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Look For The Overlay

Look For The Overlay
One of the unique features of online poker is the “guaranteed” tournament, where the site puts up a specific amount as a prize pool, regardless of whether or not the buy-ins reach that total. These guarantees may take the form of cash, or in the case of many satellite tourneys, a particular number of seats in a future event.

A savvy online player can take advantage of these opportunities to give himself a much better chance to be profitable, IF he can recognize what is called an “overlay,” meaning a tournament where the actual buy-ins never match the original guarantee. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

First of all, it is important to note that at the two biggest sites, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, the cash guarantees are almost always met and exceeded. Both sites allow for lengthy late registrations in most tournaments, which means that even if there were to be a small overlay, by the time you recognized it, you would be entering so late that you would be at a severe disadvantage with a short stack. So, our recommendation is not even to bother looking for opportunities in this area, unless you frequent a much less populated site.

However, the situation is often VERY different with satellites that have a certain number of seats guaranteed. For instance, Poker Stars runs a huge number of $11.70 double shootout tournaments as qualifiers for the $215 buy-in Sunday Million tournament held every week. These satellites guarantee two seats will be awarded. This means that there is an overlay present until 40 players have registered. In addition, once the tournament begins, registration is closed, so registration at the last possible second insures that the overlay will still exist. It is not uncommon to have 30 or so players registered in these satellites, leaving $100+ of free money on the table, and improving the starting odds of winning a seat from 20:1 to 15:1, but keeping the payout at 20:1.

For anyone who likes to satellite into higher entry fee tournaments, this is an irresistible deal, and should be jumped on whenever possible. Even if you would rather play smaller buy-in tournaments, you should still take full advantage of this opportunity, because, if you win the seat, you can just go to the tournament lobby, cancel your registration, and have the $215 in tournament dollars put right back into your account. From there, you can use that money to play whatever tourneys you wish.

As the World Series of Poker approaches next year, watch out for opportunities for overlays in satellite tourneys that feed some of the bigger Main Event seat events. For instance, this year a 2,500 frequent player point buy-in for 250 guaranteed $370 seats in a huge Main Event satellite that attracted less than 900 players!

This meant that the site was putting up more than $100 per player, or about four times the value of what the points are worth. While an overlay of this magnitude is not that common, it DOES happen more frequently than you might imagine, and doesn’t take that much effort to locate, if you want to follow the entry patterns for tournaments in which you are interested.

While overlay opportunities are certainly more frequent on smaller sites, the examples cited above are definitely available, and occur on every site. Just spend a few minutes watching how the tournaments fill out, and take advantage any time you spot a good situation. In the long run, it will serve your bankroll well. 
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