But is playing tight-aggressive still a good poker strategy today? And what exactly does it involve?
If it's good enough to call, you gotta be in there raising. I mean tight but aggressive, and I do mean aggressive.Matt Damon in Rounders.
What Is a Tight-Aggressive Poker Playing Style
Tight-aggressive poker combines careful hand selection (tightness) with aggressive play. A tight-aggressive player (TAG) won't play many hands, but they will take control of the hands they do play. A TAG player prefers aggressive actions like betting, 3-betting, and raising over passive play such as limping or calling.
By waiting for good hands and using the power of initiative and position, a TAG gives themselves a mathematical edge over their looser opponents.
How To Play Tight Aggressive Poker
TAG poker requires discipline, patience and planning. The three most important elements are good cards, position and initiative.
The TAG always tries to take control of hands by being the pre-flop raiser or 3-better, and tries to play as many hands in position as possible. The basic TAG strategy is tight both before and after the flop, avoiding marginal situations.
The TAG always seeks to have an edge over their opponents, whether it is better cards, better position, or by being the aggressor.
The TAG plays very tight from early position, loosening up in middle position and playing wider still in late position.
They prefer to raise when the action folds or limps to them. A good TAG never open limps and only limps behind rarely.
If they are not first into the pot, they tend to either 3-bet or fold. Calling is a passive play - and by choosing a passive action over an aggressive one, the TAG loses the initiative.
A combination of good hand selection, initiative and position sets the TAG up for easier decisions after the flop.
The TAG will usually have the initiative as the pre-flop raiser. They aim to continue their aggression post-flop by firing a continuation bet on most flop textures, at least against only one opponent. They will bet for value, and rarely slow-play. If they bluff it will usually be a semi-bluff with a drawing hand rather than complete air.
A TAG plays aggressively both pre- and post-flop, but they also play tight. They are willing to give up on their hands if they suspect they are behind and they have no reasonable path to improving on later streets.
Pros & Cons of a Tight Aggressive Poker Strategy
Benefits of playing tightly and aggressively in poker:
- Tight-aggressive strategy is well-balanced and tricky to counter
- TAG style is fairly straightforward and good for beginners or multi-tablers
- Playing tight keeps you out of trouble and reduces variance
- A tight table image helps you pull off well-timed bluffs
- TAG is profitable over the long run, at least at lower stakes
Drawbacks of playing tightly and aggressively in poker:
- TAG play isn't optimal against other TAGs, and it is a very common style
- Loose-aggressive players who know what they are doing can exploit you easily
- Not much use in tournaments once the blinds get high
- If you play too tight, you will not get paid off when you do make a hand
- It requires discipline and patience rather than creativity and guts
- Playing TAG can be boring and robotic, and it won't test your poker skill as much as playing loose-aggressive
Tight Aggressive Hand Range
The hands they play are highly position-dependent. The earlier your position, the more players are left to act. The more players left to act, the more likely it is one of them has a good hand.
The TAG will be extremely selective in early position, only playing premium hands. In middle position, they will add in some more speculative hands - usually suited aces and suited connectors.
In a later position, tight-aggressive hand selection widens, and the player will open up their starting range considerably. Particularly on the button, where they might play more than 40% of hands if nobody has raised before them. They know that even if their opponent does have a better hand, they will have position on them post-flop, giving them a massive advantage.
Tight Aggressive Poker Strategy
Whilst a well-executed tight-aggressive playing style gets very profitable in poker, it is important to know how to play each street with the right strategy in place.
The basic TAG strategy pre-flop is to play a limited selection of hands that are determined by their position at the poker table. Then they will play them aggressively.
The TAG will never open limp. They will always raise when they are first in to the pot. If someone has raised before them, they will usually either 3-bet or fold. Usually the 3-bet is for value, but they will also throw in a few semi-bluffs with speculative hands. If they do get called, then they could still hit the flop. And speculative hands are easy to fold in the face of a 4-bet.
TAGs will call preflop only in specific favorable circumstances. Calling is a passive play, and by taking a passive action, the TAG loses the initiative. A caller can only win the pot by having the best hand, but the aggressor can also win by making their opponent fold.
The TAG is more likely to call if they are on the button, because they will have position post-flop. Another common calling situation is set-mining, where the TAG calls with a small pocket pair with the intention of folding if they don't make a set on the flop. This requires the correct implied odds to be a profitable play - the odds of making a set are around 7.5-1, but you won't get paid off every time, so a good rule of thumb is look for at least 15-1 implied odds. Even then, set-mining in 3-bet pots is rarely a good idea - especially if you don't have position.
Stealing the blinds is also a big part of TAG strategy. Even if the steal doesn't succeed, they will have position after the flop.
By being the pre-flop aggressor, the TAG will have initiative after the flop. They will C-bet on most board textures if there is only one opponent. In a multi-way pot they will be more cautious.
A good TAG will assess the flop and plan out a strategy for the remaining streets. They will think about how their hand compares to their opponent's probable range - is it a value hand, a marginal hand, a bluffing hand or just complete trash? And how would that assessment change depending on what cards come on the turn and river?
A TAG will avoid slow-playing their value hands, instead betting for value and to deny their opponent the correct pot odds for any draws they might be on.
TAG play is tight play. They are happy to throw away their marginal and trash hands in the face of aggression from their opponent. And they rarely bluff with complete air, instead of using drawing hands as semi-bluffs, because they have the possibility to improve if they do get called.
The TAG will reassess their strategy based on the turn card. Again, it's important not to get overly attached to your hand. Great hands can become second-best if the wrong community cards come.
If your opponent raises your bet on the turn, that is usually a sign of real strength. It's time to re-evaluate whether your top pair is good enough. Would they really be raising your bet with less than top pair?
One golden rule of TAG play is to play big pots with big hands, but play smaller pots when you don't have a big hand. There is no honor in going bust on a pair, even if it is top pair. If the pot is getting out of control, perhaps it's time to accept you are beaten. But many looser players will take advantage of tight players' pain threshold, so be careful.
The river is the most exciting street - but also the most straightforward. There are no more cards to come, so any bet can only be pure bluff or pure value.
A key consideration before making a bet is to consider what hands your opponent will call you with. There is no point making a bet that will only get called by better hands than yours. Size it correctly. If you think you have the best hand then there's no point making a bet that causes worse hands to fold - you won't get any extra money in the pot that way, and if they do have you beat you are just making things worse for yourself.
Conversely, if you have nothing at all, you must decide whether to go out with a whimper or run a bluff to win the pot. You can't semi-bluff on the river, so it's only worth bluffing hands with no showdown value.
How To Play Against Tight Aggressive Players
The tight-aggressive style done right is well-balanced and difficult to counter. But most TAGs don't play the style perfectly and are still easy to exploit. When you get down to it, most TAGs are really just nits with a little bit more backbone. Most of the strategies that work against nits will work against bad TAGs, even if they aren't quite as effective. There are a lot of bad TAGs out there. But be careful - there are also some very skilled TAGs, and they will quickly adapt to any attempt to exploit them.
Let's look into how to beat a tight aggressive player.
Identify Tight-Aggressive Players
The TAG is easy to identify. Look for players who don't play many hands, but not a ridiculously small number like the nit. When they do get involved, they play aggressively and not passively. They won't limp into the pot and will prefer to raise rather than call.
If you use a poker HUD, the important stats are VPIP, PFR and AF. Their VPIP will be around 15% for full ring and 20% for 6-max - but most importantly, their PFR will be only a few percent smaller. Big gaps between VPIP and PFR suggest weaker, more passive players. The TAG's AF should be reasonably high because they usually take an aggressive line post-flop as well.
Unlike the nit, they don't always showdown with the best hand, and sometimes you will catch them bluffing - but nowhere near as often as the LAG.
Steal their Blinds
TAGs like to play in position, and they want to be the pre-flop aggressor. If you have TAG players on your left, then you can steal their blinds with impunity - they won't have a hand decent enough to 3-bet you most of the time, and if they call then they will be out of position. Most TAGs want to keep things simple, so they won't put up much of a fight without a good hand.
3-Bet Light in Position
TAGs usually open raise with good hands - but the closer they get to the button, the wider their range will be. If you're on the button when a TAG open raises, you are guaranteed position on them after the flop.
A 3-bet will put them in a difficult spot. If they call, they will be out of position post-flop - and they will have lost the initiative. And most TAGs are not fearless enough to start 4-betting you without a premium hand. Usually, they will just give up and wait for a better opportunity.
TAGs tend to continuation bet too much. Bluff raising their C-bets can be a profitable play. Most of the time they have nothing - and even if they have made a hand, your aggression will make them think twice. Even on a dry board, they might worry about you having a set or two-pair. They won't want to play for big pots without a big hand.
Most TAGs want an easy life. They seek to avoid marginal situations and instead only get involved and stay involved when they expect to have the advantage. If they don't have an Ace, and one comes out on the flop, they are going to be worried that you might have one. Why not take advantage of this by representing that you do and taking a stab at the pot?
Likewise, if a four-flush comes on the board, and you are first to act, then it's often worth firing out a bet to make the TAG afraid you've got them beat. But don't try this multi-way as it's much more likely you will be the one that's beat!
Beating nitty TAGs is almost as easy as punishing nits. But some TAGs are stickier and aren't so quick to fold. They won't be pushed around. These players can still be exploited.
First of all, you are more likely to get value from your good hands. Let the sticky TAG catch you bluffing. Then when you do have a good hand, they will think you are trying to bully them and make a stand - paying you off.
Even if you haven't got a loose table image, you can still extract more value from these players by increasing your bet sizes.
Likewise, if you do want to push them off a hand then you will just have to bet a lot bigger.
Remember though, if a player is calling your bets when they don't have the odds to do so, they are making a big mistake. And opponent mistakes are where the profit comes from in poker!
Famous Tight Aggressive Poker Players
Here are the most famous and most successful tight-aggressive poker players.
Dan "Action Dan" Harrington
His nickname might be ironic, but if you read Harrington on Hold'em you'll soon find out that Harrington loves to cultivate a super-tight table image so that he can pull off bluffs later on. A true legend of the game, Harrington has won millions playing poker - but it's his books that he's most famous for.
Barry 'Robin Hood of Poker' Greenstein
A famously cautious player, Greenstein's nickname comes from his charitable nature - he's given away all his career tournament profits, amounting to millions of dollars. He's not the only one - poker players on the whole are quite a charitable bunch, despite the cut-throat nature of the game!
Randy 'Nanonoko' Lew
A true multi-tabling wizard, Lew started out playing competitive video games before transitioning to poker. He holds the Guinness World Record for the most hands of poker played in 8 hours - 14,548, with a profit of $20.72. That works out at 30 hands per minute - hard to do unless you keep things simple with a solid TAG style.
Phil 'Poker Brat' Hellmuth
Love him or hate him, nobody can deny that Hellmuth has an incredible record - fifteen WSOP bracelets for starters, the most of all time. With his obnoxious behavior at the tables, it's easy to see how he came by his nickname. Nevertheless, he is known to be a great guy away from the felt. Poker sometimes brings out the worst in people!
Nathan 'BlackRain79' Williams
BlackRain is the undisputed heavyweight of online cash microstakes, putting in an insane volume and posting ridiculous win-rates. He may not be a glamorous high-stakes crusher - but he's carved out his niche at the lowest possible stakes, punishing the fish with his TAG style. As he often says, the biggest mistake you can make at the micros is 'fancy play syndrome'. He's living proof you just need to keep it simple and capitalize on your opponent's mistakes.
TAG Poker FAQ
Answers to some very common questions about the tight-aggressive poker playing style.
What hands do tight-aggressive players never play?
Tight-aggressive poker players are very selective about which hands they play and so they won't ever play trash hands. They play tight but not as tight as nits. They play around 15-20% of hands, but this is very position dependent. They will play very tight in early position and then loosen up as they get closer to the button.
How often do tight-aggressive players bluff?
TAGs do bluff a fair amount, especially if you consider a C-bet to be a type of bluff. They take advantage of their tight image, position and pre-flop aggression to take down pots. TAGs aim to have some sort of equity when they bluff - usually with some sort of drawing hand.
When do tight aggressive players call?
Tight-aggressive players prefer aggressive actions like betting and raising over passive actions like calling, especially pre-flop. But a TAG will call pre-flop to set mine or if they can get position against with a decent hand against a fish. If they call post-flop then they are probably have the correct odds for their draw, or are trying to pot control - or they are just giving up on their hand to wait for a better opportunity.
How tight should TAG poker players be?
Usually, a TAG plays around 15-20% of hands, depending on the table size. These will include premium value hands (such as high pocket pairs) as well as more speculative holdings (such as smaller pocket pairs, suited aces, or suited connectors). The closer to the button, the wider range they have. There is a fine line between playing TAG and being a nit - don't get on the wrong side of it!
How aggressive should TAG poker players be?
Poker is a game that rewards aggression, but playing tight-aggressive poker means knowing when to rein it in. The TAG style is a waiting game. Wait for a good hand, then play it aggressively - but be ready to bail out if things get messy. Poker is a game played over the long run, and individual hands are not important. And never go bust on a pair!
Even after all these years, playing tight-aggressive poker is still a great strategy for the beginner - especially at the lower stakes. And TAG poker is a great stepping stone toward the more advanced strategies required at the higher stakes.