When you start out playing poker, you learn early on that “tight aggressive” (or TAG) is generally considered the “optimal” playing style.
You learn that you want to be selective about your hands (play tight) and that you want to play them aggressively.
The problem for a lot of players, though, is they learn how to play a tight-aggressive style from a book. They know how to play “like” a TAG, but they often don’t understand why they make the plays they do.
As a result they play a very formulaic, by the book, style. Players like this don’t adjust their play to their opponents and make many small mistakes. These players are known as TAGfish.
If you're not sure whether you are one or not, check our piece here:
Am I a TAGfish?
As poker games (and online poker games especially), become flooded with regulars and fewer fish, players who want to keep winning need to adapt and learn to beat the regulars as well as the fish.
TAG is a style that was designed to beat fish. Years ago, when fish were plentiful, it was easy to avoid the regulars all together because the fish were spewing off enough money to keep everyone happy.
But the days of playing just the fish are over and you can no longer ignore, or avoid playing, the regulars.
Instead you have to be able to accurately recognize the weaknesses in these regular TAGfish and exploit them for profit as well.
TAGfish are much more difficult to recognize than regular fish. You can’t just look at $VPIP (Voluntarily Put Money in Pre-Flop) and PFR (Pre-Flop Raise %) numbers and say, “This guy is a TAGfish.”
You have to pay attention. If you’re a regular and he’s a regular, chances are you’re going to be playing in the same games often.
Pay attention, watch his game and take notes. Information is a priceless asset in poker.
Six Common Signs You're a TAGfish
These are the six most common symptoms of a TAGfish:
- Serial continuation-betting (c-betting) and continuation-betting once and then giving up
- Having a default line and not straying
- Overestimating implied odds
- Playing too loose from the blinds or early position
- Tilting too often
- Treating all regulars the same
How to Exploit a TAGfish in Poker
1) Know When They Say When
The hard part of exploiting your average TAGfish is first establishing his or her leaks. It’s beating a dead horse at this point, but it still needs to be said:
- Pay attention!
Gone are the days where you can mindlessly 10 table online poker without worrying about anyone. You always have to be vigilant.
You’re competing for his money and he’s competing for yours. Give yourself the upper hand and pay attention.
Serial c-bettors and serial “one and done” c-bettors are easily exploited. Track the boards they fire one bet on. Then call the flop and take the pot away on the turn when they check.
Ace-high boards are a great example. Ace-high boards are excellent for the c-bettor but are also boards many players just fire one barrel at.
Take notes about how often a player gives up after c-betting an ace-high board. If he’s checking far too often on the turn, you can easily pick up the pot.
This goes for all board textures. Look at when a player c-bets and when he double barrels. What hands does he need to double barrel with?
This information also makes it easier when deciding whether to call that second barrel with a weakish made hand.
***If You’re the TAGfish:
Realize that you can’t always just c-bet once and give up. Sometimes you have to give up without c-betting when you realize you’re getting floated too often.
Sometimes you’ll have to fire more than one barrel, so look at your opponent’s pop-up stats (for those that don't use Heads-Up Displays, find out more here) - and particularly his fold-to-second-barrel stat.
If he’s constantly peeling one card and then giving up to a second barrel, fire again.
2) Punish TAGfish for a Predictable Default Line
Another common TAGfish symptom is having a default line and not straying. An example of this would be the guy who c-bets every ace-high board but never double barrels the turn without an ace.
More examples would be:
- A player that always calls the flop on a dry board but raises the turn with a set
- Someone who always raises the flop with the nut-flush draw and always checks the turn if he misses
These players are extremely common. Chances are they’re playing a ton of tables and are not focusing at all.
They’re playing their system because it works and they don’t think, or don’t care, that good opponents are going to notice and adjust.
So take notes and adjust. If they’re playing the same way every time, after a few thousand hands you should be able to very accurately put them on a range and play accordingly.
I.e. if they’re only calling a flop then raising the turn with a set, adjust by only continuing with the nuts or near nuts.
The way to exploit this the most is to learn how they play and adjust. Don’t be afraid to go through your databases in Hold’em Manager and look at hands they've played even against other opponents.
The more you know about your opponents, the better you’ll play against them.
Soon you’ll be making easy calls and folds that would be near impossible against an unknown. But since you did your homework, they’re trivially easy.
***If You’re the TAGfish:
Realize that you can’t just play every hand the exact same way every time. It makes you predictable and easy to play against. It’s OK to have a default line but you have to be able to mix it up.
If you do something 100% of the time it’s going to make your opponent’s job easier. Mix up your play and keep your opponents on their toes.
3) Don’t Pay TAGfish Off When Their Draws Hit
TAGfish often overestimate implied odds. They call too often with weak gutshots or weak flush draws and expect to get paid off when they hit.
The problem for them is they don’t often hit. And when they do hit they’re never getting paid off enough to make the calls worthwhile.
In short, they bleed money. Exploiting these players is easy. Don’t pay them off when their draw hits.
You’re already going to be beating them just by betting your hands and having them draw without odds.
You should also double barrel these players because they’ll often peel once on the flop and fold the turn when they miss.
***If you’re the TAGfish:
Don’t overestimate implied odds. If you’re playing a LAG (loose aggressive) fish, the implied odds might be there. But if you’re playing a regular, they probably aren’t.
Instead of passively calling and folding when you miss, use these hands as semi-bluffs. Use your draw as a backup plan and raise.
Ideally you’re hoping your opponent folds but the draw is plan B. If he calls you can still hit.
4) Three-Bet With a Wider Range
TAGfish often play too loose from early position and the blinds. TAGfish see 56 UTG, think it’s a nice hand and raise it. They don’t think about table dynamics. It’s their default line with a pretty hand and they take it.
Punish players that play too loose in early position by three-betting them with a wider range.
Or you can call and take the pot away from them on the flop when they miss, which is going to be more times than not.
Players that play too loose from the blinds are easy targets as well. They defend their blinds too loose and make too many weak hands after the flop.
Weak hands are tough to play in position and even harder to play out of position. Make their life difficult by firing multiple barrels and getting them off weak one-pair hands.
If they adjust by calling more, you adjust by tightening up and value betting more.
***If you’re the TAGfish:
Understand the table dynamic before opening loose from early position. If your table is aggressive with a lot of three-bettors, you’re better off folding.
If the table is tight with players that don’t three-bet or call often, then your open can be profitable. It’s all about recognizing when you can and when you can’t open loose.
When you’re in the blinds, remember that by calling raises you’re literally paying for the privilege to play out of position.
Playing out of position is extremely difficult – and especially when you’re doing it with weak hands. Tighten up out of the blinds and in early position. If you want to play loose, do it from late position when it’s most profitable.
5) Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Tilters
Poker tilt is a vicious monster. A regular that often tilts after a couple hands don’t go his way is nothing more than a TAGfish.
Keep an eye out. If a player loses a few hands and starts playing differently, adjust accordingly. He may have gone from nit to maniac in a hurry.
Sometimes tilt manifests itself in other ways. Some players won’t go crazy, open every hand and try and bluff but they won’t turn down any chance to gamble.
Some players change every decision that’s close from a fold to a call. Some tighten up. Y
You have to recognize how tilt affects each player and adjust accordingly.
***If you’re the TAGfish:
Recognize tilt and its symptoms and how it affects you. It’s always said and it’s always true: Tilt is whenever you stop playing your A game.
If you’re not playing your A game, take a break. The game will always be there. Save the times you play for when you’re playing your best.
6) Learn, Adjust, Adapt
TAGfish treat every fish and every regular the same. It doesn’t matter what style they play, they lump all players into three categories:
They treat every player in each category the same. But no two players are exactly alike; everybody has subtle intricacies to their play. Treating everyone the same just leads to small mistakes against everyone.
To exploit these players you have to strive to not play that way. Don’t treat them the same as any other TAGfish.
Analyze their game, find their weaknesses and exploit them. That's what separates the good players from the average.
You have to learn, adjust, and adapt. If you can do that, you’ll crush not just the nits and the fish but you’ll also have an edge on the good players.
***If you’re the TAGfish:
Stop treating everyone the same. Learn how people play and why they play that way. The more you know about a player the better you’ll play against him. Pay attention and learn subtleties. It’s as simple as that.
There’s no easy way to beat TAGfish. It takes work. You have to stop being a passive player and become an active player. Pay attention and learn how people play.
TAGfish sit back and wait for the fish and hope to cooler the regulars. Big winners actively play poker. They try and find weaknesses in everybody’s games and they actively work to exploit them.
Poker isn’t a game where you can play just the hands you are in. You have to be constantly trying to pick up any bit of information out there. Information is a weapon, and the players who glean as much as they can from their opponents are the ones that win the most.