TAG Playing Style
The TAG playing style, better known as tight aggressive, is one of the many inventions of modern day poker. Even 20 years, a simple tight style of play with moderate aggression would have won plenty of money, but that is no longer the case. As the games have gotten tougher and tougher, the levels of aggression have reached new highs. If you are new to understanding and implementing an aggressive style of play, you will want to slowly transition into the new approach as it is not something that you will learn right away. TAG poker requires a lot of trial and error and a tolerance for variance. No one ever said that playing TAG was easy, but it is most definitely a great way to make a ton of money.
The TAG style of play does not apply only to pre-flop or post-flop play, and is instead a combination of the two. The most noticeable area for aggressive play, though, comes into play during pre-flop action. You will have the ability to open with wide ranges, 3-bet light, 4-bet bluff and so on and so forth. The catch to aggressive pre-flop play is that it can easily land you in a lot of trouble. A lot of players get wild and reckless when they are attempting to adopt a TAG style of play. This is all part of the learning process and a few lost buy ins should be expected when you are working on your skills while playing tight, aggressive poker.
The Tight in TAG
One of the biggest misconceptions about TAG poker is that it calls for wild and non sensical plays. If you watch some moves that high stakes players make both online and offline, you might get the idea that raising with any two cards is the correct strategy when playing TAG. The reason that people think this is because they incorrectly assume that tight always means playing premium hands. The truth is, however, that tight simply means you are not playing a lot of hands. To illustrate this, you could still be considered tight even if the only hands you play are off suited four gappers. All that tight means is that you play a relatively low number of pots.
An effective TAG player will know which hands fit into their range in which situations. For example, K3 suited would be an easy open muck if you were in early position, but it could very well be a raise if you are on the button with a few limpers and are looking to steal. Likewise, K3 could also be playable on the button if there was one raise ahead and you feel like a 3-bet would take down the pot right away. K3 is clearly not a super strong starting hand, but it is something that plays well in this position. Playing tight means knowing when to and when not to get involved.
The Aggression in TAG
The aggressive element of tight aggressive play should be apparent to all of your opponents. If someone perceives you as a passive player, the chances are that you are doing something wrong (either that or your opponent is donating a lot of money). The important facet of aggressive play is timing. Much like you need to be selective with the actual hands that you are playing, proper TAG strategy will force you into picking the right time to make moves. Using the K3 example above, a late position raise would be well timed aggression A 4-bet out of position against a tight player, however, would be the exact opposite.
Aggression is not something that should be implemented on its own merit. You should always have a defined reason for making any given play. The big mistake that players tend to make with TAG styles of play is that they take shots in the dark. If they see a funky hand that they think would be a deceptive raise, they will 3-bet and often times find themselves in a very difficult position.
You need to know why you are raising, what you are expecting from a raise, and how you are going to react to the next move(s) that your opponents make. If you cannot mark these three considerations off your checklist, you shouldn't be making an aggressive play.
The Goal of TAG Play
The goal of TAG play is to take down as many uncontested pots as possible and to play in the most deceptive manner that you can get away with. Uncontested pots are one of the best ways to win in poker for a number of reasons. First, you will not need to worry about having an actual made hand. If you go to showdown, you will need to be able to beat whatever your opponent is holding. This is going to be an obvious hurdle if you have nothing at all.
Second, you will not have to worry about any further streets or changes in game plans. If you are playing a hand all the way down to the river, you will need to make adjustments for each new card that is dealt. The sooner you make a move at a pot, the greater your chance of success.
The third primary reason why uncontested pots are the ideal way to win in poker is because your money will be least at risk. Though this is tied into not having to see another card, it means that you have no chance of losing. Calling bets on the river means you could lose, raising and getting called means you could lose, but getting folds always guarantees a win. Much of this is common knowledge, but the value in non-showdown pots is frequently under stated.
Winning uncontested pots through TAG play is not the most glamorous way to win, but it is the most steady source of profits available in the game. Don't play for the once in a blue moon monster pots, play instead for the easy, low hanging money that is always available for the taking. With an effective TAG strategy, you will be able to win a lot of steady money and will seldom be sweating out another river card in the hopes of getting lucky.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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