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A Guide to What Is a Cooler in Poker?

Jordan C

May 15, 2023

Pair of Kings in poker

While it may sound like something you use to keep your beers cold while you play, a cooler in poker actually refers to a situation that happens at the table. It’s a key piece of poker lingo that’s commonly used at the tables, so if you want to know what someone means when they say a hand is a “cooler,” you’re in the right place. We’ll also look at whether or not you can avoid coolers and how you can deal with them at the table, so keep reading to find out everything you need to know about poker coolers.

What is a Poker Cooler?

What is A Cooler in PokerImage Source: PokerStrategy

A cooler in poker is a situation in which two or more players holding very strong hands come up against each other, resulting in one player losing. For example, one of the most common coolers you’ll come across is when one player has pocket kings and another player has pocket aces preflop. 

The player with KK would expect to have the best hand the majority of the time but has been unlucky enough to run into the one hand that beats them. No respectable player will be folding pocket kings preflop, so the hand is described as a cooler hand. You would say that the player with KK has been “coolered” or that the hand was a “sick cooler”.

There are many examples of coolers you’ll come across while playing poker; straight vs straight, flush vs flush, full house vs full house, etc., but the key factor is that both players have a very strong hand when all the money goes in. A hand like the top pair vs the second pair wouldn’t be described as a cooler as there are many other hands that can beat either player. However, a hand like set vs set would be a cooler, as both players have a very strong hand.

Is a Cooler Different From a Bad Beat?

Bad Beat in PokerImage Source: Pokernews

Yes, the terms “cooler” and “bad beat” are different from one another, despite the fact that many players use them interchangeably. A cooler is a situation in poker where two very strong hands come up against each other, but a bad beat is when a player has a strong hand against a weaker hand but ends up losing the hand.

An example of a cooler would be KK vs AA preflop - both players have a very strong hand when all the money goes in. However, if the player with KK ended up hitting a K on the river to win the hand, the player with AA would have experienced a bad beat - they had by far the best hand when all the money went in, but they were unlucky enough to lose the hand.

Using poker terminology correctly is important if you want other players to understand you at the tables, so make sure you don’t describe your cooler as a bad beat!

Can You Avoid Coolers in Poker?

If you want to play poker well, there isn’t much you can do to avoid coolers. You have to accept that sometimes someone else is going to have a stronger hand than you. Even if you have the second-best hand possible, you’re occasionally going to run into someone holding the one hand that beats you.

If you try to avoid coolers by folding more often with your strong hands, you’re going to lose money in the long run. This is because these hands expect to make a lot of money from worse hands, so if you start folding more often to try and avoid getting coolered, you’ll lose out on all the money you expect to make when you have the best hand.

For example, let’s look at a scenario where your opponent has 9 hands that are worse than yours and one hand that’s better than yours. You expect to make $100 every time you win the pot but lose $200 every time you lose. In this scenario, you only expect to lose one out of every 10 times, so a simple EV calculation will show that you that calling is an extremely profitable play:

EV = ($100 0.9) - ($200 0.1)

EV = $90 - $20

EV = $70

As you can see from the calculation, every time you call in this situation, you expect to make $70. Therefore, folding your hand to try and avoid losing $200 10% of the time will cost you significantly more in the long run. You just have to accept that sometimes you’ll lose and make the call anyway.

How to Deal With Coolers

How To Deal With Coolers in PokerSo, now that we know that coolers are a part of the game, how do we deal with them? After all, just because we know logically that they’re an unavoidable part of the game, it doesn’t mean that they don’t hurt.

Having control of your emotions at the table is extremely important, as it’s easy to start tilting after being on the losing end of a cooler. This is why having a suitable bankroll for your games is important. If you’re properly rolled for your games, a couple of coolers aren’t going to make a big difference to your bankroll. However, if you only have a few buy-ins for your game, a couple of coolers are going to have a big impact on your emotional state.

It’s also important to take regular breaks while you’re playing to give yourself the opportunity to decompress when feeling stressed. Part of the problem that players face when playing poker is that they tilt due to an accumulation of bad events, such as coolers, so regular breaks give you the best opportunity to stay level-headed while you play.

Summary

Coolers are an unavoidable part of the game, from high-stakes poker to low-stakes poker. No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to be able to go through your entire poker career without running into a few of them. In fact, good poker players don’t try to avoid them at all, as they know that when they have an extremely strong hand, they’re going to be making a profitable play by getting the money in. The best players are able to take coolers in their stride, and now that you have a better understanding of what they are, we hope that you can do the same.