One of the biggest things separating the strong players from the weak players is the willingness to battle over pots without a hand.
While many players will take a flop and then fold when they miss, strong players have some tricks up their sleeves to stay in the hand and turn a miss into a profit.
Today, I'm going to teach you how to float.
A float is a call on the flop with the intention of bluffing later. When choosing whether to float, I look for a few important things:
1) Is my opponent disinterested in the pot or weak?
2) Does my flop call look strong?
3) Are there lots of good turn cards for me? Are there few bad turn cards?
Here's an example:
The table is nine-handed. Blinds are 50-100. Second position raises to 200, and I call in the next position with Ah 4h. The small blind calls, as well.
The flop comes 10c 6s 3h. The small blind checks, and the initial raiser bets 300 into a pot of 700.
Is my opponent disinterested in the pot or weak? He bet less than half the pot at a table with deep stacks. He doesn't seem interested in playing a big pot. Also, early in tournaments, players often play very straightforward and give up on pots because pots are small compared with stacks.
Does my flop call look strong? Because of the preflop positions, I would often call preflop with J-J or even Q-Q. This flop is very dry -- a term for a flop that helps few drawing hands -- so if I have a strong hand, such as an overpair, a set or top pair, I don't have to raise to keep from being outdrawn. And most players wouldn't expect me to call the flop without a hand when there is another player left to act.
Are there lots of good, and few bad, turn cards for me? I expect the raiser to keep betting on pocket jacks, queens, kings and aces. I probably have to fold on a jack, queen or king on the turn but can keep calling on an ace. On most other cards, I expect him to give up. Even if he doesn't, I'll turn a flush draw or an open-ended straight draw 26.5 percent of the time.
The small blind folds. The turn card is the 10d. My opponent checks. I bet 750. This bet is consistent with any hand that includes a 10, and unless my opponent expects me to call the flop without holding a pair, he would think it impossible for me to be bluffing on the turn.
My opponent calls. I expect him to have a two-pair hand, hoping that I'm betting a weaker two-pair so that I don't get outdrawn on the river.
The river is the Kd. He checks. I bet 2,100. He folds. My final bet represented three 10s or a strong two pair (with an overpair like J-J or Q-Q). My line was consistent and strong at every point, and my opponent had little reason to believe I was bluffing this river.
By extrapolating from a small piece of information (the size of my opponent's flop bet) and being willing to apply pressure in an unexpected spot, I was able to pick up almost 18 big blinds. That may seem insignificant relative to stack size, but winning chips in a spot where most people would never bluff can help quietly build a stack, even when you can't make a hand.
Ben Wilinofsky is a Canadian poker player with more than $3 million in online tournament winnings and more than $1 million in live winnings. He won the 2011 European Poker Tour championship.