Chapter 18: Playing the TAG
The TAG (meaning “tight aggressive”) will be your most common opponent as you progress up in the limits. Nearly every winning player will fall under the TAG category. There are some TAGs that are losing players but for the most part a TAG will be a decent to excellent player.
Some TAGs will be easier to exploit and outplay then others. Some TAGs you will practice avoidance on, instead concentrating on exploiting the fish at the table. One quick word of advice: always remember that TAGs are usually doing the same thing you are. They are playing tight, solid and aggressive. To understand them, just remember how you play.
The stats of the TAG
If you need a reminder of the stat terms, follow this link to Chapter 5.
PFR: A TAG will raise between 12 to 22% of his hands preflop. On the lower end of this scale, you’re dealing with a “nit.” A nit is very tight and easy to play against as he only puts a lot of money in with very good hands. On the higher end is a very aggressive player. These types are usually very aggressive postflop as well and a pain in the ass to deal with. Most TAGs will fall in the 15% to 18% range.
VPIP: A TAG’s VPIP will usually be a few points higher than their PFR. This is almost universally true and, at most, any decent player is calling only 6% more hands than they’re raising. If a TAG has a high VPIP compared to his PFR (say, their stats are 28/19) he is not going to be winning player.
AF: A TAG’s AF will fall between the 2 to 4 range. It will also lower from street to street. The flop AF will always be the highest due to the frequency of continuation bets. It’s important to wait until you have a few hundred to a few thousand hands on a TAG before you take this stat for all it’s worth. Once you do though, you can really start pinpointing the passive TAGs in the 2.0 range who don’t bluff much at all, and the TAGs in the aggressive range (around 4.0) who are constantly looking for spots to bluff and take away pots.
ASB: This is a very important stat to know about a TAG. If a TAG is stealing a high percentage of blinds, we need to be playing back at him by defending our blinds (described in more detail in Part VI) so it’s much tougher for him to open the pot lightly in position. If a TAG has a low ASB, it’s less important to 3-bet him lightly and defend out blinds. A TAG who steals less than 30% of blinds is playing tight when it comes to raising in late position. A TAG stealing 35% or more of blinds is opening up a lot of weak hands in position and won’t be able to fight back if we start 3-betting him; he simply doesn’t have good hands enough. Most TAGs will fall somewhere in the low 30%s.
WTSD: Once you get enough hands on a TAG, start taking a look at this stat. If it falls within 22-26%, they’re playing fairly standard for a TAG. If it’s lower, the TAG folds too much and is a candidate for bluffs like double-barrels and semibluffs. If it’s higher than 26%, the TAG is going to look up your bets with marginal hands so err on the side of caution when bluffing and start value betting him thinner. The reason for this is that since he sees showdowns more often than most, you can’t profitably bluff him since he won’t fold enough. However, you can value bet him with some of your weaker hands since he will call those bets with worse hands.
FSB, FBB: If a TAG has a high FSB/FBB (in the low 90’s or high 80’s) you can profitably raise their blinds with almost any two cards on the button. They are simply folding unless they have a big hand and you will start picking them off, a couple dollars a time. If a TAG has a low FSB/FBB (in the low 80’s or 70’s) they defend their blinds lightly and may be frequent 3-bettors against button raisers. You should tighten up your CO and button openings against these TAGs since they will play back at you more and if you keep raising hands like K6s and 96s you will have to fold too much.
Continuation bet %: If a TAG has a high continuation bet % (over 80%, generally) that means he is firing away almost anytime he raises preflop. Since he will often not be flopping a hand, these are the kind of opponents that you can steal more pots away from on the flop with check-raises and flop raises. I describe these type of moves in more detail in Chapter 23, Part II of position and in Part VI of this book.
Other characteristics of a TAG
3-bets. You will start to deal with a lot of 3-bets when facing a TAG, especially when you open in late position. How often an opponent 3-bets doesn’t really show up in their stats, so you must observe the table and the table dynamics. It’s best to play tightly against 3-bets until you have a strong read that he 3-bets very light or are more experienced so you know when to play back in the right spots. If you raise in early position and are 3-bet, only continue with your best hands. If you 3-bet in late position and get 3-bet, you can play a little looser but err on the side of caution. As you increase in limits, you’ll be getting 3-bet enough to where you’ll have to play back with bluffs, preflop and postflop. It’s a complicated area that will take experience to deal with, but keep it in mind for when that one guy keeps 3-betting you when you open the button.
Robotic play. Many TAGs are playing multiple tables. Some are even playing eight or more. It is impossible for them to keep track of everything going on with their opponents and they will mostly be playing on “auto-pilot.” They will be playing based on the strength of their hand and the PokerAce Hud stats they are using. These kind of TAGs should be recognized and exploited by stealing away more pots from them with light semibluffs and bluffs.
How to play and exploit a TAG
TAGs are usually going to be good players. Often there’s not much money to be won from playing them and they are simply an annoyance while you try to exploit the fish.
However, it’s important for you to not be exploited yourself. If a good TAG knows how you play and you aren’t mixing up your game and playing back at him, he’ll start making money off you. Especially at the higher limits where there can be multiple good TAGs per table, it’s important to not let yourself get run over.
To be able to recognize these spots, you’ll need to have a solid grasp on hand reading, table dynamics and higher level thinking. However, if you are new to these concepts, there’s nothing wrong with playing cautiously against a good player, even though you know he’s getting the better of you. If you are trying too hard to outplay a good TAG, you’ll often be spewing hundreds of dollars in his direction.
Types of TAGs:
Solid TAG. This type of player will play a TSA game. This player will mix in bluffs and semibluffs just enough to keep you guessing as to what his hand is. He’ll have solid fundamentals. He’ll avoid putting a lot of money in with dominated hands and can make big calls and big folds if he feels they are the right play. A lot of TAGs will fall under this category, especially at $2/$4 and above. Mostly you’ll just have to live with them at the table while you attack weaker TAGs and fish.
The TAGfish. This type of player is a little hard to define and the line that separates a TAGfish from a decent TAG is pretty thin. I find TAGs that tend to fall under the TAGfish umbrella are players that often overplay hands and are overaggressive in very bad spots. Often a TAGfish will be making a bluff or making a big calldown for the sake of doing a big bluff and not through any reasonable thought process like we are doing. They also usually have bad fundamentals and would not really understand some of the concepts in this book. The best way to play these guys is to stick to a tight, solid and aggressive game. They will eventually hang themselves by assuming you are pulling more moves than you really are.
The nitTAG. I love playing the nitTAG. This type of opponent is not necessarily a bad player; he knows to play tight and aggressive and he’ll be making money at the lower limits, but that’s all he knows. He’s very exploitable in that he’s folding everything but the very best of hands to aggression. A lot of the weaker multitablers fall under this category. In spotting a nitTAG, it’s best to look for tight preflop stats. If they’re playing 17/13 (VPIP/PFR) or lower, chances are they’re going to be a nit. I have a few moves that I love to use against this guy.
Float or 3-bet against his CO opens. Being in position gives you a huge advantage against a nitTAG. They open the CO with a wide enough range of hands that I will 3-bet a lot of weaker hands like 76s and 22. I will also call on the button with a hand like J9s – this is called floating, described in detail in Part VI of this book – and try to steal the pot away on the flop if I flop any piece, like a gutshot or middle pair. You’ll be surprised how often these nits fold postflop.
Avoid big bluffs. If a nitTAG puts in a lot of money, stop bluffing him. It’s all about doing small flop bluffs that take 10 to 20 BB’s to make. If you get called on a flop bluff, don’t be putting in another huge bet against these guys. Chances are they are not folding.
Don’t pay them off. If you’re in a spot with a marginal hand like top pair good kicker and the nitTAG just made a big river bet, chances are you should fold. They bluff much less frequently than solid TAGs when it comes to big bluffs. They’ll still continuation bet and occasionally double barrel though.
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