Sperm competition is a major force in sexual selection, but its implications for mating–system and life–history evolution are only beginning to be understood. The well–known sneak–guard model predicts that sneaks will win in sperm competition. We now provide empirical confirmation of this prediction. Bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) have both sneak (cuckolder) and guard (parental) males. Guards make nests, court females and provide solitary parental care for the embryos. Sneaks include small cuckolders, which are termed ‘sneakers’, that dart in and out of nests in order to ejaculate between the spawning pair and larger cuckolders, which are termed ‘satellites’, that mimic females in order to ejaculate between the spawning pair. Using field behavioural data, genetic data and new mathematical models for paternity analyses, we show, for the first time to the authors' knowledge, that sneaks fertilize more eggs than guards during sperm competition. In addition, we show that sneakers are superior to satellites in sperm competition and, thus, that even among sneaks there are tactic–specific differences in competitive success.