Bernard Lee shares tips for ‘Poker Satellite Success!’ (book excerpt)

May 14, 2021inPoker

Practically all major poker tournaments feature satellites these days. Even smaller ones (especially online) provide ways to win your seat inexpensively via the satellite route.

Learning how to succeed in satellites can be a great way to extend your bankroll, as well as to give you chances to win a lot for a little. For those seeking satellite-specific strategy, poker pro and author Bernard Lee‘s new book Poker Satellite Success! provides just that.

Bernard Lee

Bernard Lee

Lee is something of a satellite specialist, having consistently won in his way into big events over the last two decades.

He did so back at the 2003 WSOP Main Event won by Chris Moneymaker, who, as you’ll recall, followed a similar satellite path to that tournament. Lee had his own deep WSOP Main Event run soon after that when he finished 13th in 2005.

Since then, the Harvard University grad has competed in hundreds of satellites and main events all over the world, accumulating 10 titles and over $2.5 million in tournament winnings.

Lee has been a constant presence in poker media, contributing strategy articles and other poker-related writings to numerous outlets while also hosting The Bernard Lee Poker Show.

In Poker Satellite Success! Lee shares a number of specific methods to maximize your results in satellites. Topics covered include:

  • Strategy play during different levels of a satellite
  • A formula for calculating the satellite ending level
  • Short stack strategy on the satellite bubble
  • Fascinating and instructive satellite scenarios and stories
  • Deal situations and discussions

Here’s an excerpt from the book in which Lee addresses a common question asked by satellite players — how do I know when I have accumulated enough chips to fold my way to a seat?

Calculate if You Have Enough Chips to Earn a Seat (from Poker Strategy Success! by Bernard Lee)

If you have a huge chip stack during the late levels in a satellite, you may feel that you have enough chips to earn your main event seat and not play another hand. Unfortunately, you are not 100% certain if you truly have a sufficient chip stack and begin to second guess yourself. If you did have enough chips and then unnecessarily played another hand, you could have ruined your chances at earning a main event seat. Or, if you in actuality didn’t have ample chips and didn’t play another hand, you could get blinded off at the end and be eliminated close to, if not on, the bubble.

How can you calculate whether you have enough chips to earn a main event seat for certain before it is too late?

Note: I would say that it is best not to worry about this calculation at the start of a satellite, and concern yourself with just playing well. When you get deep into an event, you can then calculate this number during any level, but I would only do this if you have a significant chip stack.

First, you need to determine at which level the satellite will end….

Second, you need to estimate how many more orbits it will take to burst the bubble (remember that each orbit typically takes around 15 to 20 minutes; however, to be conservative, I would use 15 minutes in your calculation).

Third, after calculating the SPS [Starting Pot Size] of each orbit (remember to consider the increased blind levels), add each level’s SPS….

Fourth, using the chart below, determine the factor to multiply to the sum of each level’s SPS to calculate the number of chips needed to play until the end of the final level.

Duration of the Blind Level

Finally, subtract this amount from your current chip stack.

If you end up with more than 12 big blinds during the ending blind level (or when the bubble is expected to burst), you can sit back and relax. You literally do not have to play another hand throughout the satellite. You have your main event seat!

You don’t need to tell anyone else at the table of this certainty based on your calculations. Keep this information to yourself and play or, should I say, fold accordingly.

If your calculations give you 8 to 12 big blinds during the ending blind level (or when the bubble is expected to burst), you are extremely close. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. Adding one more set of blinds and antes should be enough to guarantee a main event seat. Thus, I would wait for the perfect situation, such as blind vs. blind or raising on the button, preferably utilizing a possible folding tell from one or both blinds. Also, take your time – there is no need to rush through hands, as time is your friend.

If your calculation is less than 8 big blinds during the ending blind level (or when the bubble is expected to burst), you will still need to play and accumulate chips. You don’t want to take major risks, but you can’t stop playing altogether.

Here [is an example] of how you might determine whether you have enough chips to just fold for the rest of the satellite.


The satellite buy-in is $110 ($100 to prize pool; $10 is the combined staff/dealer/event fee). The main event has a buy-in of $1,000. The winners of the satellite will only receive the seat, no additional cash.

Each player began the satellite with 5,000 chips. The satellite is running 30-minute levels.

At the end of registration, there were 67 entries. There are twelve players remaining.

Currently, you started blind level 1,500/3,000, Big Blind Ante 3,000. The next blinds levels are as follows:

2,000 and 4,000, Big Blind Ante 4,000
2,500 and 5,000, Big Blind Ante 5,000
3,000 and 6,000, Big Blind Ante 6,000
4,000 and 8,000, Big Blind Ante 8,000

You are the chip leader at your table with a stack of 83,500 chips, which also puts you among the satellite’s chip leaders. Do you have enough chips presently to earn a main event seat? Let’s calculate.

First, you will calculate the Number of Entries for One Main Event Seat….

(Main Event Buy-In Amount + Any additional payout) / (Satellite Buy-in Amount – Any casino/staffing fees)
= Entries Needed for One Main Event Seat

($1,000 + $0) / ($110 – $10) = $1,000 / $100 = 10 entries needed for one main event seat

Next, you will Calculate the Ending Blind Level….

(Number of Entries Needed for One Main Event Seat x Number of Starting Chips) / 10
= Big Blind Ending Level

(10 x 5,000) / 10 = 50,000 / 10 = 5,000

Fact to remember: A common 1 in 10 satellite will typically have an ending blind level where the big blind is the same as your original starting stack.

Now, you can calculate the total number of chips that you will need in order to make it to the end of the satellite, utilizing the SPS and time remaining.

Starting Pot Size (SPS) is equal to the blinds plus Big Blind Ante (or total of all conventional antes)

Small Blind + Big Blind + Big Blind Ante (or total of all conventional antes) = Starting Pot Size (SPS)

The SPS for the following remaining levels:

1,500 and 3,000, Big Blind Ante 3,000; SPS = 7,500
2,000 and 4,000, Big Blind Ante 4,000; SPS = 10,000
2,500 and 5,000, Big Blind Ante 5,000; SPS = 12,500

Since this satellite’s blind level is 30 minutes long, you will use the factor of two (see chart below) to multiply to the SPS sum, since we use 15 minutes as the estimate for one complete orbit around the table.

Duration of the Blind Level

Therefore, the total chips needed would be:

2 x (7,500 + 10,000 + 12,500) = 2 x (30,000) = 60,000

With your remaining stack at 83,500, subtract 60,000 and you have 23,500 remaining.

With the ending level calculated at 5,000 as the big blind, you will have less than 5 big blinds remaining.


Based on these calculations, you are not guaranteed your main event seat. You are close, so don’t take any unnecessary risks. But you will need to keep playing and try to accumulate some additional chips. A few blind steals and/or a decent size pot could tip you over the edge.

Bernard Lee’s Poker Satellite Success is available in paperback or as an e-book from D&B Poker.

D&B Publishing (using the imprint D&B Poker) was created by Dan Addelman and Byron Jacobs over 15 years ago. Since then it has become one of the leading publishers of poker books with titles by Phil Hellmuth, Jonathan Little, Mike Sexton, Chris Moorman, Dr. Patricia Cardner, Lance Bradley, Martin Harris and more, all of which are available at D&B Poker.



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