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Ed Miller: How To Play LAG In Cash Game Poker

Here's What To Do To Win Playing LAG Style

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The poker question I get more than any other, year after year, is this one. How do you play LAG? I got it from a few readers in the past few weeks, so I figured it was time for another article on the topic.

For those who don’t know, loose-aggressive (LAG) style play features playing many hands preflop and making relatively frequent high-pressure bets after the flop. It’s a sexy, attractive way to play the game, which explains why I get questions about it so frequently. Here are the most important ideas to understand about LAG play.

Most LAGs Don’t Win

This is perhaps the most important thing to understand. There’s a pretty good chance that the biggest winner in your card room over the past few months is a LAG player. You may watch this player win session after session and shake your head. “He plays every other hand, but all he does is win. What’s the secret?”

Here’s the thing. There’s also a pretty good chance that the biggest loser in your card room over the past few months is a LAG player. Or at least a loose player. And very possibly a LAG player. The LAG style creates variance. Big wins and big losses. A little bit of luck and you have a few big wins in a row and a huge hot streak.

This is the player you’re ogling when you most want to learn the LAG style—the LAG player who also happens to be on a massive heater. You don’t notice so much the LAG that goes home broke day after day for weeks on end because he’s running bad.

If you average all the LAGs together that you’ve ever seen, you will almost certainly have a losing player. A LAG style can be profitable, but just playing loose and aggressive isn’t close to enough.

Stop Focusing On Preflop Play

The preflop play is the most obvious part of the LAG style. LAGs play a lot of hands. They play bad hands.

It’s easy to conclude that this loose preflop play is key to the success of the strategy. For example, you may think that the core part of the strategy is that “you can have any hand at any time” when you’re a LAG. That playing 9-7 offsuit from middle position is the thing that makes it work, because now no one can put you on a hand.

This is absolutely not what’s going on. All the magic happens after the flop. A successful LAG player—one who actually does win long-term—would also be successful playing tight preflop. People would have trouble putting a “tight” LAG on a hand as well. It’s the postflop play that’s unpredictable for people. Sure, it helps a little that preflop ranges are wide. But really only a little. That’s not the core of what’s going on.

Postflop Exploitation

What LAGs are doing is taking advantage of two main postflop errors from opponents. First, they take advantage of players who fold too much, particularly to medium-sized turn or river bets. Second, they take advantage of players who call too much, particularly to large- or all-in-sized bets on the river. This might sound contradictory at first, but they go together just fine.

So the first thing LAGs do is they put pressure on opponents using medium-sized turn and river bets. They’re counting on opponents having a sort of fixed strategy about what hands are “worth calling” and what hands aren’t. For example, many players will call with straight or flush draws on the flop, but won’t call with those hands again on the turn if they miss.

For example, say the flop is QHeart Suit 7Diamond Suit 3Heart Suit and the LAG bets and a player calls. The turn is the 2Club Suit. The LAG bets, and a player with 10Heart Suit 9Heart Suit folds because he has “just a flush draw.”

Except the LAG can have anything here. He can have K-4 or 6-5 or whatever. The chance the LAG has a “good” hand like a queen or better (i.e., one he will continue with against a raise) is pretty low.

The postflop error the LAG takes advantage of then is the willingness of many players to fold all the hands below a certain threshold to a not particularly large bet.

Because this is probably the main way that LAGs make their money, you can see how it’s not so important for them to have strong preflop hands. The postflop play is what allows the looser preflop play, not the other way around.

LAGs have to use some judgement about when to try to pick up pots with these bets. If they try it every time eventually they’ll get stopped. And some situations are clearly better than others. As a LAG you can use board texture, tells, and other clues to choose the better situations to lean on opponents.

The second thing LAGs do postflop is they get paid on good hands with outsized bets. Generally, LAGs will be rewarded more when playing deep-stacked—with 200 big blinds or more in the stacks. After a while, LAGs tend to develop a reputation for being “full of it.” Many players will react to this reputation by folding out weak hands on the turn, but being willing to call it off with a bit less of a hand than they would against another player. So where they might fold top pair top kicker against a typical player for a 100 big blind or bigger bet on the river, they’ll call with it against the LAG.

Well, the LAG players know this tendency well, so they can tend to make big bets like this on the river only with strong hands.

Bet sizing flexibility is at work. If you watch a successful LAG player for a while, you will usually notice that the player has bet-sizing tells. The bets with weak hands will tend to be smaller on average, while the biggest bets will tend to be with very strong hands. This ability to pick up pots they shouldn’t with smaller bets while sometimes getting paid on their biggest bets is the key to long-term LAG success.

Final Thoughts

As I said before, there’s nothing about picking up some pots while getting paid big on good hands that absolutely requires a loose preflop strategy. You could play tight preflop and make money the same way. But good LAGs can generally add extra hands preflop and make them profitable.

So if you want to learn a LAG style, don’t start with changing your preflop play. Leave that alone for now. Focus instead on honing your instincts for postflop play. Learn how to steal pots on the turn and river with medium bets while cultivating an image that will help you get your biggest bets paid on the river. Once you do that well, you’ll know when you can start adding hands preflop to do even better. ´

Ed’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.