Poker is a game of cards, but it's also a game of people. Profit in poker comes from other players' tells and mistakes, so what better way to play than to force your opponents into difficult spots? That's the loose-aggressive style in a nutshell. This effective poker style is high risk and high reward strategy.
What Is a Loose-Aggressive Poker Playing Style
The loose-aggressive poker player (LAG) plays a lot of hands and they play them aggressively, betting and raising as much as possible.
The LAG style is often misunderstood. Playing loose-aggressive is not simply playing any two cards wildly like a maniac. Instead, it uses calculated, targeted aggression. The LAG looks to exploit their opponents' weaknesses rather than just play the cards they are dealt. LAGs are willing to get themselves into marginal situations, confident in their ability to outmaneuver their opponent.
The LAG style of play is difficult to execute, requiring confidence, experience and skill. But it can also be extremely profitable - especially against tighter players.
Maniac v LAG
A maniac is a poker player who plays almost every hand, and who plays them all extremely aggressively. They play loose-aggressive poker, but they are such an extreme case that they aren't usually considered to be LAGs. The maniac will play almost every hand they are dealt the same way, with insane aggression - hence the name maniac. They are often drunk, extremely tilted or just blowing off steam by burning money.
The LAG style is aggressive, but it is smart aggression. The LAG plays a wide range of hands, but they aren't playing complete trash - at least unless they have a good reason to. Loose-aggressive is a thinking style, whereas playing like a maniac requires no skill or strategy - just complete recklessness. The maniac will always lose over the long-run, but the LAG style can be very profitable if you know what you are doing.
How To Play Loose Aggressive Poker
If you want to play LAG poker, then you must be fearless, aggressive, and loose where you have a large percentage of hands to play - but every play you make must be carefully considered and tailored to your opponents and the board texture. The LAG style is not playing every hand and betting every flop - that is the maniac's technique. The good LAG knows when to give up and find the fold.
LAG poker players are always on the attack. They don't wait around for the perfect hand, but they also don't play any two cards like the maniac does. They pressure their opponents into making mistakes, and that is where their profit comes from.
LAGs aren't afraid of marginal situations, and they love to put their opponents to tough decisions. The LAG mindset is that the cards you have are only a small part of the game of poker. What is more important is the human element of the game.
A key element of the LAG strategy is finding opponents weaknesses and pressure points. For example, most players don't like playing for stacks with only top pair, so a LAG can exploit their opponent's pain threshold to make them fold the best hand.
Often, it's just the implied threat - players may think twice about calling the LAG's flop bet if they're afraid the LAG will keep betting on the turn and get it all-in on the river.
Unlike the tight-aggressive (TAG) style, not everyone can pull off playing LAG. It requires experience, skill - and most of all, nerves of steel.
Transition From TAG to LAG
If you want to play loose-aggressive poker, first you need to master tight-aggressive poker. Once you can consistently win playing TAG poker, you can start gradually adding hands to your range.
The basic LAG style can be thought of as a natural extension of the TAG style. The TAG style is tight and aggressive, and the LAG style is loose and aggressive. But generally the LAG style is not necessarily that much looser than the TAG style. A TAG might play 15-20% of hands in a full-ring game, whereas a LAG might play around 20-30%.
You can gradually transition from TAG to LAG by adding in more speculative hands in earlier positions that you would normally only play later on. Don't just start playing trash hands from all over the table like a maniac. LAGs always have a good reason for choosing the hands they play, and for how they play them.
But the important thing to remember is that TAG poker is about getting the right hands and playing them aggressively - while the LAG is about spotting opportunities to exploit your opponents, no matter what hands you are dealt.
Similarly, the LAG strategy is more aggressive than the TAG style, but not by a huge amount. Gradually add in more blind stealing and 3-/4-betting pre-flop, and more bluffing post-flop. As with hand selection, the LAG doesn't just play aggressively for the sake of it. Any aggression deployed has the specific purpose of exploiting opponents' weaknesses.
The LAG strategy is not for beginners. You must work on your hand-reading and player-reading skills, as well as your board-texture analysis. The LAG style is an opportunistic strategy that requires taking advantage of the right game conditions and opponent pressure points. Good LAG play is more art than science, and you can't just learn it and play it robotically as with TAG play.
When Is LAG The Best Style
LAG poker is very effective against tight opponents such as nits, who are afraid of marginal situations and playing big pots with anything less than the nuts. They'll let the LAG push them around and the LAG will pick up enough pots to make up for the few times that they do get caught out.
Straightforward players who follow the TAG style to the letter are easy to exploit with the LAG style. This includes beginners, who aren't experienced enough to cope - and multi-tabling grinders, who play robotically and avoid marginal situations at all costs.
In the later stages of tournaments, the LAG style is usually much more optimal than playing TAG poker. Rising blinds and antes means you must open up wider or risk being blinded out. Cash games with antes also punish tighter play, so it's mathematically advantageous to open up wider.
When Not To Use LAG Poker
LAG poker can only be pulled off by those with plenty of poker skill and experience. Beginners should not attempt to play LAG because it is a high risk, high reward strategy - and when it goes wrong it goes really wrong.
The LAG style is also ineffective against the loose-passive calling station, who cannot be bluffed. Likewise, it's harder to run bluffs in multi-way pots than against a single opponent. So the LAG strategy isn't going to be much use on tables with a high players/flop stat.
Smart TAG players can try to counter LAG play by tightening up and letting the LAG build up pots for them. Short-stackers can also make things difficult by being quick to go all-in. But when done right, loose-aggressive poker is a nightmare to deal with.
Pros & Cons of a LAG Poker Strategy
Benefits of a loose-aggressive style in poker:
- Push around the nits and weaker TAGs
- Win without relying on getting the best hand
- A loose table image encourages action for when you do have good cards
- It's more fun and exciting than robotic TAG poker
- Tilt your opponents for easy profit
Drawbacks of a loose-aggressive style in poker:
- More variance
- Lose bigger pots
- You must be completely fearless
- Requires lots of skill and experience so that you can read situations and identify weakness
- Not optimal against loose-passive players
- Easy to trap with slow-playing
Loose Aggressive Hand Range
What sort of starting hand range for no-limit Hold'em can we put the loose-aggressive player on?
A good loose-aggressive hand selection isn't about playing every hand. LAG poker players still have a strategy in place for their starting hands. They will rarely play more than about 20-30% of the hands they are dealt. The LAG's starting range will be tailored to their opponents and the table dynamics.
They'll play all the cards a TAG would play, but they are more likely to risk playing weaker cards in earlier positions - such as suited connectors or suited aces - that a TAG wouldn't play till middle or late position.
And when the LAG is on the button, they really let rip. They know they will have position post-flop, which combined with their aggressive style gives them a massive advantage.
The LAG also widens their 3- and 4-bet range considerably. The good LAG likes to win without showdown as much as possible, and so is quite happy to take down pots without seeing a flop.
Loose Aggressive Poker Strategy
Winning loose-aggressive play requires intuitive understanding of table dynamics, board textures and opponent weaknesses. It is not a style for beginners, or even intermediate players. Once you have mastered playing tight-aggressive, you can begin experimenting with the LAG strategy.
Pre-flop, the LAG is loose and aggressive but not a complete maniac. They will play more speculative hands in earlier positions, but they will still be as aware of the power of position as a good TAG. A LAG will always open-raise and never limp.
The LAG will 3- and 4-bet light. This has several benefits. Firstly, they may just take down the pot without seeing the flop - meaning they won't pay rake.
Secondly, raising builds up the pot which makes their nittier opponents uncomfortable. A nit might call their 3-bet, but they don't like to play big pots without a big hand, meaning they are more likely to play fit-or-fold after the flop. Two-thirds of the time the nit will miss completely and LAG will take the pot down with a continuation bet.
Finally, bullying a player by constantly raising them pre-flop is a good way to make them tilt - and tilted players are a great source of profit.
Stealing blinds is a big part of the loose-aggressive strategy too. They'll steal from much earlier positions if they notice tighter players to their left.
The flop is where the LAG's skill and experience really comes into play. They will assess the board texture and their opponent and work out how best to apply pressure.
The LAG takes advantage of any sign of weakness. Their own hand strength isn't as important as what their opponent has, and how it interacts with the board. Most players will give up if they have nothing or near-nothing and their opponent is showing strength.
Many players don't balance their checking range, only checking when they have nothing. LAGs take advantage of this by attacking any perceived weakness.
LAGs know to play their drawing hands aggressively. Even the worst combo flush/straight draw is 50/50 against an overpair - and an open-ended straight draw with a flush draw is actually the favorite to win. So why not play these hands aggressively and pick up some fold equity as well?
Many players will float a flop C-bet but give up to a turn bet if their hand hasn't improved. The LAG takes advantage of this by double-barrel bluffing where a TAG might C-bet and give up.
The LAG's aggressive table image also gives most opponents concern - even if you call their flop and turn bets, there'll likely be a massive river bet to come. And that's hard to deal with for players who feel uncomfortable playing big pots without big hands. LAG play is all about pushing your opponents out of their comfort zone so that they make mistakes.
LAGs aren't always bluffing. They can make good hands like anyone else at the poker table. A big part of the LAG strategy is extracting maximum value when they do have a hand.
The LAG's loose table image means they are able to get paid off. If a nit or a fish makes a massive river bet, most opponents will get nervous and expect them to have the nuts. But when a LAG does it after playing loosely, their opponent is more likely to think they are bluffing and decide to make a stand. The LAG can get away with a massive value bet, even an all-in.
How To Play Against Loose Aggressive Players
When you're up against a good LAG player it can feel like there's nothing you can do. But the LAG style has its weak points like any other.
Let's look at how to beat a loose aggressive player.
Identify a Loose-Aggressive Player
You'll know when you're on a table with a LAG, because they'll be trying to run over the table with their aggressive play.
They will be playing a lot of hands - but not every hand. And they are capable of folding. Don't confuse a maniac with a LAG.
The LAG will play aggressively pre- and post-flop, with a lot of betting and raising and not much calling. You will catch them bluffing a fair amount too.
If you are using a poker HUD tool, look for a VPIP of 20-30%. Their PFR will be almost identical and at most a percent or two lower. Their 3-bet stat will be very high, often around 10-15%.
Exploit the LAG Postflop
Good LAGs excel at post-flop play, but they can still be exploited if you understand what they are doing. They are trying to exploit common weaknesses of tighter players such as fit-or-fold play. Players might float the flop but will still give up on the turn if the LAG keeps betting at them and they don't have much.
But the big secret is that the LAG probably won't have much either - in fact they probably have a worse hand than you because they're playing a wider range. Don't undervalue your hands post-flop. It's a risky game though, because sometimes the LAG really does have it.
Good LAGs are carefully watching the lines you take and thinking about what you have so they can figure out how to exploit you in this particular hand. What you actually have isn't as important as what the LAG thinks you have.
Slow-playing is usually a bad idea unless you have an absolute monster hand - you can fail to realize value or allow your opponent to overtake you. But when you are up against a LAG, slow-playing becomes a viable strategy.
Just check and let them bet into you to build the pot. It's also a method of pot control because it prevents you from getting into raising wars on each street.
The check-raise is one of the strongest moves in poker - especially at the lower stakes. If you're playing a pot out of position against a LAG who thinks you are a nit who can be pushed around, then check-raising as a bluff can really make them sweat. This is even more true on the turn and river, where check-raising as a bluff is much rarer.
Likewise, when you're in position and the LAG bets into you, bluff raising can scare them - but it won't send as powerful a message as the check-raise.
If you're out of position, leading out with a bet will often just induce a raise from a really aggressive LAG - so be careful with your bluffs here.
As with any bluff, it's usually better to have some outs to improve your hand, even if it's just a gutshot straight draw, just in case the LAG calls your bluff.
LAGs love to 3-bet pre-flop. They might be 3-betting with 10% of hands, or even more. This includes the premium hands that everyone should be 3-betting, but also a lot of more marginal hands that can't stand a 4-bet.
If you have position on a LAG who is 3-betting a lot, then it makes sense to start 4-betting him wider than you normally would. After all, playing a 4-bet pot out of position is no fun, even for the most skilled of players. And it takes nerves of steel to go for a 5-bet shove as a bluff with a speculative hand. If they are showing a willingness to 5-bet shove, then consider 4-bet bluff shoving so that you are forcing them to make the tough decision and not you. Of course, this is risky. But the worst thing you can do against a LAG is to lay down and take it because they will punish you over and over again.
Poker is a game is not a game of ego, it is a game of making profitable decisions. LAGs are hard to play against, and even adjusting to them will expose you to increased variance. Sometimes it's better just to move tables and concentrate on easier pickings. If there's a LAG on your left making your life a misery, why make life harder for yourself? Just move on and let him ruin some other sucker's day.
5 Most Famous Loose Aggressive Poker Players
Here is a list of successful and popular loose-aggressive poker players.
Doyle 'Texas Dolly' Brunson
Where else to begin but the original LAG. There's a reason his 1978 book Super/System was such a revelation. Players back then just didn't know how to deal with Doyle's aggressive style. Doyle was worried giving away his secrets might affect his profitability - but he managed to be the most enduring player of all time, retiring in 2018 after a fifty-year career. A true legend of the game.
Tom 'Durrr' Dwan
Dwan burst onto the high-stakes scene, inspiring a generation of young players - only to suffer a rollercoaster of downswing brought on by his LAG style. Dwan disappeared from the limelight for a while, surfacing in Macau playing short-deck hold 'em. But he appears in the new 2020 series of High Stakes Poker - the show where he previously won the biggest televised live pot of all time, beating his own record.
Wiktor 'Limitless' Malinowski
The current high-stakes poker end boss? A former professional handball player, it took him only 2 years to move from online free-rolls to the nosebleeds, where he is winning millions of dollars a month with his super-aggressive and fearless style. He's extended an open challenge to anyone who wants to play him heads-up - promising he'll play drunk to make things fair. Tempted?
Gus 'The Great Dane' Hansen
A strong contender for the most aggressive player of all time. Hansen won an incredible amount of money at live tournaments - only to lose so much online he quit professional poker altogether. His book Every Hand Revealed is a must-read classic - but perhaps not the best strategy guide for the beginner.
Stu 'The Kid' Ungar
Poker's original bad boy, Ungar won three WSOP main events - two consecutively, and the third sixteen years later. By that point, he had fallen on such hard times he was only able to enter the tournament after a friend paid his entry fee. Unfortunately, he died of a drug overdose just a year after his comeback win. His life was wild enough to make a movie out of - High Roller.
LAG Playing Style - FAQ
Answers to common questions about the LAG poker playing style.
What hands do loose-aggressive players never play?
LAG players don't just mindlessly play every hand - there is a big difference between a LAG and a maniac. The LAG is willing to play more marginal hands, but they won't play complete trash - at least not unless the right situation comes along.
How often do loose-aggressive players bluff?
Loose-aggressive players bluff a lot - but solid LAGs only do so in the right spots. They will assess your hand range and the board texture to put you under maximum pressure. If you show weakness, then they will attack it - whether or not they have a hand.
When do loose aggressive players call?
Loose-aggressive players like to take control of pots, so if they are calling they are usually either giving up or trapping their opponent.
How tight should LAG poker players be?
A good LAG will adjust their starting hand range based on their opponents and the dynamics of the game. They are willing to play on a spectrum from slightly looser than the TAG to any-two-cards 'street poker' - but there will always be a good reason for it.
How aggressive should LAG poker players be?
LAGs are always on the attack, forcing their opponent into making difficult decisions that lead to mistakes. But this is calculated aggression, and a good LAG always knows when to find the fold.
Can LAG-style poker players win?
The LAG style can be very profitable - but it is very risky too. If you lack the skill and experience, it's better to stick to a simpler strategy like tight-aggressive.
The loose-aggressive poker strategy is a high-risk poker strategy, but potentially very high-reward one. It's not for beginners or the faint-of-heart - make sure you have mastered the basics before trying it out.