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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Wednesday, 27 September 2006
'Getting in cheap', continued.
Topic: Poker

So when is it correct to play a satellite for a big event? Before answering that, I'll just summarise the problems with satellites:

1) Inflexibility. If you win a ticket and can't exchange it for cash then you're commited to being in a given place at a future date. You may fall ill or have some other emergency in the mean time. What happens then? In addition note that in the UK, if you don't arrive in time to play the first hand, you are disqualified. If you have paid in cash, you'll get a refund. If you won a satellite you won't.

2) Tying up the money in the poker economy. If a card room runs satellites for an event that is far in the future, it ties up money that could otherwise be in circulation in the room's other tournaments and cash games. This can't be good for business. Of course not all that money is lost, as there are people who would play a satellite who wouldn't play a tournament or cash game with the same money. But even that extra money can't be a net gain for the core business, except in the rare situation that it generates another seat for someone who wins big in the main event and returns to the room to play with it.

3) Vulnerable to cheating. Satellites with more than one seat on offer are more vulnerable to cheating than any other form of the game. This is a tricky one to explain, as I don't really want to inform dishonest people why it's true, though it's fairly obvious once you realise that there is no difference between first and second prize. The silver lining in this cloud is that satellite finals tend to be watched and supervised closely, so that chip-passing ought to alert attention.

Before addressing the reasons why it can be correct to play in a satellite, I should make clear that I'm not addressing 'Grand Prix' events like the William Hill Grand Prix and the Grosvenor Grand Prix. These aren't satellites in the true sense, as you cannot buy in to the final with cash. However the point about the vulnerability to cheating is still true in the heat stages. It could be said, however, that someone who plays in a Grand Prx heat could just as easily play in a regular tournament of the same size and structure and use winnings to fund themselves in a big tournament of the same size and structure as the Grand Prix final. To illustrate by example, consider the Grosvenor Grand Prix. The Heats are £100+10 to enter and a seat is worth roughly £1,500 give or take a hundred. A player could just as easily enter a £100+10 competion, win £1,500 in it and then enter a £1,500 event at a future festival. This would achieve the same thing as winning a seat in the Grand Prix, with the added benefit of flexibility and reduced vulnerability to collusion.

I'm also not talking about one-table satellites. I'm less critical of them for two reasons. Firstly the collusion issue is either much less important or totally absent; I'm not sure which. Secondly they tend to be held much sooner to the event for which they are being held than multi-table satellites. If you relish the chance to play a sit'n'go with only one prize and you would have every intention of entering the main event if you won the same amount in cash obtained in some other way, I don't see anything wrong with playing a one-table satellite, particularly if it's held less than 48 hours before the main event.

So when is playing a super-satellite correct?

1) Only game in town. You may find yourself in a card room where there is nothing else to play. It's happened to me a couple of times, such as recently when I drove a friend up to play the second day of a two-day event in Luton on a weekday afternoon. In this situation, I didn't mind participating in the afternoon super-sat, as my time would otherwise have had zero value.

2) Added money, freeroll, FPP, guarantees.. There are times when money is added to the prize pool by sponsors, such as Blue Square does in the fortnight before each festival at the Victoria. That adds value. There is also nothing wrong of course in playing a freeroll or using up FPP online. You may sometimes find a satellite with a guaranteed seat where the number of runners is so low that the sponsor is forced to add money. It's fine to play in all these situations.

3) The standard of play is worse than in similarly priced tournaments.. This is perhaps the most important consideration of all. Given the nature of the satellite philosophy - the idea of turning a small stake into a very large win - it's possible that satellites attract some very poor players with big dreams. I certainly notice that there are some people who appear in the Victoria in the fortnight before every festival whom I don't see at any other time of year. I hear reports from friends who do play satellites that there is some seriously bad play in them and that many people don't grasp the increased importance of survival. I would have thought that this was obvious, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it isn't. Some people I consider decent but not spectacular tournament players do seem to reliably win seats for big events through satellites and this may support the thesis that the standard of play is far poorer.

Despite arguing against the expansion of satellites, I must confess that I have moments when I get caught up in the idea of 'getting in cheap' and going on to win a big score. I'm soon brought back to Earth when I remember that there is now no shortage of tournaments in London where sums of two to five thousand pounds can be won against a field of 25 to 60 opponents and money won in those can be used for any main event you fancy. Check out the schedules for the Sportsman (Monday+Friday), Western (Tuesday), Palm Beach (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday) and Gutshot (Saturday). I didn't understand why I had these moments of satellite daydream irrationality until I read that FT article I mentioned before. It's a common behavioural trait that people value money differently according to how it is obtained and knowing that it's irrational doesn't make the feeling go away. It merely tells us to think again.

_ DY at 2:53 AM BST
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