when we're talking about big time tournaments let's take a look at some with 5 and 6 figure payouts (or more). Keep in mind that while Full Tilt offers an incredible number of satellites, not all of their tournaments can be entered through satellites, so this will focus just on those tournaments that do offer satellite entry.
First we'll take a look at a the daily tournaments. Full Tilt offers a huge number of daily guaranteed prize pool tourneys but the first with a major prize pool that also offers satellites is The Fifty-Fifty. As you may gather from the name, this is a $50 (+ $5) buy-in event with $50,000 guaranteed. That's a guaranteed $9,555 for first place. Depending on how many players sign-up, this number can go up - and it usually does. Generally the winner of the daily Fifty-Fifty can expect a 5-digit payday. So when I open up the lobby, I see that it can be bought into for as little as $2 + $.25 through satellites. That would be an incredible return even to just make it deep in a tourney like this for only $2.
Everyone who plays tournaments regularly knows that weekends are definitely the time to play for big money games. Starting Friday, Full Tilt offers their Friday Night Fight. This is a $100,000 guaranteed prize pool tournament that costs $500 + $35 to enter. Unfortunately, there is only one satellite for this one and it's $100 alone. But, if you have the bankroll for it, then this is a great tournament to enter. There's usually not a ton of people in it and 1st place is guaranteed at least $24,500 (usually more).
Saturday offers the $100,000 Guarantee at 3 pm ET each week. The buy-in for this one is $300 + $22, but there are plenty of opportunities to get into this one fairly cheap. They offer SnG's for $69 + $6, or even better they offer regular satellites ranging from $10 + $1 up to $69 + $6. First place pays a minimum of $23,800, so getting into this tournament for cheap can reap huge rewards. Later on Saturday evening, at 6 pm ET, they offer the $80,000 Guarantee for only $100 + $9. This one can be entered using only Full Tilt Points (FTPs) through satellites. They also have cash satellites and SnG's for as little as $4 + $.40 up to $35 + $3. Win this one and you're taking home at least $18,800 - not bad at all.
Then we get to Sunday. This is where the big money really lies. They start it off right with The Sunday Brawl, which is a $240 + $16 Knockout tournament with a prize pool guaranteed at $400,000. The first place winner will be getting at least $82,400 and usually more than that. Satellites for this major tournament start at only 3,500 FTP and go up to $69 + $6. The next big game on Sunday to look for is the Double Deuce. Normally, it only costs $20 + $2 for your shot at $200k guaranteed, but through satellites, you can have a shot at a $31,000 1st place prize for only $1.15 + $.10. Or, you can even use FTP (200) to get into the Double Deuce. These satellites are running often so check the lobby for times that suite you.
Then comes Full Tilt's big boy - the $750,000 Guarantee, each Sunday at 6 pm ET for $200 + $16. The winner of the $750k will take down at least $132,787. Once again, this is usually pushed up as more and more players enter the field. Also, once a month this is pushed up to a $500 + $35 tournament with a cool $1 million guaranteed. Once again though, Full Tilt is giving everyone an opportunity to play, with satellites starting at only 1,000 FTP and ranging up to $69 + $6. Still a great value when you're looking at a 6 digit payday. Finally, every Sunday evening, Full Tilt runs their Sunday Mulligan. The Mulligan is $200 + $16 to buy-in to and features a $200,000 guarantee. The winner of the Mulligan is going to be at least $45,000 richer and there are a number of satellites being offered for this tournament. For as little as $8 + $.80 or as much as $50 + $5 you can satellite your way into a big payday in this, the last of the Sunday majors.
The last thing to touch on is the major tournament series hosted by Full Tilt - The Full Tilt Online Poker Series, or FTOPS. Full Tilt definitely encourages players to satellite into the FTOPS tournaments. In fact, as FTOPS XIV draws near, Full Tilt has launched the FTOPS XIV Satellite Challenge. Here's the basics of what they're offering. When you win a satellite to an event, you automatically receive entry into that event, as you might expect. However, if you win another satellite to the same event, they will credit your account with T$ in the amount of the tournament entry. Keep winning the same satellite and they'll keep crediting your account. The cool thing though, is that if you win more entries than anyone else they'll credit you an additional two buy-ins in T$. Second place will win one more buy-in in T$. This can be a great way to not only build your tournament bankroll, but also take a shot in a major tournament.
As with the other tournaments, the best way to find a satellite to the tournament you want to play in is to open up that tourney's lobby and check for upcoming satellites to that tournament. Most FTOPS tournaments are going to have satellites for FTP as well as for cash, both SnG's and regular satellites. Most of the FTOPS events will have at least 6 figure paydays with several reaching near half-a-million American dollars! That would be a pretty sweet score, especially when you satellite into the tournament, keeping your initial costs at the very minimum.
So if you have the dreams of taking down a huge prize in a major tournament, but don't really have the bankroll for it, remember that there are other options. Some people still think satellites are a waste of time and effort, but when it's researched a little, there's no doubt that you can build quite a bankroll playing satellites. Remember, they're often very soft, they can usually be sold for cash if you don't want to play in the major tournament, and every once in a while, you just might get on a roll and go from small stakes satellite player to the final table of a major tournament staring down a 6 figure payday.