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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.