Many a hero has felt this sentiment.
You've got to know when to hold 'em An Aesop
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealing's done
having to do with how You Can't Fight Fate
. Knowing when to just let go is a useful skill
. Good luck trying to tell that to the Determinator
. The Fatalist
, on the other hand, is quite aware of this wisdom.
The Trope Namers
is the Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler," which uses poker as a metaphor for life.
, if presented as a flaw, will rarely if ever know when to back down, even when it would be beneficial. Compare You Were Trying Too Hard
, which is about situations where folding somehow causes you to win the pot.
See also Screw This, I'm Outta Here
; Villain Exit Stage Left
; Opt Out
; I Surrender, Suckers
; Graceful Loser
; I Will Fight No More Forever
; Run or Die
; Switch Out Move
. List as #36 (and probably the first made) of The Thirty-Six Stratagems
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- In the Jackie Chan Adventures fic Queen Of All Oni, in the latest story chapter, Jade, being Dangerously Genre Savvy, leaves when it is clear the heroes are on their way, as she has what she came for.
- In Kyon Big Damn Hero, Daimonji was the only member of the photography ring who gave up rather than resisting. He got off the lightest.
- In the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX fanfic The Ultimate School Duels, Hassleberry folds against the OC Backfire in their duel when he realized he had no way he could win against his supreme monster. However, it was due to this action of Knowing When to Fold'em that ultimately got him the position they both were dueling for.
- In many game shows where All or Nothing is involved and/or contestants have the ability to stop playing and take what they won so far, you will get people that become greedy and try to aim for the big prize, only to lose everything or to keep playing against the odds because they figure they may as well go all the way instead of quitting.
- Deal or No Deal is a big example of knowing when it is a good time to stop and take the banker's offer. Far too often there will be contestants that will keep turning down offers and keep playing, even if they knock off every big prize amount on the board. This is a common fallacy in people that believe if they already gone this far, they might as well keep going to the end and try to get the big prize no matter how much they have lost. Once in a while, you will see players that wise up and cut their losses by taking the money that is offered instead of pushing their luck.
- At the end of the final battle in Animorphs. After it becomes clear that Tom plans to kill Visser One using his own personal Blade ship, the visser essentially surrenders to the kids once they arrive on the bridge.
- Similarly, once the Controllers on board the Pool ship realize what has happened, they surrender to the kids in exchange for amnesty and a chance to acquire the morphing power (to permanently morph animals and move away from parasitism). The surrendered Yeerks got off quite well, all things considered.
- In The Capture this is revealed to be a major tenet of Yeerk psychology: Yeerks will give up when the odds don't favor them rather that fight against impossible odds as humans do. This semi-defeatist mindset is presented to explain away the Bond Villain Stupidity of Jake's Yeerk, but later books are consistent with this, as it comes up again in Visser and The Answer.
- The mountain in The Farthest-Away Mountain, which would always stay the same distance away as long as you kept going toward it. You had to turn around and go the other way to get there.
- Diana Wynne Jones's Charmed Life has a garden that stays the same distance away no matter how long you travel towards it. It is bespelled so as to be inaccessible to people trying to reach it, so those trying to enter only succeeded when they had given up on doing so.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events
- The No Ending (except for that of the main plot) of the last book. Sorry, you'll never (ever) get all the answers, just accept it as it is...
- Violet realizes that their climb to the ascending hot air balloon in The Vile Village is dangerous and forces her siblings back to the ground so they won't get hurt, even though the Quagmires are on the balloon and it is designed never to return to ground.
- This is an explicit theme of From A Buick 8: Some things just can't be explained, like that Buick 8 in the police impound that shoots lightning, makes people disappear, and causes aliens to materialize from nowhere. Then the climax completely undermines this message.
- In Meredith Ann Pierce's The Firebringer Trilogy, the greatest and most legendary figure in the history of the unicorns is the princess Halla. Four hundred years before the events of the books Halla's people's lands were invaded by wyverns, first in secret, then in open warfare. When it becomes clear that the wyverns are too dangerous to continue fighting (they have poisonous stings and what amounts to armor under the skin), Halla orders the unicorns to withdraw and leave their lands to the wyverns until the time comes that the unicorns are capable of meeting them in more evenly matched combat. The main character of the Trilogy's been raised on her story all his life, but still can't quite stomach the part of the legend where Halla orders the retreat for the sake of survival.
- Atlas Shrugged does this with Dagny's obstinate refusal to abandon Taggart Transcontinental as a lost cause, despite all the evidence of its decline and predictions of its imminent demise (which turn out to be true). Dagny is eventually convinced to leave it all behind, but Eddie Willers never learns to leave the dying railroad/dying world and presumably dies with it.
- The Hunt for Red October: the Soviet admiral orders the fleet to avoid harassing the Americans after a heavy cruiser is subjected to a false attack. He knows the Soviet navy is wasting time that is needed to find the Red October and will be destroyed if the Americans decide to attack for real. The American admiral later says: "they make the first move, we up the ante, they just plain fold."
- Timothy Zahn has a few characters who do this. In The Thrawn Trilogy, Thrawn knows when a battle has been lost and, unlike most Imperial commanders, withdraws without wasting his men - sure, he's got reserves, but why spend them without a need? Pellaeon, back during the Battle of Endor, had found himself to be the highest-ranked survivor and had ordered the retreat. And of course during the Hand of Thrawn duology, Pellaeon was the one to look at his Imperial Remnant and decide to make peace with the New Republic, ending the war.
Thrawn: "You were expecting, perhaps, that I'd order an all-out attack? That I would seek to cover our defeat in a frenzy of false and futile heroics?"
Pellaeon: "Of course not."
Thrawn: "We haven't been defeated, Captain. Merely slowed down a bit."
- A continuing theme in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series is that sometimes you have to abandon an ambition in order to achieve other ambitions and/or live a fulfilling life. The main character of "Bitten", the first book, spends her character development deciding which of her conflicting desires to pursue and which to abandon. In later books, the trope is more subtle, but still reoccurs often.
- This is the hat of the Raven Guard in Warhammer 40,000. In the Horus Heresy novel Deliverance Lost, Corax specifically states that because his legion is smaller than the others, they would not survive a mass frontal assault on the traitor forces, and must rely on hit and run attacks
- In the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Kobayashi Maru, this is essentially Sulu's resolution. He decides the whole thing is a trap and elects not to enter the Neutral Zone.
- Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Owen Orzell in Home Free knew that he had no chance of winning once the Vigilantes caught him. As bonus points, he reveals that he gambles, tries to be very careful not to get addicted, and so he would clearly understand this trope very well.
- A Doctor Who short story, Useless Things, involves an alien invasion arrive on Earth, notice a police box on the street corner, realize that this is the calling card of the Doctor, who has a history of soundly defeating alien invaders like themselves, and wisely decide to get the hell out of Dodge as fast as possible. It's subverted; minutes after they leave, workmen arrive and remove what turns out to be an actual police box, the last of its kind to be removed in Britain.
- A mark of a good officer in the Honor Harrington series is knowing when it's best to do this. A clear line is drawn between knowing when to fold 'em, knowing when you cant fold and must fight until the end, and doing the latter to avoid being seen as a coward for doing the former.
- A specific instance occurs in Echoes of Honor. A surprise Havenite attack catches the less than competent Rear Admiral Elvis Santino completely flat-footed. His operations officer, Andrea Jaruwalski, tries to get him to fold, surrendering the system they don't need in the face of a vastly superior force. Santino responded by relieving Jaruwalski of her position and sending her away with enough of a black spot on her record to sabotage her career, then called up his command to meet the Havenite attack. Santino's entire command was destroyed. Jaruwalski eventually had her career salvaged with the help of Honor Harrington herself.
- Conflicts with the Solarian League, in which the Manticoran forces are so much more advanced technologically they can Curb Stomp vastly more numerous Solarian forces with ease, often feature the Manticorans trying to get the Solly commanders to realize they need to do this. The success rate varies depending on how Too Dumb to Live the arrogant Solarian commanders are.
- The Diane Duane novel Spock's World, combined with the story to which it is a sequel, teaches this lesson. Due to an inability to stop brooding about things not going according to plan, the Big Bad undoes all her accomplishments from the last time and ends up in prison.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love Lazarus Long ascribes his survival for over 2300 years largely to the practical application of this kind of common sense, and the one time he fails at it is the time Death nearly catches up to him.
Live Action TV
- In a Season 2 episode from Star Trek: Voyager, a strange energy field begins to overtake the ship, causing crucial systems to fail and the layout of the ship to warp. Crew members who come into contact with the field become delirious. After their efforts to prevent the energy field from expanding only make things worse, Tuvok recommends giving up and seeing what happens. Eventually, the field disperses, everything is returned to normal and the crew find a massive amount of data in their computers - evidence that the energy field was just trying to communicate.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Garak: "There comes a time when the odds are against you and the only reasonable course of action is to quit! That's why I managed to stay alive, while most of my colleagues are dead! Because I know when to walk away."
- Star Fleet abandoning the Deep Space Nine station.
- Likewise when the Dominion abandoned the station.
- Battlestar Galactica.
- Practically a catchphrase of Commander Adama in the miniseries pilot Roslin convinces Adama that retaking The Colonies is hopeless, and their best hope is to escort humanity's survivors somewhere safe from the Cylons. In You Can't Go Home Again, Adama is forced to concede that the search and rescue mission for Starbuck is hopeless. And in Lay Down Your Burdens Lee makes the point that 2 ships with skeleton crews cannot hope to hold off a Cylon invasion fleet.
- The reason Tom Zarek was such a thorn in Roslin & Adama's side for all four seasons, is that he recognized when he shouldn't overextend himself, and was simply smart enough to quit while he was relatively ahead. For example he wanted to assassinate Roslin outside the Tomb of Athena, but once Commander Adama and his men showed up he realized it was too risky and simply dropped the plan. One of Zarek's goons even urges that they go through with it anyway, but Zarek cites this trope...the goon tries on his own initiative, and gets killed.
- This comes up in the original Battlestar Galactica, too. Commander Cain (Lloyd Bridges) is in command of the other surviving Battlestar, the Pegasus, and wants to launch an offensive. Cain is brilliant, but wrong; as Adama (Lorne Greene) points out, two Battlestars, encumbered by a refugee fleet that is essentially defenseless and that houses the last survivors of their people, can't win a war against the Cylon Empire. They must run or die, and Cain eventually realizes that Adama is right.
- Oddly, Full House once used An Aesop very similar to this. Stephanie works hard to prepare for a school Spelling Bee. She doesn't just lose, she doesn't even get her first word right ("mnemonic"). Not willing to admit to being second-best, she challenges the winner to a private match. She loses again, on another word with a silent letter ("sarsaparilla"). The Aesop: "It's okay to lose, because no matter how good you get at something, there will always be someone else who is better." And that words with silent letters are tricky.
- Master Vile in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. He actually realized fairly quickly that he wasn't going to beat the Power Rangers, and he'd be better off cutting his losses and going home to his galaxy, where evil always wins. It can just as easily come off as him acting like a kid who throws a fit and goes home in frustration.
- The episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Reese gets driving lessons. The A-plot involves Reese's annoying co-student not letting him have any time behind the wheel - and when he finally gets his chance, someone rear-ends him by mistake. He assumes he caused the crash, panics, and ends up being followed by the police. The B-plot consists of Francis coming up with increasingly paper-thin excuses to get himself out of trouble. When Reese calls Francis for advice, Francis at first encourages him to keep looking for a way out - then, as everyone he's lied to marches into the room, he admits that sometimes the best you can do is end things "with class". This inspires Reese to return to the driving school, complete the obstacle course flawlessly, and then give himself up.
- Doctor Who. Most of the time, "Run Away" is the initial tactic while trying to figure out something better. But also, as a specific example for the antagonists, 11th doctor, after a speech. Ending of speech: "Hello, I'm the Doctor. Basically, Run." They run.
- This frequently happens on Pawn Stars to both the customers and the pawnbrokers alike when they're negotiating on a price for the customer's item. One of the parties will make a final offer when it comes to how much they'll pay or accept for the item, and then the other party has to decide whether to accept this final offer or simply break off the negotiations without making a deal.
- In Canada's Worst Driver, two drivers (Jason from Season Three and Mike from Season Five) gave up driving for good. Aaron from Season Seven came in ready to do so too as it turned out, he didn't have to.
- In the Finnish version, the judges decided to let one contestant go, because there was absolutely nothing they could do to help him.note
- The Parsian poet Archilochus wrote an elegy on the subject, possibly in response to the popular Spartan saying of "come home with your shield or on it".
One of the Saiôn in Thrace now delights in the shield I discarded
Unwillingly near a bush, for it was perfectly good,
But at least I got myself safely out. Why should I care for that shield?
Let it go. Some other time I'll find another no worse.
- Most heels, when faced with a situation they can't overcome, will try and employ some method of escape, such as intentionally getting themselves counted out or disqualified. Especially if they're defending a title, as normally they can't lose the title that way.
- A possible Aesop in the classic play, Death of a Salesman, where Willy Loman is told in so many words that he should give up his misguided dream of being a popular salesman and find a better life. This is further reinforced by the fact that the play makes it obvious he would have been far more happy and successful as a construction tradesman.
- In Electra, the main character is told by every character but Orestes to give up her mourning, to behave meekly and submit to the will of stronger people because she is only digging a deeper grave for herself. Instead, by the end of the play she becomes determined to kill her step-father herself rather than accept death with no hope of salvation.
- In many ways the Fatal Flaw of the villain of Tales of Symphonia, being a deconstruction of the Determinator.
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Lord Bulbin eventually realizes that he can't beat Link. He explains he always fights for the strongest side (with the implication that Link is now that strongest side), before he hands Link a key and leaves. Particularly surprising, as Bulbin had been the definition of a Recurring Boss up until that point.
- Portal 2: GLaDOS decides that she is so sick of Chell that she doesn't want to kill her anymore, just get her out of her life. So she grants Chell her freedom in the hope that she never comes back.note
- Parodied in Poker Night at the Inventory. When The Heavy is knocked out of the tournament, he will occasionally reference a well-known song from his homeland: "You must know when to hold on to your cards, and you must know when to burn them in fire. Because if you lose, you bring insufferable shame to Republic, and are sent to a work camp in forest."
- In Shin Megami Tensei IV, one option during demon conversations is simply to stop the conversation. Often times this will yield better results than allowing the conversation to drag on, which could result in thing such as the demon leaving without giving you what you wanted (e.g. Macca, an item, joining you) or getting a free turn, and this being Megami Tensei, enemies getting free turns is a very bad thing.
- Fallout: New Vegas has this as the central theme in the Dead Money expansion. Everyone has an obsession that drives them to the Sierra Madre, and only in letting go do they find relief.
- Christine's sole goal is to kill Elijah for what he did to her and The Brotherhood of Steel.
- Dean Domino has been trying to break into the Sierra Madre for over two centuries.
- Dog and God just want to control the body that both personalities inhabit.
- Elijah wants all the technology in the Sierra Madre Vault to rebuild and rule the wasteland. (You have the option of granting his wish - by permanently sealing him in the vault.)
- Even The Courier can run into this, as the Vault is filled with ammo, arms, armor, and gold ingots worth a fortune; but taking too much will slow you down so that you can barely move - while the timer on your explosive collar ticks down.
Elijah: "Getting in isn't the hard part..."
Christine: "...it's letting go."
Dog: "...it's letting go."
God: "...it's letting go."
Dean Domino: "...it's letting go."
Elijah: "...it's letting go."
- Showing that he is the kind of villain who actually learns from his mistakes, Archibald Ironfist of Heroes of Might and Magic and Might and Magic does not wait to be deposed a second time (he managed to rise to the throne of Deyja in the aftermath of the Restoration War) in Might & Magic VII: realizing that his Dragon with an Agenda (Kastore) seems liable to usurp power, Archibald uses the time of power he still has left to set up a place to evacuate to with his most loyal followers (under the guise of acquiring valuable resources, and with defences that would keep him safe ready to be re-activated). When Kastore makes his move, Archibald gets out and so can continue to scheme in safety, unlike the last time.
- Phase, of the Whateley Universe, handles power mimic Counterpoint by avoiding fighting him, so the power mimic doesn't get Phase's powers. It turns out in another book that Phase does have a way of fighting a power mimic, but it's lethal.
- Avatar The Last Airbender does this a lot:
- The Gaang convince La Résistance after Omashu fell that living to fight another day would be better, and they help get the civilians out of the town.
Omashu itself fell so quickly because Bumi surrendered immediately, figuring they were in no position to accomplish anything by fighting back. He even willingly remained in a prison he could break out of until he thought the time was right. When that moment comes ("An eclipse. That'll do it. ") he sure as hell seized upon it.
- When the invasion during the eclipse fails, the troops decide that Aang and his friends should flee with Appa, while the rest of them surrender instead of fighting a battle that has become impossible to win.
- Same goes for the Firelord himself, who knows that an invasion is planned and that he and his guards will be severely weakened during the eclipse. So he decides to not be in his throne room. And not in his secret bunker either. Instead he hides in a second secret bunker and sit the whole thing out.
- Also, when Aang comes to the conclusion that he won't be able to fully master his abilities before the day of the comet, he decides to let the enemies use their trump card and sit it out. But it turns out he doesn't have the luxury.
- Used occasionally in the Jumanji animated series. In one instance, the main characters met a man who was trapped in the game and couldn't escape until he accepted the fact that he was stuck there forever ("Try as you might to escape your fate/You'll never pass through the gateless gate"). Once he gave up on getting free, he was freed. The kids once got a similar clue ("There's one way out, the price you know/Save yourselves and let it go"), which they solved when they chose not to obey it.
- Winx Club
- A textbook example of the dissonance between going down fighting and Knowing When To Fold Them: Timmy is threatening the Trix (pillaging a Codex from Red Fountain) with his weapon... until he realizes that the Trix are much more powerful than he is, and decides that he's better off figuring out a way to defeat them later. Tecna sees this and calls him a coward for not fighting. However, 4K simply discards this issue and replaces it with an anti-violence spell. Video.
- Another episode sort of touches on it, by which we mean, we literally get one line that only kinda hints at it:
Tressa (daughter of said queen): I failed as a warrior and as a daughter. My friends were fighting to protect the queen. And I froze with fear!
Layla: Well, fear is a part of courage.
- Again, 4K removes this (Layla's line now becomes "No one blames you"), and actually plays up the "Tressa is a coward, and it hurts her more since she's the queen's daughter" angle. Thankfully (maybe), this summary calls this version of the story out on it.
- Hey Arnold! plays this card a few times:
- "Phoebe Takes the Fall" has Helga making Phoebe throw the qualifier for a citywide academic bowl so she can get a chance to one-up her much-accomplished sister for once. After long and hard studying, mostly with Phoebe, she has a nightmare where Arnold confronts her during the quiz to ask her why she's competing instead of Phoebe. She lampshades the dream before dismissing it... but ends up feeling guilty for nipping Phoebe's chances in the bud and has Phoebe compete anyway. Despite being training-free, Phoebe wins, and on the very same question Helga's sister had missed, too.
- "Harold vs. Patty" has Harold training with Patty, who had humiliated him in arm-wrestling, twice, in preparation for an arm-wrestling tournament. Guess who meets who in the finals? Patty beats Harold yet again, but this time, Harold stands up to the classmates who'd heckled him for his earlier two losses. Did we mention that Patty is a girl?
- When in a non-stop contest against his wife. Coach Jack states he first got to date his now wife by forfeiting the game and letting her win. He later does this at the end of the episode and they get back together.
- In Batman Beyond, Jerk Jock Nelson is bullying Willy Watt. When Terry steps up to defend him (Nelson has witnessed Terry kicking the asses of a Jokerz gang), Nelson considers it for a moment and backs down.
- Transformers Prime gives us Silas, head of the terrorist organization M.E.C.H. He's made no secret his desire to obtain Cybertronian tech for his own ends. However, if it looks as if the tide of battle is turning against him, he has no problem ordering a strategic withdrawal, happy to use what information he's gleaned for the next encounter. It's notable that Optimus Prime compares him to Megatron.
- In Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. A goon walks in as Batman is snooping around. When all the other mooks would attack Batman and get their butts handed to them, he brilliantly decides to just close the door and pretend that he did not see him.