WSOP single-table satellites era, 1982-2022

Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: April 13, 2023 08:31 PDT

This week's release of the official rules set governing this summer's 2023 World Series of Poker confirmed what had been previously but only unofficially announed, in that the era of the WSOP's single-table satellites is all but over. Except for a few STSs feeding directly into the Main Event, plus some special one-hand STSs run as part of the GGPoker-sponsored "Flip and Go" event, the STSs have been largely consigned to the dust bin.

Since at least 1982, when the first STS feeding into the WSOP was created by then-WSOP tournament director Eric Drache, the WSOP's single-table satellites -- or single-table sit-'n-gos, for the online-poker minded -- have served as a feeder system into official WSOP bracelet events.

But no more. And with them, the era of the tourney buy-in lammer, most commonly seen in recent years with a non-cash value of $500/chip, is over as well. Neither of the two special STS formats that will remain at the WSOP require the use of tourney lammers, since winners can be walked directly to the registration cage to be entered into the Main or Flip and Go events.

Seasonal WSOP Twitter Czar Kevin Mathers pointed out the pending removal of STSs back in February, when the WSOP released its 2023 schedule of events.

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Though never confirmed officially by the WSOP, the general demise of the STGs was likely caused by massive misuse of the format by ever-larger numbers of STS specialists. A few such players are known to have spent virtually the entire summer in the WSOP's STS area, which used to be in Brasilia at the Rio but moved to the heart of the Paris Ballroom last year.

The STS specialists played many hundreds of such single-table satellites over the course of a given WSOP, often amassing dozens, even hundreds of tourney lammers which they then sold to friends. While there was, arguably, no direct damage being caused by the practice, it still caught the wary eye of certain law-enforcement entities, since players showed up at the registration paying for event buy-ins with lammers after there had been no record of them actually winning any STSs.

Like virtually every other major Vegas casino corporation, Caesars has occasionally drawn the attention of the US's Internal Revenue Service and the Department of the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which continually monitor casino activities looking for ways in which money launderers can misuse casino services. To those agencies, the general financial looseness regarding thousands of tourney lammers in unknown hands may have represented the type of risk the agencies wanted casinos to avoid.

The WSOP began cracking down on under-the-table sales and transfers of lammers between players not long before the 2021 Main Event. Enforcement, however, was somewhat inconsistent, and it led to immediate protest from many of the affected players.

The writing was still on the wall. Last year, during the 2022 WSOP, the STS activity was only a small fraction of what it was in previous years, occupying just a few tables at even the busiest times.

Over 40 years of STS history at WSOP

Single-table satellites weren't quite around at the very start of the WSOP, but it wasn't that many years before the enduring concept came into existence. Drache, who was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame in 2012, is generally credited with the innovation, though exactly when is still open to some debate.

Drache's Wikipedia page credits him with creating the STS in the late 1970s. However, a more detailed version of the STS innovation appears in PokerNews writer Paul Seaton's 2018 interview of Tom McEvoy , wherein McEvoy declared that Drache created the concept in 1982, although McEvoy might not have known if Drache had previously experimented with the STS concept in earlier years.

"For a number of years, Eric Drache was the tournament director for the World Series for the Binion family at Binion’s Horseshoe where the tournament was held until 2003," McEvoy told Seaton. "They weren’t getting enough entries in the Main Event in 1982. Back then, $10,000 was worth a lot more than it is today. Drache saw a bunch of guys playing a cash game and he said ‘Why don’t you guys each put up a thousand bucks and the winner will get a seat in the Main Event?’"

Tom McEvoy Ev 79 Day 1 (Image: Haley Hintze) Tom McEvoy Ev 79 Day 1 (Image: Haley Hintze)

The following year, 1983, saw McEvoy himself become an important part of WSOP STS history, when he won a Main Event seat after satelliting in, then took down the most important event in the game. McEvoy was the first, but not the last, to satellite into poker history, and the STS funnel has figured into WSOP Main Event history in other ways as well.

In 2000, for example, Harper's Magazine contributing writer James McManus was in Vegas on assignment to write about the WSOP Main Event. McManus, an amateur player himself, decided to use $1,000 of his expected pay for the piece to enter a Main Event-feeding STS. McManus won that, then parlayed that seat into a fifth-place ME finish that became the core continuity within his Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, one of poker's seminal tales.

Featured image source: Haley Hintze