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1. To play final a game in order to break a tie. With three wins apiece, the two teams will play off this evening for the championship title. The game ended in a draw, so they'll have to play the tie off next weekend to declare a winner.
2. To respond to the actions or traits of someone or something in a way that maximizes one's own performance or skills. He played off his opponent's weakened left leg, aiming his shots at that side of the court each time. They're an unusual couple because they are so different, but they actually play off one another really well.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
play something off
to play a game to break a tied score. They decided not to play the tie off because it had grown so late. They went ahead and played off the tie after all.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
1. See under play both ends against the middle.
2. Break a tie by playing an additional game or period, as in Each team had won three games so they had to play off the tie to decide the championship.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
1. Sports To play a game that breaks a tie in ranking: The top two teams play off tonight to determine the champion.
2. To perform an action in response to some other action, exploiting it advantageously: A good tennis player plays off every move the opponent makes. We make a good team, since we play off each other perfectly.
3. play off against To set something in opposition to, or working in a different direction than, something else in order to gain an advantage: The queen played the nobles off against each other, telling each of them that the others were plotting against him.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.