Strategy Schmategy

"There's no sense in being precise when you don't even know what you're talking about."
John von Neumann

Bob is unpredictable. No matter what he does, his enemies never see it coming. Now, sometimes a character might appear unpredictable, either because he's making it up as he goes along, or because he's trying to be unpredictable.

Bob has other reasons.

Strategy Schmategy describes situations where a character's behavior is unpredictable because he himself simply has no idea what he's doing. He's impossible to anticipate, because not even he knows what he's going to do next.

Subtly different from the Indy Ploy, in that the Indy Ploy is making it up as you go along. Example: Indy needs to escape. "Oh hey look, an open window! I'll dive through it and figure out how to safely land after I'm already committed to going through the window." While Strategy Schmategy is about doing something without any plan for it to improve things. Example: Joe is trying to beat Mastermind at a game. Joe doesn't know the rules, or the scoring system, so he's just going to move pieces randomly and hope he wins.

This may actually be an effective means to victory on rare occasions. John Von Neumann, the founder of Game Theory, said randomness is unique in having no consistent counter.

Likely to result in a Spanner in the Works if somebody is running any kind of gambit, because chaos has that kind of effect on carefully-laid plans...but it might have the opposite effect.

Compare Leeroy Jenkins, which is what happens when this kind of mindset bites you in the butt, and Achievements in Ignorance, which is what happens when someone accomplishes something without knowing it was "against the rules" so to speak. It's a favored non-tactic of The Fool.

Contrast Confusion Fu (unpredictability as a strategy in itself, instead of a function of having no strategy), Indy Ploy (where a character doesn't have a plan originally, but comes up with new ones on the fly), Xanatos Speed Chess (adjusting a preexisting plan to accommodate a changing situation), Gambit Roulette (plans which incorporate a degree of randomness), and Calvin Ball (in which the entire game makes no sense, as opposed to just one of the players).


    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • Saki: Kaori manages to defeat several high-level mahjong players because of the fact that she's a complete amateur. She can't formulate the long term strategies her more experienced competitors are known to do, and as a result they are completely thrown off by her playstyle because they can't think up of an effective counter to it.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!
    • Invoked in the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga as a means of countering Pegasus's mind-reading abilities. If Yugi/Yami don't know what the cards are then Pegasus won't either.
    • Jonouchi invokes this by using chance cards with random effects.
  • One Piece : Luffy has invoked Confusion Fu before, but the bulk of his ability to take his enemies off guard is a result of his wildly impulsive personality.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, during their first fight, Mashmyre thinks that Judau must be a masterful opponent. In truth, at that point, Judau has absolutely no idea how to pilot a suit and is just randomly hitting buttons.
  • In Digimon Frontier, Idiot Hero Takuya fights all his battles this way, trusting in hot-bloodedness and determination to see him through. When finally confronted with an enemy so far above his level nothing he does works, he suffers a Heroic B.S.O.D. and has to be dragged away by his friends.

     Fan Fiction  


  • In The Phantom Menace Jar Jar Binks found himself assigned a generalship in the Gungan military thanks to a political appointment. He proceeds to take out a surprising amount of the enemy himself, and the badly outclassed Gungan army manages to last long enough in their stated purpose—being a distraction—to see the opposing droid army decommissioned.


  • Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court has this to say:
    But don't you know, there are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn't need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn't do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn't prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do: and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.
    • The same idea is boiled down for one of Murphy's Laws of Combat:
      Professional soldiers are predictable, but the world is full of amateurs.
  • In the second Honor Harrington novel, the protagonist paraphrases the Mark Twain quote to her subordinate: "The best swordsman does not fear the second best, he fears the worst since there's no telling what that idiot is going to do."
  • In the Age Of Unreason series, a guy is killed by someone who cannot fence at all; he automatically assumed his attack was a mere feint, because no fencer would make such a clumsy attack. Too bad his opponent is not a fencer...
  • Quoth The Adolescence Of P 1: "Burke, the ultimate spy, could kill a man in three languages, with one or both hands and/or feet tied behind his back. Kung Fu, karate and ju-jutsu were child's play to him. For those reasons, he found himself at a distinct disadvantage with such an adversary as Gregory, who, unschooled in the martial arts, was merely trying to bite off an ear or jugular, or gouge an eyeball. Burke compared it later to trying to peel drunken leeches".
  • Little Myth Marker lands Skeeve in a massively high-stakes Dragon Poker game against one of the best players around. After struggling to learn the game, he instead decides to go all in on the first hand, to maximize the amount of luck involved and negate his opponent's skill advantage.
  • In The Mensa Puzzle Book, the late Mensa president Victor Serebriakoff describes how the first time he played chess he beat the Captain of the Chess Club, who was "looking for subtleties in what was simply an Idiotic Play".
  • Half the times Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM) performs an act of incredible heroism, it was because he was trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and the previous threat and didn't see the new one.
  • Lightsong from Warbreaker is the undisputed master of an extremely complex ball game thanks to studiously avoiding learning the rules, acting entirely at random, and spouting mysterious comments like, "You have to learn to think like the ball" when anyone asks him questions.

     Live Action TV  

  • In the Smart Guy episode TJ Versus The Machine, TJ beats the unbeatable chess computer Socrates by taking a lead from Mo. Mo doesn't have a clue what he's doing, and TJ realizes that a computer designed to compete against expert players won't be able to formulate a strategy against random, unpredictable play.
  • In the first episode of the Mission: Impossible remake, the target was a hitman who chose the method of assassination at the last moment, making him impossible to anticipate.

     Tabletop Games  

  • The Trope Namer is a certain Magic: The Gathering card with a completely random (but powerful) effect. Amusingly enough, this type of behavior is guaranteed to end poorly for you unless your opponent is either very unlucky with his draws or just as bad as you are.
  • This type of behavior is sure to completely derail an entire game of Diplomacy.note 
  • This doesn't work in chess, where it's almost impossible to beat a player who's above your level. This is because if the neophyte makes a bizarre move during the opening it is most likely a bad move, and that alone tells the good player that he's not against a strong opponent. Also, it's said that playing against someone who's way worse than you will dull your skills, and it's highly advised to avoid doing so.
  • Many orkish units in various editions of Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000 have this as a special rule. The most prominent example being the Giant.
    • Kids new to the hobby might have picked up whatever units they thought looked coolest (such as half-naked chicks wielding six-foot chainsaws) without having an inkling of what they're actually capable of.
  • Given the number of powers with extra random-effect rolls involved in playing a Chaos Sorcerer in D&D 4e, similar to the trope namer MtG card, this is quite likely the ONLY strategy. "Alright, I'mma blow him up! Now let's see if I blow up the guy next to him too, blow him up MORE, or turn my ally into stone.." Bonus since the Sorcerer class is specifically listed as "instinctual/force of will" magic, rather than the "Learned scholar" style of the Wizard.
  • A proverb in Go is "Learning joseki [standard patterns of play] loses two stones' strength; studying joseki gains four stones' strength." In other words, if you know the standard patterns of play but don't understand why they're used, you'll be a weaker player than if you don't know the standard plays at all and just play what comes naturally. Mastering the game, of course, requires learning not only the joseki themselves, but how to use them as part of an overall strategy for victory.

     Video Games  

  • In Dynasty Warriors, Lu Bu is usually portrayed as being like this and scoffing at any sort of strategy. His raw brute power simply makes it unnecessary, and many of his enemies are taken by surprise at how completely lacking in thought his attacks can be. Likewise, Yuan Shao's massive armies and vast resources have him dismiss the idea that strategy is even necessary, since he can simply steamroll over his enemies.
    • It should be pointed out that while both Lu Bu and Yuan Shao are major threats, once they go up against someone who actually knows what he's doing and is aware of their weaknesses (like, say, Cao Cao), the strategies they dismiss wind up causing their downfall. To be exact, Cao Cao starves Lu Bu's forces into submission (because even the mightiest warrior needs to eat) before executing Lu Bu himself, and devastates Yuan Shao's massive army with surgical strikes before destroying their main supply depot and sending the Yuan army reeling in defeat.
  • World of Warcraft: "Alright, chums, let's do this! LEEEEEEEROOOOOOOOY! JEEEEEENKIIIIINS!" Of course, the plan was idiotic and wouldn't have worked anyway.
  • In League of Legends, this sort of behavior is likely to make your team hate you. It can be effective if you know what you're doing or playing against weak players who are merely copying what stronger players are doing without understanding it, but in reality there IS a reason for the most common strategies, such as 1-1-2 + jungler - it simply is that much stronger than anything else which is available.
  • Snow from Final Fantasy XIII, for much of the game, adheres rigidly to this tope.
    Snow: Since when have heroes ever needed plans?
  • It's this basic principle that occasionally lets inexperienced button mashers beat experienced players in fighting games (and other games) at least a few times. Skilled players and the AI are generally predictable, but it can be tricky fighting a flailing foe whose moves are often the worst in a normal situation.
  • This also applies to multiplayer First-Person Shooter games, where a random Johnny New-Game can confound an experienced player because all the things that the experienced player is used to seeing don't happen. For instance, in Team Fortress 2, there might be various places on any given map that are the expected locations for sentry guns...but if someone doesn't tell this to the new player who just picked Engineer, they can put a gun in a strange place that can stymie more experienced opponents (at least until it's destroyed). The unaware newbie can keep placing their guns down in weird places, which can make the other team antsy or at the very least leave them confused as to what's going on.

     Web Comics  

     Western Animation  

  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Warriors of Kyoshi," Zuko is freaking out about his inability to track the Avatar, due to him being "a master of evasive maneuvering." Cut to the Gaang flying on Appa and Sokka saying to Aang: "You have no idea where you're going, do you?"
  • Kung Fu Panda: The main reason Tai Lung finds Po a frustrating opponent for most of the Final Battle is because his moves are composed of a mixture of this and Indy Ploys. The overall effect is similar to Confusion Fu.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "The Man Who Killed Batman", Sid the Squid's frantic and clumsy attempts to escape from Batman appear (to his fellow crooks on the street below) like he's actually putting up a decent fight. The confrontation ends with Batman accidentally falling off the roof toward his apparent death in an explosion.

     Real Life  

  • There is some truth in the comments about fencing in the Literature section. The people who run most afoul of this are beginning fencers against first-timers, since they want to play by the rules and do things properly, but don't have the technique and reaction time yet. Epeeists in particular are notorious for finding first-timers more challenging than neophytes since epee has no rules of Right of Way. Right of Way defines a dynamic where you can not score on an attack if you have not defended yourself from an opponent's attack, and the wildly flailing new fencer often runs afoul of those rules. Epee lacks those rules, and new fencers often do unpredictable, senseless things than can almost accidentally result in touches. After some practice, they end up doing worse because they begin learning what they're doing, though that's a necessary step to mastering the weapon. This is why epee is not traditionally the first weapon a fencer learns.
    • There are also the modern pentathaletes. Fencing matches are generally to 5 or 10 hits whereas fencing in the modern pentathalon uses one-hit. Even if predictable in the long run, as long as they are unorthodox enough to get the first hit, they win.
  • A martial artist often hates sparring against rank beginners, since their wild flailing is more likely to result in injury to someone than a somewhat skilled opponent's controlled movements. Likewise, a completely untrained fighter relying on instinct and athleticism is often better than a beginning martial artist or boxer. When the training takes effect, the reverse is true - becoming good means passing through a phase of drilling basic movements - and that makes a beginner highly predictable to an expert. This can be a difficult problem for an instructor. "You're really improving" sounds hollow when they did "better" their first time.
    • In addition to using strategies that an expert would find unpredictable, there's also the safety issue. Martial arts vary in how much contact is acceptable, but competitors don't generally try to hurt each other. Whether a beginner will pull a punch and make light contact, miss entirely, or knock his or her opponent on the ground is hard to predict, even for the beginner himself.
    • A completely untrained person relies upon natural athleticism, even if they don't know what they're doing. This grants them a fluidity and lack of hesitation that beginners have to surrender and experts relearn. Once an expert has technique and fluidity, on the other hand...
  • Professional Poker players can sometimes be thwarted by novices and amateurs, who make plays that no professional would be stupid enough to attempt and end up short-circuiting the professionals' expectations.
  • The above comment about Poker is also is true for billiards players.
  • Fighter pilots during the World Wars remarked that "experienced" pilots were easier to shoot down, as they were in greater control of their motions, making them predictable, while greener pilots tended to skid and flail all over the sky.
  • Maurice "Rocket" Richard was once asked in an interview how he planned his shots on goal. He answered along the lines of "If I don't know what shot I'm going to make, how will the goalie?"