what is floating poker strategy

Floating Strategy | The Complete Guide

What is floating?

Floating is a must-have weapon for every aspiring poker crusher. It’s an advanced play, however, which entails calling with a weak hand on the flop in order to win the pot on a later street by either showing down or bluffing an opponent.

The main reason floating is such an effective weapon is that many flop continuation bets are made with weak, non-made hands. These hands often give up by checking on the turn, which opens the door for the floater to bluff.

Today we’ll discuss when it’s appropriate to float, and how to do it well.

Criteria for successful floating

In order to pull off a successful float play we need to meet the following 2 criteria:

  1. Be in a heads-up pot. It is close to impossible to make floating profitable in multiway pots, since the odds of someone having a strong made hand go up significantly.
  2. Have some back-up equity when calling an opponent’s c-bet. Unless we are playing an opponent who c-bets the flop and then gives up far too much afterwards, we will need to have at least some chance at a made hand by the river in case our bluff doesn’t work.

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Examples of floating spots

Now let’s look at a few specific spots where it’s appropriate to float. I’ll be using Flopzilla and PioSolver to dig in and make conclusions about floating. (Note that these spots are calculated under the assumption that we are playing a solid opponent with good preflop ranges.)

Editor’s note: As usual we have highlighted the relevant parts of each Flopzilla and PioSolver solution for those of you unfamiliar with the software.

1. Floating versus c-bet in a single raised pot IP

888 $0.5/$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.00.

Hero is dealt two cards on the BU
1 fold. MP raises to $2.5. 1 fold. Hero calls. 2 folds

Flop ($6.5): 9 8♠ 5
MP bets $4.3. Hero calls

Turn ($15.10): 5
MP checks. Hero…

Let’s first build our calling range for the flop. Note that I am using the recommended preflop ranges from the Upswing Lab.

floating strategy 985r flop

This flop range continues versus a bet 45.5% of the time (pictured in the red rectangle).

Do you see anything wrong with this range? You should, because we are only defending 45.5% of the time, which means our opponent’s bluffs are making a lot more chips than they should–he could profitably bet with every non-made hand in his range.

I want to illustrate with this example that not only is the float play an offensive tool, it’s also a defensive tool that protects us from players who over-bluff on the flop.

Below is what a proper defending range should look like:

float strategy versus half pot

The newly added hands (blue rectangle) bring our continue frequency up to 58% (red rectangle).

The newly added hands are KTs–KQs and ATs–AQs with backdoor flush draws. These hands represent the most ideal floating hands IP: 2 overcards with backdoor draws. They are perfect for this play because they can:

  • Improve to a strong top pair with both cards.
  • Improve to a flush draw on the turn, and then a flush on the river.
  • Improve to a straight draw on the turn, and then a straight on the river.
  • Showdown and win (rare but possible).

The first three points make these hands flat-out profitable bluffing opportunities on the turn.

2. Floating versus c-bet in a single raised pot out of position

Let’s take a look at the next hand.

ACR $1/$2. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $200.00.

Hero is dealt two cards in the BB
3 folds. BU raises to $5. SB folds. Hero calls.

Flop ($11): 8♠ 84
Hero checks. BU bets $8.2. Hero calls

Turn ($27.4): 5
Hero checks. BU checks

River ($27.4): 4♣

For this spot, we are breaking out our handy solver. Let’s see what it says our floating range should look like against a balanced 75% pot sized bet. (You may have to zoom in to see some of the details.)

floating poker strategy on 884

Floating hands are pictured in the blue rectangle (minus A8).

Being out of position (OOP) puts us at a severe strategical disadvantage, which is apparent in this situation because we can only profitably float with: A5x, Ax5, A6x, Ax6, A7x, Ax7, A9x, Ax9, ATx, AxT, AJo, A♠5♠, A♠6♠, A♠7♠, A♠9♠, KJx, KxJ, KQx, KxQ, K♠T♠, K♠9♠, and Q♠9♠ (as opposed to all hands with 2 overs + BDFD).

When OOP, we’ll float all the Ax that have a backdoor flush draw and the strongest Kx hands that have a backdoor flush draw. This, however, heavily depends on the board texture–the wetter the board, the less we want to float, and the more dry the board is, the more we’ll want to float.

On the river, to balance out our value bates, we will be taking our showdown value with the Ax hands while bluffing with our Kx and Qx floats. If we didn’t float with these types of hands we would have an unbalanced river betting range, because we would not be able to find enough bluffs to balance out our value bets.

3. Floating versus c-bet in a 3-bet pot in position

This spot is similar to our first example, as it often happens in the BB vs. BU and SB vs. BU dynamic. These situations present a similar range versus range interaction because we have a linear, uncapped OOP range (BB or SB) playing against a linear, capped in position range (BU).

Let’s take the following BU vs. SB 3-bet pot:

Ignition $2/$4. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $400.00.

Hero is dealt two cards on the BU
3 folds. Hero raises to $10. SB 3bets to $36. 1 fold. Hero calls.

Flop ($76): T♠ 84
SB bets $38. Hero calls

This is how our range would look like if we only called with “real” draws (gutshots or better):

floating poker strategy on t84r

This flop range continues versus a bet 53.1% of the time (pictured in the red rectangle).

As you can see, we are massively under-defending again since our opponent’s bluffs only need to work 33% of the time given his half pot bet size (see: Ryan Fee’s article on minimum defense frequency).

Let’s see how our range should look against a half-pot c-bet in this situation. (You should be able to build it yourself by now.)

float poker strategy vs half pot t84

The newly added hands (blue rectangle) bring our continue frequency up to 72.2% (red rectangle).

Here, just as I did in the first example, I added all the 2 overs + backdoor flush draw hands and A9/K9 with a backdoor flush draw. But given that our opponent bets only half-pot this time we should float with even more hands. So, in this case I also added all the AQ combos to defend properly against our opponent’s c-bet.

We should always be flexible to our opponent’s bet size. If he bet one-third of the pot instead, then we would start calling with 22, 33, and add AJo and KQo to defend properly against his c-bet.

4. Floating versus c-bet in a 3-bet pot out of position

Let’s take a look at one more hand example.

888 $1/$2. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $200.00.

Hero is dealt two cards in MP
1 fold. Hero raises to $5, 1 fold. BU raises to $15. 2 folds. Hero calls.

Flop ($33): 8♠ 84
Hero checks. BU bets $16.5. Hero calls

On this type of board the in position (IP) player has a huge range advantage (equity advantage) and the nut advantage. She will have the nut advantage because QQ+ become the nuts at this stack-to-pot ratio.

These two factors, combined with the fact that we are OOP, shift us away from defending at around the minimum defense frequency.

For accuracy, I have put together another simulation using the Lab’s defending range for MP and the 3-betting range for the BU:

This range folds 48.4% to c-bet (red rectangle).

We will be calling with all the AQs with backdoor flush draw, 40% of the AJs with backdoor flush draw, 30% of the ATs with backdoor flush draw, 50% of the KQs with backdoor flush draw and 15% of both KJs and KTs with backdoor flush draws.

We see that none of our rules apply in this spot. Why is that? I think this is for a few reasons.

First, the IP player has a huge equity and nut advantage. This means that she has higher concentration of high equity hands than us.

Second, we are OOP. This means we always have to act first, which puts us at a strategic disadvantage, making it harder to extract value and bluff efficiently.

And finally, the SPR (stack-to-pot ratio) is low. Compared to a SPR where we were calling a 4BB c-bet in order to have a chance at an opponent’s 100bb stack, we are here making a much larger investment to take her stack, which means it is less profitable.

In sum, as an OOP preflop caller in a 3-bet pot we need to pick our floating hands much more carefully. We will choose the best combos that block our opponent’s value range (QQ+, usually), which will very often be AQ with a backdoor flush draw and KQ with a backdoor flush draw.

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It’s important for every aspiring poker pro to master the float play. Executed properly, it’ll improve your win-rate and help you become a tougher, more well-rounded adversary.

That’s all for today! If you have any questions or feedback, leave a comment below! And good luck out there, grinders!

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About the Author
Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected]

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