A cooler is basically a deck switch, also called a cold deck. Oftentimes cold-decking requires some kind of manipulation, but sometimes the switch is just accomplished through good timing with a distraction. A distraction is actually always a key ingredient in the act of switching the deck, which is why cold-decking is hardly ever attempted by one person working alone.

There is an old poker saying, attributed to Amarillo Slim: You can shear a sheep many time, but you can skin him only once. Cold-decking seems to disregard this wisdom, as it is specifically designed to strip the sheep down to his/their underwear, in a single round. Illustratively speaking, what a cooler does to a poker game is what a hurricane does to a landscape. In other words, there is no way that it goes by unnoticed and the aftermath of a cooler is likely to be embedded in people's memories for the rest of their lives.

A badly executed cooler is likely to be perceived as suspicious. A good cooler, however, should just be perceived as a bad beat. That's why the conspirators have to make sure that all the circumstances are convincing enough to (one should hope) not give anyone any reason to even think that there's anything more to it than a bad beat. This is why some of the best coolers are done on someone else's deal and shuffle. This means that there's just a very narrow window of opportunity to do the deck switch, usually during the cut. And no matter how good the mechanic is, there will always be an orchestrated distraction at that very moment. Once the deck is "cut," i.e. switched, the sucker picks it up and deals out a round. The worst thing that could happen now is a misdeal or someone saying, "Deal me out..."

When a cooler switch is done on another payer's deal, it is pretty powerful. The sucker shuffled and dealt the hand by himself, and the player that took down the monster pot was seated all the way across the table. If the switch went well there should be no suspicions. Bad beats do happen, and as long as there's some logic to it, it should be OK. One thing that could raise some eyebrows is a badly planned cooler stack that would require the winner to make a bad call, in an earlier betting round, and then end up winning the pot.

I wish I could say that a good cooler could work in such way that at the end of the round there isn't even a showdown. But unfortunately that is not the case. Rounds that end without showdowns typically have smaller pots, so if one is going to go through the risk of getting caught switching a deck, one might as well design the stack in a way to make players go all-in, early on. This way, when a few players go all-in, there is less reason to question any player's decisions to stay in the hand (especially the winning player as long as he/she appears to have had a legitimate reason to call an all-in bet).

Since cold-decking is always a risky proposition, the scam is best suited for private card games and underground poker clubs. Attempting to do a cooler switch in a casino cardroom, under all those CCTV surveillance cameras is a different story. Usually casino scams that involve any kind of high-risk manipulations are always done with inside help from the surveillance room. Casino cheats have been known to switch entire 8-deck baccarat shoes, but never without inside help. Prior to the invention of DVRs, surveillance videos used to be recorded on video cassettes. Scams would typically coincide with the rewinding or changing of the tapes. Later casinos started using two VCRs for each camera, each VCR being on a different cycle, because there were too many suspicious coincidences of big takedowns coinciding with the changing of the video tapes. Finally DVRs became available and solved all the problems.

Casinos typically don't worry too much about the security of their poker games, but they still have CCTV coverage of all the tables. To do a cooler switch would still have to involve inside help from surveillance. Of course, the dealer would also have to be in on the scam. Furthermore, the only scenario that would make sense in casino cardroom is to go after the bad beat jackpot, not after one player's stack. This means that every single player at the table would have to be part of the mob.

Several accessories have been invented to assist in the act of switching the deck. One of the most fascinating accessories is a mechanical deck switcher that consists of a mechanical arm to pass the cold deck into the dealer's hand, and a pouch to drop the outgoing deck into. But to be honest, this always looked like overkill to me and I am not even sure if the machine simplifies the job. It definitely complicates things in many ways, though.

One of the most practical accessories is a simple deck switcher that's just used to clean up, i.e. to get rid of the outgoing deck (unfortunately, I don't want to reveal too many details about this gaff). The mechanic still has to do all the work of bringing the cooler in and switching the two decks. If we believe that simpler solutions are the best ones, this simple deck switcher is as simple as it gets.


Cooler switches are quite fun and fascinating. At this time I am preparing several tutorials for various switches. Please check the tutorials chapter at some later time (hopefully soon).


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