In the race to succeed, the spirit of competition can sometimes drive competitors and their leaders to the brink. From chess champions to Olympic teams to VR games, players seek to apply their most effective strategies at every turn. And the higher the stakes, the farther many are willing to go to ensure a win.
Unsurprisingly, the lines between cheating and strategy can often become blurred. Groups like The FA in English football seek to lay out the rules in a clear manner in order to curb cheating in highly competitive spaces. Even down to the local level, referees and judges are present during competitions to maintain order and ensure the rules are applied appropriately.
But that doesn’t mean that the rulebook is black and white. In fact, many strategies look to push the envelope between legal and illegal in order to gain an edge. Lewis Hamilton, for example, is celebrated as one of the most successful drivers in Formula One history. He’s also known for pushing boundaries anywhere possible to gain an advantage—which authorities keep an eye on.
But which of the most recognized tactics (in both gaming and sports) tease the line between cheating and strategy? And where do they fall in terms of technicality?
Cross-Training with Poker to Learn Blackjack
Blackjack is one of the most-played card games in the world. The game was originally played in social clubs across continental Europe, then expanded abroad to places like Las Vegas, USA and Macau, China. Today, players can find multiple variations available online where they can play for real money or for free—all from the convenience of their own home.
Even if the format of the game has changed, one of the leading strategies used by successful players hasn’t: cross-training in poker, which is completely legal. From the outside looking in, poker and blackjack don’t have much in common. Poker involves bluffing and hand rankings, while blackjack is all about hitting twenty-one without going over. But there’s one key crossover: knowing when to hit in blackjack and when to bluff in poker. Star poker players like Stu Ungar have all learned key lessons from blackjack players—and vice versa.
Diving in the EPL
Compared to leagues like La Liga and Seria A, the Premier League is known for tolerating less diving. Diving, for those who don’t follow football, is when a player over-emphasizes the degree of contact from another player in order to draw a foul from the referee. Players tied to diving are typically reviled—and that’s because diving is completely illegal, according to The FA.
However, players who draw fouls by diving can turn the tide in a game—especially if they’re awarded a penalty kick. Viewed in this way, there’s little incentive for competitors to not dive. In fact, Birmingham City’s Troy Deeney told TalkSport back in 2020 that he’d been encouraged by both management and referees to go down if he came into contact with another player. So, even though considered illegal in terms of the rules and frowned upon greatly by fans, diving is considered strategic for many teams.
Tanking for a Draft Pick in the NFL
Across the pond in the US, the NFL works differently than the Premier League. American football has only one top flight of competition. There is no relegation for teams at the bottom of the pack—instead, they’re treated to first-round draft picks from players leaving the amateur NCAA league. This helps boost a team’s outlook by bolstering its roster with top young talent; the first draft pick goes to the team in last place, while the second pick goes to the team in second-to-last place, and so on.
As the season ends, it’s not unheard of for teams sitting in third-to-last or second-to-last to throw their last games in an attempt to swipe a first-place draft pick. Similar to diving in the EPL, fans hate this treatment—they want to see their team win, not bow out tactically in hopes of better luck next season. However, tanking the end of the season for a draft pick is technically legal, if reviled as a strategy.