Poker players the world over harbor the same dream – to sit down in a major tournament and play their way to life changing money.
The only problem is many players lack the discretionary funds needed to enter the big-time tournaments directly. After all, asking 9 to 5 working folks to pony up $10,000 for the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event isn’t exactly financially feasible.
Fortunately, the poker economy has figured out an easy and efficient way to feed players with smaller bankrolls into the biggest tournaments – satellite qualifiers.
For those unfamiliar with the satellite format, here’s how it works. Before a major tournament kicks off, those seeking to secure a seat on the cheap enter a smaller event in which the prize isn’t cash, but a larger tournament entry.
Let’s say you’re keen on checking that WSOP Main Event experience off of your poker bucket list. Poker’s premier tournament series offers two primary satellite systems to help make that possible.
First, you can plunk down $1,000 (plus the operator’s cut of $100) to enter a single-table satellite. In this case, 10 players paying $1,000 creates a total prize pool of $10,000, meaning the eventual victor in this winner-take-all scenario immediately scores themselves a Main Event entry.
If that four-figure price tag is still too high, you can also opt for a $500 (plus $65 for the operator) to play a “Mega Satellite.” This version of the game resembles a standard multi-table tournament, so you’ll be playing against any number of opponents – with fields typically reaching a few hundred strong.
Running the math on Mega Satellites will show it takes 20 players to generate a $10,000 payout. In other words, for every 20 players who sit down in the Mega Satellite, one survivor will pocket the coveted seat. Thus, in an average Mega Satellite drawing 400 players, the final 20 would earn their way into the Main Event.
Satellites aren’t limited to the WSOP Main Event by any means either. This system has been a tried and true method of growing tournament fields – in every card room and poker circuit on the planet – for more than three decades and counting. Even your local casino running a monthly “Main Event” likely offers a satellite path for low-rollers to play their way into the game.
And thanks to the proliferation of online poker, satellites offering access to poker’s most prestigious tournaments can be enjoyed from the comfort of your couch.
Just ask Chris Moneymaker, the central figure in the genesis story of an era known today as the “Poker Boom.”
1 – Chris Moneymaker Turns $86 into $2.5 Million at 2003 WSOP Main Event
Back in 2003, just before the summer WSOP season started in Las Vegas, an anonymous accountant with the unbelievable name of Chris Moneymaker made an all too common mistake.
While scrolling through the lobby on PokerStars, looking for a standard tournament to play, Moneymaker accidentally registered for an $86* “feeder” satellite.
Stuck in an event he had no intention to play, Moneymaker nonetheless set to work accumulating chips and eliminating opponents. Soon enough, he “cashed” in the feeder satellite, earning an entry to a $650 “mega qualifier” satellite that paid out three $10,000 entries into the WSOP Main Event.
You can read more about the intense final table gameplay – including a wacky endgame scenario in which Moneymaker himself was more interested in the $8,200 fourth-place prize than the Main Event seat – in the retrospective cited above.
But sufficed to say, as Moneymaker recalled humbly in an interview with Poker Listings years later, he decided to take the plunge and play for the Main Event seat:
“I played around 15 to 20 hours a week and once I ended up in a sit-and-go by mistake, because the lobby was not as easy to navigate as it is now. I was suddenly in this WSOP main event satellite and, as you know, I won it.”
After capturing an entry into the most important poker tournament of them all – one which paid out $2.5 million to the eventual World Champion – Moneymaker arrived in Sin City as a fish out of water. The ESPN cameras buzzing around the room to record the tournament even used Moneymaker during its “Dead Money” segment, which highlighted recreational players believed to have zero chance against fearsome pros like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, and Phil Ivey.
Rather than let his chip stack bleed out and die, however Moneymaker wound up putting on a poker performance for the ages. You can dial up YouTube and scroll through his greatest hits, but for my money, the most memorable hand of the tournament pitted Moneymaker against a young Ivey.
The tournament was down to just 10 players, meaning the next one to bust would miss out on the official final table. Ivey was by far the most skilled player in the room, and the odds on favorite to become World Champion of No Limit Texas Hold’em, but fate had other ideas.
After flopping trip Queens with his A-Q, Moneymaker got Ivey to call with just pocket 9s, only to see a 9 fall on the turn. Soon enough, all of the chips were pushed into the middle for the 2003 WSOP Main Event’s most pivotal hand. Moneymaker would need an Ace, Queen, or 6 to make a full house of his own, and wouldn’t you know it, the dealer delivered in spades.
The rest, as they say, is history. Moneymaker dominated the final table, setting up a heads-up showdown against iconic Vegas pro Sammy Farha for the $2.5 million grand prize. Moneymaker wound up pulling off the “Bluff of the Century” to defeat Farha, finishing off one of the most improbable victories ever witnessed in any game or sport.
Poker fans worldwide watched Moneymaker – the stereotypical “everyman” simply trying his best to keep up with the pros – win it all. Just like that, poker became the next big thing on the block, and attendance at the WSOP Main Event soared by triple the following year – largely on the strength of online satellite entries.
Asked by the PokerStars Blog about how those fateful satellites that changed his life, and the entire poker industry, Moneymaker explained that inexpensive access to major tournaments really is everything.
2 – Blaž žErjav Turns $5.50 into $1,364,688 at 2018 Partypoker Million Online
When you talk about inexpensive access, it doesn’t get any cheaper than the $5.50 flier Slovenian soccer pro Blaž Žerjav took this November.
For that price, Žerjav – playing on PartyPoker under the screenname “Scarmak3r” – simply hoped to win his way into a $22 satellite. From there, he’d need a second win to sit in a $109 “satty,” a third victory there to play the $530 event, and yet another cash to earn the ultimate prize – entry to the $5,300 PartyPoker MILLION Online Main Event.
Žerjav managed to weave his way through that satellite minefield, earning the right to compete in what is now the largest online poker tournament ever held. With over $21.38 million in the prize pool, and $2.79 million waiting for the winner, this event set a new bar for online tournament largesse.
When it was all said and done, Žerjav parlayed his satellite entry fee of $5.50 into a third-place finish – good for an astounding $1,364,688 bankroll boost.
Not bad for a 21-year old kid who was splashing around on the micro-stakes tables just a few days before…
3 – Anna Wroblewski Turns $300 into $391,095 at 2007 WPT Five Star World Poker Classic
As of April 13th, 2007, Anna Wroblewski was just one of the millions of poker players grinding it out at the low stakes.
She’d win a little here and there playing cash games, lose it all back and then some the next day – wash, rinse, and repeat.
Then, almost on a lark, Wroblewski received an offer she couldn’t refuse. Here’s how she described the situation afterward while speaking to Poker Listings:
“I’ve been playing off and on for about three years. My greatest break was just recently. Like every pro, when I started I went broke the first couple times and tried again and got lucky. I’m just on a nice run and trying to make the best of it.”
Yep, you read that right. Wroblewski took a small “stake” from her boss and headed to the Bellagio to soak in the sights and sounds of the World Poker Tour (WPT) Five Star World Poker Classic.
With only $400 to work with, Wroblewski had to get creative, so she opted for a $300 satellite that fed players into a $2,000 buy-in side event. After securing her seat into that tournament, Wroblewski went on to place 16th, earning $7,290 for her efforts.
That produced a cool $1,000 profit for her boss, but Wroblewski had her sights set on the real dough, so she used her windfall to enter the $3,000 WPT event taking place two days later.
Facing off against 323 opponents, including a who’s who of Vegas pros from the era, Wroblewski completed her miraculous run by winning the whole shebang. Along with a WPT title, she added a whopping $337,395 to her bankroll, while launching a newfound career as a poker pro in the process.
Before 2007 was in the books, Wroblewski had amassed a series of five-figure scores, along with nearly $200,000 in winnings for a 4th place run in a WSOP preliminary event.
A decade later, Wroblewski lists $1,086,599 in live earnings on her resume, which is a pretty good return on that $400 loan.
4 – Paul Vas Nunes Turns $11 into $233,944 at 2007 PokerStars Sunday Million
For a certain generation of poker pros – the phenoms who came of age playing 10 tables at a time online – the PokerStars Sunday Million is the equivalent of the WSOP Main Event.
Held once a week on the world’s largest online poker platform, the PokerStars Sunday Million costs $215 to play and generates a guaranteed prize pool of $1 million. Every weekend, players all over the planet convene to take their shot at the hefty six-figure payouts for 1st place, which represent a 1,000x multiple on the entry fee investment.
But for Paul Vas Nunes, a young pro living in the U.K. at the time, one particular Sunday Million in 2007 offered even greater dividends.
That’s because Vas Nunes scored his seat for just $11, so after taking the whole thing down, he multiplied his money by a staggering 21,267x multiple.
Vas Nunes was interviewed gaming industry outlet CalvinAyre.com in 2014, allowing him an opportunity to relive his epic 2007 victory:
“I always felt that I played quite well, and used to watch a lot of poker TV shows. So in the summer holiday, after my second year of university, about four-years ago, I decided I didn’t want to get a job; so I put my last $200 on PokerStars with the intention of grinding whatever I thought I couldn’t bust my roll playing.”
After bursting onto the poker scene thanks to a satellite entry, Vas Nunes never looked back.
His transition to live tournament play has been extremely successful, with Vas Nunes counting over $1.6 million in earnings to his credit. He’s won several events on the European circuit, and his largest live cash to date was $290,407 for a 3rd place run in the $3,000 buy-in prelim at the 2012 WSOP.
And he hasn’t let up on the online tables either. Last year, nearly seven years to the day after his first Sunday Million win, Vas Nunes doubled up with another triumph in PokerStars’ top tournament. That performance netted $130,000 more in his online bankroll, not to mention the satisfaction which stems from knowing he’s still got it.
5 – Tom McEvoy Turns $1,000 into $540,000 at 1983 WSOP Main Event
Exactly 30 years before Moneymaker turned the poker world upside down, Tom McEvoy was simply hoping to enter the WSOP Main Event on the cheap.
An experienced pro proficient in both cash games and tournaments, McEvoy had just taken down the $1,000 buy-in Limit Hold’em event at the 1983 WSOP. That provided a nice bankroll infusion of $117,000, but as he had sold “pieces” of himself to various stakeholders beforehand, McEvoy’s cut was significantly smaller.
Wanting to make the prudent play as far as bankroll management goes, McEvoy suddenly had the proverbial lightbulb go off over his head – why not enter one of these newfangled satellite tournaments?
As he explained to PokerNews in an interview conducted earlier this year, McEvoy had his eye on a new addition to the world of poker:
“For a number of years, Eric Drache was the tournament director for the World Series for the Binion family at Binion’s Horseshoe where the tournament was held until 2003. They weren’t getting enough entries in the Main Event in 1982. Back then, $10,000 was worth a lot more than it is today. Drache saw a bunch of guys playing a cash game and he said ‘Why don’t you guys each put up a thousand bucks and the winner will get a seat in the Main Event?’”
That’s right, the very first poker satellite ever played involved 10 cash game players practically dragged to the table by WSOP tournament director Eric Drache.
But the concept proved to be an immediate hit, with pros and amateurs alike lining up for the chance to enter the WSOP Main Event on a 90 percent discount.
McEvoy was one of those hopefuls, and after grinding through a particularly tough satellite table, he pocketed the coveted entry ticket.
From there, McEvoy faced 107 opponents standing between him and a World Championship – including none other than two-time Main Event winner Doyle Brunson. Old “Texas Dolly” took the title back to back in 1976 and 1977, making him by far the most feared player at the final table, but McEvoy managed to outlast the legend.
Then – after enduring a seven and a half hour heads up duel that remained the longest in WSOP Main Event history – McEvoy finished off Rod Peate to win it all. He claimed the top prize of $540,000, producing an incredible 540x multiple on that $1,000 satellite entry.
Satellite qualification forms the lifeblood of the tournament poker industry. Without an inexpensive route to entry, legions of recreational players and low-level grinders would simply have no shot to compete for WSOP gold bracelets or PokerStars Sunday Millions glory. Thanks to this clever innovation, however, millions of players worldwide have been able to rub elbows with their favorite pros after scoring a satellite seat.
And as you just learned, satellite entrants aren’t exactly “dead money” either. Once you’re in the game, anything can happen – including momentous WSOP Main Event championships and life-changing online scores.