Poker Rules

Satellite Tournament FAQs

What is a Satellite Tournament?

A Satellite tournament is a tournament that offers players a less expensive way to enter a big buy-in tournament. Players hoping to win a seat in a big buy-in tournament will play in satellite tournaments attempting to win an entry into a larger tournament at a much lower cost than what the full buy-in is.

For example, the World Series of Poker offers prize pools of millions of dollars, but the entry fee is a hefty $10,000 which most average players cannot afford. Therefore, Satellite tournaments are held so players with limited bankrolls can still win a seat to play in the Main Event. A live WSOP Main Event Satellite in a poker room in Las Vegas may be a 10 player game with a $1,000 buy-in with the winner being awarded a seat in the Main Event worth $10,000 or it may be a super satellite with a buy-in of $500 and for every $10,000 in the prize pool, a seat is awarded; super satellites will, at times, provide over 100 entries into an event.

Many online poker rooms however offer a wider variety of options, where Satellites to big events like the WSOP can start at a small buy-ins or even free.

What is a Super Satellite?

Super satellite tournaments are a satellite to a main event where the winner is awarded a seat in the actual event. These satellites award seats according to the number of entrants or re-buys that equal the buy-in amount of the event – often times winning a seat through one of these events is like playing a main event due to the number of entrants.   

How much does it cost to play a Satellite?

Buy-ins for Satellite tournaments can be free (FreeRolls) or a few cents up to a few thousand dollars. The cost to enter depends on the type of Satellite and what prizes can be won.

Why do poker rooms have so many Satellites?

By offering satellites tournaments, online poker rooms are able to lower the entry fee to major events. This means that even players that have very little money to invest still have a chance to play in a big tournament. For example, at the World Series of Poker, many Main Event participants have won their seats after winning an online satellite with a buy-in of only $16 or less.
What are Steps Tournaments?

Step tournaments are a series of sub satellites. In Steps tournaments, the poker room will offer satellite ‘steps’ to win the main prize. For example, to win a seat to a live event, a poker room may offer a Steps satellite promotion that is made up of six (6) Steps. The buy-in for the Step 1 satellite would be the cheapest, say at $1. When a player wins the Step 1 satellite, they win a seat to the Step 2 tournament and so on until they advance to the Main Satellite. They then have to win the Main Satellite to win the prize of a seat in the featured big tournament event. Most poker rooms also offer the option for players to buy-in to the various Steps tournament within the Steps structure, for a specific cash amount or using Frequent Player Points. For example in a 10 Step satellite promotion, a player may be able to opt to buy-in to Step 5 for $100 and skip the first four Steps.

Usually the top three players in a Step tournament are winners, with two moving up to the next step level and the third place player winning a seat in another Step tournament of the same level.

What kind of games are played in Satellites?

Normally the game is No-Limit Texas Hold’em with a specific starting stack and a set amount of time between blind increases. These parameters are set by the poker room hosting the Satellite event. In some cases the game being played will be the same as the game in the event you are trying to win a seat in. As an example, PokerStars hosts the WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) every year and offers hundreds of satellites to the various events. In this case, if you are trying to win a seat in a Stud event, then the Satellites to the event would be games of Stud also.

Do all Satellites have thousands of players?

No. But generally the smaller the buy-in, the more players there will be. In a $1 Satellite there may be thousands of players because it is so cheap, but in a $500 Satellite there may only be a few because the buy-in is out of reach for many players. Also, many poker rooms limit the amount of players that can register. In the very small buy-in Satellites, more players have to play for  the amount of the buy-in to be ‘paid’ to award the seat in the target tournament. Therefore these small buy-in Satellites can have up to 20,000 players. When registering for a Satellite, the maximum number of entrants (if any) will be listed within the tournament information.

Are all Satellites Multi-Table tournaments?

The less expensive and FreeRoll Satellites are usually MTTs (Multi-Table Tournaments) to accommodate more players. Also MTT Satellites have a specific start time and date, which many players prefer. Depending on the buy-in and the prize being offered, poker rooms also hold Satellites in the following formats:

Satellite Rebuy Tournaments; A Satellite may have a small buy-in because it offers rebuys. Called a ‘rebuy period’ this usually lasts throughout the first hour of the tournament. Rebuy Satellites offer the option for a player to buy more chips (rebuy) when they lose a certain amount or all of their chips during the rebuy period. Rebuy Satellite tournaments also usually offer an ‘add-on’ at the end of the rebuy period, where players have a final chance to add more chips to their stack.

Sit n’ Go Satellite Tournaments; These Satellites can be one (1) table of 10 players or all the way up to 180 players and 18 tables. Sit n’ Gos have no scheduled start time; therefore the Satellite begins when the required number of players has registered to play.
Freezeout Satellite Tournaments; Most Satellites have this tournament structure where the Satellite starts at a specific time and players have a set starting chip stack amount. There are no rebuys, so once a player loses all of their chips, they are out of the tournament.

Turbo Satellites; These Satellite tournaments have blind levels that increase very rapidly, so the tournament does not last as long as a normal tournament does. The Turbo format also makes for a more action packed Satellite as players take more risks to amass chips and not go broke as the blinds and antes increase.

What can I win by playing in Satellites?

The possibilities are endless as to the prizes offered in Satellite tournaments. Players can win seats to big online tournaments with Guaranteed Prize Pools of millions of dollars, or to live land based events. Live event Satellites usually offer prize packages that include the tournament buy-in, hotel accommodations, cash for travel and other activities. Many of these packages are worth thousands of dollars, making winning one in a Satellite a fantastic deal and giving the player a once in a lifetime chance to play in a big live event.

Where can I play a Satellite?

Every major online poker site offers Satellites; many are to the poker rooms own big tournaments, but Satellites to live events like the WSOP are also offered regularly. The live event Satellites offered usually start a few months before the live event will take place, giving players plenty of time to win one.

What happens if I win more than one Satellite to the same event?

That largely depends on the poker site you won your prize package at. Some poker sites only allow you to win one Satellite for a particular event with no compensation for additional wins.

Other poker sites will compensate you with cash or let you transfer your additional prize to another player. If you play in several Satellites, be sure to check out the terms and conditions posted by the poker site you are playing on as they vary from one poker site to the next.