On more than one occasion, it has been said that winning the World Series of Poker Main Event is every poker player’s dream. For most though, plunking down $10,000 just for a ticket to the big show is a tough pill to swallow.
That’s where satellite tournaments come into play. Year after year, players of every skill level take their shot in satellite tournaments, hoping that they can earn a seat into the WSOP Main for a fraction of the cost. After all, there’s no better feeling than being able to play for the big money while still maintaining your bankroll.
No doubt in 2018 there will be plenty of players looking to become the story of the series by grabbing a huge score. Players hoping to follow in the footsteps of some of the most notable players who ever made major career moves by winning their way into the ME and grabbing some WSOP glory.
Even twenty years before the poker boom, the World Series of Poker was a big deal to fans of the game. Some of the biggest names to ever play poker had claimed WSOP Main Event titles – Johnny Moss, Puggy Pearson, Doyle Brunson, Bobby Baldwin and Stu Unger, just to name a few. In 1983, in only the second year that the Main Event drew over 100 players, Tom McEvoy made his mark on the series by becoming the first person to ever win the Main Event after winning his seat through a satellite.
McEvoy won $540,000 for first that year and while he’d been a professional player for a number of years prior, it helped him continue his poker journey. McEvoy continues to enjoy a career of over $3 million in lifetime earnings. The Nevada resident can still be spotted in a variety of events in the Las Vegas tournament poker scene, always remembered as a champion.
If he could have cashed out he would have. But after Spain’s Fernando Pons played a €30 satellite tournament on 888poker he was forced into the next step, a 250 satellite. According to the 888poker blog, Pons claims that had he been able to take the cash – that would have been the end of it. But he did play, he did win and the Spaniard did turn that original €30 into a seat into the Main Event.
What Pons ended up with was something beyond his wildest dreams. He battled through seven days of poker and claimed a seat in the 2016 November Nine. He found himself seated alongside players like Griffin Benger, Kenny Hallaert, Cliff Josephy and eventual winner Qui Nguyen. Pons’ run ended in ninth-place for which he earned $1,000,000 – far and away a career-high score. Since that time, Pons has continued to play, mostly in Spain. He did, however, take down a summer side event at the Wynn in 2017 for over $40,000.
Another great story of maximizing one’s ROI is that of Tommy Yates. In 2015, the Grecian bar owner began grinding $0.01 satellites online in an effort to win his way into the Main. An eight-year poker vet, the game was a part-time passion for him. After a number of attempts, he found himself in the final stages of the steps satellites, on the cusp of winning a seat. With four players left, three who would win seats and the fourth a $6,000 return – Yates thought about just trying for the cash. After all, he was in for just $2.18.
He was convinced otherwise and played it out. Yates won his seat, went to the show and played his heart out – finishing well within the money bubble. Yates turned his $2.18 investment into a $19,500 payday.
In 2012 when high-stakes mixed game cash pro Shaun Deeb entered the $25,000 satellite for a seat to the inaugural $1 million Big One For One Drop, he scored a major victory – without actually winning the event.
At the final table, after the departure of fan favorite Jason Sommerville in third-place, Deeb found himself up against three-time World Poker Tour winner Gus Hansen. There was one final seat in the tournament up for grabs. Second place would receive a million dollar payday, but be unable to participate in the tournament. Deeb decided that cash was king and it quickly became obvious that a deal was struck between the two. He raise-folded the majority of his stack to Gus who ended up closing it out and winning the seat. Deeb was then gifted his first million dollar cash score.
Legend has it that the Rio, rather than cut out cool million in stacks, decided to pay Deeb in tournament lammers. The lammers, which have zero cash value and can only be used to enter tournaments at the Rio, would have been nearly impossible to use up if the idea had stuck. In the end, Deeb was allowed to cash out those lammers and take home the million in cash.
Hansen ended up busting out of the One Drop without cashing.
No list of epic satellite winners would be complete without the accountant from Tennessee, Chris Moneymaker. Moneymaker sparked the powder keg that was the “poker boom” in 2003 with his WSOP Main Event win and fortuitous name. He was also the first player to win the Main Event after having won his way into the Main through an online site.
Moneymaker is the dream. You know the story: He wasn’t the best player in the tournament and he wasn’t the most experienced at the final table but he got in for the minimum, made the maximum and from there his career took off. He has kept his sponsorship of 15 years with PokerStars, he’s still one of the game’s most recognizable faces and has gone on to amass over $3.7 million in lifetime live earnings.
Satellites run around the clock at the World Series of Poker and online sites like 888poker offer players way to win their way into the Main Event. Will this be the year another satellite winner takes it all down?