What is a Cooler in Poker

cooler in poker

As experience shows, nobody is immune to a cooler in poker. You might be the most skilled player at the table, have a good understanding of game strategies and mathematics, and play your starting hand correctly but still lose at the showdown.

Such situations spare no one: neither novices nor professionals like Phil Ivey and Bryn Kenney. Often, stories arise about people experiencing a streak of coolers that lasts for weeks. We tell you what they represent, how they differ from no less dreaded bad beat in poker, and how to avoid/cope with them.

Poker Cooler Meaning Explained

This term refers to a scenario where you receive a strong starter, but as the game progresses, you end up losing to an opponent who holds even stronger cards than yours. You and your adversary would make a mistake by folding in such a spot. That is, both of you have played correctly (following the GTO poker strategy), but luck wasn't on your side.

In the context of a single match, your position may seem severe and unprofitable in terms of equity, but the long run evens things out. The chances of ending up on the other side and emerging victorious (which is much more pleasant 😏) stand at 50/50.

Such spots help smooth out "rough edges": unless you consider poker rake, winnings balance the eventual losses due to cooler hands.

"Bad luck" hands in different games

Absolutely all types of poker blend skill and luck (or, in this case, it would be more accurate to say "misfortune"). The discussed hassles increase variance, so you should have an appropriate bankroll size to survive downs since they cause poor play.

Coolers are a common phenomenon in PLO due to the vast number of possible combinations, which results in higher variance. In Stud Hi/Lo, they occur less frequently owing to limited combos and the option of splitting the pot, which leads to lower variance.

Classic Preflop & Postflop Scenarios

The most prevalent example is a clash of such hands as pocket aces versus kings. Both players make the right decision when going all-in preflop in this and similar situations. They're following the established strategy, yet the one holding KK will lose all their chips in 80% of cases.

If you have many chips (playing MTTs, Sit & Go's, Spin & Go's), even a match-up AQ vs JJ will fall under the discussed scenario.

It is beneficiary to know!
It is beneficiary to know!

As a rule, the fewer people in a game and the smaller the stack sizes, the hands to which we can apply the cooler poker term may be weaker.

Common post-flop cases

Here we have the following setup: a strong complete combination gets defeated by a more powerful hand. This includes spots where:

  • a set loses to a higher set;
  • a nut flush ⇨ a straight flush;
  • a full house ⇨ four of a kind;
  • a straight flush ⇨ a royal flush.

Given that action on the flop, turn, and river provides substantial information, there is a minor probability that someone will fold a seemingly "weaker" hand that is already quite strong. Mucking these hands is deemed a grave mistake, as they bring us money. Folding sets and flushes is the absolute worst decision in Texas Holdem.

However, we know cases when adept players with superb intuition and keen eyes have folded monsters in major live tournaments. This tendency is primarily noticeable when playing against predictable opponents or overly emotional fish (novices) unable to maintain a poker face.

Interesting fact!
Interesting fact!

In 2019, Vietnamese pro Thi Xoa Nguyen remarkably laid down queens full during the final betting round of the $25,000 PokerStars Players Championship. As it turned out, her opponent, Athanasios Polychronopoulos, had four aces (quads).

Coolers vs Bad Beats: Difference

Newbies mix up these two terms in 95% of instances. Even regs often treat them as synonyms. Each definition illuminates a situation where luck isn't on the player's side, but the nature of misfortune manifests differently in each case.

SituationKey difference
CoolerTwo (or more) people have premium cards, and they play them flawlessly through betting rounds, making favourable decisions. It’s a dignified loss.
Bad beatYou possess a superior hand and good all-in equity, yet your opponent hits an even better combo. Interestingly, the odds of their hand winning were initially quite slim – folding would have been a wiser move.
Read this carefully 😉
Read this carefully 😉
  • shoving with KK against AA pre-flop, followed by a victory for aces – that's a C-O-O-L-E-R 👌
  • pushing with AA against 44 pre-flop, resulting in a victory for the fours – that's a BAD BEAT, guys ☝
  • AK versus QQ on the board AAQQK (with queens eventually winning) – that's also a C-O-O-L-E-R 👌.
  • shoving 27o in the UTG pre-flop – that's gaps in knowledge 🤦 (it's time to brush up on preflop charts for each position at the table!).

Typical Mistakes of Beginners

Due to poor theoretical knowledge, lack of gaming experience and inattention, novice players make hasty decisions that lead to coolers. Here are the most common and typical omissions:

  • incorrect (often purely intuitive) conclusions about manoeuvre known as poker bluff – many newbies mistakenly believe that their rival hoax at every step
  • inaccurate assessment of opponents' ranges – this oversight can be especially damaging when their spectrums consist exclusively of nut hands
  • miscalculations in assessing pot odds
  • ignoring the appearance of dangerous cards on the final betting streets (turn and river)
  • confusing tactical mistakes, such as suboptimally played hands, with bad luck

How to Cope with This Loss

Such hands usually lead to large pots and may change the outcome drastically, but they have no relation to professionalism. Both gamblers are victims, and only the lucky one grabs the pot.

There’s no way to predict which hands will turn into coolers because we can't foresee our rivals' cards with one hundred per cent accuracy, regardless of playing live or in online poker rooms. We can only assign them a range of hands with which they might jam on the preflop or, for instance, call our postflop all-in.

Even pros say it’s impossible to learn from similar situations – we just can’t prevent such spots, so you shouldn’t spend time parsing them. The best thing you can do is treat them as calmly as possible, work diligently on your game, determine and fix leaks, and then success will come your way.


📢 What does a cooler mean in poker?

This term refers to a situation where two gamblers receive premium cards and cannot fold them. Such clashes typically end with an all-in showdown.

🤔 What is the difference between a bad beat and a cooler?

Bad beat refers to a loss with cards that initially had high chances of winning, but the pot goes to the opponent whose hand was a clear underdog at the start (and perhaps they should have folded it right away) yet somehow improved magically on the turn/river.

🎯 Can you avoid coolers in poker?

There’s no specific technique, formula, or life hack a person can use to predict/calculate when they will face a “bad luck” hand. One should calmly approach such spots, accepting them as such.

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