Today while biking over to play squash I got to musing about the meanings of the ubiquitous poker terms "TAG" and "LAG" which we use to rapidly describe players. I think the terms are pretty much anti-helpful; that is, they DO tell us something about a player, but what they tell us is probably worse than nothing at all. I actually like the descriptions though- we need some kind of snappy term to describe a player qualitatively- and TAG and LAG are handy acronyms. And so I don't think they need be thrown out completely but instead just repurposed a bit.
So rather than assume everyone has the same usage of these terms (which I suspect they don't) I'll just establish one to start off with. I *think* TAG and LAG were probably coined before I played poker, but as I was learning poker they were being repurposed to loosely correspond to certain ranges of preflop stats. As I first used the terms, a TAG was around 18 VPIP/ 15 PFR / 5 3bet to 24 VPIP / 19 PFR / 7 3bet, and LAG occupied a higher end somewhere before maniac. Nit was anyone less than an 18 VPIP. Keep in mind this is all 6max, and these criteria seem a bit on the tight side now. I suppose they have since been adjusted, although now we often substitute HUD stats for the TAG or LAG description for greater precision, making the terms less frequent on the forums.
The confusion crept in, both historically and currently, because people seemed to think that a preflop description either entailed or strongly suggested a corresponding postflop strategy. So, for example, the TAG player was supposed to play his TAG game preflop and then follow up with aggressive flop play to exploit his tight image (hence tight-aggressive with the aggro part supposedly corresponding to postflop). Similarly the LAG was the guy who wouldn't put on the brakes postflop. This assimilation of preflop and postflop play did a huge amount of harm to the poker community as a whole, and led to an untold amount of mistakes both in hand criticism on forums and in actual play- because of course preflop stats entail absolutely nothing about postflop play aside from the range of hands which the player has to work with after he sees the flop. Even stranger, if the 'T' in 'TAG' was to indicate the preflop strategy, and the 'AG' was to indicate the postflop strategy, then apparently the community ran out of acronyms, because almost never on the forums would a poster admit to playing the dreaded 'LAP' or 'Tight Passive,' and so in almost all cases the postflop types got lumped together and the discussion was dominated by preflop play.
I wonder if this rigid terminology helped some fundamentally unsound, and to be honest not all that tricky styles win a lot of money during the heyday of TAG and LAG's usage. A few players come to mind especially- Punketty, ADZ, on the "LAG" side, and SamH and EmpireMaker on the "TAG" side (there are players still exploiting this preflop-postflop blindness people have, but I won't mention currently active ones). The first two players were really playing loose passive- opening a ton of pots and then waiting for the nuts to put money in. The second two did indeed play tight preflop- but they played just as tight postflop, waiting for the nuts to get money in. Against the former, winning was as easy as 3betting a bunch pre and then folding to raises post, and against the latter, winning was as easy as playing reasonable hands pre and then betting when checked to.
The insensitivity to hybrid styles is why I find the terms worse than useless, because just about everyone is some sort of hybrid style! They fail to capture all of the gradations in preflop and postflop play, and miss all of the subtle differences which are critically important. Instead, people just use some "standard" set of reads with TAG and some other set with LAG, not realizing that the standard reads they employ do more harm than good.
So I found it interesting that from a game theory perspective, TAG and LAG can actually come to have an interesting and useful meaning. So, if tight is read as a deviation from optimal play on the side of being too tight with some action(s), and aggressive is read as a deviation from optimal play on the side of being too aggressive with some action(s), then TAG gets a new meaning. If I elect to play too few hands preflop, then my optimal aggression frequency postflop will increase (relative to postflop aggression frequency for an optimal preflop range) provided I'm playing an optimal opponent. So, if the 'AG' is to have meaning as an exploitative strategy, then I have to elect to play exploitably aggressive postflop even given the fact that my handrange is stronger than it should be. So, TAG means to play an exploitative strategy such that I elect to exploit my opponents by playing too tight pre, and then decide to exploit them in the exact opposite way by playing too aggro post. Weird! LAG can be analyzed the same way. I decide to play suboptimally aggro both pre and postflop to exploit my opponents.
Even this more precise way of using TAG and LAG doesn't help much. First, these are kind of weird strategies to play- where once we used to use TAG or LAG to describe pretty much everybody, now TAG and LAG just describe some kind of wacky of strategies to be employed in rare circumstances. Second, the breaking up of reads into preflop and postflop is pretty imprecise- it's fairly common for a player to be aggressive on a given street, texture, or vs a certain line, but not to be aggressive postflop as a whole.
So I suppose the way that I find TAG and LAG interesting these days is to describe the psychology of certain player types. Take for example how Ivey plays on TV cash games. If Ivey had to write down his strategy on a piece of paper, or play it online, he would probably be something like 65/30/8 playing 9 handed. In effect then, he's offering a challenge, saying "I'm gonna play so bad preflop that any .50/1$ grinder should be able to crush me. But I'm going to play so much better than you later that I'll make up for it." The attitude of playing bad and knowing it, but doing so calculatedly as bait for your opponents to me is the psychology of a LAG player. The psychology of a TAG is more like that of, say, Dan Harrington, where he's saying "I'm going to play too tight, and I know that you know that I'm playing too tight. But there is going to be some really big pot later where I have nothing, and theoretically shouldn't bluff, but I'm going to bluff anyways because I think you'll fold too big hands to me." So the TAG is the psychology of betting and raising too little in small pots in order to be bluff too much in huge pots, and to make those huge pot bluffs +EV enough to make up for all the folding. To me at least, these represent two fairly common types of players, and using the words to point at attitudes rather than stats makes them useful qualitatively, instead of being shorthand for something quantitative, and misleading shorthand at that.
Me? I just play solid.