I am looking for an idiom or expression which can be used to describe the action of someone deliberately playing below their skill level.
For example, a pool or billiards expert missing a few shots on purpose.
There are 2 situations where I am looking to use this expression, so, for any potential answer, I would like to know if it fits one or both of those meanings:
1. Negative Connotation
The player is playing below his/her skill level because they are trying to deceive (for example, getting their opponent to feel overconfident and bet money on the next game).
He’s ______-ing! He wants you to believe that he’s less skilled than he actually is.
2. Positive Connotation
The player is playing below his/her skill level because they want their opponent to have fun and not feel bad about losing by a heavy margin.
My father-in-law wanted to play chess so I had to __________ because winning in a few moves might have been a bit humiliating.
What I considered
The expression “to dumb down” came to mind initially but it means something different.
The verb “to hustle”.
Dictionary definitions seem to imply that it would work only for the case with the negative connotation, but I am not entirely sure.
Cambridge Dictionary suggests several meanings of the word, but the most relevant one is:
a dishonest way of making money
However, I believe that in colloquial usage the word tends to have a neutral or even positive meaning:
The problem I have with this word is that it seems to be connected to money, but I would like something more general and not specific to making money.
To go easy: This seems to fit the case with the positive connotation, for example, “I decided to go easy.” So this is one I’m heavily considering.
To smurf: This slang word fits well but it’s only used in online gaming as far as I know.