The easiest way to enter a World Series of Poker event is walk up to the registration table and hand over your cash to cover the entry fee. However, that isn’t the only way to gain entry into a WSOP event.

WSOP Satellite Tournaments

Thousands of players earn seats in WSOP events through satellite tournaments. If you have the money to buy into an event directly should you do so or try to win a seat in a satellite tournament?

Satellite tournaments are available in a wide range of formats. You can play single table satellites that award a single seat to an event or large multiple table events that award many seats to a WSOP tournament.

The best way to decide whether it’s best for you to directly buy into an event or play satellite events to win an entry is to consider the problem just like any other poker situation. Which way is more profitable in the long run.

It’s easy to say that it would be more profitable to win a seat through a satellite tournament as long as your total investment is less than the cost of a direct buy in.

For example, if the direct buy in is $10,000 and you have to enter 9 or fewer satellite tournaments with entry fees of $1,000 each you are better off than directly buying in.

Opportunity Cost

What you aren’t considering is the lost opportunity to make money playing poker in other games while you are trying to win a seat in a satellite tournament.

If you have the money to directly buy into most World Series of Poker events you either have a decent job or you’re a winning poker player. For the purposes of this post I’m assuming you’re a winning poker player.

If you’re not a winning poker player and you can win a seat without spending more than the direct buy in you should try the satellite route. However, you need to consider how much you can make more per hour working, or doing whatever it is that you do, than the time you waste playing the satellites.

As a winning poker player you need to factor in the amount of money you could be making playing poker during the time you are playing a satellite tournament. For example, if you can make $100 an hour playing poker you need to add that to the cost of entering a satellite tournament.

If a satellite tournament costs $1,000 to enter and takes two hours of your time the true cost is $1,200. This doesn’t seem like much if you win the first satellite that you enter, but what if it takes you eight or nine tournaments?

A Financial Example

Let’s look at a single table example to see how the costs can add up quickly.

A single table satellite tournament offers one seat in the $10,000 main event and each entry costs $1,000 + $100. On average it takes you two hours to play each satellite tournament and your win rate is $100 an hour. Your true cost for each tournament is $1,300.

At a 10 player table that only awards a single seat you have an average expected win rate of 10%. In other words, if everything else is equal you will win one out of every 10 tournaments with this set up on average.

If you are actually able to earn anywhere close to $100 an hour playing poker you are better than average, so what do you think your real chances are? Can you win one out of every nine on average? Can you win one out of every eight or seven? Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can win one out of six or more. It’s an unrealistic expectation.

Winning one out of every nine costs $11,700 in entry fees and missed opportunity cost to win a $10,000 seat. If you can win one out of every eight the cost is $10,400 to win a $10,000 seat.

You have to win at least one out of every 7.69 tournaments you enter using our example in order to break even. If you can win one out of every seven tournaments you enter you‘ll be ahead financially enough to make playing the satellites the most profitable decision.

Of course your numbers will be different based on how much you can earn per hour and the entry fees of both the satellite tournament and the WSOP event you want to win a seat for, but you can follow this formula to get an idea if it’s profitable to try to win a seat.

I don’t enjoy satellite tournaments much, but I do play a few. It’s been too long since I ran the numbers and thanks to writing this post I’ll be playing fewer than ever. I’d rather play a ring game and use the proceeds to buy in directly than sit in a bunch of satellites.

Your poker tastes may be different than mine so if you enjoy satellite tournaments and/or decide they are profitable you should play them.

The Lucky Approach

Many players enter small buy in satellite tournaments with the hopes of getting lucky and winning a seat. They might enter a $10 or $100 buy in satellite tournament that only awards a few seats to the main event for hundreds or even thousands of entrants. Even the best professional players have a hard time winning seats in a situation like this.

There’s nothing wrong with taking your shot at these types of satellite tournaments, but most of these players either don’t have the funds to directly buy in or aren’t willing to spend the money if they do.


Use the profitability formula included above to decide if you should buy into a WSOP event directly or enter a satellite tournament. Satellites are a great way for the tournaments to get more players, but they aren’t the best financial decision for every poker player.

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