It’s a term most players have heard at some point at the tables – the cooler. And no doubt most of us have experienced this icy event at one time or another. This cooler isn’t the Yeti type that you might use to chill down a six-pack, yet it can certainly drive someone to drink.

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What Is a Poker Cooler?

No, in poker a “cooler” is a hand in which you play well but become a loser merely by how the cards hit the board. Big bucks probably went into the pot, and there was no way to avoid the outcome. The hand was just meant to be, and there’s not much a player can do – a bit of destiny and lousy luck. It’s not that a player was outplayed, but it was just some bad luck and bad timing.

Often, it could be a bit of bad fortune where a player picks up pocket Kings versus another player’s pocket Aces, and both get all the chips in before the flop. Two players could also catch major hands on the flop that result in a significant loss no matter what might have happened.

A cooler could also be when a player has a big hand and loses to a hand that is a bit unexpected. For example, maybe you have a big hand like pocket Queens and put in a nice pre-flop raise. A player makes a loose call with something like J♣9♣, and a flop of Q♣2♠7♣ looks really nice after you hit trips. Your opponent makes a call on the flop and hits the flush on the river. That flush was a bit unexpected and probably going to cost a lot of chips if the river doesn’t pair the board for a full house or bring another club that might allow someone with trips to fold more easily here.

Another example might be two players hitting set-over-set. A player with pocket Jacks may put in a raise from middle position and a player on the small blind calls with 10-10. A flop of J-10-3 would be extremely troublesome for the player on the small blind. The set over set situation will probably cost a bunch of chips, but there isn’t much the player could do to prevent this.

A “hero fold” is always possible, this hand would just have played out this way – quite a cooler.

Quad Aces No Good

Comedian Ray Romano may have been at the table in the 2008 WSOP, but the hand that played out in front of him was pure tragedy.

Justin Phillips and Motoyuki Mabuchi were deep in a hand when ESPN cameras caught up with the action. The flop brought the A♥9♣Q♦ with a 10♦ on the turn and A♦ on the river. It was an interesting board with possibilities for huge hands.

Those at the table probably didn’t expect what happened next...



Mabuchi made a big bet on the river and Phillips fired back with a nice raise. Mabuchi then came back over the top splashing all his chips into the pot and received an insta-call from Phillips, who had his opponent covered.

Phillips tabled K♦J♦ for a Royal Flush, and Mabuchi turned over A♠A♣.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” ESPN commentator Norman Chad said. “Quad Aces are your last hand in the Main Event. That is a statistical improbability, my friends. If you flop a set of Aces, river quads and lose – that’s a bad beat.”

And, it was the ultimate cooler. The chances of quads and a royal flush appearing in the same hand are 1 in 2.7 billion, according to ESPN. Mabuchi hit the rail, and Phillips raked a huge pot. He ultimately finished 665th for $21,230.

Cash Game Nightmare

A cooler at a cash game can not only cost a player a big pot but also be crushing to the bankroll. For a cash game example of a terrible turn of events, a hand from August 2017 featuring some of the biggest names in poker is a prime example. The cooler played out on PokerGO’s “Poker After Dark,” which featured a $200/$400 cash game with a minimum buy-in of $100,000.



Antonio Esfandiari had just concluded a conversation about seeing Daniel Negreanu fold Kings preflop in a tournament and discussed how he’d folded Kings five times pre-flop in his life. The Magician was then dealt K♥K♣ and raised the action. On the button, Negreanu held Q♦Q♣ and three-bet to $3,500.

On the big blind, Tom Daw looked down at A♠A♣ and four-bet to $14,000. Esfandiari thought just a bit and five-bet to $41,000.

Negreanu made the call, but Dwan wasn’t finished yet and announced all-in for his remaining $328,000. Could Esfandiari get away from Kings like the story he had just been discussing? Ultimately, after some consideration, he could not. Negreanu folded his queens, and Esfandiari looked sick at what he faced.

The players agreed to run it twice, but it brought no help for the Kings and Dwan raked a $697,100 pot. It was indeed a killer cooler.

Tough Luck in the WSOP Main Event

Poker legend and Hall of Famer T.J. Cloutier is no stranger to a cooler on poker’s biggest stage. A winner of six World Series of Poker bracelets, he came up just short of a Main Event title multiple times – finishing in the top five four times including runner-up in 1985 and 2000.

In the 2000 heads-up battle with Chris Ferguson, it appeared Cloutier would finally break through for a Main Event title. He had staged a rally at the final table and was almost even in chips with Ferguson.



In the final hand of the tournament, Ferguson raised under the gun with A♠9♣, and Cloutier moved all-in with A♦Q♣. Ferguson thought a while and even removed his trademark cowboy hat in anguish as to what decision to make. If he called, Cloutier would have a 71 per cent chance to win the pot and virtually seal a Main Event title.

“I’ll gamble with you,” Ferguson eventually said, making the call.

The flop brought the 2♥K♣4♥, and Cloutier only had to dodge one of the three Nines left in the deck. He moved to an 81.7 per cent chance to win a massive pot when the K♥ fell on the turn and Ferguson’s chances to win the pot were only 6.8 per cent.

The river? You guessed it – the 9♥. It gave Ferguson the title, the coveted gold bracelet, and first-place prize money of $1.5 million. Cloutier took home $896,000 for his second-place finish. It was quite a cooler with poker’s biggest title on the line.

Vanessa Selbst’s Sick Cooler

Poor Vanessa Selbst experienced one the sickest coolers in recent memory on Day 1B at the 2017 WSOP Main Event. With A♠A♦ she raised the action up to 400 and was called by Gaelle Baumann with [7♥7♦] and Noah Schwartz with [J♣8♥]. She looked to be in great shape on a flop of A♣7♣5♣, giving her top set over Baumann’s set, and a 62 per cent chance to win the pot.

Selbst bet out for 700 after a check by Schwartz. Baumann called, and Schwartz folded. The turn card brought the 7♠.

“Cooler alert,” long-time WSOP commentator Lon McEachern announced as Baumann completed quads and Selbst completed a full house.

“Bye-bye Vanessa,” Antonio Esfandiari added, knowing more than likely both would be getting all their chips in and there was really no way around it. 



Selbst checked, and Baumann bet 1,700. Both began the hand with right at about the starting stack of 50,000. Selbst then raised to 5,800 and Baumann simply made the call.

“One hour into the Main Event and Vanessa Selbst faces a massive cooler,” Norman Chad added as the river brought the 4♦. Selbst bet 16,200 and Baumann made a quick raise to 36,500, which would put Selbst all-in.

“This might be a quick Main Event for me,” Selbst said, sensing her opponent may indeed have quad 7s. “I’m not sure if I’m good enough to fold this.”

She eventually made the call, and there were plenty of groans and gasps from those on the rail after seeing the hand. 

“I wanted to fold,” Selbst added as she was sent to the rail. But it was a hand most players could never get away from.

One (Bad) Drop

The $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop at the 2012 WSOP helped usher in some of the high roller events that have become so popular, while also raising money for a good cause. The event featured a massive buy-in and 48 players in the field.



At the final table, a massive cooler played out that many poker fans might remember. Sam Trickett opened with a raise under the gun to 1.2 million, and Brian Rast made the call as did Esfandiari from the big blind. The flop brought 4♥3♥8♥ and Trickett bet 1.8 million. Rast made the call and Esfandiari folded. The turn brought the 10♠.

After thinking for a bit, Trickett bet 3.8 million, and Rast again called. The river brought the 3♠ and Trickett again tanked for a while before moving all-in for just a bit over 8 million chips. Rast’s tournament life was at stake after making a quick call. He tabled A♥J♥ for the nut flush, but Trickett showed 3♦3♣ for quads. It was an amazing turn of events.

“What a cooler,” Chad announced at the hand’s conclusion.

“Everyone in the room is stunned,” McEachern added.

Rast was eliminated in sixth for $1.62 million, and Trickett took second for $10.1 million. Esfandiari made some history by taking home the bracelet and $18.3 million.

While we all may experience a cooler now again, just imagine if it had been for a Main Event title or almost a $700,000 pot. If you play poker, at some point a cooler will strike – it’s inevitable. Also, realise that you’ll probably put the freeze on someone else.

Sometimes poker just doesn’t seem fair but handle a cooler with class. Don’t get too frustrated or question your sanity. Just move on.

Next time those Aces will surely hold up. Right?

Sean Chaffin is a poker writer who appears in numerous websites and publications. He is also the host of the True Gambling Stories podcast