Tight-Aggressive Poker: How to Beat It

Tight-aggressive poker players tend to only play strong hands preflop. Use this information against them.

There are so many styles of play to adopt at the poker tables. It is what makes this game so special. Tight-aggressive (TAG) and loose-aggressive (LAG) styles are the most popular and today we will delve into a tight-aggressive style.

What is a Tight-Aggressive Style?

Tight-aggressive is a term for a style of play in all forms of poker. Players adopting a TAG style will play fewer hands (that is the tight part) but play them aggressively. This does not mean they are always angry, more they bet and raise more than they call or fold.

TAG players can be difficult to beat simply because they play hands at the more premium end of the scale. The best tight-aggressive players occasionally mix their play up by throwing a curveball in there, but they play stronger hands for the most part.

It is rare to find a TAG player raising and three-betting with junk hands, it is not in their nature. In a nutshell, tight-aggressive players play strong hands strongly.

Does a TAG Style Work?

Yes, in a word, the tight-aggressive style does work, even in today’s game where play tends to be quite loose, particularly in the online poker world. This is the style of play you want to adopt if you are new to poker. Why? Because it makes your decision-making much simpler before and after the flop. Easier decisions mean less mistake. Fewer mistakes mean you are more likely to win, or at least not lose as much.

The hands a TAG plays have good expected value because of their preflop strength. Looser players rely on implied value because they can win pots with disguised hands; more on that in another article.

Dan Harrington, winner of the 1995 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event and author of the excellent Harrington On Hold’em strategy books, is perhaps the most famous tight-aggressive player. He promotes a TAG style in poker tournaments and it is a strategy that has served him well.

What Are the Negatives of a TAG Style?

You have to reverse engineer the TAG style of play to find its weaknesses. Think of its major strength: you are only playing premium holdings. Now think how often you are dealt pocket pairs ten or higher, or ace-king. It is not very often. These players can often find themselves “card dead” for long periods of time while they sit and wait from a strong hand.

Likewise, TAG players can find it difficult to get paid off with their strong hands because everyone knows they are playing a narrow range. For example, a tight-aggressive player raises from under the gun and you call in the big blind. The flop comes down K-7-5, you check, villain bets, what do you do? That king has likely smacked him straight in the face. He could have a set of kings, have paired the king with his ace-king, or even have aces.

Players like this tend to win lots of small pots rather than large pots.

How to Beat a Tight-Aggressive Player

The first thing to realize when you take on a TAG player is you have plenty of implied value. They are playing strong hands and will like to hold onto them. Use this to your advantage.

Start by playing more speculative hands, such as low pairs, suited connectors and one-gap connectors. These have huge implied value against a typical TAG. Using our previous example, imagine a TAG opens under the gun and you call in the big blind. The flop comes down K-7-5 like before. If you made the call with pocket threes, pocket sevens or a hand such as 7-5 then you are in business. Our tight-aggressive friend will think he is still strong here but you have him crushed, mostly.

In this scenario, it would be best to check and let villain continue building a pot for us. Do not be tempted to raise the flop with a hand as strong as a set because a good TAG can smell danger from a couple of kilometers away.

This leads us to setting traps, something that is highly effective. Allow the TAG to think their hand is best when you are super strong before snagging them in your trap on later streets when they are too invested in the pot to fold.

It is also worth bluffing at boards that would not help a tight-aggressive player. Flops with all low cards are perfect for this, even check-raising works well. Weaker TAGs like to look for monsters under the bed and will fold all but nut hands when they face aggression.

Another perfectly viable strategy is to play your draws aggressively. TAGs would never dream of semi-bluffing with an open-ended straight draw or flush draw.

Not paying them off is also a great idea. Chips not lost are as good as chips won, especially in tournaments. Some tight-aggressive players employ a pump and dump strategy. That is fire a continuation-bet and give up if they face any resistance. Muck your hand faster than lightning if a TAG is firing shots on multiple streets as they probably have the goods.

Like anything in poker, it reaps dividends if you learn to adapt to different situations. Often, the opposite is best. Play looser if facing a tight player, and play tighter if playing a loose player. Above all, have fun! Good luck at the tables.

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.


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