POKER STRATEGY GUIDE—HOW TO PLAY LOOSE AGGRESSIVE POKER
Poker is one of the few games that allows players to have a direct impact on the outcome, which opens up many different strategies and play styles that players can use to win. One of the more admired, due to the chance to win more pots than average, is the loose aggressive playstyle or LAG.
There are plenty of poker pros who swear by this style, and have inspired many players to try out the fearless and relentless aggression that comes with a loose aggressive playstyle. Regardless of how good you are at poker, sometimes, you can’t control what cards you are dealt; what you can control is how you play them.
LOOSE AGGRESSIVE POKER EXPLAINED
A skilled loose aggressive player is a tough opponent because it's difficult to guess their cards due to their aggressive style of betting and high number of hands played.
There are two main characteristics for this style of play, and you might notice there’s a correlation between the characteristics of this playstyle and the name it has taken, well done.
LOOSE—A playing style characterized by playing more hands than the average, including playing weak starting cards.
AGGRESSIVE—A style that involves predominantly aggressive actions such as betting and raising, rather than checking or calling, which are passive moves.
LOOSE AGGRESSIVE (LAG)—Combining the two creates a loose aggressive playstyle with a focus on playing more hands than average and being more aggressive with actions by focussing on betting and raising more. As the name suggests, starting hand requirements are loosened, and cards that would typically be folded are played.
QUICK POKER TERM GLOSSARY
BLINDING OUT—When a player loses all their chips to the blinds after a long period of inactivity. Generally, this happens in tournaments when new players are too averse to risk and don’t play enough hands to keep a high chip count.
BLUFFING—Making a bet or raising to deceive other players into thinking you have high ranked cards. The sole objective of a bluff is to make everyone else fold without getting to the showdown.
FISH—A fish is a newer player with little poker experience who frequently makes poor decisions or mistakes at the tables. Fish consistently make ill-advised choices and will generally lose their stack very quickly.
LAYDOWN—When a player folds a high ranked hand because they think their opponent has better cards.
SLOW PLAY—A deceptive play style which involves weak bets or passive moves despite having high ranked cards.
SHOWDOWN—The final part of a poker round, after the last round of betting, all players flip over their cards to determine the winner.
TIGHT—A tight poker player is someone who plays few hands and is very selective about which cards they play.
HOW TO PLAY LOOSE AGGRESSIVE POKER
The main benefit of the loose aggressive playstyle is the opportunity to win lots of pots without having high ranked cards. While others might just fold the string of bad hands and wait for their luck to change, LAG players make their own luck. There are five characteristics of a LAG playstyle: playing more hands, heavy betting, bluffing, applying pressure and not backing down.
PLAY MORE HANDS—Most optimum poker strategies will tell you to avoid playing too many hands; however, if you're trying to be loose and aggressive, this isn't an option. Eventually, the goal should be to confuse your opponents by playing more hands and making it harder to guess what you've got. However, be aware that you can still play too many hands, even while playing loose. Every time you are forced to reveal your hand, it provides information, eventually, if you are caught with low ranked cards too many times, other people at the table won't respect your bets anymore. Play more hands, but don't go crazy and start playing every card you are dealt.
BET HEAVY—Bet and raise only, avoid calling or checking, which are considered passive actions. Strong wagers are a crucial part of the loose-aggressive style. As an added benefit, if you are continually betting strong, it will scare all but the staunchest players out of pots and make it even more difficult to guess what cards you hold.
BLUFF—Bluffing is essential when playing loose and aggressive, it's impossible to get high ranked cards during every deal, so you have to bluff your opponents. You can't maintain the high level of aggression required to play loose and aggressive without a large amount of bluffing.
APPLY PRESSURE—A good loose and aggressive player understands when to apply pressure and bully other players into folding. Knowing when to adjust play and increase the pressure to exploit an opponent’s weakness is often the difference between winning and losing when playing LAG. Keep in mind that a bad LAG player will blindly raise without any forethought or reasoning, other than, "I need to look aggressive." If you are applying pressure, it needs to be for a reason, if you’ve noticed a tell or other weakness, not just for the sake of it.
DON'T BACK DOWN—Part of being aggressive is committing to a pot, even when an opponent re-raises the bet. Backing down at the first sign of trouble will erode any respect you've massed and send you back to square one. If this is the playstyle you want to perfect, commit to the ruse and don’t back down easily.
FIVE TIPS FOR PLAYING LOOSE AND AGGRESSIVE
Once you understand how to play loose and aggressive, you can start implementing the playstyle into your next poker session, but there are still a few extra tactics you can use to help improve.
KNOW WHEN TO LAYDOWN—Sometimes, no matter how aggressive you are, one player just won't fold, maybe they are stubborn, or perhaps they have really good cards. Regardless of the reason, it's essential to know when you're beaten and lay down your cards. A key component of playing loose aggressive is betting; however, this won't work if your opponent actually has decent cards. You shouldn't back down frequently, but at the same time, don't go to a showdown with an ace high. To be successful, a LAG player needs to be able to read opponents and fold when necessary.
DON'T PLAY LOOSE AND AGGRESSIVE AS A BEGINNER—Playing loose and aggressive is simple to learn, but difficult to master. There are plenty of beginners out there who play LAG terribly and lose more than they gain, don't be one of those. Eventually, you will need to adjust your playstyle as the game changes, but this requires a solid understanding of poker fundamentals. A good LAG player will generate a decent win rate and is a genuine terror to deal with. A bad one is annoying at best and will usually lose all their chips after a few rounds, well before the game ends. If you still struggle with basic poker fundamentals, then LAG isn't for you right now; wait until you have a few more years under your belt before you try this playstyle at the tables.
LOOK FOR TIGHTER TABLES—Tighter players will generally fold when the betting gets too high unless they are dealt decent cards. A tighter table is a perfect hunting ground for an excellent loose aggressive player. With the other players adverse to risk, and unlikely to get past the flop without good cards, you should be able to bleed them dry with aggressive betting.
PLAY POSITION, ALWAYS—Playing position in poker is never a bad idea; it allows you to set an aggressive tone if you are first to act. Alternatively, if you are last to act, you can take advantage of weak betting with a timely raise. In both cases, playing aggressively is made significantly easier because you can either set the tone or make a more informed decision about what to do next. Always play position, there is no downside.
MAKE SENSIBLE BETS—Just because you're playing aggressively, doesn't mean you should forget good poker fundamentals, avoid over betting, and under betting. If the pot is only 100, raising 2000, is likely to raise a few red flags. Over betting will work a few times, but someone will eventually call.
Under betting can also get you into trouble; if the bet is 100, don’t raise it to 105, you will get called immediately because it’s a weak bet. Generally, if the betting is low, use the blinds as a measure and bet the big blind, or anywhere up to four times the blind. Alternatively, bet the pot as a minimum and progressively increase from there. Ideally, you want to bet an amount that maximizes how much you can win. A good LAG player is continuously assessing how much aggression they can assert in any given hand and adjusting their play accordingly.
HOW TO DEAL WITH LOOSE AGGRESSIVE POKER PLAYERS
Eventually, you will come up against another person who likes to play loose and aggressive, which is why it’s worth investing time into a counter strategy to beat other players who like to play LAG. There are many different ways to deal with a loose aggressive player, but the following five are the simplest to learn and implement.
PLAY TIGHT AND AGGRESSIVE (TAG)—To beat a loose aggressive player, the best strategy is often to tighten up your play and wait for the perfect opportunity to strike back with aggressive bets. Play fewer hands and raise, or re-raise heavily, pick your spot and then don't back down. Unfortunately, you can still lose when it comes down to the river, but this is unavoidable. Poker is a game of risk, and it's better to take a risk and lose than continually being bullied out of hands by a loose aggressive player.
SLOW PLAY—Against loose and aggressive players, one of the best strategies you can use is slow playing. Let them do all the work. If you get decent starting cards, bet low, and wait for your opponent to bet aggressively, only match their bet though, don't raise. A LAG player will most likely take this as a sign of weakness and bet more aggressively to scare you out of the pot. Keep in mind this can be dangerous though; anything can happen once the flop, turn and river come out.
DON'T SHUTDOWN—There is a difference between playing tight and not playing at all. Don't wait for pocket aces to make a move; every round lost is bleeding chips and making you less of a threat. Shutting down will also make you easier to read because your opponents will figure out you're only planning to play high ranked hands.
WAIT FOR POSITION—This is one of the few universal tactics that should always be considered, regardless of the strategy you are trying to use. Wait until you are in late position, and bet aggressively, if you have position over a loose aggressive player you will have a lot more options when it comes to trapping them. Position is crucial to chopping down a LAG player and taking their chips.
LOOK FOR WEAKNESS—If you know exactly what a loose aggressive player needs to be successful, you can reverse engineer a solution. Put them all in, stop them from playing hands, bully them with your larger stack. Whatever advantage you can find, take it.
SHOULD YOU PLAY LOOSE AGGRESSIVE POKER?
Yes, and no. Once you've learnt the fundamentals of poker, you will understand that no single playstyle will win pots all the time. What separates a good player from a bad one, is the ability to adjust techniques and strategies on the fly to fit the situation. If everyone at the table is playing loose and aggressive, it's counterproductive for you to use the same style because it means everyone will be betting all the way to the river, and the game becomes more like a coin flip. The best players don't limit themselves to just one style because it makes them more predictable, easier to read, and open to exploitation at the tables. Learn how to play loose and aggressive, but also figure out when it’s the best time to use the playstyle and act accordingly.