Tim Bowen's articles play a vital role in jazzing up any study of idioms, collocations, phrasal verbs or word grammar.
The verb play is most commonly used with sports and games on the one hand and musical instruments and music on the other and, of course, actors also play different roles. Most of the other words that commonly go with play form idiomatic expressions, most of which have some connection with the previously mentioned categories. The expression if you play your cards right, for example, has its origins in card games but means that if you do things in a particular way, you will be successful. This might involve playing the system (using the rules of a particular system to gain an advantage for yourself) or playing for time (deliberately delaying something so that you have more time to decide what to do).
It might be a good idea to play it safe (avoid taking any risks) rather than playing with fire (taking unnecessary risks) and you should always play it cool (behave calmly and not show that you are worried). In many situations the best solution is probably to play it by ear (decide what to do as the situation develops rather than planning what to do beforehand) otherwise you might play straight into someone’s hands (do something that helps the person you are competing against). If the worst comes to the worst, you can always play the innocent (pretend that you do not understand and that it was nothing to do with you), although in a very sticky situation it’s probably best to play ball (do what the other person wants you to do).