Created By: RavenWilder on December 9, 2011 Last Edited By: CrazyCatKid on June 22, 2014

Win By Losing

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Trope
A character seems to lose, but their "defeat" is actually part of their plan for obtaining victory. Like if a bank robber is caught by the police, but it turns out they wanted to get caught because, once sent to prison, they're able to rob an inmate's Luxury Prison Suite. Or like if someone is outbid at an auction, but is secretly the owner of the auction house and was only bidding on the item in order to drive up the price. Or like if a general lets a lot of their troops get slaughtered because they know this will prompt headquarters to send reinforcements, which will prompt the enemy to try and ambush those reinforcements on their way to the front lines, which will allow the general to ambush that ambush and crush the enemy army.

Sometimes we, the audience, know this is what the character's up to the whole times, but other times we'll be led to believe they actually have lost, only for The Reveal to show how this loss worked out for them in the long run. There are even times where the character using the trope thinks they've been defeated, until they come up with an Indy Ploy or start playing Xanatos Speed Chess, working on the fly to turn a failure into victory.

And, yes, I'm aware how much this overlaps with Xanatos Gambit, so there's no need to go pointing that out. Is also a big part of the Kansas City Shuffle.

Other related tropes: I Let You Win, Second Place Is for Winners, Loser Gets the Girl, We Win Because You Didn't.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In the anime version of Sands of Destruction, Morte switches one McGuffin for another so that when she loses it gambling, her opponent gets the wrong one. Unfortunately for her, the fake is quickly discovered, ruining her plan.
  • In the manga version of Yu-Gi-Oh!, other Yugi loses games twice, both deliberately to inflict worse punishment on the opponent than if he had won.

Film
  • Superman II. Superman is forced by General Zod to go into a device that will take away his powers and then required to Kneel Before Zod. It turns out that Superman had rigged the device to work in reverse, draining the powers of the three Kryptonian supervillains outside the device and leaving him unharmed.

Literature
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant novel White Gold Wielder. Throughout the series the Big Bad Lord Foul has been trying to acquire Covenant's white gold ring so he can break the Arch of Time and escape into the universe. At the end of the novel Covenant gives him the ring. Lord Foul kills him, but Covenant's ghost blocks Lord Foul's attempt to use the ring to break the Arch of Time and drains all of Lord Foul's power, defeating him.

Live-Action TV
  • In a sketch on The State, two people competing on a game show are appalled to discover that the prizes are actually orphaned children that they will be forced to adopt. They each attempt to lose the game (flubbing really obvious questions).

Western Animation
  • Attempted on South Park where the boys want to lose in baseball so they don't have to play anymore, but the opposing teams are better at losing than they are.
  • Filmation The New Adventures of Superman episode "The Pernicious Parasite". The title villain has used Energy Absorption to steal most of Superman's strength and invulnerability. Superman deliberately lets him steal all of his strength, causing the Parasite to explode.. Since the Parasite was only a human being, Superman knew that he couldn't survive absorbing all of his Kryptonian strength.
  • In Batman: Brave and The Bold - superpowered Batman surrenders to the Order&Chaos controlling Equinox after a harsh battle. But in the process, Batman makes Equinox see how unbalanced he is, and lose control, allowing Batman to green latern punch him into a black hole. Batman also does this to 5th dimensional Bat-mite powered Joker. He surrenders his mind to Joker so Joker can go inside of it and then be tormented by Batman's protrayal of a normal person Joker. Joker quickly surrenders his powers.
Community Feedback Replies: 29
  • December 9, 2011
    Micah
  • December 10, 2011
    Arivne
    This was on YKTTW a long time ago. Here are a couple of examples I gave to it.

    Film
    • Superman II. Superman is forced by General Zod to go into a device that will take away his powers and then required to Kneel Before Zod. It turns out that Superman had rigged the device to work in reverse, draining the powers of the three Kryptonian supervillains outside the device and leaving him unharmed.

    Literature
    • The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant novel White Gold Wielder. Throughout the series the Big Bad Lord Foul has been trying to acquire Covenant's white gold ring so he can break the Arch of Time and escape into the universe. At the end of the novel Covenant gives him the ring. Lord Foul kills him, but Covenant's ghost blocks Lord Foul's attempt to use the ring to break the Arch of Time and drains all of Lord Foul's power, defeating him.
  • December 10, 2011
    Tambov333
    This is Xanatos Gambit.
  • December 10, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    ^I'm not so sure. As the Xanitos Gambit page says, "It's only a Xanatos Gambit if all the plausible outcomes benefit the mastermind in some way." Probably a subtrope of Batman Gambit. Also closely related to Briar Patching.

    Not sure if these are also examples of this, or just related:

    • From the Trope Namer for Briar Patching:
      Br'er Fox: "I's gonna skin you and boil you and eat you up, Br'er Rabbit."
      Br'er Rabbit: "Whatever you say, suh, just don't throw me in de briar patch."
      Br'er Fox: "I know, I's gonna throw you in de briar patch!"
    Whereupon in the Played Straight version of the story, Br'er Rabbit escapes by burrowing into the patch where Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear can't reach him.

    • In the anime version of Sands Of Destruction, Morte switches one Mc Guffin for another so that when she looses it gambling, her opponent gets the wrong one. Unfortunately for her, the fake is quickly discovered, ruining her plan.
  • December 10, 2011
    RavenWilder
    ^^ Yeah, trouble with Xanatos Gambit is it's a lot more narrowly defined than a lot of people think. I'm hoping that if we have a trope that covers what people think Xanatos Gambit means, I'm hoping that'll sort the misuse issue out.
  • December 10, 2011
    morenohijazo
    ^ I would say Batman Gambit already fits there.
  • December 10, 2011
    SKJAM
    In the manga version of Yu Gi Oh, other Yugi loses games twice, both deliberately to inflict worse punishment on the opponent than if he had won.
  • December 10, 2011
    Rytex
    I suppose Aladdin could count. Jafar turns himself into an all-powerful genie, but it plays right into Aladdin's hands when he gets "Phenomenal Cosmic Powers... itty-bitty living space."
  • December 10, 2011
    Rytex
    ^ The Disney Version, not the on I have there.
  • December 10, 2011
    RavenWilder
    @morenohijazo: It's only a Batman Gambit if the plan relies on the planner predicting exactly how someone else is going to react. That doesn't necessarily involve turning an apparent loss into a victory, and someone can win-by-losing without making any detailed predictions about how others will respond.
  • December 10, 2011
    TechUnadept
  • December 11, 2011
    RavenWilder
    Huh, in spirit that's pretty much the trope, but the way it's written it looks to be purely a videogame trope. Maybe I should just take I Let You Win to the Trope Repair Shop instead.
  • March 1, 2013
    DRCEQ
  • March 1, 2013
    Duncan
    In a sketch on The State, two people competing on a game show are appalled to discover that the prizes are actually orphaned children that they will be forced to adopt. They each attempt to lose the game (flubbing really obvious questions).
  • March 1, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Attempted on South Park where the boys want to lose in baseball so they don't have to play anymore, but the opposing teams are better at losing than they are.
  • March 3, 2013
    Telcontar
    This isn't We Win Because You Didnt -- that's ensuring the other person doesn't get what they wanted or doesn't win something, regardless of what happens to you. I think this is covered by I Let You Win, however (losing is part of the plan), and that has examples from all media though the description could use a rewrite. Things like the related trope list from here could be transferred there quite well.
  • July 13, 2013
    DAN004
    Contrast Springtime For Hitler for when trying to fail result in winning instead.
  • July 13, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of Kung Fu Caine robs a bank in order to get into the local jailhouse where another monk is being held. He "robs" it by entering and politely telling the bank manager he is here to rob. He doesn't want all the money, just "what is customary in such cases." He then waits patiently while the bank manager gets the marshall.
  • July 14, 2013
    crazysamaritan
    Yes, I Let You Win is being used for this trope despite a narrow description.

    Get Into Jail Free is sometimes a subttrope.
  • July 14, 2013
    FalconPain
    I Let You Win was originally intended to be a video game-specific side trope of The Battle Didnt Count in which losing gets the player a Game Over but a win reveals (immediately or eventually) that the opponent threw the fight.

    This trope can afford to be split off from it.
  • July 14, 2013
    StarSword
    ^I Let You Win should probably still be taken to TRS and renamed. Misleading Stock Phrase title is misleading.
  • July 30, 2013
    Arivne
    Western Animation
    • Filmation The New Adventures Of Superman episode "The Pernicious Parasite". The title villain has used Energy Absorption to steal most of Superman's strength and invulnerability. Superman deliberately lets him steal all of his strength, causing the Parasite to explode.. Since the Parasite was only a human being, Superman knew that he couldn't survive absorbing all of his Kryptonian strength.
  • December 6, 2013
    CrazyCatKid
    In Batman: Brave and The Bold - superpowered Batman surrenders to the Order&Chaos controlling Equinox after a harsh battle. But in the process, Batman makes Equinox see how unbalanced he is, and lose control, allowing Batman to green latern punch him into a black hole. Batman also does this to 5th dimensional Bat-mite powered Joker. He surrenders his mind to Joker so Joker can go inside of it and then be tormented by Batman's protrayal of a normal person Joker. Joker quickly surrenders his powers.
  • May 31, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Bump
  • June 1, 2014
    DAN004
    Compare Failure Is An Option ykttw.
  • June 1, 2014
    Notthegrouch
    It sounds like a Pyrrhic Victory (losing by winning) seen from the other side. I think they're related, not the same, but they can definitely overlap.
  • June 22, 2014
    morenohijazo
    There's now the trope Failure Gambit.
  • June 22, 2014
    DAN004
  • June 22, 2014
    lakingsif
    Like in Man On A Ledge? Sam Worthington's character being up on a ledge is a distraction from his mates robbing the bank across the street, so to ultimately win, he's got to fail at everything he tries to show the crowd in the street for a few hours in order to keep their attention on him.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=gnq5cgz9s51oiowe295ozy3a