It’s quite humorous how many poker players go through the exact same progression once they start playing. While it’s obvious that over time, with study and experience, a player will improve and usually find themselves playing a TAG or LAG strategy…where do they start? After having coached about 450 players and hearing about their backstories I’ve found that most players tend to have this progression:
This isn’t to say that every poker player will encounter this same progression (for instance, some will go from playing fishy to TAG and skip nitty play all together), but it’s pretty typical. I even notice this when I do LeakFinders…dependent on how long they’ve been playing I can usually guess what their stats will look like before the import is complete. So what do each of these steps look like?
Fish: Let’s be honest…we all sucked when we first started playing poker. We made awful plays, used awful ranges, and our rationale for making certain actions was laughable. I remember grinding in my dorm when a friend asked me why I check-raised the flop with TPTK. My response was simply “because it’s funny to apply pressure to my opponent”. *shakes head* The good thing is that with time, practice, and study we will get away from being fishy…but it takes discipline. Discipline to put in the time playing and discipline to study poker and improve. Like with any other academic subject, you can learn how to play poker well by studying, either via the videos and articles on this site, or via other great poker learning sites like www.howtoplaypoker.co.uk.
Nit: Now, not every poker player hits this stage. Some just go right from being a fish to being a TAG, which is fine. But going from a fish to a nit is the first example of discipline being implemented in a strategy. The discipline to find the fold button with junky hands preflop. The discipline to play hands aggressively preflop rather than having a huge gap between the VPIP and PFR. While being a nit is boring, it shows that a player has the discipline to get away from making fishy plays (especially preflop). Being a nit is all well and good, but it usually leaves value on the table…which is why getting into TAG play is the next natural step…
TAG: This is the happy place for most poker players. It’s not as tight as a nit, it’s certainly not as loose as a fish, and it’s a comfortable happy-medium that most players strive for. It takes discipline to keep TAG (tight aggressive) stats but TAGs are still stealing and 3betting enough to be tougher players. While this is often the “aim-point” in terms of stats like VPIP, PFR, and 3bet…it doesn’t mean that all TAG players will be winners. It’s still very possible to use a good preflop range of hands, and even make good preflop plays, while still losing due to big postflop leaks. While getting to the TAG stat range is usually a good idea, it’s not a gurantee that you’ll be a winner. But if you are a winning TAG, chances are that you’re going to try playing LAG at one point or another.
LAG: Once a player has a really solid TAG game it’s natural that they will want to attempt a LAG strategy. A LAG is also a very disciplined player, but they play looser and thus have wider ranges both preflop and postflop. Not all TAGs will be winning LAGs, but you won’t be a winning LAG unless your TAG game is really solid. At this point one of three things will likely happen: the player stays a LAG, goes back to TAG, or becomes a hybrid.
Hybrid: This is a player between a TAG and LAG. For instance, a 17/15 at full ring. This player isn’t quite a TAG (a little loose), not quite a LAG (a little tight), and thus is something of a hybrid between both. This is a really nice place to be as a player is finding lots of spots to attack, but isn’t player too loose and out of control. I currently play something of a hybrid strategy, and it’s very comfortable for me…but it may not be best for you, and that’s OK.
Now this isn’t to say you need to play one style over another. In fact, the style you play should be comfortable for you and also based upon the table/preflop poker dynamics. But this is the normal progression I tend to see amongst poker players. If you are currently kind of fishy, look to tighten up and really implement discipline into your game. If you are playing really nitty, you are probably leaving some money on the table and you may want to loosen up a bit and find extra steals and 3bets. And if you are playing TAG you may be able to find a few extra spots as well and find yourself running LAG or hybrid numbers. As poker players we are always improving and developing new strategies, and our play style will usually reflect, and our winrate should as well over time!