Know When to Fold 'Em
You've got to know when to hold 'emAn Aesop having to do with how You Can't Fight Fate. Knowing when to just let go is a useful skill (which is probably why it is the final of The Thirty-Six Stratagems). Sometimes possible 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. The Determinator, if presented as a flaw, will rarely if ever know when to back down, even when it would be beneficial; a Determinator who refuses to back down from a hopeless battle and gets their ass kicked is a very common (and easy) way to show that the threats are getting bigger and that simple iron-willed resolve does absolutely nothing against someone who can jelly you in seconds and shrug off your very worst. A Combat Pragmatist, however, thinks differently, and would see that sort of attitude as foolhardy; he'll fight as long as he can (and fights dirty), but flees if in actual danger; quitting while they're ahead also sometimes happens, with the rationale usually being that they are not going to survive a prolonged fight and would be better off using a temporary advantage as a means of getting the hell out of there. Compare You Were Trying Too Hard, which is about situations where folding somehow causes you to win the pot. Serial villains in general owe a large part of their Joker Immunity to making escapes at the end of the encounter to appear in another. Good exit timing makes more formidable enemies than escaping a Cardboard Prison. 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; Sensing You Are Outmatched. Contrast Sunk Cost Fallacy, which this trope tries to avoid. Compare/Contrast Rage Quit; while both are about cutting their losses, Rage Quit is more emotion-driven while Knowing when to Fold 'Em is strategically based.
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
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
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Anime and Manga
- In an episode of Digimon Adventure 02, TK successfully convinces all but one of the Digi-Destined group to make a strategic withdrawal. Subverted when Davis, the one who isn't convinced, succeeds despite ignoring the logic, but only through pure dumb luck.
- In Ranma ˝ this is known as the Saotome Secret Technique, employed by the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts. It relies on speed, obfuscation, and contemplation. Or, put more plainly, run away and hide until you come up with a better plan. While introduced mostly as a joke early on, this is actually Ranma's most useful skill, as most of his fights are won less through sheer skill (Having just learned how to fight with teacups and teaspoons a few days ago), and more through outsmarting his opponents.
- In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Joseph's final super special plan consists of basically making the best use of his legs. In other words, to run the hell away. He usually comes up with a better plan while he's at it. It also seems to be hereditary. He used it again in the series finale. Smokey was not amused.
- One Piece:
- Luffy decides to order his crew to focus only on running away when facing Admiral Kizaru, Sentoumaru and Bartholomew Kuma, after having already exhausted themselves beating one of the latter mere moments earlier. Although not their first defeat, this is the first time they've ever run away from a fight.
- Akainu also demonstrated this at Marineford. After a lengthy battle against Whitebeard that resulted in huge casualties on both sides and very nearly destroyed Marineford, Akainu was still totally prepared to mop up what was left. When Shanks and his crew showed up, he pulled a 180 and opted to back off and call it a wrap rather than deal with someone on par with the dude who just crippled them in the first place.
- Blackbeard, after gaining Whitebeard's Devil Fruit abilities, opted to quit while he was ahead and get the hell out of there. Sure, he may have just gained an enormous power boost, but considering that he had very nearly been killed by an enraged Whitebeard moments before and was going to have to deal with the likes of Sengoku, the Admirals, the Warlords, and tons of other major-league hitters with something that he had no experience with using if he pressed the attack, he was very smart to take the safe road.
- Doflamingo also demonstrated this after Kuzan showed up at Punk Hazard and stopped him from killing Smoker. Yeah, he probably could have done okay against him. That wasn't the point, however; he came to Punk Hazard to clean up a mess and eliminate key witnesses to activities that he didn't want the World Government to know about, not fight an ex-Admiral, and he already had enough on his plate as is and didn't need anything else that could add to it.
- It is stated on numerous occasions that it is a trainer's duty to end the battle if there is any serious danger to their Pokémon (the first battles with Brock, Sabrina, and Blaine all ended in this fashion). However, this is pretty much a Broken Aesop as Ash will determinate himself through anything, even winning one badge when Pryce forfeited despite Ash ignoring the option to do the same earlier.
- Ash was also berated for making his Treecko continue to fight Brawly's Hariyama despite Treecko having no chance to win. It didn't help that he was almost ready to give up before, but Treecko got up anyway. Ash was pretty pissed at himself for making that decision to continue after he lost. We do run into the problem that Ash's Pokémon take after his personality; they all hate to give up.
- The Team Rocket trio did this for a good portion of the Unova arc. When things start going too far south, they get the heck of there instead of fighting until they're sent blasting off. It's worked much better for them.
- Also bit Ash in the ass during his first full battle with Paul. Ash was once going to withdraw Buizel, since it had taken massive damage from Paul's Ax-Crazy Ursaring. This would have been the logical thing to do, but Buizel gives Ash the thumbs up, signaling it can still fight. Ash leaves Buizel in, and it gets massacred. Ash was called out on this by Paul's brother Reggie who stated that Buizel was eliminated due to poor judgment by Ash. Moral: The trainer is responsible for knowing when a Pokemon should be switched out, and relying simply on faith in your Pokemon doesn't cut it when the odds are stacked against you.
- Paul does know when to cut his losses, at least when his emotions aren't getting the better of him. After Cynthia completely annihilates Paul's Pokemon, he decides to concede the battle after seeing there is a massive difference in skill and power. Cynthia is the most powerful trainer in the Sinnoh region, so there's no shame is losing to her at all.
- In Pokemon Kyurem Vs The Sword Of Justice, Keldeo yields his rematch after protecting Ash and his friends from a stray attack made him too injured to continue. Kyurem and the other Swords of Justice praise him for his good judgment.
- Another early Kanto arc example is in "The Punchy Pokemon", where Anthony convinces Brock to throw in the towel when it's clear Geodude vs. Hitmonlee is a mismatch. Anthony himself does the same when his daughter Rebecca nearly gets herself seriously injured protecting his defenseless Hitmonchan.
- Early on in Eyeshield 21, Monta learns that it's okay to give up playing baseball because he's just bad at it and find a sport he can be good at instead. Forfeiting the match against the Hakushuu Dinosaurs is also the reason Taiyo Sphinx quarterback Kiminari Harao is still walking properly; If he had kept the game going, the Dinosaurs' monstrous Rikiya Gaou would've definitely crippled him. The Sphinx had no other option but to forfeit as they had no linemen left.
- In a literal gambling example, Hiruma folds in a poker game against Clifford when he realizes that Clifford has the winning hand (hopefully this isn't foreshadowing.) This was played as a win on Hiruma's part though, since the real game was a bluff-off between himself and Clifford. Clifford had the better hand and was not happy that Hiruma folded before he could show that he had won.
- An ep of Ojamajo Doremi has perennial athlete Aiko give up her spot to Hazuki in a swim relay. Despite Hazuki taking the lead, she cramps in the homestretch.
- When Chrono and Rosete of Chrono Crusade are ambushed by an enemy, Chrono tells Rosette urgently that they have to retreat. Rosette—being a Determinator—argues with him, shouting "Why are you saying we should give up?!" She then grabs his arm as he tries to take her away. This distracts him and gives their opponent a chance to shoot at Chrono, nearly killing him. Things only go downhill from there.
- Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is an insanely Bad Ass Determinator, but is rational enough to walk away from a fight once he's exhausted every other option. This is the principal difference between him and Kamina. However, this isn't always a good thing. When Kamina and Simon were first fighting Thymilph, everyone was trying to convince them to retreat, before Simon himself points out they may need to this one time. However, Kamina (correctly) points out that they can't. If they did, they would be putting the others in danger because they'd be chased. This ends up with Simon taking advantage of a cliff to sink the Dai-Gunzan and win them the battle.
- Code Geass - One of Lelouch Lamperouge's flaws is his inability to back down. This stems from a personal variation on the Sunk Cost Fallacy: if he doesn't achieve his goals, then all the people who died aiding him will have their deaths rendered meaningless. That, and he simply refuses to accept defeat.
- He plays it straight during the Battle of Narita by ordering a retreat after Kallen loses her Radiant Surger Wave claw in a Diabolus ex Machina. He knows full well that in spite of his side's tactical advantage this battle, continuing would be a war of attrition. Exactly one season later, Schneizel himself orders a retreat, only in this case on account of Zero inciting a rebellion in China via publicly exposing the eunuchs' plans, knowing that the eunuchs are nothing without the support of the public.
- Also, while Lelouch hates backing down once a battle has started, he also recognises that he is hopelessly outmatched in terms of brute strength, so generally prefers to use guerilla tactics. In addition to the Battle of Narita, there are a few other times when he doesn't continue to press his advantage because it would become a war of attrition, and his battles often end with him ordering his forces to use various pre-planned escape routes, showing that he does fully appreciate the necessity of retreating, even if he hates doing it.
- In chapter 206 of Fairy Tail, Natsu, of all people, surrenders after realizing just how great the gap between him and Gildartz really is. Good thing it was a Secret Test of Character meant to test Natsu's judgment, and he passed.
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny:
- Knowing when he no longer has anything to gain by continuing to fight is one of the things that makes Neo Roanoke one of the most effective tacticians.
- Of his subordinates, Sting Oakley is the only one of the Extended trio to follow Neo's example. Auel and Stella will fight to the end, but Sting is smart enough to know when the battle is going against them, and typically bails soon afterwards, taking the other two with him.
- The "Unknown Enemy" of Mobile Suit Gundam AGE don't bother fighting battles they know they can't win. Only once has an entire UE attack force been wiped out in the course of a battle, and that's because they were blindsided by two extremely powerful mobile suits they had no way of predicting. In every other case, they've retreated the moment the battle started going against them.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yugi and his grandpa Solomon both did this. It turned out to be a Generation Xerox battle. Yugi's grandpa conceded a duel (water was at stake; they were stranded in Egypt) because his friend was in more need of the water. Years later, Yugi duels the other guy's granddaughter who had a related grudge. The duel went pretty much the way the old duel went, to the point that Yugi concedes at the exact same point: just before drawing the Game Breaker. In Yugi's case, winning wouldn't have settled the grudge, and when the gentlemen revealed just what Yugi had done, the granddaughter finally realizes Yugi hadn't been acting selfish at all (which she had been believing the whole time).
- Its sequel series Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V also has this in the case of Yuzu Hiragi because she knows she can't beat The Dragon Yuri, she opted to run away and wait until the Battle Royale is over. She was nearly caught, but credit is where it dues.
- Discussed by Reinhard von Lohengramm in Legend of Galactic Heroes, where he told his attendant that first-rate commanders are commanders who at least knows when to retreat, although he himself never needed to retreat, since he always enters the battlefield with overwhelming advantages (except in one occasion).
- In Naruto, Shikamaru shows his knowledge of this trope during the Chunin Exam arc. He fought Temari and appeared to have her beaten, then gave up at the last minute. It's because of this that he gets promoted to Chuunin.
Shikamaru: "I used up too much chakra, using the Shadow Imitation so many times. I can only hold you for an additional ten seconds. So I've thought about 200 possible moves...but time's up. It's too troublesome to do more."
- The majority of the characters in Sekirei are members of a Proud Warrior Race, and enjoy a good fight. This makes AntiVillains Mutsu and Akitsu noteworthy for their willingness to run from a fight. Unlike other Sekirei that flee because they're hopelessly outmatched, both are established as being among the most powerful fighters. Instead, they're simply pragmatic enough to see when a situation is unfavorable or a waste of time and too busy keeping their master safe.
- Deconstructed in Hunter × Hunter with Killua, who's first instinct when he's certain he's facing a more powerful opponent is to run. Unfortunately, this proves to be more of a hindrance a lot of the time, as running isn't always an option, and with his tendency to underestimate himself, it ends up holding him back from going all-out. This provides a hilarious moment when he and Gon are trapped in a room by Nobunaga. With Nobunaga blocking the only way out of the room and being far too strong for the two of them to fight, they suddenly rush him...only to break down the walls of the room and flee. When Nobunaga runs out to look for them, Killua declares that they'll come out to face him...only to take Gon and flee the building while Nobunaga waits for them to show themselves.
- Wangan Midnight has Tatsuya Shima, the driver of the legendary "Blackbird". Despite being one of the best race drivers on the Wangan expressway, he will pull out of a race if he feels that his vehicle is in danger of a breakdown.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- King Vegeta surrendered to Frieza and allowed the Saiyan race to become his servants, knowing that they didn't stand a chance against him, but was patiently biding his time to try to stab him in the back. His son Vegeta similarly feigned loyalty to the tyrant instead of trying to fight him right away. Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods revealed that King Vegeta similarly bent the knee to Beerus The God of Destruction.
- Goku surrenders the fight against Beerus after barely managing to stop a powerful energy ball he threw towards Earth. Exhausted and unable to match his power, Goku concedes defeat to Beerus instead of trying to continue fighting like most of his other battles. Beerus spares the Earth partly for this reason.
- According to Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, King Cold acknowledged Majin Buu and Beerus as too powerful to fight, and warned his son Frieza to defer to them if they ever met.
- In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Gunha Sogiita, one of the most Hot-Blooded, Idiot Heroes of all time, ran away when he was confronted by the Tokiwadai Dorm Supervisor. What makes it funny is that the Dorm Supervisor is a Badass Normal, while Gunha once refused to run away from Ollerus, a near Physical God.
- Girls Bravo: Kirie had a crush on her next door neighbor (and classmate), Yukinari. In episode 4, she tried to get closer to him by preparing a special box bento, in hopes of going on a lunch date with him. Except it failed due to a series of unforeseen events and, with Lisa now entering the picture along with Miharu, Kirie decided it was no longer worth it and quit. From the fifth episode onwards, she settles for just being friends with him.
- God gives the title character an epic put down in the last issue of the Lucifer series, using the tale of Buddha and the Monkey King to illustrate the foolishness of fighting someone that you could never conceivably defeat. Lucifer counters that he lost with pride at least, the validity of which is up to the readers to decide.
- All-Star Superman: This is Superman's answer to the riddle of the Ultra-Sphinx.
Ultra-Sphinx: Question: What happens when the Unstoppable Force meets the Immovable Object?
Superman: Ha. How about this? They surrender.note
- Both Romans and Pirates in the Astérix comics give up fighting at some point. The pirates are infamous for sinking their own ship once they realise there are Gauls on the other vessel and they can't run away fast enough.
- At least twice Marvel Comics has used the schtick that an alien force is intent on invading Earth only for one person doing the research to realize they are trying to invade a planet that has defended itself successfully, multiple times, against other invading aliens, multiple galactic empires (at the same time), cosmic entities no one else in the universe has ever managed to even slow down, and is home to entities capable of eating stars, assorted deities, and a Watcher who thinks the planet rocks so much he's actually done stuff instead of merely observing. One time the fleet commander listens and does a u-turn. Another, not so much. The invasion is defeated by three X-Men (one of them drunk).
- Made literal in the latter case when one group of the invaders backs off when faced with a lethal bet in a card game against Wolverine.
- In Marvel Adventures Bullseye demonstrates that he knows not to punch above his weight class.
Hulk: Pay taxes.Bullseye: Okay, I will.Moments later, Bullseye is letting himself be handcuffed.Cop: Huh, the fight sure went out of you quick!Bullseye: Hulk says pay taxes. I pay taxes.
- The Dragon from the third Blue Beetle series advocated just up and leaving when it became clear they weren't in control of the situation. The Big Bad always shot down his suggestion that they quit while they were ahead.
- This is a part of what has always made Doctor Doom such a capable antagonist. Unlike most supervillains, Doom can recognise when the plan has gone south and it's time to leave. Yeah, Reed Richards is still alive, and you don't have what you came here for. It doesn't matter. It's time to go. Long before he had his diplomatic immunity, Doom regularly got away by having planned his escape in advance, and leaving the minute he was in danger of being surrounded. In one instance, he fights the Fantastic Four tooth and nail trying to get to Mjolnir and claim it, eventually beating them, grasping the handle and, predictably, being unable to budge it. Rather than rage at his failure or try to take it out on anyone nearby, he simply shrugs and goes home.
- Reed Richards once contacted an alien invasion fleet right before they were about to attack Earth. In the middle of introducing himself, the aliens realized who he was (the supergenius leader of the group that has foiled other alien invasions and Galactus himself) and wisely got the hell away from Earth.
- As their name suggests, the Runaways frequently follow this principle.
- In Infiltration, the Earth Based Infiltration team renege against Megaton, with Starscream discovering Ore-13 which can empower them greatly. After Megatron curbstomps Skywarp and Blitzwing, Starscream tests the formula and sends an empowered Thundercracker, Astrotrain, Runabout and Runamuck against Megatron. Megatron calmly tells them to stand down, or he will kill all of them. The four immediately lower their weapons. The threat was not hollow, as even the empowered Starscream can't stand up to Megatron.
- Simply having the presence of mind to recognize when to back down is considered a strength among many Micromasters in Transformers Generation One; Swindler of the Race Car patrol knows when he's beat. Detour of the Sports Car patrol is a bit of a coward, but can tell when the other shoe's about to drop, too.
- Paperinik New Adventures:
Gottfresh: Stop him! Do something!Mantis!: You made him angry! See you!
- A couple of criminal droids realize it's not worth trying to defeat their boss from the hero. Subverted since Paperinik still stops them.
- Also Colonel Neopard— in his words "The mercenary that know when to quit is good for another mission!" Subverted again,as he planted a bomb to destroy his target anyway. He had a contract and a reputation, after all....
- As soon as they realized her power, whenever the Evronians encounter Xadhoom (a Physical Goddess bent on killing them) they would try and run away unless they had a trap for her. Always Subverted because she's not only too powerful to fight, but also faster than them.
- Also The Raider knows when it's a good time to retreat. Basically it's a world of Genre Savvy characters.
- Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man: Worlds Collide: After they've been beaten by Super Sonic and Super Armor Mega Man, Dr. Wily accepts defeat and patiently waits for the heroes to use Chaos Control to undo the Super Genesis Wave. Eggman, however, is not so restrained and opts for a Last Villain Stand against Sonic.
- In Convergence: The Flash #2, the Tangent Superman willingly chose to surrender to the Earth-One era Barry Allen after he see through Barry's future and his impact he has on the Multiverse such as the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which he realizes that if he eliminate Barry then he will doom the Multiverse and all of continuity.
Tangent Superman: "One city for another? A grim moral choice. One city for ALL creation? For the Multiverse? It is only a matter of scale, but the scale matters."
- Serenity: Leaves on the Wind: In Serenity the Operative was a fighter bordering on God-Mode Sue: both times he went up against Mal directly, Mal only won by luck. So you know it's bad when the Operative, post-Heel-Face Turn, sees his fellow operative Kalista and immediately surrenders. Turned on its head a page later when Serenity arrives with a cargo bay full of browncoats. Kalista apparently decides the rebels will win by sheer numbers even against her and promptly high-tails it.
- 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.
- Ages Of Shadow: As King Cheherazad starts decimating the forces of the Himinate, Jade orders her remaining minions to flee, so that the Shadow Walkers may survive and rebuild after the dust settles.
- White Rain: He may be an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy, but when trying to stop Rina's kidnapping, Yukio quickly decides that it's better for a genin like him to retreat and get backup rather than try to take on four Grass jonin at once.
- Shatterheart: R!Syaoran decides to run away instead of fighting the gang attacking him as he's outnumbered from 4 to 1 and the gang wants to pick a fight and won't listen to reason. Kurogane tells him he picked the right choice.
- Class A Felony: When Edward comes blazing up to Bella's house after Charlie already had Bella radio his deputy to arrest Jacob for sexual assault, Charlie warns Edward that "If you're off my property in the next five minutes, I won't have you arrested for trespassing." Edward wisely drives off without a word, likely realizing how pissed Charlie is.
- The Games We Play explores this with Jaune's maternal grandma Jeanne Roma. She calls him out on his Determinator tendencies making him press on and getting into situations that nearly kill him, and has herself had a history of retreating from unwinnable battles. However, it also deconstructs the trope - said unwinnable battles involved defending civilians from the predations of the Creatures of Grimm, and the reader is forced to ask himself what kind of cold, calculating person would be willing to throw defenceless innocents to the wolves to protect herself, even if under the nebulous desire of wanting to avoid a Senseless Sacrifice to fight another day. Add in the strong implications that Jeanne's involved in shady business...
- New Game+:
- After Luffy one-shots one of the Alvida Pirates in an absurdly effective way, the two who witnessed it wisely decide to skedaddle.
- Sham and Buchi, after witnessing the fantastic Curb-Stomp Battle that decimates their crew in seconds, promptly throw themselves at Zoro’s feet and surrender.
- In Origin Story, after Alex Harris defeats all of the other Avengers, SHIELD and Big Bertha listen to Alex's pleas to simply let her leave.
- Second Wind: In Chapter 35, when he sees that Onigumo and Doberman have both been defeated, Momonga is smart enough to stop fighting, grab them, and skedaddle.
- In The World's End, after seeing how the Scoobies have been empowered (Buffy has Zelda's magic, Willow has Xena's skills, and Xander has become a Super Saiyan), the Order of Taraka both cancel the hit on Buffy and blacklist Sunnydale, refusing to ever take a job there again.
- Long Road To Friendship: Twilight Sparkle concedes a chess match when it's clear that Sunset Shimmer is going to win. This makes Sunset even more angry at Twilight, since Sunset wanted to "crush" her.
- In Demon's Dirty Dreams, Zabuza decides against killing Tazuna when offered the pay he would have gotten for the job. It helps Naruto had already killed Gato at that point so Zabuza's options were fight and maybe die for nothing or take his pay and leave.
- In The Bridge, Xenilla and Mothra realized that Princess Celestia's power dwarfed all the kaiju present. They managed to convince their teammates to surrender (except for Destroyah, who only stopped when The Cutie Mark Crusaders begged her to stop), as it was a fight they could not win.
- In A Teachers Glory, Team 7 decides to get Naruto medical attention after he's badly injured in the Forest of Death rather than try to continue the exam. It helps they all realize there would be plenty of promotion opportunities in the future.
- Deconstructed in The Greatest Generation. In of itself, Admiral Shimada having his damaged and fatigued forces retreat from the oncoming Abyssal juggernaut they had no chance of defeating should have been a wise idea. However, political realities intruded in the form of Morton's Fork: With the sheer forces arrayed against him, the civilians were going to take a rusty spiked dildo in the butt sooner or later whatever he did. He could have his forces stand, fight and die in the vain hope that they can make a difference when an earlier force in optimal condition had failed, or retreat and preserve his strength. Admiral Shimada chose to put The Men First and, because he didn't send his subordinates out to banzai charge and die in a Senseless Sacrifice like a good soldier, ended up villified In-Universe and out.
Films - Animated
- In The Book of Life, Chato orders a tactical retreat when he finds out Joaquin has the Medal, knowing full well that he simply can't win; and informs Chakal. Later, he orders a hasty retreat due to circumstances.
- The Thief and the Cobbler: At the end of the original workprint, Tack and the Thief briefly get into a fight over the Three Golden Balls; just as the Thief has Tack and the balls cornered, he, having been through all sorts of hell over the balls throughout the film, finally decides the balls are more trouble than they're worth and lets Tack have them, walking off in a huff.
Films - Live Action
- The Wizard of Oz, when the Wizard points out to the Cowardly Lion that he's confusing cowardice with wisdom — running away from a situation that's clearly going to get you harmed or killed is obviously the smart thing to do.
- Duncan and Charlie in Mystery Team when they decide that they're in over their heads and that they need to grow up and stop acting like kids.
- Joe Buck does this with his dream of being a "hustler" in the final scene of Midnight Cowboy. On the way to Miami, he disposes of his cowboy outfits and later admits to his friend Ratso that his experience in New York taught him that he was never cut out to be a man-whore (at least not a successful one), and resolves to find honest work as soon as they arrive.
- Thunderball: after the battle at the end, the SPECTRE henchmen actually surrender and are taken into custody by the US Coast Guard.
- In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Erik makes it clear that he's not willing to take on Charles without his protective helmet; he knows that he stands no chance against the telepath in a straight fight. When he loses his helmet at the end of the film, he retreats.
- In The Avengers, Loki subverts a certain other trope by choosing not to go for seconds on beatings and surrendering to the Avengers after losing his army. Considering how fighting Hulk had gone, surrendering and asking for a drink was the smart thing to do when Hulk was backed up by the rest of the group.
- Iron Man 3:
- One mook realizes that laying down his life for a bunch of weirdos with superpowers isn't worth it.
Mook: Honestly, I hate working here; they are so weird. (takes out magazine and runs)
- Rhodes jumps out of the overheating Iron Patriot suit and proceeds to drop-kick Savin. Then Killian shoots a stream of fire at him from his mouth. Rhodey evades, but he is immediately aware that he can't win that fight.
Rhodes: You can breathe fire?! Okay... (stands down and gets knocked out)
- One mook realizes that laying down his life for a bunch of weirdos with superpowers isn't worth it.
- Event Horizon: After viewing a recording of what happened to the title spaceship's crew, the captain turns it off and, in the most deadpan tone imaginable, announces to the rest of the crew, "We're leaving." Unfortunately, circumstances (namely the Event Horizon herself) interrupt.
- In Batman, after rescuing Vicki Vale from the museum, Batman fights the Jokers goons, beating the crud out of all of them until only the villain's second-in-command Bob is left standing. Batman makes a taunting gesture towards Bob; Bob decides against it, drops his knife and high-tails it out.
- In WarGames, Dr. Stephen Falken tells David and Jennifer that despite his best efforts, the AI Joshua, though extremely intelligent, never about learned this trope. By the end, it finally understands.
- 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 (called the Sunk Costs Fallacy) in that people 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, 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.
- 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: 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.
- 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 examines this trope 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 mock 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."
- The Thrawn books, by Timothy Zahn:
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."
- 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.
- 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.
- The smarter villains in the Expanded Universe have this as part of their modus operandi. Zsinj in Solo Command even mentions avoiding "throwing good money after bad" when invoking this trope.
- 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 can't 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 command was mostly 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. The Big Bad begins brooding over things not going precisely according to plan. The attempt to fix this undoes all accomplishments from the last time and the Big Bad 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.
- Jay Gatsby's Fatal Flaw and the downside of his own great capacity for Hope is his inability to this. He continues to cling to the hope that Daisy will one day be with him so that he can have the Happy Ending he had wanted for so long. It doesn't happen.
- In L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a subtext — the Lion is deeply afraid of the Kelidas roaming the forest, and does his best to avoid them... but the fact that they're twice his size and have the heads of tigers and the bodies of bears suggests that avoiding them might be the smart thing to do until you can find a better way of handling it, which the Lion does with the help of Dorothy and her friends.
- Jingo appears to feature this, with Vetinari surrendering to Klatchian forces and giving them huge advantages in exchange for letting them all go home, with the treaty to be signed on the island of Leshp. A week or so later, as Vetinari is on trial for treason, he innocuously asks what treaty they're talking about, since it needed to be signed on Leshp, which has just sunk back under the ocean.
- In A Song Ofice And Fire, the rulers of the North hundreds of years earlier saw how Aegon Targaryen was curb-stomping all the Andal kingdoms to the south, and wisely bent the knee as soon as Aegon the Conqueror turned attention to the North.
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."
- Garak tells it to Bashir during a James Bond simulation on the holodeck, reinforcing his status as a Magnificent Bastard.
- Star Fleet abandoning the Deep Space Nine station.
- Likewise when the Dominion abandoned the station.
- Shortly before the events of the show, the Cardassian Empire took this tack with respect to their occupation of Bajor. A tenacious La Résistance combined with mounting political pressure back home made the planet too hot to hold.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003).
- 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 Battlestar Galactica (1978), 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.
- 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.
- 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:
Eleventh Doctor: Hello, I'm the Doctor. Basically... run.
- Most of the time, "Run Away" is the initial tactic while trying to figure out their plan of defeating the enemy of the week. The Doctor has been known to give this option to aliens as well, politely informing them just who they are dealing with.
Madame Kovarian: Give the order... give the order, "Colonel Run Away!"
- In "A Good Man Goes to War", the Doctor invokes this as his form of Cruel Mercy to the Colonel leading the army of the Silence at Demons Run. The Doctor wants him to give the order "Run Away", so that for the rest of his life, those infamous words will haunt him and people will mock him for being "Colonel Run Away".
- 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
- In Season Four, the panel sent Donna home after learning she had a dangerous heart condition and wasn't safe to be driving.
- In Island at War, British forces withdraw from an indefensible fictional Channel Island at the approach of the German invasion, without bothering to officially surrender, leaving the civilian population to attack and Nazi occupation. This proves unpopular with the public in England, and the government sends intelligence agents to scout the possibility of retaking the island. The de facto mayor is forced to argue against the liberation of his island, pointing out that it would be a hopeless waste of British lives and end in a harsher German occupation, and counsels the spies (one of whom is his own son) to give themselves up as POWs.
- Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad is one morally dubious character who knows exactly how this song goes. He knows when to beg for his life. He knows when to negotiate while holding his ground. He knows when to seemingly give most of that ground up without actually giving anything of real value... and he knows exactly when to drop everything and get the hell out of Dodge. As a result, he's the closest to a Karma Houdini the show has when it comes to core characters.
- Iditarod: The Toughest Race on Earth shows how important this is to sled-dog mushing. For the mushers, good judgment about this is essential — if mushers push their team too hard, they risk getting stranded in the Alaska wilderness. And, to mushers worth their salt, risking the life and health of their dogs is not worth any race.
- This is what makes the Dynamic Duo suspicious in the Batman episode "The Greatest Mother of Them All." Not only are all the members of the Parker crime family captured before the end of the first installment of the usual two-parter, but they are all nabbed with ridiculous ease (especially the daughter, who throws her hands up as soon as Batman and Robin see her). Turns out it was too good to be true: the Parkers were not afraid of going to jail because Ma Parker had been slowly infiltrating the penitentiary with criminals disguised as guards until Warden Crichton had been the only non-corrupt person left - and Ma then had the "guards" turn on Crichton and bully him into making her the new warden. The Parkers gain total control of the prison, "breaking out" as often as they wish to commit robberies.
- Ingrid Michaelson's "Once Was Love" is about a couple breaking up when they realize they don't feel love for each other and that isn't going to change.
"We can't hold us anymore/No, we've got to fold down to the floor"
- 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. This sometimes backfires if a face authority figure restarts the match with either no D Qs or countouts, threatening to suspend them or strip them of championships if they don't return to the ring.
- In Footrot Flats, the Dog is trying to watch the farm while his owner is away, leading to many What Would X Do? questions. When a situation involving many, many stinging insects arises, it turns out Wal would...hide in the outhouse with the newspaper until they go away.
What would Wal do, what would Wal do...Wal's no fool.
- An important skill in poker. (In fact, that's what the Kenny Rogers song is about.)
- Most high-level monsters in Dungeons & Dragons, especially Lower Planar leaders. Take pit fiends, for instance, high-up leaders among devils. Most information about them says their fortresses always have several escape routes that they don't hesitate to take if a fight somehow turns against them. In fact, one source says that their fortresses always have a few "fake escape routes" along with the real ones. The fake escape routes are more obvious, and an enemy is more likely to try to set up an ambush at one of them, while they use the real escape route, which is well-hidden.
- A Gambling stunt in Spirit Of The Century is named after this. It allows the gambler's player to ask the GM to make an NPC's roll in advance and secret, then reveal whether the result was above or below the gambler's base skill; only after that does the player decide whether to opt into that particular game or bow out.
- A game mechanic in The Dresden Files. When faced with a losing battle, either side can offer a concession, meaning they still lose the fight, and therefore suffer some kind of setback, but they choose how and lose on their terms. This is handy for player and GM alike, to keep characters alive — perhaps the heroic wizard simply gets knocked for a loop while the villainous sorcerer makes off with the MacGuffin, rather than risking the next attack which will probably kill the wizard instead. Notable in that there is a distinction between the players conceding and the characters conceding, and that the negotiations are all out of character. So just because Jim B. offered a concession to keep Harry from having his head bitten off doesn't mean Harry broke character by giving up.
- The smarter characters in Warhammer 40,000 think like this. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thinking encouraged by the Dark Gods/the nob/the Commissariat, and in fact doing the smart thing like pulling back in front of superior numbers only gets you eaten by daemons/krumped flat/in front of a firing squad. Note that the most successful warbosses are from the Blood Axes clan, who are viewed as cowardly gits by other Orks for their tendency to retreat when the odds are against them.
- 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.
- The Fatal Flaw of the villain of Tales of Symphonia, being a deconstruction of the Determinator, is not knowing when to fold 'em. Mithos created the two world system all for the sake of reviving his dead sister, Martel. Despite his allies turning on him, secretly plotting behind his back or openly opposing him, Mithos still continues to sacrifice countless people and resources to bring Martel back. Even when he actually does revive Martel, all Mithos gets for his trouble is a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Martel before she leaves for the afterlife. Protagonist Lloyd Irving, at least, knows when too far is too far, and wants to make sure everyone can live in peace.
- 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.
- 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. That said, ending a conversation can also lead to those things happening anyway, and it's impossible to tell when is the best time to do so, making demon conversations, especially recruitment, largely a Luck-Based Mission.
- 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.
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."
- 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.
- 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.
- Komato Assassins in Iji are the only non-robot enemies the player can "kill" without it getting added to their kill count, because instead of dying, Assassins just throw in the towel and teleport away.
- Art of Fighting 2: Geese learned a painful lesson, courtesy of Ryo Sakazaki, when they fought each other during the finals of the very first King of Fighters tournament. Ryo was out for revenge and handed Geese's ass to him on a silver platter. But just as he'd been about to deliver the coup de grace (i.e. the Haoh Shoko Ken), Geese chose to forfeit and hauled ass.
- As Bentley of Sly Cooper puts it, "look, there's no shame in running from a fight. Keeps you alive!"
- This happens to two villains in Batman: Arkham Knight:
- A diary belonging to Calendar Man revealed he planned to strike on Halloween, going with his usual MO, but decided otherwise when the Scarecrow struck.
- Bane's fate after Batman: Arkham City: detoxed himself of the Titan, decided going round three with the Batman was stupid and went back home to Santa Prisca with the much easier goal of overthrowing its corrupt government.
- Goblins - When facing down Mr. Fingers, Dies Horribly is perhaps better equipped to make a strategic determination than Grem.
- The Order of the Stick — A recurring theme:
Haley: You know me. This is when to fold 'em. And when to run.
- 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 Azure City, and instead of fighting, opts to turn invisible and retreat to the ship. Though it was the only practical option for a Squishy Wizard, Vaarsuvius considers it My Greatest Failure and is haunted by the soldiers who made a Last Stand instead.
- Haley names this trope when she is asked by Roy whether or not he should destroy the second to last Gate, with not one, but two stronger enemy groups closing in on their position.
- After learning how many spells Vaarsuvius has remaining, and comparing it with her remaining supply of Power Points, Laurin blinks out of the battle.
- For all the problems his ego and plans cause him, Nale is at least smart enough to realize when a scheme has gone south and make his retreat- or tries to, anyway.
- In Homestuck, Tavros suggests to Vriska- after the two have died and gone to the afterlife- that they give up and accept their status as minor characters.
Vriska: I think it's time to start fucking some shit up.Tavros: Oh, no.Vriska: More like oh yes!Vriska: I'm sick of this shit. I'm sick of being dead and useless and bored, and I'm not going to take it anymore.Vriska: You're with me, right?Tavros: No way.
- Magick Chicks: Faith and Tiffany may be two of the toughest girls at Artemis Academy, but even they know when it's best to call it quits and hightail it. Such as the time Faith had been left weakened by an indirect attack, from Hecate, who had also enslaved Sveltvana and Veronique to kill them.
Faith: (in agreement) "The motion carries."
- 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 sits the whole thing out.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. It repairs their relationship, but his wife still calls him out on letting her win and demands a proper rematch, which he accepts.
- In the five-part G.I. Joe story where Serpentor was created, Sergeant Slaughter - as in, the One-Man Army Blood Knight of the Joes - knows enough to surrender when surrounded, exhausted, and outnumbered, although he does warn them that while Cobra's "in the lead", they're "going into extra innings, you can count on it". (And his words are very prophetic; he throws a big Spanner in the Works a few scenes later.)
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles(2003) episode "Notes From the Underground (Part 1)" Leonardo orders a retreat from the clearly more powerful monsters. Raphael really doesn't like running from a fight, so Leonardo tells him it's a "strategic retreat". Raphael looks at his foes for a brief second and says, "Strategic retreat, yeah, I Can Live With That..." before following the others.
- Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman: As he is wont to do, Batman thrashes one of his suspect's bodyguards early in the story. When that bodyguard later finds Batman going through said suspect's room, he decides to practice the better part of valor.
- 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.
- Samurai Jack
- In the episode "The Princess and the Bounty Hunters", Princess Mira is clearly the most Genre Savvy of the group who gathers to ambush Jack, and possibly more so than most villains of the entire series. When the trap she designs fails, she's the last survivor among the villains, she's hurt, and Jack is unharmed. She considers continuing the battle... But then decides against it and drops her weapon, realizing she can't win. Unlike the others, she lives.
- In the episode "The Tale of X9", X-9 says that this is why he survived longer than the other X-units, seeing as the Emotion Chip inside him gave him a sense of self-preservation that gave him the sense to run when he knew he was in danger. As he explains it, "The other X-units, they didn't care. I cared."
- The New Adventures of Superman: In "The Warlock's Revenge", the Warlock wants to borrow his sister's magical ruby to use its powers to exact revenge on Superman but she refuses because she's sure that the Warlock will fail again and Superman will destroy the ruby. The Warlock just takes the ruby by force and it leads to Superman eventually proving her right.