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Chessmaster Sidekick
"It doesn't matter who's on the throne... I govern."

Sometimes a Poisonous Friend's chief weapons are plans. Sometimes there's a Man Behind The Magnificent Bastard. In those cases, the result is a Chessmaster Sidekick.

The Chessmaster Sidekick is a master of these tactics who could easily overthrow his or her boss, but who remains fiercely loyal to said boss, for diverse reasons. This counts double if the master of the Chessmaster Sidekick is a Badass or a Strategist in his own right. In this case, the Chessmaster Sidekick is an Infinity Plus One Tactician.

If the boss is an idiot or otherwise incompetent, this overlaps with Hypercompetent Sidekick. See also Battle Butler, Sidekick Ex Machina and Guardian Entity.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Legend of Galactic Heroes, Kircheis, and later, Hilda serve as Reinhart's Chessmaster Sidekick: both have Reinhart's trust, and both save his life Hilda manage to Out Gambit Yang, who just managed to Out Gambit Reinhart: Demonstrating that she is the smartest Chessmaster in a series full of them, way to go, Fraulein
    • Then, Yang is a subversion of this trope: He never wanted to be more than the Chessmaster Sidekick of the Alliance, but its inept and corrupted politicians, fearing his popularity, and unable to see the man's selflessness, never believed he was content with his role and kept triying to constrain him, causing their own doom.
  • Askeladd to Canute in Vinland Saga.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist features Maes Hughes filling this role to Roy Mustang's Badass Strategist. Roy Mustang even lampshades this in the aftermath of Hughes's funeral.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Kurama is much more cunning and ruthless than the other members of the Tantei (even Hiei balks at the idea of facing off against him), but remains fiercely loyal to the team.
  • One interpretation of Yui Ikari is that she was one of these, since a flashback at the end of the series hints that she knew far more about what was going to happen than she let on.
  • General Blue of Dragon Ball is shown to be this to the Red Ribbon Army and Commander Red. Blue possessed superhuman endurance, superhuman strength, possibly superhuman speed, and Psychic Powers. Because of this, he could easily take over the Red Ribbon Army and dispose of Commander Red and Staff Officer Black if he so desired. Instead he follows their orders to the letter.note 
  • Head Maid (yes, that's her name) in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is the right hand of the adorkable super-economist Demon Queen. Besides tending the house, being her bodyguard and commanding her armies in her absence, she also makes sure she dresses like a proper Evil Overlord and gives her advice on her love life.
  • Ouran High School Host Club: Kyouya is this for idiot hero Tamaki. See Magnificent Bastard.
  • In Attack on Titan, Armin grows into this role as a result of his Character Development. He's easily one of the most ruthless and brilliant characters, but fiercely loyal to his friends and respectful of his equally ruthless commanders.
  • Ronnie Schiatto serves this role for the Martillo Family in Baccano!. Everyone is completely baffled as to why he bothers to stay with such a small camorra organization when he could probably take over the entire criminal underworld single-handedly (being an ungodly powerful Humanoid Abomination and all), and is terrified of the day he decides to turn on them.
  • In Beelzebub Natsume is clearly much tougher and smarter than his boss Kanzaki. However Natusme claims that he really follows Kanzaki because it always leads to interesting and fun situations, and so he's happy.
  • During the Tournament Arc, the protagonist Tatsuya Shiba from Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei is this trope to those who were participating, specifically the women's division as he is the CAD engineer assigned. Let's just say a lot of his strategies, plus him being Always Someone Better than any engineer in that building gave the women's division a winning landslide.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman to Superman in the Justice League. Superman's still stronger, faster, tougher, more intelligent, more durable, just as determined and a better leader but Batman is capable of taking down pretty much anybody on Earth, if need be.

    Film 
  • Torture Garden featured a variation on the theme. The twist? The cat was a demon that needed to be fed human heads to make his master rich.

    Literature 
  • The Fairy Tale "Puss in Boots" is Older Than Steam.
  • Similarly, Mercedes Lackey's novel Reserved For The Cat is based off of the fairy tale.
  • The "Puss In Boots"-inspired Maurice of the Discworld novel The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents combines this with Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
    • Appears in the Discworld novel Pyramids, in which the Big Bad may or may not be stuck in a Stable Time Loop and have been "advisor" to the entire royal family. As in, since it was founded millennia ago.
  • Capt. Dudley Smith from James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet, and, of course, the motion picture L.A. Confidential, is both a Magnificent Bastard and a Chessmaster Sidekick. He may not be the Chief of Police but he is both clever and manipulative, making the Los Angeles Police Department serve his ends.
  • Before the Star Wars prequels revealed the utter depth and breadth of Palpatine's Evil Plan, Grand Admiral Thrawn was often seen this way by fans. Thrawn was loyal to the Emperor, and seemed to be a much better plotter.
    • With the complete story of Palpatine's rise on the table, it was more like they were equals, but in different areas- Palpatine was the master of political and personal manipulations, while Thrawn was the master of military strategy.
  • In Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, Bel Riose apparently exemplifies this trait so thoroughly that his emperor, Cleon II, is later remembered merely as "Riose's Emperor". Much like the character's real-life inspiration, Belisarius, this results in his recall. Unlike Belisarius, however, Riose is executed for treason.
  • From the Belisarius Series:
    • Rana Sanga is this to Damodara.
    • Aide is this to Belisarius.
    • Irene is not only Kungas' Chessmaster Sidekick she is his wife.
    • Belisarius himself is this to Justinian and Theodara.
  • In the Harry Potter series, Snape is this for Dumbledore - and he'd be the Hypercompetent Sidekick, if not for the fact that Dumbledore is the most ridiculously powerful and cunning wizard alive. Of course, Dumbledore manipulates Snape rather shamelessly, and Snape has his own reasons for working for him, but they nonetheless seem to be friends.
  • Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan is this to Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, having served variously as His Regent, Prime Minister and Viceroy of 1/3rd of the Empire of Barrayar since Gregor was 6. Indeed, the case could be made that Aral had just as strong (if not a stronger) claim to the throne than the Vorbarras, and many urged him to declare himself Emperor and murder/execute young Gregor while he was Regent. He declined. A similar state of affairs can be said of Aral's son Miles to Gregor (although Miles would have far greater trouble holding the throne, considering his... deformities), Miles to Illyan, Illyan to Gregor, Illyan to Aral, Tung to Miles and Negri to Ezar.
  • The Marquis de Carabas - aptly named for the alias Puss In Boots comes up with for his master in the fairy tale - serves as a heroic version of this in Neverwhere.
  • In The Chathrand Voyages, Evil Overlords seem to pick these up:
    • Magad V, ruler of Arqual, seldom appears on page but is basically characterized as a spoilt, petty, grasping manchild with way too much power. His spymaster and chief assassin (and the real power behind the throne), Sandor Ott, is a Chessmaster and Magnificent Bastard par excellence. Fortunately for Magad, Ott's other defining feature is his fanatical Arquali patriotism. Magad is basically content to let Ott do all the work while he gets all the perks.
    • The Shaggat Ness, ruler of a splinter group of the Mzithrin has a massive god complex and is surprisingly charismatic when it comes to convincing others of his divinity, but is an Ax-Crazy berserker whose reaction to every problem is basically "hit it harder". Luckily, he's got Arunis working his butt off behind the scenes to make sure he comes to Take Over the World. Subverted in that Arunis actually cares not one whit for the Shaggat, despite what the Shaggat believes. Arunis is using him to kickstart the apocalypse.
  • Discworld's own Nanny Ogg is this to Granny Weatherwax. While Granny is acknowledged as the smarter and more powerful of the two, Nanny (who may be smarter and stronger still, but doesn't advertise) steers Granny in the right direction, usually by implying she shouldn't because Granny's such a contrarion she'd run over broken glass to go somewhere she was told she can't go.
  • In Heretics of Dune most people think Patrin is merely Miles Teg's assistant or aide. Later, Teg reveals that Patrin was a "tactical magician" who was "fully capable of taking over command of an entire multi-planet force". His low rank was a personal choice that allowed him to retain an awareness of the feelings and needs of common soldiers and civilians.
  • When the elf-emperor's fourth son unexpectedly ascends the throne in The Goblin Emperor, his secretary acts as this.

    Mythology 

    Live Action Television 
  • Noah Bennet, from Heroes, after the reveal that his Magnificent Bastardry is to protect his daughter, Claire.
  • This is arguably the role Spock plays in Star Trek: The Original Series. While Kirk is shown to be a competent leader, Spock is physically stronger, more technically knowledgeable, and has telepathic abilities.
    • Fits even better in the Mirror Universe. Mirror Spock could easily take over Mirror Kirk's role as captain, but is content to stay as first officer as it means he's a lesser target for assassination.
    • Fits better still with the 2009 reboot, as Kirk has yet to develop his legendary leadership abilities (or for that matter, much basic competence) while Spock is easily the most competent officer all around aboard the Enterprise.
    • In The Next Generation, Riker is deemed more than capable of captaining a vessel, but prefers to work under Picard on the Enterprise. Data follows Riker's example, remaining third-in-command on the Enterprise throughout the series.
  • Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes, Minister occasionally serves this function for Jim Hacker (when he isn't secretly undermining him).
  • Barney from How I Met Your Mother, though his schemes mainly involve getting Ted (and himself) laid.
  • Arguably, Merlin could be seen as this. He technically has almost negligible power (throughout the entire series, he never rises to a higher position than 'manservant'), but Arthur takes his opinion into consideration for a whole lot of things. Merlin could very, very easily manipulate Arthur to get what he wants. Its a good thing (maybe) that his unending loyalty to Arthur trumps everything. We get a taste of just how massive an impact he has, in early season 5, when Arthur is on a knife's edge in bringing magic back to Camelot, and Merlin pulls him back into hating it because he believes Arthur will die otherwise. A few words from Merlin in the right place effectively wrenched course of an entire kingdom, mythology and history. Yeah, he's definitely got power.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the old World of Darkness, the Ceilican (faerie were-cats) have a gift called Small Cousin that allows them to assume the shape and size of an ordinary housecat, while retaining their social and mental attributes in the tradition of Puss in Boots. They sometimes call this gift Blofeld's Cat, after James Bond's nemesis (who they insist was the cat, and not the man).

    Video Games 
  • In every Suikoden game, the tactician is the Chessmaster Sidekick of the Tenkai Star. In all games except the third, the hero leads the field operations while the Strategist devises the plans. In Suikoden V, if the player gives the good answers in some discussions, the Tactician will even claim that she is impressed by the intelligence and insight of the hero, which puts more emphasis on the fact that the Prince is not merely a figurehead.
  • In Final Fantasy XII, Cid is the sidekick of Vayne, while Venat is the sidekick of Cid. On the other side, we have an aversion in Vossler, who wants to be Ashe's sidekick, but end up betraying her and loses his life for it and a subversion in Larsa, who does not serve Ashe, but helps her regain her throne because he feels that an independent Dalmasca serves the interests of Archadia.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, Kefka reveals himself to be this to Emperor Gestahl. Or so it would seem.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, if you want Alistair on the throne you pretty much have to play this. Against his resistance every step of the way. Or, if you're a Human Noble, you may just take it yourself.
    • Lampshaded by Loghain during the Landsmeet. He accuses Arl Eamon of wanting to put Alistair on the throne as a Puppet King, but mocks him for not realising that he's being just as much "controlled" by the Warden.
    Loghain: You would attempt to put a puppet on the throne and everyone here knows it! But the real question is "Who will pull the strings?" *Notices the Warden's arrival* Ah! And here we have the puppeteer!
  • In the Sam & Max games, Max is perfectly content to let Sam be in charge of their duo, despite Max gradually gaining more and more power, both political and supernatural.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has Yes Man, an A.I who is programmed to follow the orders of anyone who gives him orders and has masterminded a plan involving the usurping of Mr. House and taking over Vegas in his place, free from the influences of the NCR or Caesar's Legion. While he starts off as Benny's henchman, he can be found by the Courier, at which point he'll gladly shift alliances once Benny's out of the picture for good. At no point in the game does Yes Man actively conspires against the player and will even force himself to accept counter-productive actions that he personally thinks is detrimental to his overall plans. Even in the ending when he states that he found an upgrade that allows him to be more "assertive", it's only meant to make sure that he can monitor Vegas by himself without someone else stumbling upon him and pulling the same thing on you.
  • Mega Man X: The main protagonists of the franchise are this. X and Zero are more than capable of taking down some of the most ungodly-powerful foes on earth alone, and because of it are very well established in the chain of command. However, they still answer and take orders from the Maverick Hunters' supreme commander, Signas, who is said to be as good in combat as his predecessor, Sigma.
  • Fenrich from Disgaea 4 is an unrepentant, scheming Manipulative Bastard - it's just that all his plots and ambitions are not for himself but for his lord Valvatorez, to whom he is impossibly loyal to.
    Hugo: Werewolf, what about you? I assume you're the man behind this conspiracy.
    Fenrich: My scheming is only made valid by my master's presence. I cannot claim credit for it.
  • The World Ends with You has Sanae Hanekoma, who wins with the Last Plan Standing and is suspected by precisely no one. While the heroes are focused on defeating the Conductor, and, later, the Composer, Hanekoma skips town before the happy ending, only to appear next to the Composer in the last shot. The New Game+ makes the relationship between the two more obvious, along with going into more detail regarding Hanekoma's decision to turn his skills against the designated chessmaster. It's one of those games.
  • Soren from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn is the strategist in Ike's army, and is fiercely loyal to him (and him alone).
    • The player character(s) of the twelfth and thirteenth Fire Emblem games serve as the strategist for the army and are fiercely loyal to the Lords.
  • Takenaka Hanbe from Sengoku Basara is this to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. On his own, his tactical prowess could be an even match for any number of the rival warlords. But, with his lifespan dwindling due to tuberculosis, he devotes it all to Hideyoshi.
    • Otani Yoshitsugu has this same purpose to Ishida Mitsunari in 3/Samurai Heroes. Basically his job is to direct Mitsunari's destructive anger at the right targets.

    Western Animation 
  • Porky Pig when he's the second-in-command to Daffy Duck.
  • Cornfed is this to Duckman.
  • Gargoyles: Even Xanatos himself has one. Towards the end of the series, it is revealed that his assistant Owen Burnett is actually the powerful fairy Puck. Oddly enough, he remains a loyal servant and even friend all the way. His official explanation is that "Xanatos is many things, but never boring."
    • Also Preston Vogel, who succeeded in a plan with Fox to steal Renard's company but backed out at the last minute because of personal loyalty.
    • To a lesser extent, Glasses is this to Dracon.
  • Transformers: In the 80s "post Movie 2005 era cartoon" Cyclonus was easily this to Galvatron. Galvatron at least could lead by example as he had the unrestrained gung ho and toughness needed in a fighter. And he certainly wasn't afraid of rushing headfirst into the thick of battle with no regard for his own safety. Cyclonus, however, was more intelligent, careful, calmer, saner, less violent, and wasn't prone to beating his subordinates around. Cyclonus also knew how to plan strategically and act in purely diplomatic situations. In most of the situations where the Autobots and Decepticons were required to join forces and work together, the involved Decepticons were under the command of Cyclonus. Possibly, Cyclonus insisted on preserving Galvatron's leadership due to their connection with Unicron. After all, they are his creations and when Unicron decides that Cyclonus is fit to replace Galvatron, he will let Cyclonus know.
  • Transformers Prime gives us Soundwave, who was essentially The Dragon to Megatron (until Dreadwing showed up). Soundwave not only keeps an eye on everything, he's also feared by almost everyone (with Airachnid learning exactly why you shouldn't pick a fight with him), to the point where Starscream kept trying to tiptoe around him/gain his approval whilst attempting to usurp Megatron. Also, according to one of the background novels, Soundwave almost bested Megatron in gladitorial combat. Megatron.

    Real Life 
  • Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the infamous Wannsee Conference planning the Holocaust, was the right hand of Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler who would've been barely able to survive inner-Nazi rivalry without his loyal Reinhard. Justified as Heydrich was a very poor public speaker, had no talent to win sympathy from the common people and was feared and hated by everyone, Himmler included. Even if he gained political power, he was not going to survive enough to enjoy it.
  • This is often Truth in Television in monarchies, when the king sits on his throne and the Chancellor, Steward, Prime Minister, or other top servant of the Crown actually runs things, as seen in the quote above. This is sometimes even an official arrangement, like the Japanese Shogunate.
  • This is arguably a good summary of how the government of the United Kingdom is run. While the reigning monarch is technically the head of state and the church in name, the elected ministers are the ones who have all the power.
    • And despite the prevailing wisdom that the U.S. President is basically King of America, what makes a great U.S. President more often than not it boils down who they choose for their cabinet.
  • Through numerous administrations and for many decades, the unelected J. Edgar Hoover ran his operations from behind the scenes and answered to no one, as he had detailed files on the financial and sexual foibles and failings of nearly every elected official in the USA and many prominent private citizens as well. Sitting Presidents and other politicians throughout his life generally either learned to get along with him or else stay out of his way.
  • William I of Imperial Germany had this relationship with both Bismarck and Von Moltke. They were more competent then he, being Consummate Professional's at the crafts of scheming and slaying respectively. However William was reasonably competent himself, sensible enough to use their talents effectively and a skillful enough leader to keep them working together instead of at cross-purposes.
  • Zhuge Liang, strategist extraordinaire for the kingdom of Shu. With his incredible knowledge of both military and political strategy, he could EASILY have become ruler of Shu and unified all of China. However, he was loyal to Liu Bei even beyond his master's death.
  • Flavius Belisarius was a Byzantine general whose immense skill left the Empress Theodora in constant fear that he would stage a coup, resulting in Emperor Justinian frequently recalling him right in the middle of a campaign.
  • Luddendorf to General Hindenberg in World War I.
  • Lin Biao was this to Mao Zedong, and for a time was considered the heir apparent to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Unfortunately he sealed his own fate when he leveraged his popular support and respect within the party to became The Starscream. Or so the official Chinese version says; in the West it's widely believed that at least parts of the official story are lies.
  • Lee Atwater, a Republican consultant who worked for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush's presidential campaigns and is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant (albeit controversial) political strategists in American history. In his own words, Atwater stated that he never had any ambitions of running for office himself and rather enjoyed being in the behind-the-scenes role.

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