Ever since Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event after qualifying from a $39 online satellite at PokerStars, the idea of winning a smaller tournament to play in the big one has become one of the most popular ways players take part in the WSOP. Many of these satellites are long and tough tournaments in and of themselves, however, requiring skill and perseverance to navigate and emerge triumphant.
As time runs out before registration for the Main Event ends, however, the format of these satellites starts tightening up to ensure they’ll finish up in time. More and more of them are held as single-table tournaments on the final day, and quickly even those tournaments shorten to turbo structures to fit even more in. And for the truly desperate players in the final hours before registration closes, there are the one-hand satellites that serve as virtual coin flips.
Skill vs. luck is an important debate in the world of poker, one that has both legal and moral implications for the game. But when it comes to these last-chance satellites, nobody will ever claim there’s anything but pure luck involved. They say you only need a chip and a chair to win in poker, but in this case, your $1,030 only gets you the chair: there are no chips in these instantaneous tournaments.
At the one table in the Rio that ran these satellites on Day 1C of the Main Event, the games would fire off as soon as ten willing players had stepped up to take their seats (though dozens more were always on the rail to watch the spectacle). The dealer first determined the order in which cards would be dealt by giving each player one card, and then dealt out the hands face-down.
After that, the dealer would run out a board of community cards. Each player then took their turn to flip over their cards to see if they managed to hit the board at all. One player inevitably had the best hand, making themselves the satellite winner.
That player earned $10,000 in lammers, which most players quickly turned into a seat in the Main Event. Based on one YouTube video of such a tournament in action, the entire process took about one minute to complete.
For a poker player that’s even a tiny bit above average, taking all of the actual play out of a satellite hurts their chances of getting a seat. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons for players to take part in these one-hand satellites, and while an exact number wasn’t available, it’s clear that more than ten of these tournaments filled.
First, there’s the speed element, which turned these tournaments into the last good chance to get into the WSOP for many stragglers. Casual players with money to burn gave themselves a shot to win a seat on the cheap without having to beat superior competition to do it. And for some players, it was just about getting a little more gambling in.
In some cases, the winners of these tournaments weren’t even buying into the Main Event. Since the prizes were awarded in lammers, winners could try to sell them to others looking for a last-minute discount on a seat, though this became harder and harder as the registration deadline neared, and fewer people were willing to wait on a ten-way coin flip to buy their seat.
No matter how you look at it, it certainly added to the entertaining aspects of this endlessly entertaining event.