I’m not sure when the statute of limitations expires on making New Year’s resolutions, but it’s safe to say the first week of January falls within the acceptable window. So, here, dear sports bettor, is a resolution you should consider adding to your 2023 list. Please write this on the chalkboard 50 times:
I will not call every last freaking wager that loses a “bad beat.”
If everything is a bad beat, then nothing is a bad beat. It cheapens the term when you’re in a 50/50 situation, it doesn’t go your way, and you whine about the unfathomably awful beat you took.
The NFL’s Week 15 Monday Night Football game offered a perfect example of misapplications of the “bad beat” designation. USA Today even ran an article about the ending of that Green Bay Packers-Los Angeles Rams game with the words “horrible bad beat” in the headline. But this wasn’t a horrible bad beat. This was a close loss that could’ve been a close win. Not should’ve. Merely could’ve.
With two minutes to play, the Packers were up 24-12 and had a third-and-2 at the Rams’ 4. The points total for the game was set at 39.5. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a quick pass to rookie receiver Christian Watson, but the two weren’t on the same page, Watson never turned around, and the ball landed harmlessly near his right foot.
The Packers could’ve elected to kick a field goal (to bring the points total to 39) on fourth down, but instead handed off to Aaron Jones, who gained a first down. Rodgers then kneeled three times to end the game instead of his team trying to score a meaningless touchdown.
Could it have broken differently, rewarding those who bet the points “over”? Absolutely. Watson could have known the play Rodgers had in mind and turned around and made the catch — and possibly scored (there were still two defenders between him and the end zone). I don’t know what percentage of the time this play results in a touchdown. I do know it’s not high enough to label this a “bad beat.” I would actually estimate it’s below 50%.
But this is typical of the attitude that permeates the gambling world, where many people have a condition that ascribes every loss to rotten luck and every win to masterful skill.
Unreaaaaal bad beat if you had OVER 39.5 if you had UNDER you can thank Christian Watson….Rodgers kneels at the 1 unreal #badbeats pic.twitter.com/GkphD2X6Xn
— Alex Monaco (@Alex__Monaco) December 20, 2022
Setting the bar on bad beats
So what does it take to qualify as a bad beat? To me, it requires something extreme or at least out of the ordinary.
Just about any football game that ends on a desperate lateral play that leads to a defensive touchdown and reverses a wagering outcome would qualify. Also worthy: if the “tuck rule” cost you money; if you were on the wrong side of the Rams-Saints pass interference no-call in 2019; if you had a basketball team -10 and they were up by 12 when the other team heaved a half-court buzzer beater that went in; if you had the winning golfer in a tournament but he got DQ’d for failure to sign his scorecard; if you had a quarterback’s rushing yards “over” prop and he cleared it by two yards, only to lose three yards by kneeling at the end of the game.
A bad beat is not just a loss. It’s a loss in memorable fashion, either because something almost unprecedented happened or because the odds of defeat had become remote before it all unraveled. There needs to at least be some fluke involved or a little weirdness.
This, for example, would be reasonable to call a bad beat: The football team you bet on the moneyline is up 15 with a minute to play and gives up a touchdown and a 2-point conversion, fumbles an onside kick, and gives up another touchdown and 2-point conversion.
This would merely be a close loss: Your football team takes a 6-point lead over the Chiefs with a minute to play, and Patrick Mahomes leads his offense on a game-winning touchdown drive.
One is a longshot that requires a succession of collectively nutty events. The other is simply a coin flip where you called heads and it landed on tails.
There’s something specific to the term “bad beat” that makes it grating. I’ve heard people say they took a “tough beat,” and it came off as harmless — there’s an implication there that the bettor feels slightly wronged and unfortunate, but there’s no outright whining and they acknowledge that it wasn’t too extreme.
“Tough beat” suggests “Man, that sucked, I was close,” whereas “bad beat” is a specific declaration of something indisputably unlucky.
I come from the world of poker, where it’s a little bit easier to tell the bad beats from the not-so-bad beats, because there’s always a percentage chance that can be ascribed to the suck-out in question.
Not that everyone agrees on what the number needs to be to cross the bad beat threshold. But poker players who truly understand what a bad beat is can agree that the opponent hitting a two-outer on the river (about 5%) is a bad beat and that the opponent hitting a flush draw after the flop (about 35-40% depending on other factors) is not.
Another thing everyone of sound mind can agree on: Nobody ever, ever, ever actually wants to hear your bad beat story. They may politely pretend to listen, but deep down, a true gambler doesn’t care about another gambler’s bad beat, because he’s surely suffered through the equivalent or worse — and while you’re talking, all he’s thinking about is his own more brutal examples.
Of course, there is something worse than having to listen to a bad beat story: having to listen to a “bad beat story” that isn’t even about a bad beat. So, next time you’re itching to talk or tweet bemoaning your horrific luck, at least make sure the bemoaning is warranted.
That’s not a bad beat at all, it just lost late. There’s a huge difference
— Ryan Galuszka (@RyanGaluszka) December 24, 2022