Failure Gambit

"See? Being defeated by the Mazoku was precisely the cathartic jolt he needed to resolve his inner turmoil and pay off his guilt."
Itsuki, YuYu Hakusho

Let's face it. Sometimes a villain's (and occasionally even a hero's) great big, all-encompassing master plan can be... a little convoluted. It might not even make complete sense even after it's finally been thoroughly explained, maybe through a series of flashbacks, at the end of the day. But it's a special kind of deviant who is able to conjure a plan so incredibly obtuse that it hinges on his or her own defeat, and will inevitably fail should they happen to win. Somehow, some way, someone has managed to twist the plot completely on its ass to the point that the only way for them to win is to lose, and the only way to lose is to win. That Magnificent Bastard.

This presents an especially dangerous situation to their opponent, because he or she is usually out of the loop on this grand master plan. After all, what can the unwitting hero do when beating the bad guy means ending the world, and losing will actually save it? Sometimes a character seeks to become a political martyr in order to inspire others to take action after his or her crippling defeat (Inspirational Martyr), others he might be tied to some ultimate power which will unleash itself upon his death (My Death Is Just the Beginning). Still others don't seem to make any sense until after the plan has played out successfully—surprise! Turns out that ass-kicking you just gave him was all he needed to transcend the mortal coil and become a god.

The bottom line is, this is what you get when a character deliberately sets out to fail for some intended positive outcome. The failure of such a plan—that is, accidentally succeeding, or failing to fail—results in a Springtime for Hitler. Note that a scheme which has a beneficial outcome for the schemer whether he/she succeeds or fails is not an example of this trope, but of a Xanatos Gambit. In order to qualify here, the plan must be thought of well in advance, and it must completely hinge on failure. Without the threat of the plan failing if one fails to fail, it fails to qualify.

The plan usually relies to some extent on a Batman Gambit, and often one's only hope of overcoming the plan is to Sheathe Your Sword... or occasionally Take a Third Option.

The inverse of this trope is a Pyrrhic Victory—a successful endeavor which ultimately results in an undesirable outcome, which is usually what the opposing party of a Failure Gambit planner experiences. Gone Horribly Right also arguably qualifies. A Failure Gambit often overlaps with I Let You Win. A character who plans on taking harm in such a plan overlaps with Deliberate Injury Gambit. A character seeking to end his or her own life with such a plan also falls under Suicide by Cop, as well as Thanatos Gambit.

Springtime for Hitler is a Sub-Trope—specifically, a failed Failure Gambit. See also Throwing the Fight for a sports version.


WARNING: This trope is often an Ending Trope, and thus its examples contain many spoilers. Unmarked spoilers. You have been warned.

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • Code Geass. The ending of the series is an example of this, as well as Thanatos Gambit and Zero-Approval Gambit, as Lelouch, now emperor of Britannia, intentionally makes himself the enemy of the world and then dies a martyr's death at the hands of Suzaku, who is disguised as Zero, the hero of the people. This plan—the "Zero Requiem"—results in most of the world's strife being blamed on the tyrannical Lelouch, and ultimately unites humanity, just as Lelouch had hoped to do.
  • Liar Game. Players of the Liar Game Tournament are forced to participate and pay an enormous debt if/when they lose. At first, the goal appears to be to win each round and move on to the next round with large amounts of money as winnings. However, the real way to win the game is to deliberately lose and drop out of the game while hauling in a profit. But because it's a zero-sum game (one person winning means another person loses), Nao and Akiyama's goal is to win and move on to the next round while shouldering an enormous debt, using all of their winnings to zero out the debt of their teammates and/or opponents so that they can all safely drop out of the game.
    • The final game turns into this: with both surviving teams tied at 1 hit point each, neither team can attack the other without dropping their hit points to 0. Under the game rules, nobody can win the prize money anymore... so Akiyama suggests that they use a loophole and perform a filibuster. Since the Liar Game office officially stated that any lie told by the sponsors means paying everyone in the game a huge sum of money, and they said that the game would not kill anyone and would have a winning team, that means they could hold out with food supplies and force the sponsors into paying the lie penalty. So basically, they created a situation where failure is the only option, but that failure is now directed towards the game sponsors.
  • Naruto:
    • Itachi Uchiha had planned for his brother Sasuke to kill him in order to make Sasuke a hero of Konoha village in a Zero-Approval Gambit/Thanatos Gambit. Unfortunately for him, further manipulation by Tobi just manages to make Sasuke hate Konoha.
    • Tobi's plan in Naruto the Movie: Road to Ninja. It banked on Naruto winning in a specific way so the Kyuubi's seal would be weakened in the same way it was for Kushina after his birth. Though Tobi even remarked that Naruto performed a lot more admirably than expected.
  • Paranoia Agent. Though it's never fully explained why, the only way that Lil' Slugger/Shonen Bat is finally thwarted and life restored to some semblance of normalcy is for the giant wave of paranoia that Slugger has become to devour EVERYTHING, resulting in the utter annihilation of the city and a strange inner-world revelation by Tsukiko that results in Slugger's ultimate erasal. The ending is so incredibly vague that it's impossible to determine if Slugger had planned this outcome, but given that he and Maromi are functionally the same entity in Tsukiko's mind, it could be argued that they both wanted only for Tsukiko to find inner peace.
  • Slayers. While his defeat in the first season of the Slayers anime was not necessarily intentional or foreseen, in Slayers Evolution-R, the villain Rezo reveals that he intentionally set up a situation in which he would be defeated by Lina and the evil lord Shabranigdo sealed inside of him would be released. In true Heroic Sacrifice style, he realized that this was the only way for the mighty demon lord to be erased from existence once and for all, making Rezo less of a villain at the end of the day.
  • YuYu Hakusho's villains have a habit of relying on these, usually in conjunction with Suicide by Cop. Toguro, as Genkai's former teammate, seeks his own death at the hands of Yusuke, her student, for reasons only speculated in the series—perhaps as a form of atonement, or to prove to himself that the decision he made to abandon his humanity was a mistake. The second Big Bad, Sensui, sought to go to the Demon World simply so that he could intentionally die there after seeing the world inhabited by the creatures he felt remorse for over formerly hunting and killing. The fact that Yusuke, a human-demon hybrid, killed him, was a bonus.

     Fan Fiction  

  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Terra deliberately lost to Duo to distract him from Sunstar and Luna destroying a planet... and enacting a contingency plan, allowing the surviving Stardroids to repopulate their race.


  • In Law Abiding Citizen, a regular Disproportionate Retribution training film, Clyde Shelton confesses to a murder because he wants to be imprisoned, as that becomes key in his plan, while ironically giving him more freedom than he would have had otherwise.


  • In Shards of Honor, the whole plan of the Barrayaran Emperor Ezar hinges on his losing the war he began. He had to kill his sadistic son to avoid another mad emperor, but also wanted 1) to give him at least an honorable death in battle, and 2) to cripple the war party for the next decade with such a resounding defeat, to ensure peace. So he began a war after secretly learning his enemy had a crushing technological superiority that would ensure the defeat of his army, led by his son.
  • In Good Omens, Newton—who suffers from a supernatural inability to work with electronics—is able to shut down a military computer network by simply trying to fix it.
  • Used by Sauron in between the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The White Council ejected Sauron from Dol Guldur, but this seeming defeat was actually a long-prepared move back to his real stronghold in Mordor.

     Live Action Television  

  • My Name Is Earl. In an early episode, Earl's El Camino is impounded with the bulk of his lottery winnings in the glove compartment. To get it back, he tries to help Randy get back into high school football and then bet on the game. Randy plays, but his team unfortunately loses. Earl then wonders what he's going to do, until Randy drives up in the El Camino. It turns out that he had made a bet as well...against his own team.


  • This is often a hidden goal for less affluent countries in the Eurovision Song Contest. The country whose entry wins the contest gets to host it the following year, an extremely expensive undertaking. As a result, many countries deliberately send bland acts that they know won't win, but they can say they participated. This can also happen with countries that did win the previous year and don't want to host it a second time in a row.


  • In The Men from the Ministry episode Conference trick, Lord Stilton and Sir Gregory send the incompetent staff of General Assistance Department to Paris' international conference to buy pieces of Venus in hopes that they'll screw up and end up with nothing (They can't afford to have landowning-rights on Venus you see). In this case it fails since the trio are so incompetent that they end up getting the whole planet, not to mention every other nation had the same idea.

     Video Game  

  • Metal Gear Solid. In the first installment, Solid Snake's goal is to shut down Metal Gear REX using a special key delivered to him by Otacon. Liquid Snake and his forces had, at this point, spent much of the game trying to retrieve this key from Solid Snake in order to prevent him from shutting down REX. In actuality, the key is the device that launches REX, and Liquid had counted on Solid Snake to make it through his forces and attempt to shut down REX, thus activating it. The reason it counts as this trope is that Liquid thought the device required three keys, and it turns out Solid Snake's key was all threenote ...and while Solid Snake eventually learned how the key worked, Liquid didn't know anything about it, so he still had to depend on Solid Snake unlocking the launch sequence because Liquid couldn't do it himself.
  • Final Fantasy X. Operation Mi-ihen early on is a villainous example of one. At first it seems like a Cooperation Gambit between the Maesters of Yevon, the Crusaders, and Al-Bhed to defeat Sin without the use of a Summoner. Utilizing weaponized Machina with the Crusader forces, with the blessing of Yevon's leaders even though it is a terrible taboo and all those participating are excommunicated. It becomes apparent shortly before the operation commences that the Maesters do not believe there is any chance of it working. The result is the utter decimation of Crusader forces and Al-Bhed Machina, leaving spectators and survivors with a sense that straying from Yevon's teachings was their downfall. Auron puts it something to the effect of sending the heretics to die and being left with only the faithful.
  • In Quest for Glory II, the Evil Chancellor Ad Avis needs a "Hero from the North" to fulfill a prophecy, so he summons elementals and sends them northward specifically so that they'll be defeated by said Hero.
  • In Town of Salem, the Jester's win condition is to get lynched by the town. The most common tactic to win is to convince town that you're evil (say, a Serial Killer or Mafia member) and therefore someone who should be lynched, which is game over for literally any other role.

     Western Animation  

  • South Park. In one episode, Satan fights Jesus, and intentionally takes a dive after the people of the town have all bet on his victory due to his overwhelming physical advantage. He then reveals that he made a fortune by being the one and only person to bet on Jesus winning, all according to plan.

     Real Life  

  • One tax dodge someone who was more-or-less broke would pull, was that they would sign a note saying they had borrowed a large amount of money, say $100,000, while only really receiving a fraction of this, say $10,000. They then declare bankruptcy on the $100,000. The person who has the note now has a legitimately non-collectable debt, and can claim the full $100,000 as a loss on their tax return even though all they really loaned the person was $10,000.