How to Avoid Coolers in Poker (Is It Possible?)

How to Avoid Coolers in Poker

Something that people often ask me is if it is possible to avoid coolers in poker. Is there some magic way of sensing when you are facing a big setup hand?

How do the pros get away in these situations and not lose all of their chips? I am going to answer all of these questions in this article.

What is a Cooler in Poker?

First off though, let’s talk about what exactly is a cooler in poker.

Cooler Definition:

A cooler is when you have a really strong hand in poker, such as a flush or a full house, but your opponent happens to have an even better hand. It is therefore almost impossible to fold and you are very likely to lose all of your money.

It is basically a trap where the person with the second best hand is convinced they have the best hand. And they are in shock when their opponent turns over the one or two hands that could possibly beat them.

Many people call these hands “setups” as well because it is almost like the hand has been created for you to lose all your money.

Love it or hate it though, coolers are, and always will be, an integral part of the game of poker. It doesn't matter if you are the best low stakes poker player in the world, you will still lose to coolers.

The easiest and most simple form of a cooler hand in No Limit Hold’em is when you have pocket KK preflop and your opponent has pocket AA.

Since these are the #1 and #2 best hands that you can possibly be dealt preflop, there is almost no chance you are going to get away from your pocket kings.

And while you aren’t drawing completely dead (pocket KK has about a 20% chance of winning the pot versus pocket AA preflop), this is a really tough cooler situation for anyone to deal with.

In other words, the person with the pocket KK almost never folds and therefore they lose all their chips 80% of the time.  

Why Do Coolers Matter in Poker?

Now, the main reason why coolers or setup hands matter so much in poker is because not only are you likely to lose a lot of money, but they can also put you on tilt.

I have discussed the disastrous affects of tilt many times before on this blog and my top ways to fix it.

But suffice it so say, if you get enough cooler hands in a row in a short period of time, almost anybody (even pros), are prone to going on tilt.

And once you go on tilt, most people start playing very poorly, deviating massively from their strategy, making all sorts of terrible bluffs and bad calls.

Now if this sounds like you. Don’t worry, because we’ve all been there. Any poker player who tells you that they don't tilt is either lying or hasn't played enough hands yet.

And so since coolers are undeniably a major trigger of tilt for most people, that is exactly why I wrote this article.

How Can We Avoid Coolers in Poker?

So how can we avoid coolers in the first place in poker so that we never have to get into this disastrous state of tilt?

Well, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there really is no surefire way of knowing when you are facing a cooler in poker.

Now sure, you can learn to hand read better like I talk about in my free poker cheat sheet. And this will help you potentially sniff out a few of these coolers and perhaps make a really good fold sometimes.

You could even learn from somebody like Daniel Negreanu who is arguably the best hand reader of all time and also an expert at picking up physical tells.

Also, with the more experience that you get playing poker, you will invariably develop sharper instincts on your own.

But it still doesn't mean that you will be able to get away from a cooler every time. Like I said above, coolers are an integral part of the game, and almost everybody goes broke to them.  

For me personally, after having played millions and millions of hands online, I often get that feeling in the pit of my stomach when I am facing the big cooler or setup hand.

Now this doesn’t mean that I am always good enough to get away and make an incredible lay-down.

I wish I were that good!

But that gut feeling, which I will call it, does at least cause me to pause and at least consider it a little bit more. And that is probably the best that you can hope for.

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Example of a Big Cooler Hand in Poker

So let’s look at an example of a big cooler hand in poker now and ask ourselves, is there any way to avoid it or to make a big fold?

Here is a cooler hand that was recently sent to me:

In this hand we are playing a 5cent/10cent blind 6-max cash game and this hand was played on the iPoker network.

We have pocket 77 in the small blind and there has been a limp from early position and a small raise from middle position. 

I think our decision is pretty clear here. We should just call.

Even though we do not have any reads on these players, the limper is probably a weaker poker player, since limping is usually a sign of weakness in poker.

And the other player, we can’t exactly be sure about. But the easiest option for us here is to just call and hope to hit our set.

Moving on to the flop, we do manage to hit our set on a:

T37 board 

This of course is an excellent flop for our hand and so we should go for the check raise with 3 players left to act behind us (as opposed to betting out like many people will do).

By the way, if you don't know the reasoning behind why a check/raise is so superior to leading out when you make a set out of position, I explain this in detail in my second book, Modern Small Stakes.

Here's the short of it though:

When there is a min-bet and a call on the flop (as we see in this hand), I really like going for a big check raise in this situation because this gets a lot more money in the pot when we almost certainly have the best hand.

Only the player who limped preflop makes the call and we go to a turn:


Once again, this is an excellent card for our hand because it gives us a full house.

So I love the decision here to bet around half pot and continue forcing a likely weaker player to come along for the ride with almost certainly a worse hand.

And since we have a full house, there are actually many hands in this player’s range which are drawing completely dead (no outs) or have very low equity.

Such As:
  • Flush draws
  • Straight draw
  • Tx hands
  • Over-pairs
So we go to the river and it comes with the:


Once again, this is a very good card for our hand. Although, honestly it doesn’t matter much since we already have a full house.

As I discuss at length in Crushing the Microstakes, this is a spot where you want to be value betting large versus a weaker player nearly 100% of the time.

Now is not the time to be getting tricky and trying to trap them like many amateurs will do. Instead, you want to get the maximum amount of chips in the pot when you have a huge hand like a full house.

That is exactly what we do, and when the weaker player comes over the top, we have no choice but to call. 

When he flips over the T7 we are shocked to see that we have lost the pot to a massive, massive cooler!

Is There Any Way to Fold Versus a Big Cooler Like This?

So with all that street by street analysis out of the way, is there any way that we could have gotten away at some point in this hand?

Could we have somehow saved less? Maybe only lost 50% of our chips?

Honestly, the answer to all of these questions is no, no and no.

This is one of those spots in poker where all of the money is going to go in the middle, no matter what.
It doesn’t matter how “good” you are. It doesn’t matter if you can read their soul like Phil Ivey.

There is no poker player on earth who is going to be folding here. You just don’t fold full houses in Texas Hold’em!

And that really is the main point of this hand.

With huge coolers like this, the only thing you really need to ask yourself is if the roles were reversed (we have the T7 and they have the 77), do they fold to us?

You already know the answer to that question. No, of course they don't.

And that makes big cooler hands like this essentially a neutral EV (expected value) wash in the end.

Since the roles will be reversed at some point in the future, you are really only trading the chips back and forth in big cooler hands like this.

In the long run all of these cooler hands and setup hands will eventually even themselves out.

And since they aren’t folding to you when you have the best hand either, it won’t make any real difference to your bottom line in the long run.

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Don’t Let Setup Hands Put You on Tilt

Look, I know how hard these cooler setup hands can be to take in the heat of the moment. It is easy to get frustrated very quickly by your short term bad luck.

But if you can learn to take a broader perspective on these cooler hands and realize that they basically all even out in the end, then you can learn to simply shrug them off more easily.

And that really is the key point here.

If you want to be a consistent big winner at the poker tables, sure, you need to study and learn a solid proven winning strategy.

Here for example are my 15 proven ways to beat the small stakes.  

But even more importantly, you need to implement this strategy consistently at the poker tables, no matter how things are going for you.

You can’t afford to let cooler hands like this set you on tilt and cause you to start playing badly.

You need to understand instead that cooler setup hands like this happen to absolutely everybody in poker, both amateurs and pros.

And the only difference between the former and the latter, is that the latter handle them much better.

Final Thoughts

So can you learn how to avoid coolers and setups in poker? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no, honestly for the most part you cannot.

In huge cooler hands like the one we discussed in this article (full house vs full house), it is simply impossible to get away.

Everybody loses all of their chips there and if you aren’t losing all of your chips with a full house, there is something seriously wrong!

The biggest thing to remember though is that poker is a long term game and the coolers and the setups will always even out in the end.

Or in other words, it will come back to you at some point and you will be the one who coolers them. This is why the most important thing to consider with cooler hands is how you react to them.

Most people do not react very well to big setup hands. They go on tilt, play poorly and give away even more of their chips.

You on the other hand know better. You will react better than them when face a couple big coolers. Because that is the true mark of a poker champion.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete poker strategy that I have used as a 10+ year poker pro, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

How to Avoid Coolers in Poker