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TAG vs LAG in Poker Tournaments

Advantages and Disadvantage of TAG vs LAG in MTTs

In my previous article I outlined the differences between how a TAG and LAG players approach tournaments differently.  This involved a distinction in starting hands/3betting ranges and different strategies for limping, stealing and defending the blinds.

In this article, I want to cover the  advantages and disadvantages of loose vs. tight tournament strategy and provide a conclusion on which style is best at the end.

Advantages of TAG in Tournaments:

  • TAG strategy is very simple to learn and master, and even relatively new poker players can successfully adopt it in tournaments without too much fuss.
  • TAG players avoid difficult situations post-flop which frequently plague loose tournaments players who enter pots with marginal hands out of position
  • Because TAG style involves a higher quality of hands than the average player, it makes post-flop play much easier and more likely to be successful.
  • In micro stakes tournaments, freerolls or any MTT with a lot of agro-maniac players a tight strategy works much better at least in the beginning of tournaments.  LAG strategy in loose games becomes quite dangerous given your inability to read players hands and risks of a limper hitting a monster hand.
  • Increased fold equity is definitely a boon for tight players – and any bluffs you do make later in the tournament will have greater respect.
  • Towards the bubble a TAG player will reap the benefits and will usually be playing much better $EV than loose fishy opponents who haven’t yet mastered the concept ICM and tightening up towards the money.

Disadvantages of TAGs in Tournaments:

  • TAG opponents restrict the number of pots they can win by folding pre-flop with a much tighter starting-hand range.
  • Predictability can become a downfall for TAG players who always raise pots with premium hands and call with marginal ranges.  Opponents can calculate and read your hands more scrupulously than a loose/unpredictable player – this is especially important post-flop where you will not get the same value from shoving or over-betting pots.
  • TAG players are bullied.  Loose players will take advantage of you on the SB/BB, with early position shoves and re-steals with bluntly crap hands.
  • Missed blind-stealing/re-stealing opportunities are a hindrance and not defending the blinds properly can lead to chips being swallowed up quickly.
  • Users can get bored easily waiting for good hands to play.  At the same time you have a high chance of flunking your chips away before you get a playable hand. 
  • Above the low stakes TAG players will suffer with respect to ROI and ITM finishes.  You really need a confident agressive style for $30+ MTTs.

Advantages of LAGs in Tournaments:

  • LAG’s create far more opportunities to steal chips for themselves.  By limping in mid-late position, blind stealing or value shoving early you will accumulate far more chips on average establishing much better odds of a final table finish.
  • Unpredictability, a massive virtue of loose play. Entering/raising pots with a random range of hands increases the value of shoving and playing out of position – this makes you dangerous to opponents and can often increase your fold equity.
  • Defending the blinds on SB/BB by hitting back saves you lots of chips.
  • Playing loosely lets you free up your game and play your own style.  For example limp-shoving with AK becomes an alternative to standard 3betting pre-flop for looser players.
  • Set mining and entering hands loosely gives a greater chance of hitting a monster and trapping fish.
  • LAG’s can take advantage as players tighten up towards the bubble.  Most of the small stacks and tight players on blinds will be very negligent to call your steals.
  • More fun in my opinion – you get to play more hands!

Disadvantages of LAGs in Tournaments:

  • The LAG approach to tournaments is definitely harder to master.  After post-flop, LAG players require excellent hand-reading skills and conceptual background knowledge to make correct +EV play, and knowing when to back down is the pinnacle of LAG strategy.
  • LAG strategy carries far more risk in tournaments, getting involved in more hands out of position (early shoves?) and with less information.  Remember you’re also risking your stack in a lot more hands – where a single coinflip gone wrong can kill your tourney life.
  • Straining to play more hands and concentrate harder with an outward rather than inward TAG approach.

Which is Better in MTTs:  TAG or LAG?

The truth, as any professional tournament player like Negreanu will tell you, is that you should be constantly switching from a TAG to LAG mentality throughout the tournament .  A blend of both these approaches is the most successful strategy.  I might begin with a VPIP% of 10% or less in the early stages of a tournament when I need to stick to my premium hands, but as the blinds increase I’ll want to steal more pots and increase up to a 20% VPIP%.

The fact is, whether or not you adopt the LAG/TAG strategy all the time isn’t that important.  It isn’t even about which suits your style of play better.  It’s about which works better for your tournament.  On tight table, a LAG approach with AG > 1.0 is always more appropriate. On a loose table with many maniacs, such as a freeroll, a tight approach is better.

If I had to pick an outright winner, I would choose LAG.  Why?  Because tournaments are all about accumulating as many chips as possible.  The rewards of becoming deep stacked with M>30 lets you play more hands and acumulate chips faster. 

The most important message you should take away from this article however, is that LAG strategy is extremely hard to master. Although pro’s like Brunson and Negreanu can master it, it has taken years of play for them to do so profitably.  Given the risks inherent in post-flop play, you need to be able know exactly when to overbet shove from UTG or steals/re-steals against a tight player.  Learning perfect LAG strategy also requires alot of experience.  For beginners or low-stakes MTT  players I highly recommend starting with a TAG approaching and only slowly adding  LAG play in your game slowly.


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