->'''Vegeta:''' Freak! Are you not taking this seriously?!\\
'''Perfect Cell:''' Should I be? I'm sorry, I thought we were still warming up.
-->-- ''Anime/DragonBallKai''

This is when a more powerful character, likely villainous, decides to give a weaker character a "chance" to beat them somehow (not necessarily in combat) by setting limitations on themselves or holding back. They could agree to play a game with arbitrary rules, or they could hold back in battle to keep it entertaining. One thing's for sure, though: They have no intention of actually leveling the playing field and playing fair. They just think they can beat the other character [[WithMyHandsTied with their hands tied behind their back]]. If it turns out they can't, or they get bored, they'll stop trying and just use more force.

It's a hard situation for the weaker character, who is pretty much at the other's mercy, but it can be a lot better than if the stronger character was going at full strength. The stronger character may get so arrogant the weaker actually has a chance of beating them before they realize it. Even though they're prepared to cheat, the rules may turn against them anyway. If they're holding back in a fight while the other is trying seriously, they might end up not being so much stronger after all due to the difference in effort. Or they might be distracted while a third party foils their plans right behind their back.

If the stronger character plays weak and reveals they're applying this trope only some time into the confrontation, it's a case of some form of IAmNotLeftHanded. But they might just be clearly the more powerful one from the start (or somewhat ambiguously but not hiding it) with the weaker party having no chance but to play along anyway.

The stronger character's motivation is most likely their own amusement, as in ItAmusedMe or even ForTheEvulz, but it's not impossible for there to be some more rational end (eg., if the stronger character is a TricksterMentor).

The role of the more powerful character is well suited for a powerful RealityWarper, as "He snapped his fingers and won" would be a boring plot, but such powers give endless opportunities for toying with others.

SuperTrope to ExcuseMeWhileIMultitask, CombatUninterruptus and INeedYouStronger. For obvious reasons, tends to be a DavidVersusGoliath situation. Other tropes that may come up include HeroicSecondWind and NearVillainVictory. Compare WillfullyWeak, ComplexityAddiction, EvilGloating, MyDefenseNeedNotProtectMeForever, and CherryTapping, which all resemble this in different ways. A NoNonsenseNemesis will ''not'' be caught doing this. In a fight, CurbStompBattle is likely what would happen if the stronger character didn't hold back... and it might anyway. A MercyLead will be a form of this trope if it's intended to make no difference.


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* ''Anime/DragonBallZ'': Standard practice for most villains (and some heroes) when their power significantly eclipses that of their opponent. This often leads to their undoing, but not always.
** Goku as a kid enjoyed toying with his opponents, but unlike the examples above including his adult self, there was no real malice behind it. To him, fighting was one big game and it's no fun if he just curb stomps everyone. He even referred to it as playing. He also tends to toy around because his full strength can easily kill most people. He knows, however, when to become serious, especially if he is mad. This can be seen most in his fight with Ninja Murasaki. Goku could have easily beaten the guy in minutes, but played with him, actually playing hide-and-seek and racing. Murasaki is so weak compared to Goku that it doesn't matter anyway and was one-shotted once Goku got serious.
** When mad, Goku will toy with his opponents to show them just how out-matched they are. During the final leg of the Frieza fight, Goku stalked, belittled, and played mind games with Frieza, knowing that he was too weak to challenge him anymore. He also toyed with Nappa, just as he done to his friends before killing them. It also served a secondary purpose of making Nappa mad and therefore predictable. He also toyed with Fat Buu, but that was because he didn't want to beat him, wanting Trunks and Goten to do it.
** Vegeta toyed with Goku during their first battle and almost got away with it since he was much stronger. Then Goku used his Kaioken X3, beat Vegeta up, and he didn't want to play anymore.
** Frieza pretty much lived this trope. After going through many fights against the heroes and reaching his final form, he reveals to Goku he's only been using a fraction of his total power (''1%'' in the dub) and proceeds to start using one third. This is more than enough to beat Goku silly, and at one point he briefly decides to give Goku a fighting chance [[WithMyHandsTied by not using his hands.]] Once Goku goes [[SuperMode Super Saiyan,]] however, Frieza stops playing around and convinces Goku to allow him to fight at full power. Unfortunately for him, his chance at victory has already flown out the window.
*** Goku even [[LampshadeHanging points out to Frieza why he's going to end up losing]]: having done nothing but toy with weaker opponents for nearly his entire life, when he actually goes all-out to fight Super Saiyan Goku, he's got little-to-no practice fighting an equal or superior opponent, and has such terrible endurance (especially by this point) that after only a short time at full power, he starts getting rapidly weaker.
** Vegeta toying with Semi-Perfect Cell. Wouldn't have been a problem had he not [[NiceJobBreakingItHero allowed Cell to reach his perfect form]] so he'd be ''more challenging'', though. Once Cell became perfect, he returned the favor to Vegeta.
** Perfect Cell vs. Trunks. Trunks uses the beefed up Ultra Super Saiyan form to lay a decent beatdown on Cell, only for Cell to reveal the MightyGlacier weakness of the technique and dodge every subsequent attack.
** Gohan toying with Perfect Cell, which cost his father his life.
** Gotenks not taking his fight with Super Buu seriously. This is an example of someone ''without'' a power advantage playing the trope.
** Super Gotenks Buu toying with Gohan, which was one of the more foolproof cases and was only foiled by convenient timing.
** Vegetto toying with Super Gohan Buu. This was actually [[BatmanGambit part of his strategy]] rather than an act of arrogance, though.
* ''Anime/FinalFantasyVIIAdventChildren'' (though each of these relies on interpretation of things not made explicit):
** Near the beginning, the Remnants of Sephiroth attack Cloud while he's motorcycling near what's left of Midgar. Loz and Yazoo on their own motorcycles together with a group of summoned monsters called Shadow Creepers give him more trouble than he can handle. The battle ends with Yazoo shooting Cloud right between the eyes but only hitting his goggles, possibly just to show he could have killed him right then, and Kadaj calling off the Shadow Creepers just when they're all about pounce on Cloud at the same time. It isn't until later in the movie that Cloud regains the strength to be a match for the Remnants. At this point they're toying with him.
** Loz gets into a fight with Tifa in the church, which he seems to regard as good sport. She beats him up with relative ease and he seems to be defeated. Then he gets up again and, no longer wanting to play, takes her out with one move using FlashStep.
** This is also a likely way of interpreting the final battle between Cloud and Sephiroth. Sephiroth, whose motivation at this point is largely payback for being defeated in [[VideoGame/FinalFantasyVII the game]], drives Cloud to his highest limits without even so much as getting winded himself, and then tries to finish him off after some suitable EvilGloating.
* ''Manga/HunterXHunter'': On the way to the 4th phase of the Hunter Exam, Netero challenges Gon and Killua to steal a basketball from him. It's soon apparent that he's JustToyingWithThem. Gon turns this into a game of his own - he wants to see if he can force Netero to use ''his other arm'' to keep the ball away from him. Killua doesn't take it nearly as well, and later ''kills two people for bumping into him'' to vent his frustration.0
* ''Manga/RanmaOneHalf'': Ranma holds off Akane's attacks with one hand while reading a book (a {{Manga}}) with the other. Now that's humiliation.
* Kakashi pulls the same thing off in ''Manga/{{Naruto}}''. For bonus points, it's {{Ecchi}}.
** The reason why he was doing this is because he was being a StealthMentor to Team 7 and it was actually a SecretTestOfCharacter. They were never supposed to get the bells off him directly: They were supposed to work as a team and try to.
** [[spoiler:The real Madara Uchiha did this with the ''five Kage'', aka, what are supposed to be the five strongest shinobi in the world right now.]]
* ''Manga/OnePiece''
** Mihawk does this to Zoro during their sword duel, opting to use his dagger instead, lamenting it's the smallest blade he has. Interestingly, he'd actually made his point by more or less, defeating him with it, but he admired Zoro's sheer FightingSpirit so much, he decided he was worthy of the [[{{BFS}} Kokutou Yoru]], and quickly defeated him with it.
** Later on Crocodile does the same to Luffy, standing by idly for a couple of minutes while Luffy futilely trys to hurt him. Croc eventually does win (easily), but unfortunately for him Luffy survives and manages to defeat Croc during a later rematch.
** Miss Doublefinger could have easily scored a victory against the underskilled Nami, but by toying with her, Nami got the opportunity to learn how to use her Clima Tact and then quickly turned the tide.
* ''Manga/YuYuHakusho'': Young Toguro, the antagonist of the second season (the Dark Tournament), feigned defeat the first time he met Yusuke in order for his employer to win a bet. However, he later went back gave Yusuke a demonstration of his real power by demolishing a building. He plays this trope by explicitly telling others what percent of his power he's using. The only exception is during his final fight with Yusuke when he revealed he'd only been using 85% of his power instead of 100%
* In ''Manga/{{Bleach}}'', Barragan Louisenbairn of the Espada did this with Suì-Fēng, Marechiyo Ōmaeda, and eventually, Hachigen Ushōda. He is a TimeMaster that can dilate time around himself so that an opponent's incoming attack slows down, allowing him to counter accordingly. Since he controls [[RapidAging senescence]], anything he touches ages to the point of decay. He demonstrates this by ''[[NoIAmBehindYou suddenly appearing]]'' next to Suì-Fēng (without her even noticing at first, to her shock) and taps her left shoulder, causing the shoulder's bones to become so brittle that they broke immediately. It's taken UpToEleven after he uses his [[OneWingedAngel Resurrección]], where he becomes a WalkingWasteland that gains the ability to release [[DeadlyGas Respira, a fatal miasma that instantly rots anything it touches]]. Even in this transformed state, he ''still'' toys around with his opponents. Ultimately, he ends up getting killed (by Respira, to boot!), because he was so ridiculously arrogant. Fittingly enough, his zanpakutō is named "Arrogante".
* In the 2003 ''Anime/FullmetalAlchemist'' anime, the [[ArtificialHuman homunculus]] Envy is a complete sadist and one of the more skilled CQC combatants in the series. He tends to toy with his victims using his [[ShapeshifterGuiltTrip shapeshifting powers]] and DanceBattler moves before killing them, especially against Ed in order to humiliate him. [[spoiler:Once he actually gets riled up during their final fight, Envy {{One Hit Kill}}s Ed by impalement.]]
** Interestingly enough in ''[[Manga/FullmetalAlchemist Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood]]'', it is the exact opposite when he pushes Roy Mustang too far, by turning into Mustang's deceased best friend (who he brutally murdered) and bragging about it to Mustang's face. The end result in a long drawn out beat down during which Envy realized that it was a really dumb move to tick off someone whose nom de guerre is the "Flame Alchemist."
*** The battle was so vicious that Mustang's own allies are the only reason why he Envy doesn't end up dying at Mustang's hands, is because they are terrified that if he does so he'll end up becoming the very thing their fighting.
* Similarly, Anime!Pride spends his climactic battle with Mustang basically toying around, even letting the alchemist [[KillItWithFire incinerate him]] once on purpose just to test [[GoodThingYouCanHeal the regenerative powers he's never needed to use before]] just to see if they were actually working. [[spoiler:Only the convenient delivery of Pride's AchillesHeel saves Mustang.]]
* Saitama from ''Webcomic/OnePunchMan'' does this with anyone who doesn't die immediately when fighting him [[spoiler:(which so far has only been two characters)]] since all he's really looking for is to have a good fight.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* [[GreatGazoo Mr. Mxyzptlk]] [[TheOmnipotent can do basically anything]] [[RealityWarper at will]], so he likes to toy with ''Franchise/{{Superman}}'' like this, usually until Superman tricks him into saying his own name backwards so that he gets sent back into his own dimension. His powers are on such a level that it's quite a horrifying thought if [[ComicBook/WhateverHappenedToTheManOfTomorrow he decided to become properly evil]], and doubly so when ComicBook/TheJoker gained his powers in "ComicBook/EmperorJoker". The last, incidentally, fits this trope as well, and [[spoiler: the Joker is defeated because he ''can't'' stop toying with [[ArchEnemy Batman]] and just kill him.]]
* In ''[[ComicBook/Supergirl2005 2008]]'' ''ComicBook/{{Supergirl}}'' story arc "Way of the World", Kara runs into Clayface. She lets the mud monster hit her for a bit before disabusing him of any notion he's a match for her (Kara freezes him solid, flies him way, WAY up and lets him drop).
-->'''Supergirl:''' I'm sorry, but you seem confused. Just 'cuz I let you land a few easy blows-- that '''doesn't''' mean we're having a fair fight!\\
'''Clayface:''' Wh-- What are you... d-doing...?\\
'''Supergirl:''' To call you "lame" and "ever so slightly beneath me" would be the understatement of the century. But it's been a bad few weeks. A shame you just happened to be the whipping boy I was looking for.
* This is often used in issues of ''Franchise/XMen'' involving the Juggernaut. Juggy also did this in his fights against Franchise/SpiderMan, but luckily for the wall-crawler, those are fewer and farther between.
* ''ComicBook/TheInfinityGauntlet'' After getting most of the universe's heroes pissed off at him, Thanos turns off the power of most of the gems to show that he can ''still'' kick their asses without omnipotence.
* ''ComicBook/LuckyLuke'': In ''Calamity Jane'', the title character enters an arm wrestling contest with a very large man. She seems to be narrowly losing, but once she hears all the bets are in place, she beats him in an instant.

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* Downplayed and PlayedForLaughs in ''Fanfic/CalvinAndHobbesTheSeries'' -- Calvin admits to knowing what Hobbes was saying all along in an ICantHearYou sequence. [[FridgeLogic Why he would do so is never explained.]]
* ''FanFic/MegamiNoHanabira'': [[TheBrute Brother]] [[{{Sadist}} Chick]] of the Flock has been shown to do this to his opponents: Mai quickly realizes that the reason the fight lasted as long as it did at all is because he decided to torment the girls slowly rather than kill them outright. Of course, this bites Chick in the ass when it gives the girls enough time to formulate a plan to escape. He's called out on this later by one of his comrades: [[TranquilFury he calmly snaps his fellow lieutenant's]] [[{{Fingore}} finger back]], [[DisproportionateRetribution then chokeslams him onto a table and tries to strangle him to death.]]
* ''Fanfic/TheSecondTry'': When the MP-EVAs show themselves to be tougher to bring down than expected, it dawns to Asuka that this is most likely the reason why she seemed to slaughter them so easily the first time around. Although Shinji considers it unlikely, this thought only serves to further fuel her RoaringRampageOfRevenge.

* The serial-killer truck driver in ''Film/{{Duel}}'' displays this attitude towards his latest target Mann.
* The duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in ''Film/TheEmpireStrikesBack''. Luke is a half-trained apprentice and Vader is an experienced Sith Lord who's killed countless Jedi in the two decades since he fell to TheDarkSide. The reason he doesn't kill Luke is because he wants him alive so [[WeCanRuleTogether he can convert him as well.]] The gap between their abilities during that time period becomes apparent when Vader's playing around allows Luke to land a glancing blow; this causes Vader to [[TurnsRed fly into a momentary rage]] and end the duel with two quick swings, maiming Luke.
* In ''Film/KillBill'' O-Ren begins her duel against the Bride by holding her katana with only one hand, wielding her sheath in the other. During the fight she tries using the sheath to distract and harass the Bride, up until the Bride cuts it in half. At that point O-Ren regards the cut sheath with a sinister smile and discards it, slowly gripping her blade with two hands, and in short order she strikes a major blow against her opponent.

* In the ''Literature/JasonWood'' series, the BigBad explicitly says he could kill Jason any time he likes, but that would be "unamusing".
* ''Literature/ThePrincessBride'':
** In the fight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black, [[MasterSwordsman Inigo]] starts fighting with his off-hand just because he can't find a decent challenge anywhere any more. It quickly turns out that the Man in Black is good enough that Inigo has to [[IAmNotLeftHanded switch to his right hand]] to regain the advantage. [[spoiler: Then it turns out that the Man in Black was ''also'' fighting with his off-hand...]]
** The fight between the Man in Black and Fezzik starts out this way, with the Man in Black finding himself in a PunchPunchPunchUhOh situation while Fezzik basically stands there impassively. This is quickly lampshaded:
--> '''The Man in Black''': Look, are you just fiddling around with me or what?
--> '''Fezzik''': I just want you to feel you are doing well! I hate for people to die embarrassed.
* ''Literature/{{Discworld}}''
** ''Discworld/MenAtArms'' posits that it's actually ''preferable'' to be at the mercy of an evil person because he/she will indulge in this trope, giving their victims more time to turn the tides. [[GoodIsNotSoft Good people finish off their enemies without a word.]]
** ''Discworld/TheFifthElephant'' gives a creepy example with a traditional werewolf game: Some poor soul tries to make it from out in the woods to the safety of the town. If he wins, he'll get a bunch of money, otherwise he's dinner. According to the Ankh-Morpork copper and werewolf Angua, a group of werewolves can pretty much get you anytime they want, but in the traditional version a very strong, trained man has a chance of winning -- indicating that part of the game is for the werewolves not to use their full powers. [[spoiler: Angua's brother Wolfgang has a sadistic twist on it: he holds himself back till the last moment, then pounces the human just before he makes it to safety.]]
* In the {{Novelization}} of ''Literature/RevengeOfTheSith'', [[TheDragon Count Dooku]] does this against [[StudentAndMasterTeam Anakin and Obi-Wan]], thinking that two Jedi Knights are no match for a Sith Lord. That, and ThePlan isn't to kill both of them--just Obi-Wan, and use his death to turn Anakin to TheDarkSide. Things fall apart for him, however, when the two Jedi suddenly [[IAmNotLeftHanded switch to the lightsaber styles they're most proficient in]], and Dooku realizes [[UnderestimatingBadassery just how badly he's underestimated them]].

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* Q towards Picard in ''Series/StarTrekTheNextGeneration''. Q was an omnipotent being who appeared periodically in TNG, starting with the first episode. He and the rest of his race (the Q Continuum) had decided the human race was dangerous and needed to be destroyed, but then some humans saved the lives of some other aliens, and the Q stopped observing and started interacting directly with humans, particularly Picard. Why didn't they just destroy the human race immediately when they decided people were too dangerous? Q doesn't stay in a very adversarial position towards Picard, but he isn't all that kind, either.
** Q also picks a fight with Capt. Sisko of ''Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine'', provoking Sisko to punch him and knock him down. Again, Q seems to be pulling his punches, given what he can do.
** ''Literature/TheQContinuum'' series of novels shows what Q-level beings can do to mortals when they aren't holding back so much. An entire empire was wiped out when the main antagonist 0 ''triggered a supernova'' out of pure spite. When the AxCrazy 0 appears on the Enterprise, he easily murders a young crewman who got in his way, and nothing the rest of the crew tries can stop him. The crew is completely helpless against this MadGod.

[[folder:Newspaper Comics]]
* ComicStrip/BeetleBailey is sometimes shown as such a better runner than Sarge that he can annoy him further by reading a newspaper while being chased by him.

* In Horse Racing, the handicapping system means that owners want their horses to win by as small a margin as possible.
** Or more probably that bookmakers don't want everyone to simply pile on bets on the "known best" horse.
* In the old days of Japanese UsefulNotes/MixedMartialArts, advantaged fighters like Wrestling/MasakatsuFunaki and Wrestling/KazushiSakuraba often toyed with their opponents instead of finishing them right away, in order to build drama and entertain the audience.
* It's believed that judoka Wrestling/MasahikoKimura played with Hélio Gracie for most of their legendary duel to give a more interesting fight. Considering how easily he finished Gracie once he decided he had to put an end to the thing, it is more than probable.
* Infuriated that opponent Ernie Terrell persisted in calling him by his former name "Cassius Clay," UsefulNotes/MuhammadAli declared before their 1967 fight that a knockout was "too good" for Terrell. After dominating the fight for the first seven rounds, Ali started taunting Terrell in the eighth, shouting "What's my name?" over and over when it became obvious that Terrell was unable to do any damage. Ali boxed Terrell for the full distance, embarrassing Terrell instead of going for the finish.[[labelnote:Note]]Defenders of both Ali and Terrell have argued that Ali was playing it safe as opposed to intentionally toying with Terrell, but the popular notion still stands.[[/labelnote]]

[[folder: Tabletop Games]]
* In ''TabletopGame/MagicTheGathering'', a player in a casual tournament may ask the opponent whether they would prefer a chance to pull an interesting surprise or just a quick kill. Don't expect them to leave you more than one point of life though.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''VideoGame/{{Touhou}}'':
** [[RealityWarper Yukari Yakumo]] is so powerful that she could win any fight instantly by snapping her fingers and literally eradicating the opponent from reality. However, she never uses her full power because she wants the fight to not be too one-sided.
** Main character Reimu Hakurei, meanwhile, has a power which literally equates to "become impossible to touch with any attack for as long as I want, while I can attack you freely". The only reason she is even ''capable'' of losing a fight is because she holds back; she declares you the victor if you manage to survive against her for thirty seconds while she's using it. Also, if anyone actually tried to kill her they might destroy Gensokyo, so the fact that she enforces a system of nonlethal duels is if anything a mercy.
** Yuugi Hoshiguma carries a shallow dish filled with sake into battle, apparently having challenged herself to battle without spilling it. Her sake [[Memes/{{Touhou}} not even drop!]]
** This is generally true in ''Touhou'' with the nonlethal spellcard system which allows the weak to have a fair chance of defeating the obscenely strong. This is the only way anyone can have any chance at defeating [[RealityWarper Yukari]], [[WorldsStrongestMan Yuuka]], [[NukeEm Utsuho]], [[OneHitKO Yuyuko]], [[{{Immortality}} Mokou/Kaguya]], or the rest of the Gensokyan SuperpowerLottery winners. This also means that the difficulty of beating a character can vary wildly depending on how much they even feel like fighting - the aforementioned Yuyuko was the FinalBoss of ''PerfectCherryBlossom'', where she was the BigBad. She returns in a later game as a stage 1 boss, where she's fighting very halfheartedly instead of giving all she has to see her plan to fruition.
** In ''Fairy Wars'', [[SmallNameBigEgo Cirno]] fights [[WaveMotionGun Marisa]] as an EX boss. Marisa holds back quite a bit, taking the occasion to try out some untested spellcards and replacing her trademark Master Sparks with "Flashlight Sparks" that only drain motivation instead of dealing any damage. Cirno eventually "wins", but emerges from the battle much worse for the wear than Marisa, though the magician has to admit [[NotSoHarmlessVillain she was a surprisingly strong opponent]].
* ''[[VideoGame/DarkForcesSaga Jedi Outcast]]'': At the end of the second level, before [[PlayerCharacter Kyle Katarn]] has regained his Force powers, the evil Jedi Desann deliberately challenges him to defeat him without them. Mostly, he'll just stand there and deflect whatever attacks the player throws at him. It's all part of a BatmanGambit to make Kyle look to regain his powers.
* ''VideoGame/BaldursGate II'':
** In a side quest, Firkraag, a powerful red dragon with a grudge against the PlayerCharacter's dead mentor Gorion, takes the guise of a human to lure the characters to his lands to perform what sounds like standard heroic mercenary work. Then he sets them to kill some paladins (through an illusion that makes each party see the other as monsters) to ruin their reputation. Once the party has fought its way down through his lair, he appears in his true form and explains that he just wanted to torture Gorion's spirit, and can't be bothered to kill the protagonist just then, unless they really insist on it, recommending that they just be on their way. He's powerful enough in a fight that this arrogance isn't entirely unwarranted.
** In the main plot, [[BigBad Irenicus]] has the PlayerCharacter and their allies at his mercy after just [[spoiler:stealing the souls of two of them]]. His pragmatic mind finds no more use for them, but when he gives them to [[TheDragon Bodhi]] to dispose of, she decides to give them a MercyLead in a convenient nearby labyrinth full of challenges and enemies before hunting them down. Or that's what she says, anyway, as she eventually shows up from the front rather than behind and explains she had no intention of keeping any deal. GameplayAndStorySegregation steps in at this point, because in game terms Bodhi would have to be completely foolish to think she is in no risk trying to stop the party (which she just re-armed herself) with the help of the handful of vampires she has with her. It becomes a moot point anyway when [[spoiler: the player character's SuperpoweredEvilSide makes its first appearance.]]
* The'Galin from ''VideoGame/AdventureQuest'' is a plot-guided HopelessBossFight for most players and a BonusBoss for high-end players. He is also the God of Uncreation and intentionally allows the player to futilely attack him as he toys back and inevitably defeats the player.
* In ''VideoGame/TheLegendOfZeldaSkywardSword'', Ghirahim does this with Link in their first duel, and even does this in their second fight, but less held back. By the time they reach their third duel [[spoiler:Ghirahim assumes his [[OneWingedAngel true form]] and stops holding back, but at this point Link has [[VillainForgotToLevelGrind closed the gap]].]]
* It's sometimes thought that Franchise/SonicTheHedgehog does this with most of his enemies; for example, how else would a [[VideoGame/SonicAdventure2 humongous truck]] be able to keep up with a hedgehog who can break the sound barrier?
* ''Warcraft'' universe:
** Originally, in the background story as recounted ''VideoGame/{{Warcraft}} II: Tides of Darkness'', Aegwynn had fought and defeated "[[DemonLordsAndArchDevils the Daemonlord]] Sargeras". Later, when Sargeras was shown as a more powerful GodOfEvil, a RetCon made it so that he had only sent an avatar and held back, [[FightingAShadow pretending to be defeated]] so that he could possess Aegwynn and later his son Medivh, using the latter to attempt to destroy the world.
** Happens quite a few times in ''VideoGame/WorldOfWarcraft''.
*** Most notably with the Lich King, who outright states he was just messing with you to see how strong you were. After he says this, he instantly kills the entire raid. Luckily, his good counterpart, Tirion, has the MacGuffin and uses it to save everyone.
*** The more powerful Titanic Watchers. You literally cannot kill most of them (Algalon is not killed, he just decides to leave after seeing how hard everyone fought, and send a message to the Titans that Azeroth IS worth saving) and they have powers like instantly sucking raiders into black holes.
* The fight against Gades in Parcelyte is this in ''VideoGame/LufiaCurseOfTheSinistrals''. And even then he's a hell of a WakeUpCallBoss.
* In ''VideoGame/YuGiOhCapsuleMonsterColiseum'', if Marik destroys half of your monsters when you were winning, he'll claim he was only toying with you.
* The {{final boss}} of ''VideoGame/Portal2'' says that there's no need for the [[DeadlyGas neurotoxin]], because the rest of the plan is so good. [[ILied Aperture Science robots are not known for their honesty]].
* ''Franchise/DevilMayCry'': The third and fourth games have Dante's fights against Lady and Nero respectively. While Lady and Nero are trying their hardest to kill him, Dante is having fun and treating it like a game.

* ''Webcomic/SluggyFreelance''
** In "The Stormbreaker Saga", the demon K'Z'K the Soul-Collector is in the process of conquering the medieval kingdoms of Mercia and Trent, but he's not in any hurry about it -- at least until he finds out his old enemy Torg is also there and might be able to use ''[[TomeOfEldritchLore The Book of E-Ville]]'' against him, at which point he sends an army to kill everyone.
--> "Master K'Z'K, why not just destroy them all?"\\
"Sure, my army could crush the Trents and the Mercians combined, but it's neater to watch the mortal fray around the edges. Such discontent causes more of them to grant me their souls so I can spend my time taking others!"
** In "The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot", Riff realises that K'Z'K, possessing Gwynn, is just playing with him and the others two put up a show to someone when he uses a previously deadly spell at much lower power. He's right; K'Z'K is trying to break Gwynn, who is watching the events from inside her own mind, so that he can take over her fully.
** In "Oceans Unmoving", Bun-bun remarks that the only reason he hasn't killed Calix yet for getting in his way is because he kind of likes him... especially when he can [[BreakThemByTalking verbally "crush his soul"]], as he then proceeds to do while at the same time demonstrating he could physically kill him easily.
** In "A Time For Hair Raising", the characters enter a spirit world and face two {{Jerkass Genie}}s, Zefolas and Fezeel. These two demons trade in souls and are virtually omnipotent in their own realm, but like to play a game of granting wishes to mortals in exchange for their souls rather than just taking them outright. They have no intention of ever ''losing'' the game, though, so they interpret the wishes however they like and ignore all that might cause them harm. Their only weakness is that they're still bound by any promise they ''do'' choose to make.
* In ''Webcomic/TheLastDaysOfFoxhound'', there's one situation where Foxhound, (the QuirkyMiniBossSquad from ''VideoGame/MetalGearSolid'') tries to save several members of Dead Cell, (the QuirkyMiniBossSquad from ''VideoGame/MetalGearSolid2SonsOfLiberty'') who have been captured. To start off, a pair of snipers start thinning out the guards in the compound they're attacking. One of them quickly takes out two out of three guards that are standing together, but keeps missing the last one by an inch, ''even when the guy runs inside''. When the other sniper comments on this, the first sniper comments "[[http://gigaville.com/comic.php?id=234 I'm just fucking with him]]."
* At one point in ''Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick'', among an evil adventuring party, Malack points out (rather angrily, given the circumstances) that Tarquin was doing this in order to test the skills of one of the enemies he was fighting. Tarquin apologizes and promises not to do it again.
* Coumadin (a Magicant temple priest) does this to Julie's group when they first fight him in ''Webcomic/OurLittleAdventure''. He does tell them he's not out to kill them before fighting, and it turns out [[spoiler: he just wanted to drop one or two of them so he could steal some of their stuff. He goes on to use the stolen gear as an offering to hire some help for the ''real'' battle.]]
* In Chapter Three ''Webcomic/CucumberQuest'', Rosemaster uses an AmplifierArtifact to go OneWingedAngel. She could squash all the heroes with only a little difficulty and allows them to attack so she can NoSell it. Then she singles out Almond--who is normally HotBlooded and acts the part of TheHero much more than her brother, the "actual" hero--and puts everyone else to sleep, proceeding to chase Almond and toss her around like a rag doll until the poor kid is in tears.

[[folder:Web Original]]
* A textbook example occurs in ''Literature/{{Worm}}'' with the supervillain zone Slaughterhouse Nine, who intend to use the city of Brockton Bay as a testing area to recruit their ninth member after the demise of Hatchet Face. They set up an elaborate set of rules and take turns testing each candidate, and Jack Slash, the leader, even agrees to give the local villains a victory condition: if half or more of their candidates remain alive by the end of the tests, then the Slaughterhouse Nine leave the town, acknowledge their defeat, and do not return for a period of three years. After several rounds, the villains realize that this strategy [[SubvertedTrope actually plays to the Nine's advantage]], because it forces people to ''defend'' against one member at a time against multiple possible targets and lets the Nine use their own infamy to prevent attacks and make it easy for them. The villains then turn the tables, attacking the Nine at every opportunity with lethal force, and by the end less than half of the Nine survive to leave the city, acknowledging their loss to [[VillainProtagonist Skitter]].

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/MyLittlePonyFriendshipIsMagic'':
** Discord, an evilly mischievous RealityWarper who displays the power to easily destroy the main characters, challenges the ponies to play a game to regain the Elements of Harmony, the only thing capable of defeating him. During play, he approaches each of them and manipulates them into abandoning the Element each of them represents before magically hypnotizing them into a bizarro version of themselves -- if his attempt fails, he simply brainwashes his victim with brute force, and even "wins" by brainwashing one character to break the rules. The result of this is that [[spoiler: he can just hand them the Elements, so he can watch and laugh as they prove powerless, and breaks the heroines' hope entirely. Unsurprisingly, this arrogance leads to his undoing later.]]\\
Ironically, Discord [[WhatTheHellHero implicitly criticizes]] BigGood Celestia for sealing him in stone at one point. Her [[GoodIsNotSoft decisiveness]] in dealing with her enemies brings to mind Creator/TerryPratchett's quote about how it's better to be at the mercy of an evil man, as he wants his enemies to know they have lost.
** In "The Return of Harmony", besides Discord, we also see Rainbow Dash flying in circles around her much slower aerial pursuers.
** In "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", the Flim Flam brothers challenge the Apple family to a contest of who can make more cider in an hour, with the winner getting to run all the cider business in town. They're so confident in their magical-mechanical means of production, which is initially going three times faster than the Apples are doing, that they casually agree to let [[TrueCompanions "honourary family members"]] help their competitors as well -- which they soon see was a mistake when they actually fall behind in speed as a result. Since in this case they were letting their competitors get an extra advantage rather than just holding back themselves, they can't just take back the advantage easily, and in trying to do so, they end up compromising the manufactoring process. Ultimately, though they win by quantity, the sacrifice of quality renders their efforts null; the result can barely be called cider at all and is unsellable.
* ''WesternAnimation/BatmanTheBraveAndTheBold'': In "Darkseid Descending", {{ComicBook/Darkseid}} agrees to Batman's challenge to a fistfight without using his "godlike powers" because he finds the idea interesting. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference in terms of power levels, because he's still got physical abilities on par with {{Superman}}. [[spoiler: Batman manages to keep him busy for a moment, in which time one of his allies pushes the "villain loses" button that sucks Darkseid and his army back away from Earth.]]
* From ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'': Azula to Sokka during the eclipse/invasion.
-->'''Sokka:''' Wait, I '''''know''''' you're a better fighter than this!
-->'''Azula:''' Oh, I know, I'm just wasting your time until the eclipse is over. And it looks like my Firebending is back!
* In SequelSeries ''WesternAnimation/TheLegendOfKorra'' BigBad Amon makes a show out of tying up [[ElementalPowers bending]] members of a crime syndicate (and one of the heroes who got mixed up with them) and [[spoiler: permanently removing their powers]] in front of a huge crowd of [[AntimagicalFaction Equalist]] sympathizers. This trope comes into play when, as part of his show, Amon lets the crime boss loose and offers him the chance to fight to protect himself. It's all the more impressive when Amon wins. [[CurbStompBattle Rather easily]], in fact. [[spoiler:His psychic bloodbending gives him a nigh unbeatable advantage.]]
* ''WesternAnimation/{{Gargoyles}}'':
** When Oberon returns and wants to wipe the Avalon clan off the island, Goliath challenges him to let them remain. Oberon's wife makes it more interesting (and to give them a fighting chance), and get's him to agree to fight with only "the strength of a child." He agrees, having been bored for some millenia. What he fails to say is that he'll have the strength of one of ''his'' children, meaning he's still leagues more powerful than four standard gargoyles.
** Also, when the Arch Mage is powered up by the Phoenix Gate, Eye of Odin, and the Grimorum, he goes into the magic version of ElectricTorture on Goliath, [[EvilGloating all while gloating]] about how he could kill Goliath with a word if he wanted to. When Goliath finally asks [[WhyDontYouJustShootHim why the arch mage doesn't just do that]], the reply is "Because I'm having too much fun."
* ''WesternAnimation/StarWarsTheCloneWars'' has [[BigBad Darth Sidious]] do this to [[BigBadWannabe Darth Maul and Savage Oppress]]. He begins the battle by telekinetically slamming them into a wall, and the only reason there's a fight at all after this is because Sidious releases them. He could have simply choked or crushed them right there, or at any other point, but chooses to fight them [[BloodKnight because he feels like it]]. [[spoiler: Savage is killed shortly after Sidious separates him from Maul, and Maul only survives because Sidious needs him alive to lure out Mother Talzin]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/SamuraiJack'', the Guardian of the time passage in "Jack and the Traveling Creatures" boasts that Jack can't beat him because he's ''not'' TheChosenOne [[spoiler:not yet anyway]]. When Jack challenges him anyway, the Guardian humors him at first by drawing a sword to match Jack's. Throughout the "fight", Jack is struggling for his life while the Guardian is laughing and grinning and clearly [[BloodKnight enjoying himself.]] Until Jack deflects his own rockets back at him, [[MyFavoriteShirt ruining the Guardian's favorite suit in the process]]. The enraged Guardian stops holding back and viciously beats Jack unconscious with nothing but his bare hands. He is moments away from finishing off Jack [[spoiler:when the time portal itself shows him a vision of Jack's FutureBadass self. The Guardian spares Jack, knowing that one day Jack will become strong enough to defeat him.]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/GravityFalls'' episode ''Dreamscaperers'', Mabel and Soos [[BattleInTheCenterOfTheMind enter Stan's mind]] to foil [[DreamWalker Bill Cipher]]'s plan to recover the code to the Mystery Shack deed vault for Gideon Gleeful. When they succeed, Bill - [[RoaringRampageOfRevenge seemingly enraged]] - quite literally TurnsRed and unleashes his RealityWarper abilities against them. When Dipper's [[BigDamnHeroes timely appearance]] reveals that ''anyone'' can be a RealityWarper in the mindscape, the gang appears to turn the tables on the dream demon, but as they try to banish him once and for all... surprise surprise, Cipher counters their attempt with nary a blink of his eye. Turns out Bill is way more powerful than expected, and he only lets the group live because they might prove to be "[[ItAmusedMe interesting]]".
* In the fourth season finale of ''WesternAnimation/TeenTitans'', the Titans try to stop Trigon the Terrible with a desperate plan; while Robin goes into the underworld to retrieve Raven, the remaining Titans will keep Trigon attention occupied with an all-out assault. However, near the end Trigon reveals that he's known about their scheme all along; he just considers watching them fight their EnemyWithout to be a form of mild amusement. When they win their battle, Trigon unleashes hordes of fire monsters with a gesture, forcing their retreat.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* Cats do this with mice in real life, in order to teach their kittens how to hunt, and on their own because it's the safest way for the cat to kill [[http://jennifercopley.suite101.com/why-cats-play-with-their-prey-a86865 without risking injury to themselves]]. By catching and releasing their prey over and over, they wear out their prey to the point where they're too tired to fight back.
** Cats who missed out on this teaching from their mothers may be toying with their prey because they're not actually sure what to do with it now they've got it.