"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."Fights aren't always won with guns, swords, and may in fact not require any kind of physical combat whatsoever; outsmarting your opponent can be just as effective. Battling this way also saves resources — especially if it's a Combat by Champion of the highest-ranking members of each side. Even if not, it's easier to recover from almost being outsmarted and getting your pride wounded than almost getting outfought and getting your leg (or an even more vital body part) wounded. And some play it well enough to never get wounded in the first place. This is a staple tactic of The Chessmaster, the Guile Hero and the Manipulative Bastard alike and one way for the Insufferable Genius to prove himself. The Super Trope to The Plan. Someone who loses the Battle Of Wits are Out-Gambitted. Winners are often Badass Pacifists. If both combatants are particularly brilliant, can easily descend/ascend into Gambit Roulette or Xanatos Speed Chess.
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
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Anime & Manga
- The Final Battle of Code Geass R2 takes place on many levels (including large-scale army maneuvers and one-on-one duels) but the most important is the battle of wits between Lelouch and his brother Schneizel.
- Any fight in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Raw power is great and all, but the truly dangerous Stand users are the ones who use weak or peculiar abilities to devastating effect.
- Hunter × Hunter heavily focuses on this, the characters always go to battle with detailed plans or have to come up with something on the spot. The plans and thoughts that characters have during battle are always carefully explained, and very often they have to deal with things not going the intended way.
- Liar Game's whole plot is a battle of wits par excellence.
- Death Note had this as its entire focus. Well, that and Light doing cartwheels off the slippery slope...
- Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children sets up a battle of wits between Rufus Shinra and Kadaj. Kadaj believes Rufus to have recovered the remains of Jenova and to be hiding them somewhere, whereas he claims them to have been lost. The two keep hanging out exchanging quips and platitudes in a way that definitely suggests there is supposed to be a battle of wits going on, but they don't actually do much beyond that. Meanwhile, Kadaj's gang's brilliant plan to find Jenova consists of running around causing random trouble like the superpowered juvenile delinquents they are. In the end, Rufus reveals that he's been sitting with the remains of Jenova hidden on his wheelchair the whole time.
- Once every two Naruto fights turn out this way.
- There are several cases of this in Dragon Ball, especially when there is tournament because in that case, it's always about who can outsmart their opponent the quickest that usually is the winner.
- The premise of Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai is two teenagers trying to force each other into a Love Confession. Most chapters quickly turn into a game of Xanatos Speed Chess.
Collectible Card Game
- Subverted with the Trial of Head, Hand and Heart in ElfQuest. Rayek's solution to the Trial of Head is clearly smarter than Cutter's, but Cutter wins by luck. Rayek justifiably complains, but Savah, who's officiating, lets it slide because she knows the upcoming Trial of Heart will be more decisive.
- Spider-Man's favorite tactic for dealing with foes stronger than him.
- Hellblazer: John Constantine battles his foes by outwitting them rather than fighting them head on.
- Surprisingly enough, most of the battles in the Tamers Forever Series are quite strategic in nature. The most prominent example would have to be the battle between Piedmon and Gallantmon. Which essentially involved Piedmon using every dirty trick he could think of and Takato adapting to and countering these moves, all while engaged in an awesome midair duel.
- Death Note Equestria, being (as the name suggests) an adaptation of Death Note with ponies, naturally has this as the core conflict between Twilight Sparkle and L.
- The Princess Bride: Westley's iocane powder game with Vizzini.
- From Diggstown:
before the 10th fight
Gillon: Never try and hustle a hustler, Mr. Caine!
after the 10th fight
Caine: Actually, I believe it goes: Never con a con-man. Especially one who's better than you are.
- Hunting Humans is about a battle of wits between two Crazy-Prepared, supposedly ingenious serial killers, Aric and Dark. The fact that this information comes form a Something Awful review might suggest something about how well it works.
- In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty is Holmes initiating his Sherlock Scan to win the battle in his mind before winning it in reality, but Moriarty suddenly undercuts Holmes' strategizing with his own, so it's both of them having a fight in their minds. They both come to the conclusion that Holmes can't win the fight because of his injury, so the actual fight never happens because Holmes decides to Take a Third Option and pull himself and Moriarty over the railings and off a cliff.
- Sun Tzu's The Art of War is practically a handbook for these.
- Going Postal. Moist von Lipwig vs Reacher Gilt
- Lord Vetinari vs... Everyone
- The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden has a lot of these. While there is invariably a good deal of action involved, he seldom (especially as the series progresses and he plans more carefully) rushes into a confrontation with absolutely no plan whatsoever. The main plan inevitably ends up going wrong to one extent or another, but even if his backup plan ends up being completely useless as well, the nature of magical combat means there'll always be a Xanatos Speed Chess element to the confrontation that prevent it from being a pure slugfest.
- In The Legend of Drizzt the Thieves' Guild Artemis Entreri joined as a teenager had something called The Quarter Challenge. Four glasses of water on a table with a spinning top, one is poisoned, the challenger and the challenged each have a one in four chance of dying, supposedly. Entreri challenged his sadistic "mentor", lightly chipped the poisoned goblet so a small glint would be visible from his seat only, and stopped the table so the poison would be in front of his mentor, who had the foresight to take the antidote beforehand, but the antidote makes one very hungry so Entreri poisoned the cake he kept in his office, but he also had a Potion of Neutralize Poison, but the poison in the cake was actually crushed glass. Artemis Entreri achieved the rank of lieutenant for his multi-layered deviousness at the age of 14.
- A Song of Ice and Fire gives us these dressed in many guises. Even as more conventional battles for when you want to curtail whole massive wars of sprawling stupidity. For all Westeros seems to value brawn over brains, when push comes to shove, the series hammers home the lesson that if you don't fight intelligently with an eye to the long game and using every possible tool you've got and not just leaving everything to your army or your physical and numerical strength alone, you can and will wind up losing down the line.
- The Lannisters as a clan specialise in the pragmatic and calculated use of wits... and sarcasm. Tywin and Tyrion, in particular, are both masters: Tywin mainly through deeds, Tyrion very much through words. Cersei thinks she's good at this kind of thing. And, she is. Up to a point. The problem is, she could never be as good as she believes herself to be. Kevan is also a surprise contender to many all-too used to him living beneath his brother's shadow. Jaime, too, can also be a left-field surprise — when he gets his headspace right on a good day, since he's not just the Blood Knight many view him as. He rather likes avoiding stupid or, worse, plain boring fights if trolling will work, instead. It's just a pity they all turn their skills on each other as much as they do upon anybody else.
- Littlefinger isn't adverse to pitting his wits and words against all comers. And, by "all comers" we actually mean "the entire continent". Westeros hasn't realised it yet, but he's pretty much hung the Seven Kingdoms out to dry with his schemes. He's not so much avoiding wars as making sure that other people fight costly wars that'll benefit him.
- Lord Varys is a one-man, government-subverting machine. He schemes like others eat. Saying he battles with wits to do this is pretty redundant.
- Historically, this was Brynden Rivers' whole shtick as Hand to two Targaryen kings. Every time the Blackfyres tried to start rebellion, he undercut each and every attempt using information, spies, underhanded tactics and chains of shady strategies they (and even his own allies) would never stoop to or expect — including calculated assassinations of relatives at critical points. He got hated and exiled, but the cunning worked: the Blackfyres wound up epically losing every time they took to the field, becoming less and less of a threat.
- Numerous instances in Wolf Hall, but there's a notable subversion near the end of Bring Up the Bodies. Thomas Cromwell has prepared himself for a long battle of wits to entrap Mark Smeaton by positioning himself as trying to protect Anne Boleyn from all these enemies she's got. Thirty seconds in and Mark is boasting that Anne is desperately in love with him. Cromwell says after, "Well, there aren't many men alive who can say they took me by surprise."
- In Der Ring des Nibelungen's third opera: Siegfried, Wotan (initially disguised as a wanderer) challenges the dwarf Mime to a "Battle of Wits", with the wager being the loser's head, after the dwarf refuses to give him hospitality (all of thing was actually a scheme from Wotan who needed to give Mime an important information, the mere "Battle of Wits" was too with the purpose of Mime getting the information).
Live Action Television
- Sherlock. Insufferable Genius? Sherlock Holmes. Obsession with complex crimes? Sherlock Holmes. Similarly intelligent rival/arch-foe? Jim Moriarty. Other people might be in danger, but the fight comes down to who can be cleverer. Holmes wins by faking his death, having anticipated Moriarty's plan. However, the Season 3 Cliffhanger implies that Moriarty may have had an ace up his sleeve after all.
- Beetle Bailey. Beetle Bailey and Sergeant Snorkel are constantly trying to outwit each other as Beetle tries to avoid work or otherwise get on Sarge's nerves.
- The final confrontation in Planescape: Torment can be this, depending on your stats.
- The entire focus of the Ace Attorney courtroom sections.
- One of the side-quests in the Original Campaign which comes with Neverwinter Nights has you hunting down an Insufferable Genius escaped criminal known as The Stirge. When you find him, he offers to play a game of wits with you for his life. If you follow the example he gives you when you get to play the real game, you will inevitably lose.
- Bugs Bunny is the patron saint of this trope. Of course, most of his opponents come ill-equipped for a battle of wits, but are generally well-armed otherwise. Perhaps his worthiest opponent is self-proclaimed "super genius" Wile E. Coyote; in this case, Bugs uses Wile E.'s arrogance to his advantage.