You’ve totaled up your last few months of poker sessions and you see that you are right back where you started, at $0 profit. Maybe you are up a little, maybe you are down a little…but you are a lot closer to $0 profit than you are to a respectable win rate. You are frustrated with poker, blaming that weekend of coolers or the poker Gods for your lack of winnings. Lots of players have been where you are today, but this is a pivotal day in your poker career.

In general, there are 3 different ways that players react here.

  • Throw in the towel and quit poker
  • Curse their badluck but continue grinding their same strategy
  • Work on their game and then go back to the grind

Given that you are reading this, you obviously have no interest in the 1st option (and good for you, quitting is for quitters!) But so many players choose option 2. They displace the onus of their earnings on someone/something else and just continue plugging away with their same poker strategy. However, the 3rd option is often times the best option and here’s why:

Poker has changed. Over the last few years the games have continued to get tougher with fewer recreational players, better poker strategy memberships, and even instances of increased rake which eat further into win rate potentials. And when you remove large subsets of the weakest opponents, and increase the win rate potential of the remaining subset, it’s easy to see why poker is getting tougher and tougher to beat.

Tough-Poker

But some players will read this and say, “Well, I play a solid TAG strategy just like all the videos I’ve watched recommend. I make the same plays I’ve learned in all the books I’ve read. My strategy is solid, and I don’t need to change it….I just need to run better!” Maybe that’s true, and having some extra luck would be awesome, but chances are your strategy could also use an improvement as well.

Say you are playing in your normal game and most of the decent players are playing a variant of your strategy, the common TAG strategy. In many games this is common, especially in smaller rooms or rooms without a lot of recreational traffic. If you all are playing roughly the same strategy, your win rates are likely very similar. Maybe you bet size a little better than them, maybe you hand read a little better than them, but with similar ranges and styles you aren’t able to generate a sizable edge on them. That’s likely already happening in your game, even if you didn’t realize it before today.

But then you say, “Well, there are fish…and I’m really good at getting into favorable spots against fish. So I can just generate my win rate from them!” You know who else is good at getting value from fish? The other TAGs at your table! One of the cornerstones of playing TAG is that you use better ranges and value betting strategies to maximize value from the weakest players at the table. Any decent TAG knows and implements this, so if you are in a game with 9 TAGs and 1 fish, you aren’t getting the fish’s money any faster than anyone else. So then it’s just a race to get the one weak player’s money before he busts and his seat is filled by yet another TAG.

poker-fish

And the issue is, even if you aren’t playing with great TAGs…say you are just playing against breakeven TAGs…that you aren’t generating a win rate from them. What happens is you find yourself in a game with little to no win rate, and when that win rate drops the variance skyrockets. So it should be obvious now that trying to beat strategy A with strategy A isn’t going to result in a huge profit unless there are enough weak players to justify it.

How do we adjust then? We need to either heavily optimize our TAG strategy, or more likely, work to create a LAG strategy. Here is what each one would look like:

Optimizing a TAG strategy

This would be heavily focused on postflop play, with 2 major focuses. First is bluffing. Bluffing more, bluffing better, and improving skills like double and triple barreling. Many TAGs are solid at preflop and flop play, and play rivers decently…but they perform terribly on the turn. So optimizing your turn strategy would be huge. The second focus is on bet sizing both bluffs and value hands. You’d also want to spend some time working on preflop play, ultimately by adding some extra hands into various ranges. And the more work you put into postflop, the more you’ll see where you need to add hands into your preflop ranges.

Creating a LAG strategy

LAG stands for Loose Aggressive and is essentially a TAG strategy on steroids. This adds extra hands into lots of different preflop ranges and continues with massive amounts of aggression postflop as well. A huge benefit is that you will usually make other players uncomfortable, since most TAGs aren’t well-versed in dealing with really competent LAG players. And when you take them out of their comfort zone, you can increase their mistake propensity and thus increase your own edge against them. This isn’t for the faint of heart, nor for lazy poker players…but if you are serious and improving your poker strategy…this is where I would suggest spending a lot of time and effort.

Both adjustments take work and effort…but it’s how you will escape breakeven. I’ve written lots of content about improving your play, made lots of videos on the topic, and even wrote one of the most popular LAG guides. Heck, Christian Soto and I even did a full 30 minute video about increasing aggression to alleviate this very issue. So there is no shortage of material of this concept, you just need to sink in the time before you get back to the grind. It may seem scary to widen up your ranges and run those expensive triple barrel bluffs…but when you’ve worked through the math a ton of times and gotten used to how the strategy works…you’re one step closer to crushing any table full of ABC TAGs.

Remember, if you and everyone else is playing the same strategy, there is no edge…just an infinite loss to the rake. So work to find extra edges, or revamp your strategy and create a ton of new edge. It’s possible your recent results are simply due to bad luck…but even if they are, there’s no reason not to keep working to increase your edge to pick up enough extra pots to allow you to freeroll running badly!

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Showing 9 comments
  • Fausto
    Reply

    Perfect and straight forward explanation of what needs to be done to excel your poker carrer/ edge

  • Alena
    Reply

    Thank you very much James, for a really great article !
    and I love your last 2 videos ” Optimizing TAG” , please keep doing this. It helps me a lot to be a better player.

    • James "SplitSuit" Sweeney
      Reply

      Thanks Alena! I’m not sure if I’ll have another ‘Optimizing TAG’ in May…but I do have some more planned for the future =)

  • Thomas H. Weight
    Reply

    I love your videos and articles but I feel you dropped the ball on this one. This article seems like shooting blind to me.

    Perhaps a better approach might be a variation on Ed Miller’s Moving Up chapter in “Excelling at No Limit Hold’Em”.
    1) Find the professionals or at least the winning players.
    2) Figure out what they are doing to beat the average players.
    3) Incorporate these techniques into your game.
    4) Then see what you can do to beat the pros.
    I rail games and track the wins and losses of each player and then compute ROIs based on that data. For the players with the best ROIs (the winners), I then collect more data and compute VP$IP and PFR by hand. That gives me their starting ranges. I also collect hand histories and review them later. Replaying these hand histories gives me a chance to pick up on how they play different situations.

    This approach requires time away from playing but it seems like a process that can work even when you don’t have someone available that can tell you the correct way to play.

    • Reply

      Thanks for the comment Thomas! I think it’s a great idea to get in there and see what the winning players are doing…but all the hours/time that goes into datamining that kind of information (especially for a live player where that kind of datamining would require TONS of hours)…you’d be better off participating in forums, doing hardcore analysis on hand histories, and/or working on strengthening foundational elements of the game. Working hard to mimic a player’s style doesn’t guarantee understanding the underlying theory foundation below it…and without that understanding the whole strategy will crumble at some point.

  • Michael Azimi
    Reply

    Always a pleasure to read/watch your articles, podcasts and videos. Very helpful especially the HHs. Would like to see some HU holdem and PLO vids.

    Thanks!!

    • James "SplitSuit" Sweeney
      Reply

      Thanks Michael. I don’t play enough PLO or HU to make solid training videos about them unfortunately =(

  • Idan Tshabes
    Reply

    As always great article thank you james for what you are doing it is very educating and valuable for players that want to improve their game.
    I can’t wait for the next article or video.

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