Poker Cooler – You Can’t Escape Them, or Can You?

cooler poker

We’ve all had them and they sting, don’t they? There are few feelings worse in poker than being on the wrong side of a cooler. You think you’re about to rake this huge pot and end up losing. Often, you can’t control anything to do with a cooler at the poker table.

You can control how you react to them though! Some people will quit a session superstitiously believing “it’s not my day”, others will go on tilt whilst a seasoned professional or experienced poker player will shrug it off. This article will look at what a cooler is, a personal cooler story, examples of coolers, a brief look at probability and famous televised coolers.

What is a Cooler in Poker?

A cooler is a term used to describe a scenario where two or more poker players have very strong hands matched up e.g. flush vs full house. It’s a hand that will cost you money or chips, not because you’ve played badly but because of being on the wrong side of the luck element.

My Cooler Story

Many years ago, I was planning on playing what I considered a big live tournament (£1,000 buy in). I was only 19 years old and never played for these kinds of stakes before and wanted to get some deeper stacked, slower paced live tournament experience.

I found a great £300 tournament in London that seemed perfect. An hour on the train, a few tubes stops and I was there at Gutshot poker club, eager to play. I was already thinking this tournament is perfect for me. I will play solid and let people blow up into me. Tournament poker rewards those who are patient in the early stages and the aggressive later on so I felt good about my chances.

The Tournament Begins

It was about 15 minutes in and pocket threes are dealt to me. There was a raise and a few calls and I called from the blinds. The flop came out a beautiful 2d 3d 9c. I was going for the standard and predictable check-raise line. My plan was coming together, the initial raiser had continuation bet and I wasted no time in getting making a raise. You’d think most people would only flat with overpairs facing a check raise this early on. When my opponent put in a re raise of my check raise, I was still not concerned about pocket nines. I went ahead and got my stack in, instantly called and the first person out of the tournament. I paid £20 per minute I was in the tournament.

On My Way Home

I mulled over whether I played the hand correctly or not on the train home. It was a long ride. Was that hand worth £300 or should I have played it differently? Perhaps I could have played a little slower given it was so early on? Always perform an audit and examination of a cooler hand to find out whether you were unlucky or misplayed it.

Examples of Poker Coolers

Take a look at some prime examples of coolers below:

Pocket Kings Against Pocket Aces

This is the most standard of coolers in poker. You have the second-best possible hand in Texas Hold’em. Few professionals have ever folded pocket kings pre-flop. Have you? It’s incredibly hard. Even when all the evidence points to them having pocket aces, you find yourself stacking off.

Set over Set

As with my cooler story, flopping a set and being up against a higher set is incredibly unlucky. There are the odd occasion when the board run out may save you e.g. a flush possible or 4 card straight. But generally, you will just have to pay it off.

Flush against Higher Flush

I am referring to when the board shows 3 of a suit and you both have 2 of a suit in your hand. This is another one of those unfortunate situations. If you are the one holding a smaller flush, sometimes it’s best to be prudent, particularly if your opponent plays fit or fold and is betting and raising.

Swings & Roundabouts

On a positive note, volume in poker is the great equaliser. Play enough and you will see everything happen. Its simple probability isn’t it? You will be on the good side of coolers and be on the bad side too. When you get out of the way from a few spots when you’re on the wrong side, you’ve made money. After all, money saved is the same as money won, particularly in scenarios where 99% of players would lose.

Is it Possible to Avoid Coolers?

First of all, we need to establish that it is in fact a cooler. Most casino card-rooms and online poker forums are littered with poker players claiming “I lost to a cooler“. More often than not, it isn’t one, or, they should not have been involved in the hand in the first place. Calling a raise with K8 offsuit out of position, flopping K-8-Q and losing to K-Q or Q-Q is tough, but you misplayed the hand and had no business being involved. You get no sympathy from me for playing an unprofitable situation and being on the losing side.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you can’t easily avoid poker coolers. If you can’t handle them, feel free to look at other games online for your fun, but make sure you get a casino bonus. It’s the law of odds. On the other hand, facing a very tight opponent with no inclination to bluffing and also reads the board well, then you may be able to fold and avoid a cooler, but it’s not easy! It takes a lot of practice and gut instinct to avoid them.

Famous Televised Poker Coolers

To help you fee a bit better, check out a couple of famous televised coolers below. Even Phil Ivey runs bad sometimes!

This article was written in 2020 and has been updated.

Narciso Baldo is the Director and Head Coach of Texas Hold'em Questions. He has been playing poker for over 16 years. After spending many years as a professional, he now runs UK poker training site Texas Hold'em Questions. Narciso regularly writes poker articles sharing tips, strategy, news and experience with gambling enthusiasts. Narciso also writes for reputable gambling portal Casino City Times, (bio here). Contact: