Floating in Tournament Play
Floating is a skill in poker that requires careful execution. You'll need to be even more precise when you are attempting to float while playing in a tournament. Floats have one goal in mind, getting their opponent to fold at a later stage. You shouldn't be floating with the hope of improving your hand. Sure, you might get lucky on rare occasions and back into a big hand, but this isn't going to be the usual. A float means that you have put your opponent on a weak hand, but that you don't think a raise is the best plan of attack. It's a mixture of passive play with restrained aggression that allows a float to be successful.
Floating isn't the type of move that just any player should be making. There's a high degree of skill which is involved when attempting a float. There's also a lot of risk associated with this move as well. A big problem that a lot of players have is that they will get sucked into floating. They will plan on giving up if their opponent bets again on the turn, but they then decide to make the call anyway. Not only do you need to have a somewhat solidified game plan in place if you want to float, but you need to be self-disciplined to stick to it.
How to Float in Tournaments
If you are thinking about floating one of your opponents, there are a handful of different areas of concern. If you can effectively check each one off, you may be in prime position for a float. In this section we are going to analyze the various dynamics that are the most vital in the success of any attempted float. Your opponent in the hand, your own table image, and the board itself are arguably the three most important factors in a hand when you are thinking about floating. Though there's definitely much more that goes into it than this, these are going to be recurring themes that serve as positive indicators of whether a float is a good or bad idea.
Your opponent. You need to know how someone tends to play before you can pick apart their weaknesses. You wouldn't try to win a football game by passing if you knew that the opposition had an exceptionally weak run defense. Likewise, you don't want to float a player who is notorious for their tight play. Floats are going to have a much higher rate of success against aggressive opponents than they will against any old random person. You need to be picking off mistakes that others are making, not trying to artificially create a move out of nowhere.
Your image. Your image at the table will allow you to play the part of a strong hand. If you have shown a propensity for calling down light and/or making moves, the chances of someone backing down to your float are much decreased. So, what you should take away from this is that there are definitely situations where a float won't be practical no matter what. Even if you have an overly aggressive player firing away and you really think that they are weak, a float still won't work if said player knows that you are likely making a move.
With that said, there are also going to be hands where a float couldn't be set up more perfectly. If you have only shown big hands at showdown and/or have been very tight during your time at the game, floating will be much easier to do. Your image can be controlled, but you still need to consider how everyone else views you. Yes, you may know that you are actually very loose and aggressive, but if your opponents have only seen otherwise, there's no reason not to use this to your advantage.
Turn card. The board itself seems to be one of the most underrated facets of the float. A lot of players will coordinate a plan to float the flop and then bet on the turn if their opponent slows down, but you should consider what cards are good for a bet. If a card completes a draw, for example, you would be in a position where your opponent could reasonably conclude that you have now made your hand. If the turn is a total blank, however, it will be hard to convince someone that you have suddenly improved so much that you can now make a bet.
The easiest way to look at the board and how it affects your chance to float is to analyze whether or not it is intimidating. Define the range of hands that you had someone on after the flop, and look to see how they would have been impacted after the turn. This culmination of information will ultimately tell you both which cards are good to bet and how much you need to bet. And yes, sometimes you may be better off just backing down altogether. Is that fun or exciting? No, but it can save you a lot of money in the long run.
How Floats Vary in Tournaments vs. Cash Games
There is little arguing that, as a whole, players tend to be more nervous and apprehensive when they are in a tournament than when they are in a cash game. This is the type of thing that you can use to your advantage. Since players are going to be more nervous about how they manage their chips, they are going to be prone to slowing down in tournaments. In cash games, a lost pot means a chance to re-buy, but in tournaments you don't have that luxury. Applying pressure is so much more valuable in a tournament than it is in a cash game.
Tournaments are also good because they'll make your play much more defined. If you float the flop and get a call after you bet the turn, you will almost always know that it's time to give up. In tournaments, players who put a significant amount of their chips in the middle over the course of a hand become less and less likely to fold as the hand continues. This isn't the same as in cash games where a bricked draw is more likely to be in the hand to the river and can fold to any bet.
Basically, the turn is, and pardon the pun, the turning point in tournament poker. If a player is still committed at this point, the odds of them giving up on the river are quite small. Use the turn as your cut off point for float attempts. There may be some random hands where you are inclined to fire a third barrel on the river, but you are definitely going to be in some awfully dangerous territory.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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