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What Does "Sandbagging" Mean?

By Jim Thomas

"Sandbagging" in sports is a form of chicanery, in which a player deliberately misrepresents and downplays his ability, in order to derive an advantage over his opponents. The term has been associated with golf, auto racing, poker and paintball, among others. Sometimes, sandbagging is incorrectly used to describe strategic maneuvers. A person who "slow plays" a great poker hand to encourage others to bet and built up the pot is merely bluffing, an accepted and honorable part of the game.


The term sandbagger has its roots in the 19th century, when gangs and street toughs roamed the cities. Sandbags -- a sock or a bag filled with wet sand -- were used as weapons against rival gangs or unwary citizens who ventured into the wrong neighborhood. Sandbagging also derives from the early days of auto racing, when actual sand bags were used to surround the track.


By manipulating your handicap upwards, you can obtain an advantage over more honest golfers who do not manipulate the scores they post. In short, if you are playing a match against a 20-handicap, and you manipulated the system to also be a 20-handicap, even though your true ability is that of a 8-handicap, you are cheating by obtaining an 12-stroke advantage. If you play a match for big money, you are almost certain to win. Sandbagging is also employed in amateur tournaments, when prizes or prestige is on the line.

Motor Sports

In the early days of motor racing, some drivers would brush the sand bags a few times during qualifying laps in order to ensure a slow qualifying speed. In many events, the slowest cars were given spots at the front of the pack to start the race. There are ways for drag racing drivers to manipulate their speeds to obtain an advantage over an opponent, but it is a tricky maneuver that can easily get a driver disqualified.

Other Sports

Any sport that sorts contestants into ability categories is susceptible to sandbaggers. In BMX bike racing, sandbaggers who intentionally lose races to stay in the same category are castigated for not being proper sportsmen who do their best to improve and attain the next level of excellence. Paintball tournaments classify contestants as rookies, novices, amateurs and professionals. Dropping back a category by losing games in order to have a better chance in top tournaments is prohibited, but it can be hard to catch a clever sandbagger.


If you are hustled out of a bet or a trophy by a sandbagger, it's likely that no punishment seems too severe in your eyes. However, sandbagging stories are a great source of sports lore. Around 1995, Bill Gates created a stir when he posted an 87 in a Seattle area charity event despite a 30-handicap, a result called "impossible" by Dean Knuth, director of the United States Golf Association handicap system. On the other hand, since Gates is now spending his vast fortune to attempt to rid the world of poverty, disease and pollution, his sandbagging crime seems forgivable.

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