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Stages Of A TAG

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A couple of weeks back I did a video for Stoxpoker called Stages Of A TAG. The basic idea is that I think most players go through a series of stages or realizations about no-limit as they improve their games from noob to TAG and beyond.

I think these stages are worth thinking about because they can help you do a couple of things:

  1. Realize about where you stand in your development, and therefore what concepts you have still to master.
  2. Understand how to identify roughly how your opponents are thinking, what tactics they are well-defended against, and what tactics they might be vulnerable to.

As I read hands and try to get into the heads of my opponents, I refer to an internal conception of these stages all the time, and I think it really helps me in my quest to outlevel my opponents by one.

Here are the stages that I presented in the video. If you’d like to see the whole video you’ll need a Stoxpoker membership. If you don’t have one I think it’s very worth your while to sign up for a month and check it out. It’s not expensive, and there’s just an absolute ton of great content now.

Stages of a TAG

1. Hrmm, this K5s looks kinda good

2. I will never play anything but these 18 hands under any circumstances

3. I need to fold postflop if I don’t hit a hand. And I need to fold to pressure if I don’t have a great hand.

4. Maybe I can loosen up a little bit in position. I can play more hands because I know how to fold them postflop.

5. I need to bet my good hands hard so I can get value for them.

This is basically the evolved stage of a “nit”. Tight preflop, slightly looser in position, and mainly putting in serious money postflop only with strong hands. Nits can make money, but they need to really multitable hard to get any kind of real traction.

6. I can semibluff decent draws postflop with essentially no added risk.

7. C-betting is much more powerful if you follow it up sometimes with turn barrelling.

8. I should 3-bet more hands preflop for value.

9. I can now play a few more hands from all position because bluffing makes bad hands profitable sometimes.

10. I need to adjust my preflop game to my opponents. That means not folding as much to frequent 3-bettors, calling more on the button against light openers.

11. I should look for small pots that nobody in particular seems to want and attack them.

This is where a lot of the TAG regulars in microstakes fit in. This is also about where most of what I write and produce picks up.

12. I need to adjust my postflop play somewhat to my opponents. That means getting it in with stuff like top pair against bad or loose players.

13. I can make money by stealing more preflop. I can steal more loosely from the button, and I can 3-bet light from the button and blinds.

14. I can also get carried away and start opening too many hands from all positions.

15. I can combat light 3-bettors with light 4-bets and light 4-bettors with light 5-bet shoves.

16. Double barrelling can be quite effective, and sometimes I should resort to firing three barrels.

17. I can take aggrodonks who bet every flop off their hands with well-timed raises and floats.

18. I should seek out bad players and try to isolate them to play as many pots as possible with them.

19. Preflop hand values usually depend far more on the situation than on the intrinsic value of the cards.

20. The size of the pot determines how aggressive I need to play and how committed I am to the pot.

21. I should look for large pots that people seem to have given up on and shove my money in.

22. I can value bet on the river much lighter against bad players and expect to get called by worse hands.

This is about where you need to be if you want to play online poker for a living at the $1-$2 level or so. At this stage players usually vary from loose TAGs to LAGs. Virtually everything I write and produce is designed to get people from stage 11 to stage 22.

23. I need to focus on line balancing. Reading hands lets me find unbalanced lines in my own play and in my opponents’ play.

24. Through obvservation I can determine roughly what level my opponent plays at and out-level them by one level

25. I can make seemingly drastic adjustments to my game to exploit opponents playing an unbalanced strategy.

And more…

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10 Responses to “Stages Of A TAG”

@ Sat Apr 18, 2009 10:29:28 PM

This is an awesome article. I find myself between stages 7 and 8 right now, although I think I have 10-14 down. I look forward to SSNLHE/PNL2 for some tools to help me get to 25 and beyond.

@ Sun Apr 19, 2009 07:14:55 AM

Excellent article as usual. Inspiring and thought provoking.
Are you going to follow this up with levels 26, 27 … etc.?

Steve Brogan
@ Mon Apr 20, 2009 06:13:18 AM

Strangely enough or not so strange, I kind of fit your description. I am a TAG evolving into a LAG somewhat. I mostly play Limit but venture into No Limit Tourneys on a small scale with some success. I have won first place three times on the “Twitter Poker Tour” in the last three months.
I think I have successfully avoided the Noob stage, as I have read over 30 poker books, read blogs such as your for information and help, have done some on line poker training and I know that this will be on going if I intend to become and stay profitable. I really enjoyed this post today. Thank you.

Seth Baldwin
@ Mon Apr 20, 2009 12:18:47 PM

I’m really excited to find good information on 23 and 24. Can anyone point me to it? PNLH is by far the best book out there on NL cash games. Will volume 2 cover these topics?

Ed Miller
@ Mon Apr 20, 2009 12:22:38 PM


The new book Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em (no volume 2 anymore) has a good section on Line Balancing (#23).

We talk throughout the book about #24, but there’s no particular section about it I’d say.

@ Mon Oct 18, 2010 02:24:45 PM

I’m about 6.5

That’s a lot lower than I realised. Very humbling.

Great article


[…] while back I developed a model for player development that I call Stages Of A TAG. I think most players go through a series of stages or realizations about no-limit hold’em as […]

Michael Le
@ Thu Feb 02, 2012 11:16:38 AM

Hello Ed!

I’m a fan of your books and I’m a loyal customer.

One thing that I can’t see have been mention much is the rake and how much it really effect the winnings over long term. Specially live, in Europe and Macau, the rake is 5% of the pot up to 15USD in games like 2-5USD with 200bb in maximum buy in and 5% up to 30USD in 5-10USD with 200bb max buy in.

What I have heard, the rake is about 200USD an hour for the whole table on 2-5 and about 400USD on 5-10. This can be translated to 20USD and 40USD per player in a 10 handed table every hour.

Thats sounds tough to beat. Specially if you are expecting a good hourly rate as well.

How do you look at it?
Specially live!

With this rake, what can we as pros really expect to win?

Best regards

Michael Le

@ Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:36:36 PM


@ Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:38:25 PM


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