How to satellite into a major live tournament

Qualifying for a major live tournament is something every poker player aspires to and it’s a great way to play an event that would be out of your bankroll – join Keir ‘Kez69’ Mackay as he shows you how to satellite into the legendary Irish Open

With a £500 bankroll courtesy of Paddy Power Poker and some tuition from last year’s Irish Open winner and Sole Survivor, Niall Smyth, Keir’s dedicated his time to working the qualifying route and joining poker’s best for the craic in Dublin. This month he’ll show you how to breeze through feeder satellites. Who knows? Study our tips and you might even make it to Ireland before him…

Q&A: Niall Smyth: 2011 Irish Open champ

In 2011, Irishman Niall Smyth took a €10 punt on the Grand National through Paddy Power before parlaying that €200 win into €650k. Here Smyth explains how he went from rags to riches…

What was it like winning the Sole Survivor competition and main event all in one?

That was crazy. Just before the final table there were still four of us left who had qualified through Paddy Power Poker, and when it got down to two of us I actually considered a deal. If we had both gotten to the next break together I would have probably split the cash. But my opponent got unlucky and I ended up pocketing the lot. It was the easiest €100k I’ll ever win!

Did the thought of the extra €100k ever affect your game?

Maybe for a round or two. I remember going to open one hand and thinking, ‘Ahh, I’ll just leave it’. [laughs]

Did you have many big cashes before 2011?

My best live cash before was for around €24k in the Irish Open a few years back. I’ve probably only played about ten live events with over a €100 buy-in, so to have two sizeable cashes isn’t a bad record. I’m not someone who plays 30 or 40 events a year. So I guess I just run pretty good live.

How did you win your seat last year?

I was off work with a head cold and my brother’s girlfriend asked me to put a bet on the Grand National. Luckily I picked the winner and whacked that €200 on a Paddy Power Poker qualifier. It was crazy. After I won the main event, my story was all over the newspapers. I never thought it would be that big. In that first week afterwards, if you’d told me to appear naked on TV I probably would have. I was just so happy.

How has life changed since winning?

I’ve taken a year off my job to see which way the poker is going to go. Being a professional is always something I wanted to do, so I’m giving it a good shot. If I can’t make a wage then I’ll re-evaluate.

What’s so great about the Irish Open?

It’s just got an electric atmosphere. Ever since my first time there I thought it was special. There are loads of good people and loads of famous players, and if you’re not playing you’re hitting the bar and chatting to everyone. You’re all there for the craic!

Week one – new beginnings

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve never won an online satellite. Sure I’ve won the odd seat from clueless hacks in media tournaments, but the online game is an altogether tougher beast. Good thing Niall Smyth is on hand on to help me achieve Irish Open glory. Month one: how to smash up the feeder satellite donkfests.

To get the ball rolling, I registered for my first Route A €2 rebuy feeder and bossed the table. With everyone playing ABC poker, it was easy to spot those chasing draws and bully them out of pots, and I cruised into the next stage with my ego bulging. If only it was all that simple…

Stage Two offered one seat into that Sunday’s €215 direct event, and even with rebuys now a costly €17, I still ‘breezed’ through to another heads-up bout. The only thing that could stop me was an act of god… And that’s when my internet connection started played peek-a-boo. I eventually crawled back into the contest to find I had just 1.5BB left. However, a few generous suckouts later and the ticket was mine.

That Sunday, 80 runners sat down hoping to snatch one of the three €4,600 Irish Open packages up for grabs. I started well, but by 10pm a lack of postflop aggression had left me running on fumes. Needing an emergency double-up, I began shoving everything in late position. And it worked, mostly, until I shoved Q-Q from the cutoff only to lose to the button’s fishy call with A-J and exit in 25th. A torrent of abuse ensued.

‘Your c-betting percentage was quite low and you seemed to just check any Ace-high flop when you didn’t have it,’ Smyth said in his post mortem. An Ace-high flop hits a raiser’s range much more than a caller’s, so bet close to 100% of the time when you have one or two opponents in the pot.’

Week two – enemy number one

Even though I’d handled the feeder satellites with relative ease in week one, Smyth still picked holes in my strategy. I came into this project with my best MTT hat on, and regularly opened to 3x in the early levels, dropping to 2x once stacks became shallower.

‘2.5x is enough,’ Smyth claimed. ‘I know it sounds small but it adds up throughout a tourney, especially when bluffing.’ With this in mind, onwards I went to Route C and the €130 direct satellite that Thursday. Now in general, the more you pay to play, the tougher your opponents will be, and after busting out of too many €2 feeders to count, I upped the stakes and entered the €17 Stage Two rebuy hoping for the best. Enter IYBOYKO.

Sitting on my right, he opened almost every pot and had an annoying habit of hanging around whenever he and I caught a piece of the board. In the face of his relentless aggression, I limped into heads-up play with less than 10BB to his 40. Luckily, old IYBOYKO didn’t know what the brake pedal was, and after some terrible calls with bottom pair he went from big stack to massive underdog in a flash.

Recognising signs of tilt, I made a hero call with pocket Tens on a J-8-Q-7-3 board and shipped a €130 ticket. That should teach the fish. (Or so I thought.) In my Thursday pre-game pep talk, Smyth talked about adjusting to the prize structure. ‘The lower the ratio of players to tickets, the tighter you should play. In a low-ratio tournament, remember that you don’t need to win all the chips to get your ticket. Often you will end up getting in with less than an average stack.

‘But for a 27-man tournament with only one prize, playing lots of hands and gambling a bit to accumulate chips is the best option, as you do need every chip to win.’ Wise words. Pity everyone around me was a raise-hungry maniac. After going into nit mode for several orbits, it finally came time to shove – into none other than my old friend IYBOYKO. I made a move for 18BB from the blinds with A♣-T and he flopped quad eights to leave a little boy crying into a cushion like someone had just stolen €3,500 worth of lunch money. *Sniff*

Week three – bad kitty!

For those who can’t handle (or afford) the variance-induced headaches of qualifying in one feeder satellite after another, Paddy Power Poker runs the attractive Cheap Seats option. For just €4.40 you can play your way into the fortnightly Grand Final (with no direct buy-ins), and with qualifiers kicking off at a work-friendly 7pm each day, I decided to protect my roll and chase the cheaper option.

These satellites are incredibly soft, even compared to the €2 events, but the fields are much bigger. With more than 30 players chasing one seat, they run much like the €130 and €215 direct events, only with a bigger contingent of donks. And as was becoming a common theme, there were plenty of shoves with gutshots and middle pairs crashing around me.

With eight players left and the action slowing down, I sat out for a toilet break only for my girlfriend to start ‘meowing’ at players in the chatbox. Surprisingly, it didn’t help my image. What I can only assume were dog lovers began bullying me in position, and with 11BB I open-shoved K-To from the small blind only to run into A-K and exit in seventh. My missus was the only one laughing.

‘Near the end the players on your left and right were walking all over you!’ barked Smyth. ‘With 15 hands to go you had 7-9s when an aggressive player opened from the cutoff. I’d have shoved my last 20BB on him. If you get called you’re never in too bad a spot and you will pick up the pot so often.’

And that’s not all. Apparently I was too tentative from the button and not willing to play it as a winner-takes-all event. I was working under the assumption that raise-folding with 20BB or less was a cardinal sin. Wrong again. ‘You folded your button too often. Near the end you can raise-fold rubbish on the button even with 18BB in my opinion,’ said Smyth.

Week four – how much?!?

After a promising start to my satellite journey, I had hoped to be practising my Irish accent by week four. As it was, my bankroll was disappearing faster than you can say ‘to be sure’. So far Smyth had instructed me to annihilate the cheap seats and work my way up. But I decided it was time to drop the long-winded approach and start attacking the €17 and €30 rebuys. Big mistake.

Although I qualified for week four’s Sunday €215 satellite, I spent almost €140 in the process. And the month’s most puzzling hand lay in wait… In the third level, I opened to 2.5x with J-J and was min-raised on a rainbow 7-T-3 flop. My Spidey sense tingled. An eight on the turn gave me a gutshot to go with my overpair and I checked, only for the villain to overbet the pot.

I called, but on a blank river I checked again hoping for a cheap showdown. No such luck. Muck? Call? Be sick? All these options ran through my head when he shoved, before I angrily hit the fold button. ‘You have to make your mind up about it on the turn,’ said Smyth. ‘If you call then you have to call river. The villain’s line is strange. If he was a decent player I’d say he has a monster, as not many would take this line as a bluff.’

In the end though, it didn’t matter. With 22BB left I made a loose call with Q-T from the big blind, check-raised the 2-A-T flop, barrelled a four on the turn and called off my final 10BB when a river Queen hit me in the face. My opponent’s K-J was the bitter cherry on top of my Sunday of shit. ‘Looking at it coldly, it’s a fold because he’s never rasing all-in with worse,’ said Smyth. ‘But I don’t think I could ever fold in the heat of the moment.’

I ended the month with nothing to show for my efforts, but it’s not over yet. Next month it’s time for the big boy events. Tune in then to see how I get on.

Beat the feeders

Niall Smyth shares his tips for taking down low buy-in feeder satellites

Buy, buy, buy!

In a turbo rebuy you should be topping up straight away, as it gives you more room to play with and allows you to make moves. It’s essential that you build a stack early on.

Donk it up

If you struggle with aggression, play a few $1 tournaments and get a feel for what it’s like to be an aggro-donk. I don’t mean five-bet shoving 2-3, but understand when and where you can profitably ramp up the aggression.

No fun UTG

On eight-handed tables, muck hands like K-Qo UTG. You can’t call threebets with these hands and if you hit the flop you will never know where you are.

Play to the structure

If players have been rebuying a lot, and there is more than one seat up for grabs, tighten up. You don’t need all the chips in play to go through and can fold hands like Jacks to a shove. But never let yourself get so short that you don’t have any fold equity left.


If you’re planning on qualifying for direct satellites, play your events during the week. Qualifiers on Saturdays and Sundays are bulging with runners looking to gamble.

Luck of the Irish

To bink a seat you need things to go in your favour. So don’t get annoyed if you’re not winning. Just get lucky!

 Click here to read part 2 of this feature

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