play to win

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to play to win (third-person singular simple present plays to win, present participle playing to win, simple past and past participle played to win)

  1. (sports) To play in an especially competitive, committed manner, focused intently on winning.
  2. (idiomatic, by extension) To make a special, determined effort to achieve general success or a particular goal, in life, in one's career, in negotiation, etc.
    • 1856, Charles Reade, It Is Never Too Late to Mend, ch. 24:
      "I play to win. I am playing for human lives. This, sir, is the torture, marks of which you have seen on the prisoners; but your inexperience will not detect at a glance all the diabolical ingenuity and cruelty that lurks in this piece of linen and these straps of leather."
    • 1988, David Mahoney (chairman, Norton Simon Inc.), quoted in The Executive's Book of Quotations (Oxford, 1994), ISBN 9780195078367, p. 298:
      "The difference between playing to win and playing not to lose is the difference between the successful executive and the security-hunting, mediocre man.
    • 1997, William Bernhardt, Naked Justice, ISBN 9780449000878, p. 355:
      And Bullock could care less about the judge's threats. Like always, he was playing to win.
    • 2009 Dec. 16, "People Who Mattered: Rahm Emanuel," Time:
      Rahm Emanuel was certainly a surprising choice for chief of staff — he's a hard-cussing, old-school-campaign knife fighter and pragmatic congressional arm twister who plays to win.