What is the Definition of a “Cooler” in Poker? – Examples and Explanations

By Steve Beauregard – Like a regular, traditional bad beat in poker, there is really no set definition of what constitutes a cooler. It’s simply defined as when you have a very strong hand that loses to a better strong hand.

When you lose with this hand, you've experienced a cooler.
When you lose with this hand, you’ve experienced a cooler.

Unlike a bad beat, in which another player “sucks out” on you, and catches a lucky card, or cards to come from behind and beat you, a cooler is just one of those rare, yet unavoidable situations when your really good hand happens to run into a monster hand.

A common cooler hand is going all-in pre-flop with pocket Kings, (the second best starting hand), only to get a call from someone holding pocket Aces. At the final table of the 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event, Mike Matusow famously faced this exact situation, when his pair of kings got “cooler’d” by Scott Lazaar’s pocket aces. (Don’t feel bad for Matusow. His 9th place finish was good for a $1 million dollar payday).

In a much less publicized event, this same cooler scenario also happened to me in the Bally’s Poker Room in Las Vegas – the all in Kings vs. Aces I mean. At some point in your poker playing days, this will likely happen to you too. When it does, there’s nothing else you can do, other than to take your medicine like a man, say “congratulations” to your opponent, then wait for him to go to the bathroom where you can beat him up in a corner stall.

Of course I’m joking. You should beat him up in the parking garage instead.

My point is that coolers are incredibly frustrating. You can play so long without any decent cards, that when you do find something pretty, it can be agonizing to see it lose.

Another, much rarer cooler is when you have an incredibly strong hand, say, four of a kind for example, only to find yourself losing to a stronger hand, such a straight flush.

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A cooler is such a rare feat. Going all in pre-flop with Pocket Aces against, say, pocket 4’s, is considered a standard bad beat, and nothing special. Aces vs. pocket fours will lose 20% of the time after all five community cards are dealt. Nobody pays you $700,000 for something that happens 1 out of 5 times.

Whereas the winner of a bad beat is someone who didn’t play the hand correctly, both the winner and loser of a cooler hand have – in almost all situations – played the hand as it should have been played.

In this sense, coolers can make an amateur player feel better about his game. We’re also so dazzled when someone like Daniel Negreanu can make an incredible lay down, that’s it’s somewhat refreshing when a Phil Ivey or Doyle Brunson can’t fold their very good, but not best, poker hand.

I experienced a cooler at the Ameristar Black Hawk poker room, when the river card fell and I had the nut flush (the ace high flush). Only when the older man in the nine seat re-raised me did I assume he had the straight flush. I called of course, because this is Blackhawk, and people will re-raise you with lots of junk, but also because unless it’s a paired board, (where there’s a possibility of me losing to a full house), I’m physically and mentally unable to fold an ace-high flush.

Another rare cooler is having the second nuts, and losing to the nuts.

To recap, “the nuts” is when you have the absolute best hand at that particular point in the hand. Prior to the flop, a player holding pocket aces has the nuts, as there is no other hand that beats him. Once the flop comes, he may still have a strong hand, but it’s likely that he longer is guaranteed of having the nuts.

Other examples of sick coolers are a straight flush losing to a higher straight flush. If you’ve seen the movie “Honeymoon in Vegas,” Nicholas Cage runs into a cooler when his straight flush to a Jack is beaten by James Caan’s straight flush to the Queen.

Quad aces losing to a royal flush is another brutal cooler. This happened during an infamous 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event hand televised by ESPN. As a side note, the actor Ray Romano happened to be at the table during the hand.

Less rare, but equally painful, is a cooler in which your full house loses to a higher full house. This was also broadcast by ESPN during their 2005 WSOP Main Event coverage. Even more bizarre, it happened during the very first hand, when Oliver Hudson – son of actress Goldie Hahn, and brother to actress Kate Hudson, saw his ten’s full of aces full house lose to Sammy Farha’s Aces full of tens full house.

If you’re going to play any significant amount of poker, you’re going to experience a cooler. It will be painful, and almost make you want to give up the game for good. Just know, however, that your time is coming, when all the money will be in the middle of the table, and your monster hand will be the cooler to some depressed player’s great, but second best hand.