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Mastering the Art of Floating: 2 Emotion-Charged Scenarios in Poker

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Float, in poker terms, often refers to calling an opponent’s bet on the flop with a weak hand in a favorable position, with the intention of later attacking the opponent in the following streets to steal the pot.

A decade ago, this type of play, where you called on the flop with the intention of not showing your hand and then taking the pot, was quite rare. Nowadays, as my friend Oomekatzoool puts it, “Even my grandma floats these days!”

The initial purpose of floating was to target honest but conservative opponents who knew they should c-bet (make a continuation bet) but would often give up weak hands if their c-bet was called on the flop. Floating is a perfect strategy against these opponents, especially if they are likely to open fire on later streets instead of checking or raising.

For example, if we’re heads-up on the flop with an opponent, and the pot is $100, and the opponent bets $50, and we have a weak hand like 3-high, if the opponent has a weak hand too, our call can win the pot of $150. If the opponent has a strong hand, we only lose the $50 we called. The expected value (EV) of calling is calculated as:

  • EV = $150 x P (probability opponent is weak) – $50 x P (probability opponent is strong)

If the opponent’s opening range on the flop is strong enough to continue on the turn, our float’s EV becomes:

  • $150 x 50% – $50 x 50% = $50

While opponents are rarely read perfectly, adopting the floating strategy against certain players turns the poker table into a money-printing machine. Of course, times change, and in today’s poker world, almost all skilled players fire multiple barrels on later streets and are cautious when being floated.

However, the current situation doesn’t mean we can’t float anymore—absolutely not. We just need to be more cautious before floating, not assuming that opponents will always give up weak hands on later streets.

1. Suitable Situations for Floating

Position: Floating is more suitable when you have a good position. Without a good position, it’s challenging to determine if your opponent intends to continue playing the hand on later streets. If you check, and your opponent checks as well, it’s more likely that you’ll reach a showdown without showing your hand because only one street of betting remains.

Opponent Bets Light on the Flop: If your opponent rarely gives up after betting on the flop, they often find themselves holding weak hands on the turn, unable to resist the aggression of a savvy player. Floating is ideal when your opponent’s betting range on the flop is strong but weakens on the turn.

Potential for Hand Improvement: Floating’s primary purpose is to win without showing your hand. However, if there’s a chance to hit a strong hand on the flop, you have a plan B for your float. Backdoor flush draws are one example. As long as your opponent doesn’t fold, you have a chance to win big.

Betting Small: Smaller bets mean your float is cheaper, and they also suggest that your opponent’s range is weaker. Faced with small bets, you must reduce your folding frequency to avoid being exploited. Compared to raising, floating is a more suitable option.

Opponent’s Range Misses the Flop: If your opponent’s range is generally tight and misses the flop, but they still bet, it often indicates that they are making a standard c-bet with many hands. In this case, floating can be profitable as your opponent’s range often doesn’t connect with the flop.

2. Practical Applications

In the examples provided, we evaluate whether floating is suitable:

Example 1: Final Table Float

  • Game: $11 MTT final table
  • Blinds: 50K/100K
  • Effective Stacks: 3 million chips
  • Action: 7 players remaining, chip stacks ranging from 1.3 million to 6.2 million. The action folds to the small blind with 4.3 million chips, which raises to 60,000. You’re on the button with a stack of 5.3 million chips and a hand of T7. The big blindfolds, and you call. The pot is 150,000.
  • Flop: K♥ 6♥ 2♦
  • Action: The small blind bets half the pot, 75,000, and you fold.

Analysis: In this situation, we should consider raising before the flop, putting pressure on the short-stacked opponent. After the flop, floating is the right move. Almost all conditions support the float: we have a position, the small blind’s range is likely full of marginal hands, and their hand strength is likely to weaken on the turn. They are unlikely to open fire on later streets, and they won’t want to build a massive pot because your stack is larger. Additionally, our winning odds are not terrible. If the opponent has A♠ 2♣, we still have 6 outs to hit a second pair or a backdoor flush draw. Our win rate is approximately 27%, and with pot odds of 3:1, this is a great opportunity to float.

Example 2: Tight-Range Opponent

  • Game: $55 MTT
  • Blinds: 10/20
  • Effective Stack: 3,000 chips
  • Action: A professional player with VPIP (Voluntarily Put $ in Pot) 15%, PFR (Pre-Flop Raise) 14%, and a c-bet frequency of 82% raises to 60 from the UTG position. You’re on the button with J9 and call. The small blind and big blindfold. The pot is 150.
  • Flop: 6♥ 5♦ 4♠
  • Action: Your opponent bets 100, and you call. The pot is 350.
  • Turn: 8♥
  • Action: Your opponent checks, and you bet 250. Your opponent folds.

Analysis: In this scenario, just like in the previous example, we have a potential backdoor flush draw, and if we can’t make our opponent fold on the turn, we occasionally have a chance to win a significant pot. However, on this hand, we believe that our opponent’s range is very narrow, and we use this information to our advantage. Most of a tight-aggressive player’s UTG raising range in this spot consists of unpaired overcards or small pairs. For instance, suppose their range on the flop includes 6-6+, A-Jo+ (off-suit), A-Ts+ (suited), K-Qo+, and K-Js. In this example, 72 out of their 123 combinations completely missed the flop. Their high c-bet frequency suggests they bet with most of their hands on the flop. Furthermore, if they genuinely have a high pocket pair, there are 16 cards on the turn that can complete four possible straights. Thus, we have a decent chance of making them fold on the next two streets. Therefore, we can float on this flop, intending to take down many pots on later streets, either because they gave up their unpaired overcards or because they hit a straight on the turn and decided to fold their hand.

These examples illustrate how floating can be a profitable strategy when used in the right situations and against the right opponents. It allows you to maximize your expected value and extract value from your opponents when they show weakness.

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