Coolers in Poker – An Alternative View

If you have ever searched ‘cooler poker definition’ you’ll find varying examples, but simply when 2 players have very strong hands that cannot be folded, you have yourself a cooler situation. A simple example being AA vs KK or 88 vs 55 on 852 board. They happen to everyone of course and players generally pay far too much attention to them. That’s not to say dealing with coolers is easy, especially when in the midst of a downswing. But that’s not what I want to talk about in this article. I want to show you when a cooler is not a cooler, how they contribute to poker leaks, and why many players use the term as an excuse for bad plays…

Poker Cooler Term

The problem with coolers in poker is there a very fine line between being coolered and just being downright stubborn. Wiki writes: “A situation in which a player holds a second best hand so powerful considering the circumstances that they are destined to lose the maximum with it no matter how they play it”.

Coolers in Poker happen on a regular basis, and you are going to lose a degree of money; the game is built that way. but so many players lose far more than they should. So much so, the term is now banded around far too casually and used to justify bad plays. The term is in affect abused.

When a Cooler is not a cooler

I want to show you some common excuses I have come across from players of all stake levels. Here’s my top 3 excuses for what these players perceive as coolers when they’re often not…

• I’m getting a too good of a price to fold
• I can’t fold a hand this strong
• The stats say I can’t fold

Examine these statements and the following examples to see if any of them ring true to you.

“I’m getting a too good of a price to fold” – The price you are getting is almost irrelevant if your opponent would never take a certain value line with an inferior hand! (and you think he’s not capable of bluffing enough in this spot).

Ex: You make potsize value bets with TT, in position on Flop and Turn on a 9♦4♥5♥J♠ board. The River is the 2♥. Your 35/0 opponent now pot bets into you. “Darn it!” you exclaim, then call anyway because you only need to be good 33% of the time to break even. He shows K♥6♥ for an obvious flush. Bet sizing is a key trait of this player type. If he had a hand like A9 or 88 you would have seen a sizing of half pot or less as a ‘blocking bet’. Unless you have evidence to the contrary, like you SEEN him bluff the River in this manner before, he has a flush here nearly 100% of the time. Without this information you cannot fit enough bluffs in his range to be good 33% of the time.

Verdict – You made him make losing calls on Flop and Turn… but then paid him off on the River. You lost more than you should have. NO COOLER.

“I can’t fold a hand this strong” – The strength of your hand is relative to the board and the action. Absolute strength is only good for hand strength charts!

Ex: Your hit your flush on the Turn on a K♦7♣8♦4♦ board while semi-bluffing A♦3♦ vs a 40/10 player. You pot the Turn and overbet the 8♥ River going for juicy value vs this loose player in the blinds. You get check-shoved on… You know in your heart this player type would never do this with anything worse. You make a crying call because it’s a nut flush but he has a boat with 77. You knew! But you couldn’t fold such a strong hand. The truth is even terrible players know hand strengths, and you just never see a Q high flush played in this fashion by a passive type player… like ever.

Verdict – Yes it’s a cooler in a sense, a horrible setup, but this hand can be folded saving you a lot of big blinds. Many players can’t make this fold, so if you can develop the discipline to do so, you will lose less over the long run in these same situations as your regular opponents. A penny saved is a penny earned. NO COOLER.

“The stats say I can’t fold” – Too may stats, especially low sample size stats, have far too much weight put upon them for key decisions by many players, even good players. Stats should be used as a tie breaker not a deal maker.

Ex: You try to steal with AQo on the button making it 2.5x. The regish looking player in the Big Blind 3bets you for the 4th time in 100 hands, 5bet shoving on one occasion when you 4bet vs him. You are both 100bb effective. You check his stats and he 3bets 25% from the blinds vs a steal. “Ridiculous!” you say as you put in a 25bb 4bet. He promptly shoves for the second time this hour… You decide he can’t have it so often and call. He shows KK and you lose a stack.

Verdict – Like the examples above, this is a cooler that could have been avoided, hence it’s a cooler that’s not a cooler. Lets go back and see where we went wrong in this hand:

  • A 25% 3bet – When you see whole numbers like this ALWAYS check the sample size! 25% could be 1 in 4 or 2 in 8. Even 4 in 16 opportunities is not stunningly aggressive is it?
  • AQ plays much better as a call than a 4bet (unless you are intending to call it off in good faith, like your opponent likes to jam Axs)
  • Calling off the 5bet – Are you really good often enough? After you made it 25bb you have to call your remaining 75bb (x) to win the 125bb pot (y). X/X+Y 75/200 = 37.5% equity needed for a breakeven call.
    AQo vs AA,KK,QQ,AK has 24%
    AQo vs AA,KK,QQ,AK,55,22 has 33% (3 bet/5 bet shoving pairs is a popular strategy).

You had ZERO information that this guy is shoving wide, we only have 100 hands on him and have yet to see a showdown. It’s fairly easy to have a good run of cards over 100 hands, so you need to wait for more information. You can’t call off stacks on a whim. To aid your quest for information always watch all ins vs other players, because if he can shove wide vs one reg, he‘s capable of doing it against you too. I know one chap who has an aggro 3bet/5bet strategy with broadway hands like KT, QJ, and hands like AQ are crushing these hands with over 40% equity vs that range. I found out this information because he did it vs another reg. Vow to make read-based calls not reactionary ones.

Avoiding Poker Coolers

I hate to dash your hopes, but coolers in poker are inevitable, and in many cases you will… in fact HAVE to lose your stack. But there are few ways to reduce the deficit in certain situations:

Don’t build pots – If you would rather not be raised, don’t put money in the pot. If you are value betting AA in position on a T87 board and the Turn is a J, its fine to check back and assess on the River. You can now safely call medium size river bets depending on your opponents tendencies and the card. If he leads small for 1/2 pot on the river and happens to have Q9, no problem, you just lost less than you would have by betting the Turn and getting raised. You also gained some valuable information.

Check/call Rivers when value betting is dangerous – When you find yourself OOP and not thrilled with value betting the river, just check-call. This is works well vs good aggressive hand readers who can push you off hands by reading your bet size. A common situation is with a hand that was likely the best early on but by the river may not be. Ex: 99 on a J♦9♥8♥7♦K♦ board run out.

Beware the deceptively strong hand – 98 on a T98 board is not as strong as it may seem. We are already toast from 67, QJ, T8, T9 and sets. Vs most opponents play hands like this passively and be prepared to fold to big bets on later streets.

Analysing Poker Coolers

So next time you tell a friend you got big time coolered, just ask yourself: Could I have lost less? Is this hand really a cooler? Would my passive opponent really play an inferior hand this way? I see it like this: if you can lose less in a hand, it isn’t a cooler. That might seem like a harsh statement, maybe you think it’s an unrealistic target… But losing the least possible is just as important as getting maximum value in todays tough games. And although results are actually hard to determine at times, honest evaluation of these spots will go a long way in improving your winrate.


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