You’ve probably heard poker pros or commentators using the word “float” when describing action in a hand — as in “He led with a bet and I decided to float to see the turn.” New players might not recognize the term, although the context makes it easy enough to understand it refers to a postflop call.
But while the meaning of the word might be clear, the strategy behind “floating” in position is more complicated to understand. Here I’ll discuss exactly what it means to float and how you can effectively add this move to your arsenal.
What It Means to “Float”
Floating is the act of calling an opponent’s postflop bet with a weak hand with the intention of bluffing or outplaying your opponent on later streets. The move is sort of a response to how commonplace the continuation bet has become in no-limit hold’em.
Players tend to float after their opponent continues out on the flop and they suspect their opponent has a weak hand. Floating allows you to wait until you have more information on the turn or the river to try and pick up the pot with a bluff bet or a raise.
Floating the Flop
Let’s say for example you’re playing in a tournament and the blinds and antes are at 100/200/25. An opponent you’ve observed to be fairly selective before the flop puts out a raise to 500 from middle position and you call from the button with . The two blinds then fold, leaving you and your opponent heads up to the flop. The dealer fans on the felt and your opponent continues out for 600.
Say you originally put your opponent on two big cards before the flop, a reasonable assumption given how he has been playing and what sort of hands you believe he would have to have in order to raise from early position. You don’t think that these community cards helped his hand at all. That being said, you don’t want to put out a raise here because you don’t wish to inflate the pot. With those criteria in place, floating may be a solid option — that is, you can call your opponent’s continuation bet and then attempt to steal the pot on a later street.
So you call and the turn makes the board look even scarier with the , putting three clubs on the board and enhancing the straight opportunities. This card stops your opponent dead in his tracks as he checks the action over to you.
Now would be the time to jump on his weakness and attempt to pick up the pot. Even though you only have king-high, the fact that the board is open to so many possibilities and you perceive your opponent to be weak can allow you to pick up the pot right there. Floating the flop has allowed you to pounce on the lack of strength presented on the turn rather than having blindly fired a raise on the flop without having a better idea how your opponent’s hand fits (or doesn’t fit) with the community cards.
When a Float Becomes Something More
Another situation in which floating can be effective is when it actually gives you outs to make an unexpectedly strong hand.
Let’s say that once again your opponent makes a raise and you are the sole caller in position with . The flop comes down . Once again, the same opponent bets out and you suspect weakness. You float and the turn brings the . Suddenly you have picked up both a flush draw as well as an open-ended straight draw. Once again, your opponent checks to you and you lead into the pot.
The difference in this hand when compared to the first is that you now have several outs to make a big hand on the river. Thanks to that turn card providing you a couple of draws, your turn bet without a pair can also be regarded as a semi-bluff — that is, you’re bluffing without a pair (and wouldn’t mind a fold), but you’re doing so with many outs to improve if your opponent does stick around.
Let’s say your turn bet is called and your opponent may be stronger than originally perceived. Now a diamond, queen, or seven on the river will very likely make you a hand that will win the pot most of this time — and best of all that hand will be hidden. Your opponent will have a difficult time putting you on a straight or a flush given the way the hand played out, which could provide an opportunity for you to get paid off big and truly pad your stack.
One of the best aspects to floating, though, is the fact that it provides a relatively easy way to get away from hands should they not work out in your favor.
After you’ve floated the flop and then made your move on the turn in an attempt to steal the pot, it’s usually not a big deal to relent and let your opponent take it down if he truly decides to stand his ground.
You will usually float with a fairly weak hand and should generally only risk a minimal amount of chips to steal, so ditching your cards to a sign of significant strength should not be as difficult to do as it is in spots where you have a hand with marginal value (e.g., middle or bottom pair).
A Position Play
Floating is best understood as a position play, one in which you are primarily playing according to your position against an opponent — in which you have the advantage of acting last — and not so much according to the cards you hold.
Floating in poker is not too complicated, then, although it is a little more involved than just hopping in an inner tube and sailing to your destination. Instead of jumping in the river right away, there are a few steps involved before even getting to the river — and in fact, when floating a lot of times you wouldn’t mind not getting to the river at all!
Even so, floating is a useful play to have available, one of many that can allow you take advantage of being able to play with position on an opponent.