This week we dissect the concept of the float and illustrate the conditions under which it makes sense to add it to your game.

Understanding Floating

A concept that has begun to pick up steam in the mainstream world of hold’em is the “float” or “semi-float,” which is defined as calling a bet with no hand or a marginal hand in hopes of taking the pot away from the bettor in a later part of the hand. Five years ago, when someone raised preflop and you flatted with 108s, when the flop came 229 rainbow, if they bet, you folded almost 100% of the time; you have ten high, and nothing more than a back door straight draw and an over card. In the modern, aggressive, continuation bet happy world of hold’em, however, players are now finding reasons to call a bet on a flop like this. Why?

Floating offers us a defense against the now standard continuation bet. A very aggressive player opens the pot on the cutoff, you call on the button, and the blinds fold. When the flops comes, you expect him to bet almost 100% of the time, no matter the texture. If you simply call or raise when you hit and fold when you miss, your opponent is going to quickly chink away at your stack. By mixing in floats and semi-floats, you can slow your opponent down in a multitude of ways. If you take the pot from him on the turn or river, he may be less inclined to fire continuation bets, knowing that your liberally calling his bets.

floating in NLHEBefore you attempt to add the float to your poker repertoire, however, there are some standard rules and situations that you need to be aware of. First, floating is most effective in heads-up pots, with position. The biggest weapon we have with the float is seeing what our opponent does on the next round of betting first; when he checks, we can attack, when he bets, we can safely release. Without the power of position, we’re forced to guess if our opponent has any part of the flop/turn and lead out blindly. So, when floating, make sure you’re in position and heads up; this is vital!

We’re looking for particular opponents when we go for the float, as well; loose, aggressive players are good for floating, especially ones that continuation bet frequently. A lot of these players like to lead out on the flop, then relinquish control of the pot if called on the flop. These are the type of players that are exploitable with the float, and we’ll look at a few examples of win floating has merit and when floating is simply foolish.

The Float in Action: A Sample Hand

We’re on the cutoff with the 910h in a $1/$2 game. The hijack, a wild, aggro player, opens for $7, and you call. The blinds fold, and the flop is Jh3c2s. The hijack leads out $8. This is a prime spot for a float. You have two backdoor draws (flush and straight) and two overs to middle pair. Also, your opponent led out $8 into $17, a less than half pot bet that reeks of a continuation bet or probe bet. You flat, and the turn is the 4c. Your opponent checks. Even though our hand didn’t improve, this is where you complete the float and fire out a bet. With $33 in the pot, a nice, 2/3rd pot bet of $20-$25 should be enough to get out opponent off of any junk hands that he may have fired the flop with. You bet $22 and your opponent insta-mucks, and you win the pot. This float worked perfectly; you opponent led weak on the flop, then checked an innocent looking card on the turn; two strong signals that our opponent isn’t particularly thrilled about the strength of his hand. This is a prime combination to follow through with the float.

Playing pokerLet’s look at that exact same scenario, except on the turn, an ace of spades hits, and your opponent checks. Again, our opponent appears weak, but this card is much more likely to scare us than scare him. Can we still follow up with a bet here? I would be much less inclined to follow through with the bet here. Our opponent is much more likely to have hit that ace than he would’ve the 4, and he could easily be deciding to check/call with a hand like A8o here. The ace also makes a lot of broadway gutshot hands, and our wild opponent may choose to peel a card off with KQ or QJ, rendering our float useless. Understanding board texture is essential in determining if a float is likely to work or not; you’re telling a story throughout the hand, and when you call the flop and bet the turn, your actions need to tell your opponent, “Hey, I liked that flop, and that turn was good for my hand, so I’m going to protect the best hand, here.”

Taking that a step further, some players will still continue the float if their opponent bets the turn. Hyper aggro players may be willing to fire two barrels, and that makes our original concept of the float very unprofitable; when they bet the turn, we’re generally folding. But, if you have a keen understanding of when your opponent is barreling wide, you can effectively float the flop and simply raise a weak looking turn bet. This is a lot trickier than simply betting when your opponent checks; you have to be almost certain that your opponent is capable of firing multiple barrels, and you have to be willing to make a strong raise on the turn, which, after a preflop raise, a flop bet, and a turn bet, could be a large chunk of change. Here’s an example.

The cutoff opens for $8, you elect to flat on the button with AJo, and the blinds fold. You flop air, 984 rainbow, and your opponent bets $12. You elect to flat as a float, and you see a 3 of clubs on the turn, butting a club flush draw on the board. Your opponent bets $20. If you think this is another probing bet, you can make raise it here and attempt to take the pot from your opponent. How much are we looking to bet here, though? If we’re trying to convince our opponent that we have the best hand, the raise needs to be stout; $60-$80 total. The danger of the turn raise shows itself here; when you’re wrong, it can be a 30+ BB error in judgment. This is why, at least when beginning to learn the mechanics of the float, floating to raise the turn isn’t recommended.

The Float: Final Thoughts

There’s a final facet to this concept that is also paramount in learning to utilize the float. When you semi-float, making a piece of the small draw or hitting your pair does NOT always mean you should happily check and take the free river if checked to. Take the first example hand, with the 109h or the Jh3c2s board. If the turn is the 8d, a lot of players will abort their plan from the float and check, hoping to hit their hand and win a big pot from their opponent, and check it down if they miss. There’s a huge flaw with their logic on the turn, though; the opponent has now played the hand like he doesn’t have anything major; but there’s a good chance he has 10 high beat. Betting now wins us the pot outright a significant percentage of the time and prevents our opponent from seeing the river for free, which may convince him that 55 or AQo is good enough to call a river bet if you do bet out on the river. If we do make our hand, we can’t expect to make much off of him, as most of the time, he’s going to have what our float was supposed to tell us he had; air. Betting the turn with the draw is a semi-bluff that forces our opponent to call two bets with the 55 or AQo, which is much less appealing. Even if you make a draw, don’t think that it’s always a good idea to take the card and try to hit a monster. Betting out is far and away the superior play.

There is one final note on the float concerning the frequency of your floats. Utilizing the float against a continuation bettor is a smart move, when used in moderation. But, beware making the move a frequent play. A smart aggro player will then begin checking his strong hands to you on the turn, allowing you to fire a bet that he can check-raise. Even if you think you see a spot you can float, if you’ve been doing it a few times in the past few orbits, it may be wise to simply let the spot go for now and let your opponents have a small pot or two. When your opponent becomes aware that you’re betting most turns that he checks, that is when he will begin defending against the float. By sparingly added the float or semi-float in your poker arsenal, however, you have a tricky, deceptive move that can make your opponents think twice about continuation betting you out of position, which can be an invaluable defense against aggressive players.