Pot-Limit Omaha: FloatingThe key to advanced play
Editor’s note: The following is a special preview from Jeff Hwang’s upcoming book, tentatively titled Pot-Limit Omaha Poker Volume II: Advanced Play.
Technically speaking, to float is to call a bet on insufficient hand values with the intention of taking the pot away with a bet on a later street. In no-limit hold’em, this often can be done without having much of a hand or draw whatsoever. In pot-limit Omaha (PLO), however, you usually should have at least some piece of the board or some kind of draw, even if it is as little as one pair or a gutshot.
But the basic principle is the same: You are calling not because your hand is necessarily worth a call on its own merits, but because you have some reason to believe that the bettor may not have a strong enough hand to make it to showdown.
At its core, the float is a stopping call designed to steal the initiative, either from the preflop raiser or another player on a possible steal. What you are doing by calling is representing a hand or draw that’s stronger than you actually have, hoping to freeze your opponent into checking — thus showing weakness — and giving up the pot on the next betting round. By calling, you are threatening to call if he bets again, thus forcing the bettor to decide just how far he wants to take the hand if he is in fact betting light.
Meanwhile, the next street may bring a useful scare card to help encourage your opponent to shut down.
The vast majority of the time, floating requires having positional advantage on your opponent, as the information gained by having your opponent check to you on the next betting round is really what makes this play tick. The float is also most effective in shorthanded pots* — especially those contested heads up after the flop — though you will see that this play also has application in multiway pots.
*Note that when I say shorthanded pot, I am referring to a pot being contested shorthanded (which we’ll define as two or three players) after the flop, regardless of whether four players or 10 players were dealt a hand before the flop. As you will see, this amounts to roughly the same thing in PLO.
There are three primary indicators that a float may be in order:
1. A weak stab: Generally speaking, unless the board is paired or a possible flush is present, the standard bet on the flop and turn is a full pot-sized bet. That said, more often than not, a bet in the neighborhood of half or three-quarters of the pot in these spots is a sign of weakness, amounting to little more than a weak attempt to pick up the pot. This is especially true when the bet is made as a continuation-bet on the flop (that is, the flop bettor also raised before the flop).
2. A continuation-bet (c-bet): Even a pot-sized continuation-bet is a candidate for a float, particularly in a shorthanded pot, and especially if the pot is contested heads up after the flop.
3. A possible steal bet: In a heads-up pot after the flop, the first bet is always suspect, and as such is a strong candidate for a float. Otherwise, a possible steal bet — usually from late position in a multiway pot — also may be a potential candidate for a float.
It’s a bit like baseball. When you step into the batter’s box, you look down to the third-base coach to see if a play is on. A touch of the cap or a brush of the arm might not mean anything by itself, but if he touches his ear — the indicator — and then touches the brim of his cap, it may signal a bunt. Or, if he touches his ear and then brushes his arm, it might be the signal to steal.
Similarly, in PLO, you don’t try to float anytime someone bets; you first need the indicator to signal that the play is on. And for the most part, your opponents will tell you exactly how to play them. If they bet light, you call light. If they make a weak stab and/or a continuation-bet (the indicator) in a shorthanded or heads-up pot, you should often make them bet twice. If they follow up by checking the next street, it usually means that the coast is clear to bet.
The float is a powerful tool in and of itself, and one that you probably will wind up using at some point against many of the players you encounter. That said, you are going to be far more liberal in floating some players than others.
In general, you are looking for weaker players — the kind of player who takes weak stabs, the kind of player who is willing to take one shot and give up if called, and/or the kind of player who scares easily at every turn of the card. Naturally, you should be less apt to go after a strong player.
Let me show you the difference.
Let’s say the flop comes 9 6 2, and two players see the flop. The first player, holding the J 10 9 7 for top pair and a gutshot, leads out with a pot-sized bet and his opponent calls. The turn is the A.
Now, here is where a strong player differs from a weak player: A strong player will bet the pot again as if he has a set of nines, probably thinking of the A as a good scare card that may encourage his opponent to fold. In contrast, a weak player is more likely to shut down and check-fold in this spot, thinking that he is already beat or that the A may have beaten him.
Clearly, we will be eager to call the weaker player with a far wider range of hands than we will against the stronger opponent, simply because the weaker player is more likely to hand us the pot on the turn.
With that out of the way, I’ll show you how it’s done in the next few issues, and then we’ll come back and discuss the play in further depth.
This article was originally written by Jeff Hwang. Jeff Hwang is a semiprofessional player and author of Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy. His latest book is Advanced Pot Limit Omaha Vol.1 and will be releasing Vol 2.
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