World Series of Poker

Why Play the World Series of Poker?

The World Series of Poker is booming. In 2003, 839 people bought into the tournament. In the end, Chris Moneymaker, someone who qualified through a $40 online satellite, took home $2.5 million. In 2004, Greg Raymer, another online qualifier, outlasted a field of 2,576 players to win the $5 million prize. Last year, Joseph Hachem beat 5,619 players to win $7,500,000.

This year, the WSOP is projected to have over 5,000 entrants, making the prize pool the largest in tournament poker history. Whoever wins will need to be skillful and very lucky. There will be many people entering the WSOP who qualified online, and there is a good chance that an online qualifier will win for the third year in a row. Who knows, perhaps that player might be you!

The potential to win a lot of money is not the only reason to play in the WSOP. The thrill of playing in the WSOP can really make the trip an eventful one. Poker players from around the world congregate for this momentous event each year. The WSOP is also the focal point of the media's attention on the poker world. Most find being in the middle of all this hooplah quite fun and exciting!

With all of the satellite tournaments running for the WSOP, entry to the WSOP is no longer reserved for only people with large bankrolls. With proper preparation, skilled decision making, and some help from good ole' lady luck, anyone has the chance to be the next WSOP champion.

Remember to keep in mind a healthy dose of reality about the WSOP. The vast, vast majority of people lose money by attempting to play and win in the WSOP. It takes a lot of luck to even qualify for the WSOP. A lot of people lose money playing in satellilte tournaments, only to find themselves watching ESPN to find out what happened at the WSOP. Furthermore, the vast majority of people who are lucky enough to even play in the WSOP end up losing their $10,000 buy-in.

Anyone can win the WSOP, but almost everyone does not. Nevertheless, competing in the WSOP can be very rewarding if you approach it with the right mindset.


Shop Around

Online poker rooms are hosting many satellites to the WSOP. Generally, the typical entry to satellite tournaments is between $100 and $1,000, which is above many people's bankrolls. Therefore, the poker rooms often hold satellites to these satellites. For example, if the buy-in of a WSOP satellite is $100+$10, the poker room might hold a satellite to this tournament where the buy-in is $11+$1. One out of every ten people who enters the satellite would get an entry into the $100+$10 WSOP satellite.

There are three major types of satellites that qualify people for the World Series of Poker: standard satellites, money-added satellites, and freerolls. First, there are standard satellite tournaments: for these satellites, the players' buy-ins are used to buy a certain amount of WSOP seats, and the poker room also charges all players an entry fee to enter the satellites. An example of this would be a single-table satellite that costs $1,000+$100. If ten people entered this tournament, $10,000 would be available for the seat, but the house would take an extra $1,000. So essentially, you and nine other people would have paid $11,000 total for a $10,000 seat.

Examples of these tournaments online include:

  • $150+$10 double shootouts at PokerStars
  • $200+$15 WSOP satellite tournaments at Party Poker

  • Many people qualify for the World Series of Poker through these types of satellites. In fact, standard satellites are probably the most popular type of satellite entered.

    However, realize that there are better values out there. When you enter a standard satellite tournament, you not only fork over money towards the WSOP seat, but you also pay money to the poker room. There will be some satellite tournaments where the poker room does not charge a fee, and sometimes the poker room even contributes money towards the WSOP seats! Every poker room wants the winner of the WSOP to qualify through them, because then that poker room would receive a lot of publicity. Because of this, there are often some values to be found out there for WSOP satellites.

    The second type of satellites would be the ones that are partially discounted satellite tournamentes. For these seats, the house will either not charge an entry fee (they just charge the buy-in), or they may even pay for part of the seat to the WSOP. There will be quite a few of these online, so check around for them!

    Most often, these types of tournaments will occur online if the poker room guarantees a certain number of seats. Sometimes, not enough people will pay the buy-in for the tournament, so the poker room will have to put up more money to match the guarantee.

    For example, suppose the buy-in is $100+$1 and the poker room guarantees 5 seats, with each package worth $11,000 (online poker rooms generally give you spending money and a hotel room along with the seat). The tournament will need 550 people to enter the tournament, or else the poker room will have to add money to the prize pool. If only 480 people entered the tourney, it means that the poker room would be contributing $7,000 of its own money towards the WSOP seats.

    An example would be the tournament I qualified through at Caribbean Sun Poker in 2005. The buy-in was $150+$10, and they awarded a $12,000 package for every 80 players. For this tournament, they guaranteed six packages. Since only 419 people entered, Caribbean Sun's network ended up ponying up $9,150 to the prize pool (otherwise, there would only be enough money for 5 packages). This ended up being of critical importance to me because I placed sixth in that tournament.

    The third type of satellite is the freeroll. These are obviously the best satellites to enter because they are free and because you might even win a seat to the WSOP! However, this sort of tournaments most often comes with a catch. Usually you will need to qualify through some sort of promotion to get a seat at a freeroll for the WSOP. Also, the odds of winning one of these freerolls is fairly low because generally one seat is given for every 300 or so entrants. Examples of this sort of freeroll include the FPP freerolls at PokerStars and Party Poker's WSOP Freeroll Satellites.


    WSOP Satellite Tournament Strategy

    To get to the WSOP, most people win a satellite tournament. The optimal strategy to succeed at a satellite tournament depends on the structure of the tournament. There are three common types of satellite structures that people compete in:

  • 1. A winner-take-all satellite. This is a satellite that awards only one seat to the WSOP.

  • 2. A satellite that awards a relatively low number of seats to the WSOP. For example, a satellite that awards one seat per 80 people. If 320 people entered the tournament, only 4 seats would be given. These satellites tend to have lower buy-ins.

  • 3. A satellite that awards a relatively high number of seats to the WSOP. For example, a satellite that gives out a seat to one of every 20 players. These satellites typically have larger buy-ins.

  • Winner-Take-All

    The strategy for a winner-take-all satellite is fairly simple. Bet, raise, and raise again! To win the prize, you are going to have to win all of the chips. There is only one way to win chips in poker; win pots!

    Basically, play smart poker and do not be afraid go all-in. The absolute worst thing to do is get blinded away in this type of tournament. Since you need to win all of the chips, you do not want to give away your chips without a fight.

    If you are fairly new to poker or if multi-table tournaments are not your specialty, then I recommend that you play this type of satellite. First, a lot of people playing this satellite are so used to their standard multi-table strategy that it handicaps them. These people play too conservatively and end up wasting their time. Furthermore, there is a very high luck factor in these tournaments, so it really does give a newer player a chance at reaching the WSOP.


    Small Stack Psychology

    The strategy for the other two types of satellites is more complicated. A lot of the tactics involved with these types of satellite tournament has to do with how players treat larger stacks versus smaller stacks. People tend to challenge smaller stacks more than larger stacks for two reasons.

    First, a person can lose a large hand to a smaller stack and remain in the tournament. There is something comforting knowing that you will still be in the tournament no matter what, and people tend to gamble when they feel comfortable. Even if this gamble could be very costly, they still feel more at ease at challenging a smaller stack. Of course, there is sometimes merit to this line of thinking, especially if the person has a much smaller stack than you and it is later in the tournament.

    Furthermore, there is a lot of excitement that goes along with knocking someone out. Most of the time, this is an emotional high that really has little relevance to the tournament. Suppose five packages are awarded in a tournament, and there are 30 players left. If someone busts out of the tournament, it really does not change anyone's chances of winning the tournament that much (except for the person who won the chips!). Since it will have little affect on the outcome of the tournament, and people unnecessarily let their emotions sway their thinking.

    There are ways of exploiting this mentality. The best way to do this is to analyze the tournament from the end towards the beginning. For example, consider a tournament that awards 5 seats. When there are six people left, everyone will be gunning for the person with the smallest stack. There is nothing to be gained from attacking someone with a large stack because that person will likely not be knocked out of the tournament. By attacking a large stack, you would also risk dwindling your stack down and risking your own exit from the tournament. Thus, everyone will be attacking the smallest stack.

    Since you probably do not want to be in the position of the smallest stack, the best method is to be selectively aggressive at stealing the blinds. As long as you keep your stack as high as the average player, people will not be gunning for you towards the end. You do not need to have the largest stack, you just need to have a medium-sized stack.

    If you are in the unfortunate case of having the smallest stack, you will need to consider fighting back quickly. You do not want to get to the point where a double up will still leave you as the smallest stack. If you double up, you want someone else to be that small stack. No one wants to be the person that risks their chips to knock you out, so you should be aggressive in fighting back. If your stack is small but not microscopic, you will be amazed at how many blinds you still might be able to steal.

    However, if people are idiotically attacking each other, then you should be more selectively aggressive. Even though you are in last or close to last, you may be able to squeak into the money because the other players are foolishly getting in raising wars.

    The end-game strategy for all multi-winner satellites is similar. However, the strategy for the earlier rounds of the tournament differs based on the buy-in of the satellite.


    Low buy-in satellites

    A lot of satellites cost around $100 to $200 to enter. These satellites tend to award relatively few number of WSOP seats because each player contributes a fairly small portion of the WSOP package. When relatively few seats are awarded in the qualifier, you are still going to have to gamble. If over 1,000 people enter and only 10 win, those 10 people will need to get lucky. The key is to elect a strategy that positions yourself to fall within those ten spots. You do not need a strategy to win the tournament; you just need aim to place in a spot that would win a WSOP package. The tournament in which I qualified had 419 entrants and 6 people received a package. I placed sixth.

    We already analyzed what will occur at the end of a satellite tournament. The small stacks will be attacked and chewed up by the larger stacks. The key is to avoid being that small stack in the later rounds. You want to be at least a medium-sized stack as the later rounds near, so you are not the one people are trying to eliminate.

    If you are able to build a decent stack size, you will be able to survive the tournament without being frequently contested. Your method of survival is primarily stealing blinds. When you have a larger stack, you will be more able to steal blinds in the middle and later rounds. Winning these blinds can really pad your stack size because the blinds get to be fairly large and there is generally an ante to boot.

    To accomplish this, I would suggest playing aggressively in the earlier rounds. Do not be scared of getting into confrontations. This way you will build up a large stack size, and you will be able to steal the blinds in the later rounds.

    Basically, confrontations at the beginning of the tournament are fine. You are going to have to get lucky to win this type of satellite anyway, so you are going to have to gamble at some point. If you are able to build a big stack, you will be able to keep on building your stack later by stealing the blinds. People will not want to challenge you since you can bust them out, so you will win a lot of important pots uncontested. If you are consistently able to steal the blinds, you will be much more able to cruise into a WSOP package.


    High buy-in satellites

    A lot of satellites have buyins of $500 or more. These tournaments tend to award a relatively large number of WSOP packages in relation to the number of entrants. For these tournaments, a typical ratio is one package per twenty entrants.

    You do not want to foolishly lose your stack at the beginning of this type of satellite. You do not need to be overly aggressive because there are not as many people you have to defeat. The key is being selectively aggressive and trying to achieve a stack size that is simply above-average.

    Again, you are going to want to be contested as little as possible as the end of the tournament nears. The ability to steal blinds is still of high importance.

    For this type of tournament, the end game of the tournament begins quite quickly! Don't lose your whole stack on an idiotic play, but try to achieve an above-average stack before the large blinds and antes kick in.


    Practicing for the World Series of Poker

    So you've qualified for the WSOP? Good job! The next step is to practice. The last thing you want to do at the WSOP is to make a stupid mistake that will bust you out. Practicing for the WSOP will give you the confidence you need to make the right decisions and keep yourself off of tilt.

    When practicing for the WSOP, I suggest you practice in three types of games:

    First, you should play at a brick-and-mortar casino at some point. This does not necessarily have to be a tournament or even a no-limit game. You simply want to get used to using real chips and get used to holding a poker face. If there is no brick-and-mortar casino near you, have your friends come over to play a friendly home game.

    You just need to get used the hang of playing live poker so the 'live poker' aspect does not frazzle you when you play at the WSOP. Nevertheless, do not worry too extensively about this aspect. The 2003 World Series of Poker was the first live tournament Chris Moneymaker played, and he went on to win it! Even one or two sessions of live poker experience will probably be enough to help you get used to playing live poker.

    Second, you should practice playing in large, multi-table tournaments. While it is possible to play these at brick-and-mortar casinos, more than likely online tournaments will be the best location for these types of tournaments.

    The World Series of Poker will probably have over 5,000 entrants. Needless to say, the winner will need to be incredibly lucky to steamroll through this many players. You will need to be aggressive and be willing to gamble it up to have a chance to win the tournament. The luck factor will be huge, and people will certainly not be able to simply fold their way into the money.

    A brick-and-mortar tournament with 100 players will not resemble this type of tournament as much as a large, online tournament that has thousands of players. A large, online tournament will put you in the type of situations that you will frequently see at the WSOP. It will teach you the type of technical skills that you will need to win the world championship.

    Finally, you should play some single-table tournaments. If you are fortunate enough to make it to the final table, these single-table tournaments will help you get used to situations that you may encounter while you are jockeying for millions of dollars. Nevertheless, practice at these sorts of tournaments are not nearly as important as practicing at the larger, multi-table tournaments.

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