What's the word for giving a chance to someone, or when you play with little children and you don't fully use your ability to play professionally—instead you play with their level so that they can win?

15 Answers 15


You could say you're "going easy on them".

  • 1
    It is usually used in the sense of not (or lightly) criticizing or telling off. It's not wrong but perhaps a bit too broad.
    – Avon
    Jul 20, 2015 at 10:41
  • 8
    @avon I'd disagree, you often see people say it of themselves — "Go easy on me, I haven't played pool in ages" Jul 20, 2015 at 11:10
  • 2
    I'd agree with @anotherdave - but I believe the meaning is more like "don't beat / embarrass me too badly". Going easy on someone doesn't necessarily mean you have any intention of letting them win.
    – Michael
    Jul 21, 2015 at 10:25
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    @Mikaveli, I agree — I think that tallies with what the OP is looking for though: not that you let them win, but that you give them a chance of winning by toning down your game. Jul 21, 2015 at 11:32
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    In terms of "playing at their level" it means exactly that, so yes, very good answer.
    – Michael
    Jul 21, 2015 at 11:48

Pulling your punches To refrain from deploying all the resources or force at one's disposal


One option is throw:

  1. to lose (a game, race, or other contest) intentionally, as for a bribe.

Definition no. 15 taken from dictionary.reference.com

  • Not sure how much it matters but I think it's worth noting that in online games I've seen "throwing" used more often as "throwing the game away".
    – Mdev
    Jul 20, 2015 at 19:23
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    I think this is valid, but the term is often more associated with losing a game for ulterior motives (typically financial game) above and beyond making the opponent feel good.
    – DA.
    Jul 21, 2015 at 7:29
  • @Matthew - "throw the game away" would mean being in a winning position and then messing it up accidentally; whereas "throw the game" means doing it deliberately.
    – AndyT
    Jul 21, 2015 at 8:15
  • @DA - that certainly is the implication of my dictionary quote, although personally I wouldn't associate the phrase with money. "I threw the game because otherwise little Stewie would have got upset" sounds perfectly natural to me.
    – AndyT
    Jul 21, 2015 at 8:17

sandbagging: deliberately underperform in a race or competition to gain an unfair advantage

underplay: 1. to achieve (an effect) by deliberate lack of emphasis 2. (Cards) to follow suit with a lower card when holding a higher one

play down (to): lower one's standards (to meet the demands of someone)

(go in the) tank: deliberately lose or fail to finish (a match)


Giving someone a sporting chance:

A reasonable chance of winning or succeeding:

"I’ll give you a sporting chance"

"the theory has at least a sporting chance of being right"



You might call it kowtowing if you're allowing the other person to beat you out of respect for the power, authority, and/or or honor they have outside of the competition (e.g. if they're your boss, or if they're a worn old veteran in the sport and you're a young upstart).

Alternately, consider the concept of handicapping in gaming and sports, in which one player is given significant advantage over the other so the difference in their skill levels is compensated for. This advantage can often include weakening the more skillful player's position, and is almost always agreed to by both sides in the competition.

  • Agree on handicapping, particularly common in golf. "Kowtowing" has very different implications, not really related to letting someone else win, but more just deferring to them in general. (It's also considered mildly offensive by some people, in that it has racial undertones against Asians, though that's not necessarily common knowledge.) Jul 21, 2015 at 12:35
  • @DarrelHoffman Playing easy to let a superior win, e.g. as a student would to an ailing teacher, is certainly an example of kowtowing because it is a display of submission and respect. As for being racially offensive... well, unless your job is writing 100% politically correct speeches or letters, it's just not feasible to account for the etymology of every word you use and who might take slight offense to them. Not that I even agree with those who take offense to this particular term.
    – talrnu
    Jul 21, 2015 at 13:13
  • Handicap is the term often used for some types of PvP video games, usually your health level is decreased by some percentage. Handicap: 80% would mean your health starts at 80% instead of 100% Jul 21, 2015 at 19:32
  • I don't disagree that playing easy in deference to a superior is an example of kowtowing, just that is a very specific example. The term "kowtow" has a much broader definition which includes all manner of deferential behavior. It also has somewhat of a negative implication that perhaps such deference might be undeserved. E.g. Smithers kowtows to Mr. Burns, who is generally disliked by everyone else. I also agree that it's not likely to offend THAT many people, but there are definitely some who would consider it inappropriate. Jul 21, 2015 at 20:20
  • Handicapping is good, kowtowing not so much. Jul 21, 2015 at 21:20

Yet another possibility is holding back, in the sense of not putting forth your best efforts.

When asked why they were afraid to commit and give it everything they had, most said that they had never really though about why they were holding back. They just knew they were.

Will You Love Me if I Don't Win? A Guide for the Parents of Young Athletes


The expression is "to play with one hand tied behind your back."

  • This fits the concept of reducing the more skilled player's strength, but I've only ever seen this used in a context where the more skilled player is being boastful, claiming they're so skilled that they can beat the lesser opponent even with one hand tied [behind their back]. Therefore this doesn't quite fit the asker's full intent (i.e. intentionally reducing skill to give the lesser opponent a chance to win).
    – talrnu
    Jul 20, 2015 at 18:31

Best possibilities to me, would be "I played down to his level", or "played softly".

If it were a boxing match you could say "I took a dive" meaning you faked incapacitation and fell on the mat staying there until the referee called the fight over.

Going easy on a junior is often said to be "using kid gloves" meaning I did not strike my unruly subordinate with a closed fist, instead slapped him with kidskin gloves (goat skin is called kid skin because baby goats are called kids). The result is to cause insult not injury in the literal sense, and means "I went easy on him" in the figurative sense.

You could say "I was sand bagging" meaning I was intentionally not working as hard as I could have.


A commonly used phrase is simply "to let [someone] win".

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  • I think most readers, at least those familiar with IM, would read to let sb. win as to let somebody win. If sb. stands for substantive, it would include inanimate objects... I've seen sb (somebody) used in the same context as so (someone) and sth (something).
    – oerkelens
    Jul 20, 2015 at 10:55
  • 1
    Sb most definitely does not mean "substantive". There are no two ways about it. It means "somebody".
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 20, 2015 at 11:34
  • Okay, I've changed it but have a look at the most popular answer on this thread. english.stackexchange.com/questions/26883/… Jul 20, 2015 at 16:29
  • This answer is equivalent to defining a word by using the word in its own definition. The asker wants alternatives to this phrasing, which is used explicitly in the question.
    – talrnu
    Jul 20, 2015 at 18:33
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    @chasly: that other thread is most certainly flawed. Sb could well be used meaning substantive in special cases, yes, when describing patterns and structures like (N, Sb, V) but sb inside a dictionary-like definition like yours, let sb win, let sth happen, is absolutely and definitively somebody and something.
    – Gábor
    Jul 21, 2015 at 10:40

I believe you're asking for a single word answer and with your example, provided two scenarios.

  1. If the intent is to give a better chance to win, you could use moderate or mitigate.

"Yes, I always [ mitigate | moderate ] my efforts while hustling players at the pool table."

  1. If the intent is to allow a win, you could use yield.

"Of course, I will [ yield ] to prevent crushing the the toddlers confidence."

  • To yield is to concede defeat entirely, not to merely increase your opponent's chances of winning. Mitigate and moderate technically fit, but I've never heard them used in this context - they sound super fancy.
    – talrnu
    Jul 21, 2015 at 12:57
  • Correct on both points. I addressed yield in #2 as you stated. If the intent is to allow a win (not to increase chances of a win) yield could be used. I didn't use concede because it gave the feeling of accepting/agreeing to a definite, inevitable loss. Yield leaves room for to be read as having the possibility of winning but choosing not not to. Jul 21, 2015 at 14:31
  • Regarding being technicality correct on #1, I tried to stay within the scope of the original question and provide single word answers. Mitigate and moderate are fancy in creative style writing, I agree. In a legal court they are not. Jul 21, 2015 at 14:41

I think context is key here. A subtle shift in context can change the word that best fits.

In the context of friendship or friendly competition, I think the term good sportsmanship could apply. For example, in youth sports, it's often seen as a nice gesture when you as a team with a great season, play a team that clearly hasn't had a great season, that you give them a chance for a win. Maybe it's by playing your 3rd stringers exclusively, or encouraging your players to focus on complex plays over a score.

But in a different context, it could be called hustling where you, as a skilled player, allow the opponent a win in hope of lulling them into a sense of superiority so you can 'double or nothing' the bet as a scam.

And in a very specific context, for another example, a boxer may allow the opponent to win to fix the game for gambler. This is usually referred to as taking a dive.


I would suggest being sporting or displaying sportsmanship, as both words mean playing fair and at times disadvantaging oneself to allow for an equal match.


This might be a bit off, but I can think of; sympathize with, commiserate with or even playdown. I guess this has got less to do with actual games but it could work in emotional contexts.

  • I don't think either of the first two really work in the context of the question. Feb 27, 2023 at 15:04

Handicap, as in golf.

Good players add a certain number of strokes to their game to allow lesser players to compete. These extra strokes are called a "handicap" and the better the player, the higher their handicap is (since the lowest score wins in golf.)

Oh, I see someone else already suggested "handicapping."

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