Updated on 09/17/2011 11:58PM

Take a peek, then let it go


You see it all the time around the table in home-game hold 'em: After a fold, a player asks to see what the turn or river card would have been. The practice is called rabbit hunting, and I'll admit I do it myself from time to time. But I know it's silly, and I shouldn't. While not really a breach of etiquette - although it might be if you abuse the privilege - it's still not a habit you want to get into because it puts the focus on the wrong issue.

Let's look at an example. You're playing $1-$2 no-limit hold 'em. You hold the king and queen of hearts against one opponent who made a small raise before the flop from early position. The flop comes out ace of hearts, 2 of hearts, 7 of diamonds. You know your opponent and his style of play, and it seems certain to you that he's holding an ace. You figure you're behind in the hand, but any heart on the turn or the river will give you a win.

Basically, you have nine outs - that is, there are nine cards in the deck that will help you - meaning you have a approximately a 36 percent chance of winning the pot. (This is computed by multiplying the number of outs you have times four, a fast and dirty way of figuring your odds for the best hand after the flop. The actual number in this example is 37.6 percent.)

If your opponent makes a small bet, you're going to want to call. Let's say there is $20 in the pot. If you only have to call $5, you're essentially betting $5 to win $25 - 4-1 odds - so it's a good bet if you can win the hand better than 20 percent of the time. Since you're going to win 36 percent, go on and call.

But let's say the other player makes a heftier raise: another $100. Now the right play is to fold for sure. You have to risk 100 to win $120. Instead of 4 to 1, now you're looking at 6-5. To justify calling 6-5 odds, you'd need to win better than 45 percent of the time.

Now this is where rabbit hunting comes into play. Let's say you've folded under the circumstances presented above. You've made the right decision. But asking the dealer to show you the next two cards to see if one was a heart, meaning you would have won that hand, misses the point. Maybe you would have gotten a favorable outcome. But it still would have been the wrong call.

Once you've made the right decision, that's it - you're done, move on. Poker is a game that demands you stay focused on good decision making. The best player in the world can get an unfavorable outcome and get drawn out on by the worst player in the world. The good player isn't worried about that happening. Instead, he's worried about constantly putting himself in situations where he's getting the best of it. You do that, and the rest takes care of itself.

It doesn't matter if the turn and river cards are the miracle 3 and 6 that would have given you the double gutshot inside straight. If you're even thinking about those kind of plays, you've already lost.

Situational outcomes are irrelevant over the long run. Decisions are what makes a player successful or unsuccessful. To be a rabbit hunter is to elevate the importance of the outcome over the decision, and that's a long and lonely path. Because once you start chasing outcomes, you're just waiting to be picked off by a good player whose focus is where it should be. And if you lose sight of that, you're asking to become the poker equivalent of Elmer Fudd - chasing that wascally wabbit instead of building up your bankroll.