Many a hero has felt this sentiment.
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 Namer
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
. 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 onboard 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 suceeded when they had given up on doing so.
- The No Ending (except for that of the main plot) of the last A Series of Unfortunate Events book. Sorry, you'll never (ever) get all the answers, just accept it as it is...
- 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 harrassing 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 NewRepublic, 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 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; it turns out that the police box isn't the TARDIS but an actual police box, and the Doctor's nowhere around.
Live Action TV
- 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.
- Practically a catchphrase of Commander Adama in the revived Battlestar Galactica. 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.
- Also in the revived Battlestar Galactica, 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.
- 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.
- Goblins - When facing down Mr. Fingers, Dies Horribly is perhaps better equipped to make a strategic determination than Grem.
- The Order of the Stick - Hinjo gets the Aesop - delivered using this exact phrase. His city has fallen, and he'd rather stand and go down fighting, but, as the leader of the city, he could better serve his people by surviving and retaking the city later.
- The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the one that binds Redcloak. He refuses to give up, however many times he suffers personal losses and enables far more evil villains to prosper. If he did it would all be for nothing.
- Redcloak's younger brother Right-Eye figured this out too. He went so far as to renounce the goblins' god the Dark One, believing that the god's plans for revenge and blackmail aren't worth the deaths of so many of their people.
- Xykon has also learned this. When he is killed by Roy, he orders Redcloak and the Monster in the Darkness to retreat with his Soul Jar, rather than try to recapture Dorukan's dungeon. The reason is that there are other gates he can find that presumably don't require a person with a good alignment to activate them
- Vaarsuvius runs out of spells during the battle for the city, and instead of fighting, he opts to turn invisible and retreat to the ship. He doesn't regret this decision, as he believed that it was the smart thing to do, and he had nothing more to contribute, but he does regret that it had to come down to it, as he feels he wasn't strong enough to continue defending, and is haunted by the fact that so many died.
- 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.
- 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 severly 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 has 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.
- The Soviet Union implemented the Sinatra Doctrine when the Eastern Bloc nations began showing greater independence in the 1980's. The politburo was dealing with economic problems and could not risk an internal uprising.
- A story told to John Cleese during his school days: Two Roman wrestlers had been fighting for such a substantial length of time that the match had degraded to the two combatants doing little more than leaning into one another. When one wrestler finally tapped-out and pulled away from his opponent, it was only then that he and the crowd realized the other man was, in fact, dead and had effectively won the match posthumously. The moral of the tale, according to Cleese's teacher, was that, "If you never give up, you can't possibly lose" — a statement that, Cleese reflected, always struck him as being "philosophically unsound".
- The funny thing is, this was actually historically true at the Ancient Greek Olympics in boxing, wrestling and pankration (a hybrid sport, similar to modern Mixed Martial Arts). The match went on until one fighter surrendered, unless one of the fighters actually died, in which case the dead one won—after all, you can't surrender if you're dead*. It's the same philosophy that informed the old warning of Spartan wives to their husbands: "Return with your shield, or on it!"—in other words, win (carrying your shield) or die (your body returned to Sparta atop your shield) but in no case surrender (throwing your shield away to beat a hastier retreat).
- Regarding the Trope Namer, in poker, to "fold" is to pitch in your cards, conceding defeat and avoiding any further rounds of betting. If you don't know when to fold, you will lose all your chips/money betting on bad hands. It is sometimes best to fold even when you literally have an ace in the hole (i.e., in the hidden part of your hand). After all, even two aces in the hole can be beat by a pair of deuces on the table...if your opponent holds a third deuce.
- Blend an inability to do this with Logical Fallacies and you get the Sunk Cost Fallacy. "I can't give up now, I've already invested far too much in this!" The fallacy being to not realise that while winning it back is one possible outcome, losing just as much again, or even more, is another. You need to work out the relative probabilities, which is why poker is such a good analogy.
- Exhibited by large portions German military in the last weeks of the European part of World War II.
- The British retreat across the Channel at Dunkirk.
- Germany as a whole, to some extent, in World War One. They sued for an armistice while still occupying almost all of Belgium and a good chunk of northeastern France. They had the good sense to quit before their own territory was invaded. Too bad they learned exactly the wrong lesson from this.
- Note that Germany was collapsing badly by the time they sued for peace. The Kaiser had been forced to abdicate, there were daily demonstrations in the streets, and there was a real fear in the German government that Germany could go the way of Russia (ie. a Communist revolution).
- Tragically averted by both sides in World War One, especially in the first three calendar years (1914-16), when NOBODY knew how to quit. It nearly broke the French, reduced the Germans from the finest army on Earth to a mass of conscripts, and scratched the British Empire's can-do spirit of optimism raw. Subverted in 1918, as both sides were well aware that Germany had one more good throw of the dice — but one only — and that whoever won (or, in the Allies' case, didn't lose) the battles of the March Offensive would wreck the opposing side and win the war.
- Also attempted later that year by Austria-Hungary. They knew the war was lost and tried to negotiate peace while still occupying a good part of Italian territory, but the Italian launched an offensive and annihilated the Austro-Hungarian army, forcing an unconditioned surrender and hastening the German one (Germany originally planned to fight for the winter and negotiate a favorable peace, but with the mountainous southern border suddenly threatened by the army most experienced at mountain fighting in the world, they had to surrender far sooner).
- During the first and second Persian Gulf Wars, much of the Iraqi military invoked this trope as soon as they could find someone to surrender to. Justified because most of their troops were under-equipped, untrained conscripts, who wouldn't have wanted to fight even if they hadn't been overwhelmingly outgunned by Coalition forces.
- By the second war, most of them had been left in the desert with dwindling ammo and supplies and ordered to fight to the death, and the Coalition had already ordered air-drops of pamphlets (along with grain packets) promising mercy and humane treatment to anyone who'd surrender. The Iraqis weighed their options and decided being POWs was a far better choice than starving to death in the desert or getting shot for a cause that was already lost. American soldiers reported them jumping over their defensive walls, waving white flags and thanking them while kissing their boots.
- Soldiers nothing. The Iraqis surrendered to a UAV at one point (admittedly one that did fire control for the USS Missouri) and journalists.
- This trope is the reason The Thirty-Six Stratagems even exists. Some dude in Ancient China was not doing well in battle, so his strategist tells him: "Of the thirty six (i.e. various) strategies out there, a tactical retreat would be the wisest course of action", appealing to a (then not really existent) list. Later generations would go on to speculate what the other thirty five might be.
- The abhorrence of this trope was actually one of the reasons why Imperial Japan lost faster in WWII. Since the Imperial Japanese military defined honor as "do not surrender, ever," they wasted entire armies in suicidal headlong rushes at American positions. Yes, it made life for the American forces hell, but it depleted the Japanese forces far faster than it would have had they opted for hit-and-run tactics and allowed their men to retreat and regroup. But after two cities of the homeland being completely destroyed by a single bomb each, even the Emperor had to admit that the war "has turned out not necessarily in our favor". Worse, the Soviets were fast approaching their back door, and their analysis showed that surrender to the Americans would probably put them in better post-war conditions. And even then elements in the military attempted a coup d'etat to force the Japanese government into continuing to the death because of the stubborn pride they called honor.
- Japan's war on China was lost the moment they broadened it to include Britain and the USA. The Pacific War was won from the air and at sea, with the USA's island-hopping campaign being an accessory to the air-sea campaign and the ultimate culmination of thereof, ''Operation Downfall''. 'Entire armies' is a spot of hyperbole - what Americans of the time considered a battle, and an army, was rather small for a start* - and only small, desperate and usually starving elements of those Japanese forces did that to die in battle and avoid capture.
- During game 5 of the 2012 NBA finals, coach Scott Brooks - realizing that his team was getting blown out by the Miami Heat - gives a moving Know When To Fold Em speech to his team. This speech was given with four minutes left in the 4th quarter. The Oklahoma City Thunder had to win game 5 to take the series back to their home arena and still have a chance to win the NBA finals.
- Disowning and/or disinheriting a child. Sometimes a child has managed to cause such grave disappointment, damage or destruction to the family, its wealth, social status or reputation that it's the only way to prevent further damage.
- A circumstance we can all relate to: sometimes, one must choose between giving something up and/or letting something slide, or damaging/destroying one's relationship with another - as a friend or as a lover. Whether this trope is then played straight, defied, or subverted (doubly, even!) is up to you.