Preflop Strategy: TAG vs. LAG – Tight vs. Loose

In No-Limit Texas Hold’em (NLHE) there are many different approaches that a player can take to preflop strategy. The two most viable options are Tight-Aggressive (TAG) and Loose-Aggressive (LAG). This article we will explore the benefits of each approach alongside advice as to which is best for the games you play.

The Lowdown: What does TAG/LAG mean?

TAG is a strategy revolving around raising preflop when you have substantial holdings. TAG is the most widely used approach within the poker community, due to its postflop ease. A TAG strategy involves raising strong holdings preflop and 3-betting when holding premium hands. A TAG 3-betting range will have few bluffs and includes calling preflop often when holding speculative hands. Speculative hands include small pocket pairs and suited connectors.

Conversely, a LAG strategy will involve a player raising a range of hands, some of which are weak. The reason that a player will choose a LAG approach over a TAG one is two-fold:

  • They believe that players are folding too much preflop
  • They feel they have a postflop edge and so play as many hands as they can to exploit opponents

LAG players will 3-bet all of their premium hands but will include more bluffs and hands that can make strong hands postflop. Examples of these are suited connectors and suited broadways which will often flop draws. Draws, although not made hands, benefit from fold equity postflop as well as the ability to improve. LAG players rely upon aggression postflop for fold equity and to increase profitability when holding strong hands.

Position and Opening Ranges

When playing any preflop strategy, it is essential that you are positionally aware. From a theoretical standpoint this makes sense if we consider our reasoning to raise hands preflop; stealing blinds. When you are in early position, there are more players left to act. An open becomes less profitable with any one hand since there will be fewer folds preflop. Hence, hands that cannot be profitable to open when in early position, become profitable from a later position. For example, raising JTo under the gun (UTG) will be a losing play in almost any game. When on the button (BU), however, it will be a winning play in virtually any lineup.

Considering the relevance of position is imperative to any preflop strategy whether TAG or LAG. When talking about preflop ranges of TAG and LAG players in percentage points we are talking in aggregation. This refers to, on average, what range a player will raise from any one position.

TAG vs. LAG Preflop Ranges

A TAG strategy will usually involve a Preflop Raise (PFR) percentage between 12-15. As an indication of what a 15% open range looks like, see the chart below. This range is reasonably tight but means postflop decisions become easier since fewer marginal spots will be experienced. Fewer marginal spots result since when flopping both pairs and draws you will often have dominating combinations. Often a TAG strategy will leave you in situations whereby a decision as to call, fold or raise is clear.

Poker Tag 15% Open Raise

Conversely, when playing a LAG strategy, you will raise hands preflop that initially might appear loose. A LAG player will raise anywhere from 21-26% of hands preflop. LAG players profit from the mistakes of others – a table of regulars will make fewer mistakes. The weakest holdings in a LAG opening range will become losing plays in tough games; hence you should adopt a more TAG style. It is evident just how many more marginal hands a 24% opening range contains than 15% by comparing images.

Poker Lag - 24% Open Raise

TAG vs. LAG: Which is best for you?

A long-standing debate exists within the poker community: is TAG or LAG the optimal strategy? Although there is no definitive answer to this question, there are a few guidelines that players should contemplate before making a decision.

As stated above, LAG strategies will often leave players with marginal decisions postflop. In these spots, a combination of hand-reading and experience will enable players to optimize decisions. Inexperienced players often struggle here and hence a LAG strategy may not maximize profit. Experienced players, on the other hand, will make money in these situations by deciphering the correct play. One of the best ways to maximize edge and expectation in poker is to be better at decision making than other players in the same tricky spot.

Additionally, a LAG strategy will involve being more aggressive in spots with weak holdings. To do this successfully, it will occasionally entail bluffing without any draw and simply air or overcards. For inexperienced poker players, this can often be a daunting task since it is commonplace to simply bluff with equity (such as when having a draw). Sticking to a TAG strategy is advisable for novices to avoid complex postflop strategy since these are more costly than preflop.

Lastly, the most important factor as to preflop strategy should revolve around the players at the table. If you feel yourself one of the weakest players, then playing TAG will ‘protect’ you since decisions become easier. If there are bad players at the table then playing loose and aggressive becomes very profitable since you can expect to profit more frequently from their mistakes.

Preflop Strategy Conclusion

Ultimately, whether or not you choose a LAG or TAG strategy is up to your personal preference as a player. It is important to experiment with both strategies to find which suits your play style best. Within this article, I hope that you have been able to identify the primary benefits of each and how to apply these within your games. Good luck at the tables!

Patrick Sekinger is from the UK and is an avid poker enthusiast, currently playing both live and online as a professional poker player. Patrick plays all formats of NLHE, however specialises in 100bb cash games and you will find him regularly playing in the small stakes games on Pokerstars.

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