What Is a Cooler in Poker?


Poker is a game that requires a lot of skills and a bit of luck, but there are times when luck can bankrupt even the best poker players. A cooler is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone because it crushes any strategy that you can use in poker. It takes a lot of courage to get away from it, but what does it really mean?

A cooler in poker is a very strong hand that loses to an opponent with an even better hand. The best examples of a cooler is a player holding A♥ A♠ on a table with K♦ A♣ A♦ J♦ 10♦, while the other player has K♠ Q♦. Even the best players may find it hard to fold quad aces, but it’ll get crushed.

Example of a cooler in poker.
How likely it is that you fold your quads when you are facing huge action on the river?

When you hit quads, any player will most likely lose a lot of money in the scenario above. That is a real cooler. However, knowing everything about it can help save your stack next time, or prevent you from going into tilt. So, let’s go through it in great detail, including a few hand histories showing how a cooler can be devastating for any player.

Cooler: What Is It and Why Can It Be Devastating?

The example that we provided in the intro may seem like an impossible hand (royal flush over quads), but it’s an actual hand history from a PokerStars game between “Luca$$$ino” and “trivett123”.

A cooler is quite straightforward—it’s a card that you’ll find very difficult to fold, but it will get crushed as soon as you reach the showdown.

However, due to the very low probability of it ever happening, many think it only happens when playing online games. That’s not really the case. In fact, here’s the first example of a cooler that occurred in a Live at the Bike game:

Coolers do happen in live games also. Online you play many more hands each hour so it feels you get into coolers more often.

As soon as the flop hits, everyone knows that it’ll be a big pot. However, what nobody expected is that it’ll be a bloody game. Here are the players’ hands pre-flop:

  • Griffin under-the-gun wakes up to 9♥ 9♣
  • Gal at UTG+1 picks up 7♦ 4♦
  • Jonathan at HJ gets a premium A♥ K♥

When the dealer draws the flop, it hits A♦ 9♦ 6♦. It gives Gal a made hand (flush), Griffin with a set, and Jonathan with a top pair (A♥A♦) top kicker. Just by looking at these hands, you’ll know that all three have a respectable hand that is enough to see the river. However, when the dealer draws A♠, things change!

By the turn, Gal still has a relatively powerful hand, enough for many people to play the river and even reach the showdown. However, a full house 9♥9♣ 9♦ A♦ A♠ (Griffin’s hand) will always beat a flush. Jonathan has the weakest of the three, but a top set is still dominant in most games, and it’s the only one with the chance of beating Griffin’s hand.

At this position, everyone has every reason to play their hands, and no one could blame them for trying to extract value. Can you imagine yourself folding any of these hands at any game?

Griffin and Gal checked their hands to try and bait the next player to exploit the turn. A top set is a dominant hand, and many micro-stakes players will even play it until the showdown. That’s what Jonathan did: he took the bait and went all-in despite having the weakest hand.

A cooler can be devastating for anyone because most players would do what Jonathan did. It’s not really a wrong move, and after two checks from the other players at the turn, there’s not much for a player with a top set to do. Griffin, being the player who has the nuts, calls the bet.

Gal, the UTG+1, is the next to move. It’s where you see the difference between professionals and casual money players. At higher level games, like our example, folding a flush on the turn is one of the many things that a professional considers. It’s, perhaps, one of the reasons it took so long for Gal to join the pot and call $12,050!

When the dealer drew K♦, we knew that this game would be devastating and tilt-triggering. Before you proceed, think about what you’d do if you have any of the two hands remaining: a flush as early as the flop and a full house (9♥9♣ 9♦ A♦ A♠) by the turn.

Griffin, being the UTG, did a quick all-in, trying to extract value from his full house. There’s not much of a decision to make, thinking that he has the best hand and only Gal left on the table. His 9s full of aces, in this round, only loses to three other hands: kings full of aces (highly unlikely to reach the river with the turn’s action), aces full of kings, and quad aces.

For Gal, the choice was simple because he was already having doubts that he’s drawing dead by the turn. He quickly folds his hand, but if you’re on the same spot, would you do it with a flush? We know that many players would call the all-in, thinking that it’s their perfect chance to extract value from the opponents. 

Jonathan probably had the evil grin inside when the dealer draws a K♦. In fact, if you watch closely, you’ll notice a micro-expression he did at 4:47 as soon as he realizes that he’s made the stone-cold-nuts. The only thing that he probably regrets is that he doesn’t have any chips left to make the final bet.

In hindsight, it feels like Jonathan had the premonition that he’s going to win the hand. That’s why he went all-in by the turn, right? However, what happened to him was that he took the bait laid by Griffin and Gal. Although he’s in the position to represent a much stronger hand, most of it loses to 9s full of aces. It was only a lucky river card that turned everything around and made the full house a cooler for Griffin.

Despite folding the river, Gal also suffered a massive loss as soon as he called the all-in bet from Jonathan by the turn. We can say that his hand was also a cooler because, ultimately, his flushes will lose to aces full of kings.

Example of a cooler on the river in poker.
Both players with a strong hand, and it is hard for any of them to fold on the turn.

That’s how devastating a cooler can be, and it can happen to anyone. In fact, if you’ve been playing poker for some time, we’re sure that you’ve encountered it more than once! It can be complicated to manage because, in most cases, a cooler has 0 EV (Expected Value), and there’s no strategic relevance to playing it. The only thing that can save a player from it is his gut-feel and whether he follows it or not.

Is It Even Possible to Avoid a Cooler?

There’s no simple way to avoid a cooler, but it’s possible. It’ll be a difficult task, but the more you understand it, the more likely it is for you to avoid it.

Before we proceed, always remember that a cooler will hit:

  • whether you like it or not;
  • whether you’re ready or not;
  • whether you’re playing micro-stakes or high-stakes; and
  • whether you’re running good or bad.

You’ll never know when it’ll happen, and when it does, it usually takes a huge chunk of your chips. Knowing that it can happen anytime, always consider a small percentage that you might be holding a cooler before you play loose. Just because you have a flush or full house doesn’t mean that you rule out everything and go all out with your hand.

Spotting a Cooler When Playing Online

If you’ve watched enough poker cooler videos, you know that some of the most common comments you’ll read are similar to any of these:

  • So it happens in live games as well.
  • It happens to me whenever I’m playing; it’s not that uncommon.
  • I get the same every hour on any day that I play.

Most likely, these are heads up SNG (HUSNG) players or those who play at online poker sites. In HUSNG, the definition of a cooler is too broad. In fact, if you flopped straight and you’re drawing dead, it’s cooler in HUSNG. It also happens too often when playing online poker because there is minimal data that you can use to avoid it.

Most players who are playing online poker will go nuts with a strong hand. Since there are no tells or flaws that you can use to read a player, it’s almost impossible to figure out if you have a cooler. The most effective, and probably the only, way for you to avoid it, is when someone who bets passively suddenly starts betting aggressively—more aggressive than anyone on your table.

When that happens, it’s time to give a cooler a higher probability when deciding your next move. Passive players, especially nits, will only play aggressive when they have two things: tilt or dominant hand. Unfortunately, that’s the only way for you to avoid it when playing online poker, and even with that, it still has 0 EV with no strategic relevance.

Even with the most obvious sign that you might have a cooler when playing online poker, it’ll still boil down to gut feel.

Some players have a gut feel that is enough to save them, while others don’t. That’s how it works and why it’s one of the worst things that can happen to you.

Spotting a Cooler When Playing Live Games and Tournaments

A cooler when playing live games or tournaments is easier to spot, but still not simple. If you’re playing live, you’re facing your opponent—you can see his reactions, his tells, and if he has a flaw, you can use it to your advantage. All of these are easier said than done because it takes extensive experience for a player to spot a flaw or tell and exploit it.

Of course, some players seem to have the highest level of intuition when playing poker. Before we show you a video, let us ask you this first: will you, in your wildest dream, ever fold pocket aces pre-flop? There are actually a few scenarios where folding aces preflop is a correct decision, and not because of a gut feeling.

David Fishman folds pocket aces preflop!

Aside from the uncontrollable smirk he had after waking up to pocket aces, there’s no other reason to fold the best hand pre-flop. Maybe it was because he made the most apparent expression that he has a dominant hand, or perhaps he knew what was coming and avoided it. Nonetheless, his decision to fold pocket aces pre-flop seemed to pay off as soon as the flop hit quad 6.

This was part of a special promotion where one amateur poker player was playing against a whole table of famous poker players, and he would be able to keep his winnings if up at the end of the session. Therefore it makes some sense to fold some good hands pre-flop, to not play huge pots, and to avoid the risk of losing it all. Other than that you should never fold pocket aces preflop in cash games.

There’s no easy and reliable way to spot a poker cooler other than the tells and flaws that your opponents have, which can also be challenging to learn. It’s similar to playing online games where gut-feel will always be the best way for anyone to avoid a cooler.

Although you’ll have additional data to work with, such as your opponents’ tells, micro-expressions, and other flaws that you can exploit, avoiding a cooler will, almost, always have no strategic relevance and is only based on gut-feel.

Not all hope is lost, though, because there are players who are so good that they can avoid a cooler. Here’s another video that’ll show you a potential cooler that one of the best poker players ever, Phil Ivey, managed to escape.

Daniel Negreanu explains the hand between Phil Ivey and Antonio Esfandiari.

One of the factors that Ivey used was the flaws—if you can call what Esfandiari did as a flaw—that his opponent did in the flop and turn. Despite having a lot of potential for the river card, Ivey had the gut-feel that he should fold his hand, which saved him from a potentially devastating river card.

Cooler Hands in Tournaments and Live Games

Cooler is never fun when you’re on the losing end, but let’s talk about both. How awesome would it be for you to win a 203.6m pot over a cooler? One of these videos will show you how that feels, but instead of just watching the videos try to pause and think what you’d do with such hands.

It takes a lot of courage and skill to fold a strong hand, but watching these videos will make you understand why many professional players think that it is irrelevant. 

Remember, in tournaments getting away from a cooler is easier because players will do their best to protect their stack and stay in the game for as long as possible.

Despite that, many professionals still fall prey to losing over a cooler.

Poker Cooler #4 – Top Set Turned Sick Cooler

Have you ever wondered what happens if you had the feeling that you should fold your hand, but it’s just too good for you to do it?

This video shows you what happens when you have the top set:

It’s fun to watch this hand in hindsight and see the players’ cards. However, if you’re in the same situation, would you be able to fold a top set? It’s hard for anyone, and you’ll really need a lot of time to make a decision. Unfortunately, she didn’t, which ended her bid for a WSOP bracelet a bit too early.

Poker Cooler #3 – Sickest Poker Hand of 2017 by a Mile!

In this video, you’ll see how easy it is for the river card to turn a potentially devastating hand into the stone-cold-nuts:

This cooler was so bad that anyone would be nuts to not bet all-in by the river. If you’re on the same spot, playing micro-stakes at an online poker site, you’d also try and extract value from a 10s full of aces, right? Unfortunately, the river card hit aces full of kings—the highest possible full house in any game!

Poker Cooler #2 – Vanessa Rousso Shuts Up Tony G

Poker players are allowed to talk to each other, and sometimes, they can use it to tilt their opponents. That’s what Tony G did, and everything seemed to be going well for him, but watch and see what happens by the river:

Vanessa vs Tony G.

That’s like karma in an instant. Despite talking throughout this post about how a poker cooler sucks and why it’ll be hard for anyone to escape, for some reason, we think that this one is well-deserved!

Poker Cooler #1 – Set Under Set Coolers

Not all coolers are made equal, and when you’re on the poker table, anything can happen.

This video shows you a strategy that took a day to pay off:

One of the reasons why Josephy called Vayo was something that he did in a match a day before this hand happened. When you’re in a tournament, your opponents will use everything that you do on the table against you, but Vayo used it to his advantage. He played unpredictably, which paid off by becoming the chip leader in one game!

Conclusion

A poker cooler is a very strong hand that any player will find very hard to fold, but loses to an even better hand. It has led many players to lose their bids in tournaments and HUSNG players losing their stacks instantly.

Although it’s possible to spot a cooler, it won’t be easy for anyone to fold it. It’ll take exceptional skills, focus, card-reading abilities, and gut-feel to escape it.

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Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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