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  • Crushing TAG Players In No Limit Holdem

    tag holdem poker player strategyYou might be wondering what a NL Holdem strategy article is doing on a mixed game site. Holdem Mixed and the more popular 8-Game Mix are two mixed poker games that include no limit Texas Holdem. There is a general template that can be applied to most novice poker players. Usually, they will understand a bit of poker math. They will try to apply pot odds constantly, and justify calling decisions by calculating them. They will play pretty tight preflop, and might understand something about position- loosening up in late position, and tightening up early on.

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    This type of player starts to show up at around 25NL, and even some at 10NL these days. They are called “TAGs”. I’m sure you’ve heard the term. Many Holdem players have had TAG strategy bashed so deep into their heads by poker forums and strategy sites, that they believe it to be the holy grail of poker strategy. I want you to think about that for a minute. Nearly every player who reads strategy sites and forums plays a TAG style. Nearly every player who reads… plays a TAG style


    By now you probably know that in the game of poker, where there’s repetition, there’s profit to be made from it. Strategy forums will tell you that the TAG style is something to fear. That’s plain and simple bogus, for three reasons:

    1. Most players who play TAG are hopelessly risk-averse, and this in itself is exploitable. Note that good TAGs will definitely show you a hard time, but probably 5% of TAG players are actually any good.

    2. Since everyone and their dogs are playing TAG these days, most players have no experience playing anyone but fish and other TAGs. This inexperience is highly exploitable. If everybody is playing the same strategy, and that strategy is not perfect (TAG is definitely not), then you can exploit everybody. Bonus!

    3. TAG players tend to shut off their brains while they play. Most are very bad at adapting to different types of players, and the majority of them simply want to follow a set of rules laid out for them in strategy guides. TAGs are not only risk-averse, they are usually decision-averse as well.

    beating tag players

    Why people choose to play a TAG style

    Generally, TAG is the first strategy a poker player will run into on the forums or websites. People liked it during the Paradise and Party days, since there was a huge pool of super-fish who played very passively (a.k.a., handed their money away). It’s true that TAG is a great strategy to use when you’re playing a bunch of calling stations. However, the game has changed drastically over the past 5 years. There are less fish, and way more TAGs.

    What are the implications of this? Well, for one, the strategy has become much less effective, because most TAGs find themselves only playing other TAGs. This is counterproductive. If you’ve ever heard the term “rock garden”, it was pretty much invented to describe games filled with TAGs. In a ‘rock garden’ game, players take turns stealing each other’s blinds endlessly. Sometimes, two of them will be dealt big hands. Occasionally, one will flop a high set, and the other will flop a low set. The winner will bask in the glory of his huge win, and chalk it up to skill. The loser will whine about running bad. In the long run, both of these players’ profits will be minimal, if even positive. They will often pay more rake than they actually win from playing.

    A lot of newer players fail to see the big picture of poker, to the tune of the changes in landscape I’ve mentioned above. Most newbies simply show up at a forum, want to become profitable, and learn TAG strategy without really knowing why. As a result, a legion of bad TAGs has spawned, storming tables and poker rooms across the web with their brand of bland play.

    Why most players fail to play TAG profitably

    Scared money. Scared money. Scared money. I’ve just said scared money three times, four if you include this sentence. It’s really important that you absorb what I’m about to say.

    The majority of TAG players want to avoid losing at all costs. The majority of TAG players do not feel a burning desire to win, but rather a burning desire to not lose.

    The tight aggressive style can be very effective when combined with solid postflop skill, hand reading ability and poker intuition. Keep in mind though, that most people don’t have these skills, and never will. That’s why most players turn to TAG- they want a set of rules and guidelines to follow in order to make some money. They want to be come auto-profitable poker robots. They don’t want to make decisions. They want to follow instructions.

    Why most TAG players are losers

    What happens when a player forces a TAG to make a big decision, then? It’s pretty simple- since TAGs don’t want to have to make decisions, they actively avoid getting themselves into situations that require them. When they do find themselves in tough spots, they usually take the safest line, in terms of losing the least amount of money. They look for a reason to fold.

    Risk-averse players freeze up in tough spots. They forget how to think properly. They make all sorts of mistakes that would be inexcusable to a skilled, aggressive player. This is why when playing a TAG, you should strive to force as many decisions on him as possible. Give him that reason to fold. After all, he’s already searching for it.

    Simple ways to exploit a TAG

    1. 3-bet. TAGs hate this. A typical line against a tight aggressive player will something like this: TAG raises from late position / you 3-bet from the big blind / TAG panics and calls without really knowing why / you fire a bet on the flop / TAG folds, and you win a pretty nice pot without any real effort. You don’t even have to hit your hand. The great thing about playing a TAG in a 3-bet pot is this: if they continue after your flop c-bet, you can be 99% sure they have a hand. If they don’t have a hand, they will not try to play back at you- they will fold. These two things mean that you can…

    2. 3-bet light. Against a TAG, you can open up your 3-betting range preflop as much as you feel comfortable doing so. You won’t get 4-bet unless your opponent has a seriously good hand, and you won’t face any flop resistance unless your opponent makes a pretty good hand. Basic math shows that your opponent will make a decent hand on the flop very rarely- so you can 3-bet a ton, and take down tons of pots without any strenuous thinking.

    3. Float a lot. Think for a second about a TAG’s standard line with a hand like AQ, AK, or KQ. It would look something like this: TAG raises preflop / TAG hopes nobody calls / if somebody does call and the board misses their cards, TAG c-bets and hopes for a fold / if opponent raises the c-bet, TAG folds / if opponent calls the c-bet, TAG check/folds on the turn. It should be pretty clear that there is a huge opportunity for profit against this line via floating. Since the standard TAG will almost always fire a c-bet when he misses a flop, you can maximize your value by calling the c-bet, and firing a barrel on the turn to take down the pot. You can almost always tell what kind of boards a TAG player hits- obviously you’re not going to be floating A or K high boards much, but when totally uncoordinated cards come on the flop (most of the time), a call flop/bet turn line will usually take down a very healthy pot.

    TAG is the new fish- the TAGfish

    Happy fishing.