The float play is an advanced poker bluffing strategy that involves calling a bet with the intention of taking away the pot later. Precisely when that ‘later’ is depends on what you think looks most credible. You can, for instance, delay your steal attempt until the river, especially if your opponent might check the turn to trap with some hands but would never check the turn and river with any of his real hands.
Since the float play is a bluffing technique, you can pull it off with any two pocket cards. Your cards, after all, are not the determining factor in your success. Your success lies in your ability to determine when, how and against whom you should employ this risky play - and it is risky. The float play embodies all the nuance and subtly it takes to play good, profitable poker.
As mentioned, you're going to call your opponent's bet. This is the first step of the float play. Often, you’re using the float play to counteract an opponent’s continuation bet. The success of a continuation bet is not contingent on actually catching a piece of the flop, and likewise, your float play doesn't rely on the merits of your hand, leaving you and your opponent to fight fire with fire - or air with air, as it were. While the float play is the counter-move to the continuation bet, it should never, ever be used as a go-to defense strategy against this sort of bet. The reason is this: even if you strongly suspect an opponent is c-betting, you may be wrong; they may be c-betting light (i.e. with a value hand as opposed to a bluff). Sure, the float play can and will crush a few c-bets here and there, but you also have to realize that overuse of the float play can cause you to lose BIG TIME when the turn comes and your opponent check-raises your sorry butt with an actual hand.
So, they're BSing you, you're BSing them, but neither of you knows for sure the other is full of it - not yet, at least. If your opponent is poker savvy, however, your call has brought to mind the strong possibility that you could be slow playing a solid hand. Most players will back off and check - an action that leaves you perfectly positioned to lead with a hefty bet (ideally 3/4 the pot size) and force your opponent out of the pot.
While you can pull off a float play from any position, you can also decide to shower fully dressed; sure, you may get cleaner, but it doesn't exactly yield the most immaculate results. In order to get the most out of your float play, you should always be in a later position than your opponent - which isn't to say you have to be in LAST position; you simply have to be acting after your opponent. This vantage point affords you the opportunity to identify any weakness on the part of your opponent after you've called their bet on the flop. In the event your opponent is gung-ho and comes in strong again on the turn, you'll know that that you're probably up against a strong hand and should bow out. However, if your opponent checks (and by definition, there MUST be a check if there is going to be a float play), then you can slide right in with your bet and steal the pot.
Here's the thing about the float play: you have to wait for the opportunity to come to you. Yes, poker is all about actively chasing down what you want, but part of this 'activity' involves acknowledging when you need to actively give it a rest. The opportunity to implement the float play WILL present itself to you and then you can act. Forcing it is looking for trouble. Another important factor to consider when thinking about the timing of your float play is the number of opponents you’re up against. We've already established that the float play is an advanced technique and that due to its foundations in what can only be called your ability to stifle the smell of your own BS, it's risky as hell as well. As such, you're going to want to limit your float plays to head-to-head competitions. That's right: no more than one opponent. Taking on multiple players drastically reduces your chances of winning the hand since it is far more likely someone actually has a good hand.
We've already established the float play is best suited to head-to-head action, but we also want to make sure that our opponent will fall for the float play. A loose player or calling station is the antithesis of our ideal opponent since these players will call just about anything, so there's a very good chance you'll have company all the way to fifth street. Tighter players are your perfect prey since their more conservative nature will cause them to bow out rather than risk losing more money.
Knowing your opponent's playing style is crucial to your float play success. Let's look at an example to illustrate this further:
You hold: K♥, 2♠
You're on the button and a player in early position makes a bet and everyone folds. It's your turn to act and you call. Both of the blinds fold.
The flop arrives 4♣, J♦, 7♥
Obviously, this does nothing for your hand, but your opponent bets. If you've been paying attention to your opponent, you will be able to tell with relatively accuracy whether or not there is any merit to this call. Does he call with nothing regularly? Is he prone to making c-bets?
If you haven't been paying attention to the people at your table, you aren't going to be able to make this call and as such, the float play (and basically any other poker strategy) won't work.
If you HAVE been paying attention, you can act with a solid degree of confidence. You're going to see his bet if you highly suspect your opponent is betting with air. You're going to fold if you suspect your opponent has made a connection with the board.
For the purposes of this example, we are going to go with the first option and say we are pretty certain our opponent has nothing. You call.
The turn comes with a 9, your opponent checks, you bet and you bet big. Remember, your bet size here should be ¾ of the pot – big enough for your opponent to suspect you’ve made a major connection. It's likely, given this particular hand, that your opponent was making a c-bet with a mid-sized pocket pair or one of the usual c-bet starting hands like KQ, AQ or AK. Our call on the flop was cause for some concern since we could have a number of hands that could take theirs, like JJ, KJ, AJ, QJ, 77.
All things considered, your opponent folds, and you take the pot.
So, in the end, the ideal time for floating is when our opponent has a lot of bluffs or semi-bluffs in their betting range - like boards that are hard to strongly connect with such as K-9-9 or A-4-7. Other good candidates are boards where a lot of draws are possible but our opponent is unlikely to have many draws since they are raising a tight range of big pairs and big cards.
But what if my opponent doesn’t fold?
All is not lost. Some aggressive opponents will still fire into the turn to try to scare you off, even if they’re firing blanks. If your opponent does bet on the turn, you can still re-raise. However, you really have to have a good sense of how your opponent plays. We mean you should have a solid track record of being able to predict them almost to a fault. If this isn’t the case, fold, without question.
Playing winning poker means you have to be able to negotiate an ever-changing terrain with quick, precise and subversive moves and counter-moves. There is no one play that will do it all; every strategy you employ during any given hand should be used in response to that particular circumstance. The float play is no exception.
The float play is a single weapon, not your entire arsenal.
Think of a round of poker as a conversation: you respond to the information given, whether implicitly or explicitly stated; non-sequiturs aren’t helpful when you’re actually trying to get somewhere. For example, you wouldn't say, "oranges are my favourite fruit", when someone asks you when you need to be picked up from the airport. Whether subtle or explicit, you need to be responding to the information given to you; even (and especially) when that information is telling you that the explicit info your opponent is handing out doesn't gel with their underlying intentions. Only use the float play when the circumstances call for it and are suited to its success.
There’s no shame in floating and abandoning ship when your opponent keeps betting because, hey, they're allowed to have strong hands when they bet too; you floated because you thought they’d have a weak hand OFTEN ENOUGH to make your float worth it. Remember your math: the play doesn't have to work every time to be profitable.