Concepts: Floating


What does this term have to do with poker? David Sklansky writes in his book „No Limit Hold Em: Theory and Practice" about the „bluff call", and that brings us to the symbolic meaning of "floating": You make a call in position on a certain street (mostly the flop) with the plan of becoming active by betting or raising in the next betting round (e.g. on the turn) or potentially to bluff, if necessary. Thus, the call on the flop or turn serves to prepare a bluff on a later street and can therefore be called bluff call.

Actually both players are hanging in the air after such a call. On the one hand, we haven't made a concrete action except for the call and we aren't really holding a defined hand yet. On the other hand, the opponent can't derive much about the strength of our hand from the call and he doesn't know whether we are on a draw, have a made hand or just want to float.

Now the question arises:

Why just call, when we actually want to bluff? Wouldn't a raise make much more sense?

The problem of raising is that we are often called, especially on the flop, since our opponent either has a hand, which he thinks is good enough to stay in the hand or because he has a strong draw and he still has a good chance of winning the hand after the flop was dealt.

Our bluff therefore often remains ineffective. We have build the pot and would have to fire a much more expensive third barrel on the turn. 

An example of a hand that the opponent won't give up is e.g. an overpair on a 2-flush or unpaired flop. But when a third flush card appears or the highest card on the flop pairs, it is a whole different story. Now an opponent is often willing to fold hands at last that still looked strong on the flop.

Furthermore, a call in No Limit Hold'em often looks much stronger than a raise. It means in a figurative sense as much as: "I have position on you and I have a hand, with which I don't have to fear any turn card and that I want to continue playing. So please stay in the hand and dig your own grave!".
So let's take a closer look at the situations and reasons for a float.

Reasons for floating attempts

  1. Deception: In the previous articles we have recommended to play very tight, both pre-flop and post-flop. The profitability of a given, playable hand results from the post-flop skills of the respective player. As a beginner it is therefore a huge advantage to stick to these guidlines to avoid having to make extremely difficult or even marginal decisions.
    So we have only determined so far that we want to continue playing in position almost exclusively with pocket pairs (maybe also , , see also the article on pre-flop play). In the recommended tight-aggressive style we barely come into situations, where we can float after the flop. But the higher we move up in limits, the more competent and attentive become our opponents. A problem is that it can easily be figured out how we play and our pre-flop as well as our post-flop play isn't deceptive enough for a good player. He can easily take advantage of this, in case he is competent, to make life more difficult for us by making good raises and bluffs, provided that we don't adjust and mix up our game.
  2. Exploit Weakness: The other way around, floating offers us the opportunity to exploit weakness from our weak-tight opponents with a well-planed and executed bluff. This will pay off, if those weak players tend to fold to a continuation bet on the turn, when they have overcards or only few outs. As it is often the case, when we have a small pocket pair on uncoordinated, dry boards, where our opponent merely has overcards or a draw.
  3. Cheap Turns: Furthermore, we can see a cheap turn with hands where we are in doubt about their current strength (or also weak draws) without building a big pot. In case our opponent shows weakness we can win the hand with a bet on the turn without having improved our hand.

Conditions for a float attempt

When we come back to the question flop-raise vs. floating we will realise that a raise on the flop with one pair hands such as (e.g. top pair with good or medium kicker) is a tightrope walk between a bluff and raising for value. When our opponent responds to our flop raise with a push, we often have to fold our hand, although we have invested a lot of chips and aren't able to see neither a turn nor a showdown. By floating we keep the pot on the flop small enough to still have scope for bets and raises in case a good turn card appears.

Basically, pre-flop and post-flop play depends on the ratio of the remaining stack (the smaller one of the involved stacks) to the pre-flop pot, when you decide in favour of a float attempt. In order to find out how to calculate this value we recommend to have a look at the articles about reraised pots. We strive for a number that is preferably ten or higher, so that we have enough scope left after our call on the flop for more than two pot size bets and/or raises and we don't run the risk that we or our opponent are committed too quickly in the respective hand.

An opponent, who is committed, is very hard to bluff and thus to float. At the same time this results in the fact that we must always have sufficient implied odds when we try to float. A healthy stack of the opponent, the bigger the better, is the prerequisite for a pre-flop call with a hand such as . For more details see the article on deepstack shorthanded play. 

We outline the information on a float now by means of several examples:

  • Beispiel 1: We can find out, if a one pair hand in position is good and if the pre-flop aggressor has made a standard continuation bet.

A pretty tight player opens the pot from under the gun with a raise to three BB. We can narrow down his hand range considerably, since he is raising from UTG: We put him on to , to . Against this range we have a pre-flop equity of almost 40 % with .
But this isn't the decisive factor for our call, since we are obviously behind against his assumed hands.

Our absolute position on the raiser and on all probable callers is relevant for the call as well as that we know that our opponent is tight. He will probably make a continuation bet after the flop, but he often gives up on the turn, if he only has overcards or a (weak) draw. We therefore have the opportunity to take the hand away from him on the turn by floating or on the other hand flop a monster, when he is holding an overpair and he isn't able to get away from his hand.

Since the effective stack sizes in this example are 100 big blinds the ratio of our remaining stack to the pot is:

(Remaining stack) : (pot size) = 97 BB : 7,5 BB = 12,9 ≈ 13

So we also get massive implied odds on a call and have enough scope for a good bluff with up to three pot size bets left after the flop, in case the situation and the cards allow it.

The flop doesn't give us a monster hand, instead only top pair/weak kicker. Against the assumed range of our opponent we are behind in most cases, since we can only beat , and up to now. Any other listed hand would have hit the flop or is an overpair to the board. Thus, we can't simply make a continuation bet, as we are too often trying to bluff a better hand. Our opponent can respond with a 3-bet, which means we would have to fold, although we have already invested a considerable part of our stack. So we call, keep the pot small, indicate that we like our hand and are also prepared for further bets on the turn.

The turn is a blank and our opponent checks. This could be a trap in case he has an overpair or a set, but we have achieved exactly the scenario that we strived for: Our opponent shows weakness. We can bet and assume that we have the best hand at the moment. Our bet on the turn becomes much more dangerous as well, because even if we bet two thirds of the pot, we still have a pot size bet left for the river. Considering the fact that his whole stack is at risk our opponent will only continue playing when he has a strong hand, since he must assume that he has to face another barrel. Hence we can even put pressure on hands such as or :J, when we know that our opponent isn't willing to go too far with top pair hands. Even if we have a worse hand we gain fold equity merely due to bet size and position. We however don't want to give a free card as well, since any , or any on the river ruins our hand.

So we bet. Our opponent folds and our float was successful. We didn't know where we stand on the flop, but we had sufficient implied odds and money behind on the turn, so that it was definitely profitable in this spot to float or raise.

Let's look at this example with our newly acquired knowledge about floating. We can realise that we could also produce such a scenario when we have pure air or a hand worse than top pair. The betting line would also be possible and practicable in the above example with any two hole cards. For this purpose our opponent should be correspondingly weak tight and predictable and he shouldn't adjust to floats. In case a check of this opponent always means weakness, we should definitely take advantage of that when we are in position.

We are able to play marginal draws in position and if necessary convert them into a semi-bluff. Floating is only one of the possible ways to play such a draw. We don't necessarily have to flop a strong draw, for which we get the right odds in case we call. It would therefore, for example, be worthwile to continue playing a weak draw like a gutshot on the flop and try to force mediocre hands that beat us, but can't stand the heat, to fold on the turn. But the higher the number of our outs, the more profitable is a semi-bluff on the turn, as we not only gain fold equity but also build the pot we can win, if our draw arrives and our opponent hasn't folded yet.

Here you also have to pay attention to the fact that we mainly mess with weak tight players, since a tricky, competent player can often spoil these possibilities by firing a second barrel or even play C/RAI (check-raise all-in).

  • Example 2:

We find on the button against a relatively weak-tight UTG raiser. We know that he only plays a well selected number of hands pre-flop and that he gives up a lot of hands marginal to good hands against great action on dangerous flops. His hand range should be similar to the one in the above example. If we calculate a little bit more pessimistic, we still have almost 35% equity against a range of to , to . But that can be neglected for the moment, because here we only have to consider the implied odds: The ratio of our remaining  stack (which we can win at most) to the pot after all pre-flop actions is:

(Heros remaining stack) : (pot) = 126,85 BB : 7,5 BB = 16,9 ≈ 17

Thus, we get massive implied odds and have enough chips left that we have a lot of scope for big bluffs and semi-bluffs, in case we are able to judge the situation correctly. We have two possible pot size bets for turn and river and another somewhat smaller river bet in front of us, so that the situation in our absolute button position seems profitable, despite of the fact that we "only" have 35% equity pre-flop against the assumed hand range of our opponent.

The flop brings us only a gutshot straight draw and the board is relatively dry. Our opponent makes the expected continuation bet. As the board looks relatively safe, our opponent will fold almost none of his hands, since only to have missed the flop. In addition to that overpairs and sets are possible as well. If we raise and he decides to reraise we have to give up our hand. We are too often bluffing an opponent that won't fold.

If we mix the possiblility that he is betting here with overcards or with an underpair to the board with the possibility to hit our gutshot and stack our opponent with his set, then floating definitely makes sense here!

Thus, we float the flop and a very good card for our hand and plan appears: The not only gives us an additional eight flush outs up to the river, but we can also represent one of the two remaining tens by making a good size bet as soon as we sense weakness. So we gain two things through this card: Outs and fold equity, since we often even get an overpair to fold with a big bet or raise, when we are up against a tight player. Floating the flop has therefore put us into a favourable and profitable situation without having to risk a lot of chips up to the turn. 

Our opponent makes a weak bet, which he could also make with an overpair, underpair or with overcards. We therefore raise and force him to fold. In case we would call, we are limited to our outs (except for, he has flopped a set or really has a , which both is pretty unlikely).

Let's summarise: A float attempt should be well-planned and thought through. We therefore should pay attention to the following points:

  • We are playing against a weak-tight player, who plays straightforward and can be figured out easily.
  • We get good implied odds and the ratio of our remaining stack to the pot pre-flop is at least ten (if possible more than 13).
  • We have outs to make a very good nut hand.
  • We will get aggressive not until the board situation is favourable for us and unfavourable for the assumed hand range of the opponent.