"To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well."
Even the most well-crafted Xanatos Gambit
can fall prey to a Gambit Pileup
or a Spanner in the Works
. In such cases, there are characters who have an amazing gift not only for making The Plan
but for revising it whenever new circumstances arise. Even a Gambit Pileup
does not prevent this character from working around it to success.
may be skilled at pulling off a Xanatos Gambit
. When The Chessmaster
is aware of the threat of being Out-Gambitted
or of a Gambit Pileup
and they also happen to be an Opportunistic Bastard
, more often than not they will be playing Xanatos Speed Chess
. While the plots can be as complex as anything The Chessmaster
lays out, they tend to function differently. The plotting character tends to be more The Trickster
. We usually follow, if not the plotter themself, then characters near them, so we can see their continual and brilliant improvisations. This is likely to be pulled off by heroes rather than villains because the plot is always teetering at the edge of failure, making its success more dramatic
. If it is used by both, then the drama is squared.
Xanatos Speed Chess players build in the need for such flexibility in advance because of the old adage that 'no plan survives contact with the enemy'. Closely related to the Indy Ploy
, which has simpler goals like "escape" or sometimes "hope for the best," but in this case, the plan is still in operation, just modified to fit new situations. The distinction here is that Xanatos Speed Chess involves changing an existing plan quickly, while an Indy Ploy
involves there being no
Contrast the Gambit Roulette
, where the planner incorporates events that they would have no way of foreseeing into their plans - they rely on chance as much as on brilliance. Contrast the Clock King
, a consummate planner who is rarely good at this. If prophecy, time travel, or being able to see the future are involved, may escalate to Scry vs. Scry
Not all people who attempt Xanatos Speed Chess can pull it off
. This is why Xanatos Speed Chess is one of the defining marks of the Magnificent Bastard
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Anime & Manga
- Death Note,
- Light Yagami, when things first started to get out of hand, but it didn't last. Misa forced more Speed Chess on him than anyone else; sometimes by being smarter than he expected but usually by being impulsive. Before long Light could flawlessly predict even her actions.
- L was also good at Speed Chess, but not as good as Light. A major unexpected twist once left L at a loss for weeks, although this was simply due to not knowing all the details of Kira's power.
- Near and Mello are also masters of this trope because they were raised in the same way and for the same purpose as L. The entire series can be summed up as Xanatos Speed Chess on crack.
- The supplementary "How to Read" volume includes a list describing every trick used by anyone and rating them by level.
- Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass does this out of necessity, because the writers love screwing all of his plans by unexpected events that no sane person would ever consider. He turned the tables when pitted against the Britannian military and their Chinese allies right after losing his best fighter and a large part of his army. Lampshaded with the fact that he can play real chess very well.
- According to Gundam 00's World Report Book, Veda seems to operate in this manner, allowing for deviations to the original plan that are caused by unknown factors, if it manages to be in line with the same end result.
- Well, since Veda is some sort of quantum supercomputer, Speed Chess is pretty much its normal speed.
- Bleach: Aizen and Urahara have been opposing each other for a century. As they're both chessmasters, their entire battle has consisted of elaborately designed plans and constant revision of those plans as first one then the other gains the upper hand. From Aizen framing Urahara for catching him red-handed, to Urahara using his exile to set up an elaborate protection of the Hougyoku. From Aizen losing the element of surprise so preparing for war in one month instead of four, to Urahara anticipating exactly that and setting up a series of secret kidou traps to ensure Aizen is depowered by Ichigo in the end... most of the characters freely admit they can't keep up and eventually even Aizen is forced to admit he can't keep up with Urahara's intelligence.
- Detective Conan has a fair amount of it, especially whenever Conan's directly up against the Black Ops and needs to not get killed.
- It's not just Conan who pulls this off. The other high-school detectives do this regularly. And, of course, the absolute winner of this trope is Kaitou Kid - who is constantly changing his heist plans (which are, more often than not, successful).
- In A Certain Magical Index, Aleister Crowley constantly uses this so that whenever something unexpected happens, he weaves it in to complete his plans even faster.
- But even Crowley cannot keep up with everything: Shiage Hamazura defeating Mugino caused a domino reaction that completely threw his plans all out of whack, and he's now desperately attempting to get everything back under his control.
- Marshall D. Teach of One Piece, also known as "Blackbeard", appears to have a fully-formed plan in mind with which to reach the top of the pirate world. Despite a reckless streak, he has shown himself to be highly adept at taking advantage of unexpected opportunities to progress this plan and acting quickly when something appears to threaten it.
- Donquixote Doflamingo as well. While well established early on that he is a man who tries to remain several steps ahead of his foes, Doflamingo's ability to tweak plans and make new ones on the fly is best evidenced when he managed to sneak out of Trafalgar Law's ultimatum. When Luffy and Law arrive in Doflamingo's homeland of Dressrosa simultaneously, Doflamingo continues to compensate for unexpected setbacks, such as the presence of a Marine admiral on the island, Sabo taking Luffy's place in the Colosseum, a full-scale invasion by the Tontattas, and the liberation of the Toys, using psychological judo to sway people to his side or render certain crucial tasks impossible. This includes taking the hatred the entire populace soon has of Doflamingo and redirecting it towards all of Doflamingo's enemies.
- It is difficult to know how much of Akagi's playing is this and how much he actually plans out. In any case, he's a Magnificent Bastard.
- Keima Katsuragi from The World God Only Knows has a knack for this, frequently adapting his plans in response to events, no matter how unexpected.
- Tobi of Naruto ends up sliding into this category by default. His attempts at gambits and roulette have a tendency to fall apart, allowing him to only make small amounts of progress with each ploy.
- His mentor, Madara, plays the same game. When reunited after two decades, they subtly maneuvered against one another until it was time to seal the Juubi, at which point both began openly moving against the other to come out on top.
- In a filler episode, Shikamaru plays this straight against the Villain of the Week. Even though he already had most of his plans laid out beforehand, the reason why it goes here is because there was a particular hitch in the plan but he manages to pull it off by making a small gamble.
- Toua Tokuchi is the Anti-Hero / Magnificent Bastard / Chessmaster protagonist of One Outs who plays Xanatos Speed Chess just as successfully as he does Gambit Roulette.
- Desert Punk the main charachter modus operandi is trickery and traps, as seen in the hostage rescue episode he forms a complex number of backup plans, flips between them on the fly and always ends up with his opponent caught in one of his traps even if not in the way originally planned. Beaten at his own game when after turning to the dark and on the cusp of victory his apprentice maneouvers him into her own pre-planned trap.
- Monster: Being a Magnificent Bastard, Johan Liebert can change his plans on a whim. Because of this, his plans almost always work out...until the end.
- Why Hanbe from Sengoku Basara is considered a genius: he has a plan for every possible outcome. Demonstrated when he brings out a series of maps of the country, and they all depict different potential strategies by other characters, including ones based on the assumption that their allies might betray them (which they do).
- In Zeta Gundam, Enigmatic Minion and eventual Big Bad Paptimus Scirocco is the undisputed master of this. He's got his own designs on power pretty much from day one, but for most of the series he's content to sit back and let his enemies destroy themselves, telling characters he's "only a witness to history". That facade goes out the window the moment he knocks off Jamitov, and by the end of the series he's gone from a minor official from Jupiter to the unquestioned leader of the Titans.
- Super Buu of Dragon Ball Z is very good at doing this, despite being a mere thug in personality. He noticed Gohan's growing power, so he fought against Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks and tested the limits of his strength and his weaknesses (e.g. fusion limit). After briefly fighting Gohan and finding himself overwhelmed, he goes through an intentional Super Power Meltdown, knowing he will regenerate and buys time (and getting Goten and Trunks to recuperate, to fuse again). When he returns he goads Goten and Trunks into fusing again at full power and absorbs Gotenks and Piccolo into his being, deciding 30 minutes is more than enough to handle Gohan (he was right). Goku arrives and the fusion breaks down. Goku says Gohan alone is strong enough to defeat Buu, but then Buu reveals that he planned for this eventuality as well, and had a piece of himself ready to absorb Gohan the whole time, who he goaded into standing still until it was too late. Interestingly, the only character this didn't work on is Vegito, who was too strong, too wily, and had plans of his own, as he later found out...
- In the final battle of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part II: Battle Tendency Joseph Jostar defeats Kars by defending himself from an attack with the Stone of Aja, which he wasn't even aware he had, and having the resulting explosion jam debris into Kars's arm and launch him into space. Joseph even admits that he didn't plan for that to happen.
- There's also his battle with Esidisi, involving the two continuously trying to out-fox and out-trap each other with an unraveled, hamon-empowered yarn cap and prehensile blood vessels filled with boiling-hot blood, respectively.
- While claiming to be the luckiest man alive, Kira Yoshikage's continued survival and anonymity owe more to using every little advantage that presents itself to its absolute maximum, generally through using his powers to construct a series of ingenious traps, tailored to his opponents and situations.
- This is Miho Nishizumi's main strength in Girls und Panzer. While all of the tank commanders are decently good strategists, Miho has a knack for split-second opportunistic decisions and coming up with unexpected plans on the fly that take her enemies by surprise.
- Reformed The Flash villain Trickster, being blackmailed by another villain to steal a relic from a museum, set up an elaborate plot to convince that villain to leave him alone. When Impulse confronted him with the fact that a museum employee was being unjustly blamed for the theft, Trickster adapted the plan to ensure that the employee appeared a hero, saving his job by getting him to catch the crooks, even though the relic was lost. (Trickster took the opportunity to return it to the church he had stolen it from. Told you he had reformed.)
- Sleeper (along with its prequel Point Blank) by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is pretty much built out of this trope, with Tao and Lynch using ever more convoluted plans to entrap each other and manipulate Double Agent Holden (who has plans of his own).
- Marvel's Loki and his spiritual twin Dr. Doom are both masters of this trope and employ it regularly. Loki uses it more due to his preference for indirect manipulation and lies.
- In the Jackie Chan Adventures fic Queen Of All Oni, when Jade's Batman Gambit to get a mask on Jackie and get him to use it goes wrong when the Sumo-khan mask ends up on Captain Black like in canon, she quickly modifies the plot and manages to lure him away, and get him to use the mask by throwing him off a building, and the plan goes ahead.
- Precia is a master of this in Game Theory. Although her carefully laid plans are severely disrupted by Nanoha's presence and the dimensional quake that attracted the attention of the TSAB, she manages to adjust smoothly, and acquires everything she needs to reach Alhazred. And it turns out that she had actually come up with an entirely different plan by incorporating the new elements, to revive Alicia and fake her own death, which she implemented successfully without telling anyone.
- Professor Moriarty is The Chessmaster in the season 1 finale for Children of Time and changes his plans according to every shift in circumstances to meet his goals, but Beth Lestrade is the player with the most moves throughout the three episodes. She gambits with Holmes, the entire Time/Space Continuum, and Moriarty and Moran, moving from half-formed plans to well-plotted schemes to going in blind. When something goes wrong, she might blank out for a few minutes but she will adjust accordingly. Better still, her gambits win more than anyone else's...
- Mare of Steel: Brainiac is constantly updating and modifying his plan against Rainbow Dash/Supermare; for example, when he deems Steel Wing more trouble than he's worth and leads the authorities to him, choosing to ally with Silversmith instead.
- In What About Witch Queen?, this is what Hans is doing ever since he escapes from Koenigsberg castle. When he meets Anna again, it takes him one conversation to reshape the current situation so that he'd end up better off than he was before and he outright admits that he doesn't have any plan and just makes it all up as he goes. His brother Michael is similarly gifted, although on smaller scale.
- In Fever Dreams Light Yagami has to scheme fast in order to save L, Misa, and himself from his old plan and plan around whatever countermeasures L is planning to try and trap him. Fortunately he has Rem as his accomplice.
- The Dark Lords Of Nerima: Tanizaki Kazuo is established as being an accomplished chessmaster, but he's not above playing an unexpected card, and is able to think fast to turn sudden events to his advantage.
- In "The Universe Doesn't Cheat" Lieutenant Commander Kanril Eleya responds to the Kobayashi Maru computer trying to blunt one tactic by switching to another one. Computer tries to jam her transmissions so she can't negotiate with the Klingons? She switches to plain old radio. Klingons brush off her attempt to negotiate? She uses a preprogrammed macro to fire the phasers disrupt the Maru's shields and beam the crew off, while simultaneously going to warp straight through an enemy battlecruiser. Klingons come about impossibly fast? She pulls a Crazy Ivan. It gets to the point where the computer apparently says "screw it" and quite blatantly spawns a battleship directly in her path to take her down.
Films — Animated
- Initially, the plan of the Dazzlings in My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks is simply to show up at Canterlot High School to find the source of the magic they saw. They continuously adapt to their surroundings by brainwashing the principal and vice-principal, spreading a Hate Plague through the school, and even bumping the Rainbooms forward in the Battle of the Bands, just so they could manipulate Trixie into trapping the Rainbooms beneath the stage.
- Details from the beginning of the The Lion King strongly imply that Scar's initial plan was to have Simba killed only, so he'd remove competition for the throne. It wasn't until the hyenas failure to kill Simba due to Mufasa's interference, as well as Banzai's sardonic question of whether Scar should kill Mufasa to get the throne that Scar even considered the idea of killing Mufasa in the first place.
- Even more impressively, when Simba makes his big return, after getting over his initial shock at Simba being alive, Scar is able to improvise and nearly win again by killing Simba.
- Over the course of Tangled Gothel's plan to keep Rapunzel's hair for herself quickly evolves from manipulating Rapunzel into staying in the tower, to framing Flynn for abandoning Rapunzel while staging a fake rescue, to outright chaining Rapunzel up and murdering Flynn.
- Mulan: Shan Yu can still improvise and nearly win after the wipeout of most of his army.
- In Frozen, pulled off expertly by the villain, whose identity and plans remain obscured until just before the climax. His original plan to marry the young queen Elsa couldn't hold up against a sudden magical catastrophe so he quickly adapted it to usurping the throne and regicide instead. Even before the catastrophe, he swaps his marriage targets when Anna appears to be a perfect candidate for his trickery.
Films — Live-Action
- The eponymous Jason Bourne of The Bourne Series is a good speed chess player.
- In The Bourne Ultimatum (he gets better at this with each film), he has several Xanatos Speed Chess triumphs, one of the more Oh Shnap of which culminates in:
If you were in your office, we would be having this conversation face-to-face.
- In the ironically-named A Perfect Murder, Michael Douglas' relatively simple plot to arrange for his cheating wife to be killed by her lover is quickly derailed when the wife kills her attacker, only to have it be revealed to not be the lover after all. The rest of the film consists of his ever-more-complex game of Xanatos Speed Chess against the wife, her lover, and the cops, as he attempts to bump her off, tie up a proliferating number of loose ends, and keep the police in the dark about it all.
- This was a remake of Dial M for Murder, in which the husband was so good that his hastily-improvised new plot was arguably a better way of getting rid of his wife than the murder.
- Daniel Ocean's crew in the Oceans Eleven series are surprisingly adept at this.
- Naturally, they continue this in Ocean's Thirteen, particularly with The Cartwheel by Basher. They attempt this in Ocean's Twelve as well, but they fail. But it's okay because they had already won before they started.
- The female protagonists in Bound plan out a complex con that quickly goes off its rails when their victim reacts unexpectedly, forcing them to improvise new strategies on the fly.
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
- The franchise is extremely fond of speed chess, as the characters learn quickly that no one in the cast can be trusted. A trickster's plans are often derailed by some Spanner in the Works, forcing them into countless on-the-fly renegotiations.
- Cutler Beckett, though, is arrogant enough that he thinks he doesn't need to do this, relying solely on his schemes as he originally conceived them. He's wrong, and the aggregate chess games of Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, Calypso, Will, and even to an extent Davy Jones all come around and bite him hard.
- Jack, in particular, is an absolute master of the game. The reason everyone thinks he's mad? He's playing multiple games at double speed. He looks crazy because no one else can keep up.
- The Brethren Court meeting is a game of Gambit Speed Chess between Barbossa and Jack using whatever resources they have, culminating in the climax of the film.
- If anyone might be considered a Xanatos Speed Chess grand master, it would be James Bond. None of his plans go off without a ton of snags, but he's always able to come out on top in the end, using every means at his disposal and in general having a feel for what his adversaries and allies might end up doing at any given moment.
- In Licence to Kill, Bond's assassination attempt against Franz Sanchez fails, however he gets Sanchez to think that one of his associates arranged the attempt, and Sanchez has him brutally executed, getting Bond a place inside his circle.
- Goldfinger actually outplays Bond through most of the film. At least once he does it unknowingly since Bond secretly placed a note with a tracking device on someone Goldfinger killed for other reasons. In fact, Bond only succeeded due to to a Heel-Face Turn by Pussy Galore and he didn't even know she'd turned.
- The point of Millers Crossing. Depending on your interpretation though, it could be a Gambit Roulette.
- Walter Burns in His Girl Friday. He's ALWAYS got a plan. Really, the only thing keeping him from being a (relatively nice) Magnificent Bastard is that he's so easy to see through.
- Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars ... so much that people now assume every single aspect of the series is his doing, and all went as planned (except dying). They forget that most of The Phantom Menace has him quickly changing his game plan, either because he overestimated the heroes or because X-factors kept popping up. He ends up getting what he wanted, but Word of God says there were enough setbacks that he had to wait a decade to get the ball rolling on the next big step in his plan, including the loss of an apprentice. That he was able to take one of those X-factors and befriend him early so he could turn him into a replacement apprentice is testament to his speed-chess abilities.
- It's eventually revealed that he did anticipate and plan for Maul's death (he's a Sith Lord, duh). However, the Jedi being sent to deal with the Trade Federation, as well as Amidala's arrival on Naboo, were not part of his plans according to supplementary materials (Valorum consulted the Jedi without informing the Senate first, and he did expect Maul to succeed in retrieving Amidala). In fact, his original plan was that he and his agents would create turmoil, draw the occupation out for months or even years, and cause enough pressure to cow the Senate into electing him. Almost everything after Amidala turned up on Coruscant was improvisation and moving up the timetable considerably.
- Plus, he and Banking Clan big shot Hego Damask (alias Darth Plagueis) meant for Amidala to be a martyr. And there was a nine-year-old hydrospanner in the works as a side effect of Plagueis' experiments.
- Fargo: Jerry Lundegaard finds himself in a game of this, and is not very good at it, but never gives up.
- Inception: One can assume that the core extraction team of Cobb, Arthur, and Eames are exceptionally good at this. Going into a mark's subconscious has to be a tricky prospect no matter how much is planned out ahead of time.
- This turns out to be an unexpected forte of bank teller Miles Cullen in The Silent Partner.
- Hoffman in Saw VI and 3D proves to be a master at this. Every time one of his plans disintegrates, he improvises a new, better, plan within roughly 10 seconds. It's fun to watch.
- Kimble vs. Gerard in The Fugitive, particularly towards the end, as Kimble goes from trying to evade Gerard to realizing that he needs him on his side. So when Kimble finally finds the man who killed his wife, he deliberately lets Gerard trace him there (escaping before he arrives, of course), knowing that Gerard (who has already begun to suspect that Kimble is innocent) will start putting things together. To top it off, both men soon realize the extent of the conspiracy surrounding Kimble and how it was masterminded by his so-called friend Dr. Nichols, leading Gerard to race to find Kimble not to arrest him, but to protect him from the police and prevent him from committing murder for real in order to avenge his wife.
- Riff and her friend are forced into this in Rock 'n' Roll High School after Miss Togar's henchmen steal their tickets on her orders. They win when a Spanner in the Works blasts a free ticket giveaway by chance and they participate in a Gambit Roulette and get both tickets.
- The main character in The Next Three Days managed to pull the strings of enough Batman Gambits in order to break his wife out of prison and escape the American authorities. However, there were many factors which throws off his plans off, either unforeseen circumstances or miscalculations on his part. This includes: him being cheated out of his money, his first attempt to break into the prison using a "bump key" failing spectacularly, his wife is being moved to another prison in 3 days, the police managed to figure out part of his plan beforehand, the party he left his son on was at the zoo, and his wife refusing to leave without their son. Despite all that, he still managed to pull off his plan by lots and lots of improvisation.
- Porter from Payback continually sees complications come up in his simple plan to track down his backstabbing ex-partner and get back the share of his money from the last job they pulled together. He adapts to circumstances and finds new ways to persevere, probably best exemplified when his plan to use the son of the head of The Syndicate (Porter had kidnapped the son) goes to hell when the Syndicate goons grab him after a shootout and start trying to torture the information out of him. In the midst of the torture session, Porter comes up with a new plan, and leads the Syndicate bosses into a booby trapped room.
- Josh and his crew from Tower Heist (an Affectionate Parody of heist films like Ocean's Eleven) start out with a plan, but when things go south Josh proves himself a master of this trope.
- CRS in The Game (1997). Although at times it seems that the success of the company's gambit depends upon Nicholas Van Orton doing exactly the thing he does, upon further reflection, it seems very likely that no matter what move Nicholas makes, they've planned for it and can adjust their "game."
Feingold: Thank God you jumped, because if you didn't, I was supposed to throw you off.
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is basically a chess match between Freddie Benson and Lawrence Jamieson to see who can scam Janet Colgate first. Janet wins.
- Various Illuminati in Duumvirate are so good at this it's impossible to know whether or not they planned everything out in advance.
- In Kushiels Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey, most of the principle cast has some basic training in XanatosGambits. Melisande is just so good at it, other characters have to play Speed Chess to keep up.
- Grand Admiral Thrawn. Of course. He was tripped up by some unforeseen elements coming together at once, and his initial backup plan in case of death was also thwarted, but damn if he didn't adapt when he could see it.
- Thrawn also gets credit for recognizing the unforeseen elements possibly being a problem...he just didn't have a plan for them YET.
- Also, his three would-be successors in the two-book series Hand of Thrawn, who are sometimes frantic in their behind-the-scenes efforts to maintain the illusion that Thrawn has returned. Thrawn's student Pellaeon demonstrates it too.
- There is a set of four short stories, collectively a novella, where Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole collaborated. In very, very short it involved Thrawn going in disguise, reporting a Rebel meeting near the home of a criminal who supported someone that Vader hated but wasn't allowed to interfere with, and calling down the nearest Imperial forces. He ended up working a pair of planetary policemen into that plan, getting them in through a convoluted scheme and letting them arrest the man. We never, ever get to see his thoughts, but at the end he confesses to a trusted subordinate that he hadn't known about the policemen, but when he saw them and determined they were after that criminal, it was too good an opportunity to miss.
- In Outbound Flight, Thrawn's plan is to destroy the Vagaari threat, and he uses all the new species and technology and ships he encounters for the first time over the course of the book to do so. All of them. Humans, a stolen gravity-well generator, Neimodians, droids, the Trade Federation, Darth Sidious, Outbound Flight, Jedi... all of them. Magnificent.
- His plan nearly fails, though, when Jorus C'baoth goes over to the dark side and tries to Force Choke him. This was because he had never even heard of a "Jedi" until recently, and had no idea of the kind of power they possessed.
- A certain amount of speed chess helps prop up Wraith Squadron's plans when things start going off script. Face Loran is perhaps the greatest practitioner of the art, exacerbated by his tendency to never tell anyone anything, except when strictly necessary (for reasons of operational security), meaning that even when he has planned for something, his allies are usually unaware. His more-or-less-designated successor, Voort or "Piggy", is more of a pre-planner, but embraces the need for this trope at the climax of Mercy Kill, dragging his wayward plan back into line with a combination of mechanical know-how, reliable subordinates, money, and Gamorrean striptease.
- The Lies of Locke Lamora
- Jeeves of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster pulled this off once or twice, when his first plans failed.
- The modus operandi of Havelock Vetinari in the Discworld books, especially later in the series.
- Moist von Lipwig is also quite adept at this.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Many arguments have been waged among A Song of Ice and Fire fans about whether resident Magnificent Bastard Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish makes it up as he goes or has it all planned in advance. It can be argued that Littlefinger's equal parts The Chessmaster and The Trickster, with speed chess as his true forte.
- Littlefinger himself believes (or at least would have others believe) that it is this trope; he claims that one of his favourite tactics is to simply create chaos and then trust his own ability to sense opportunities on the fly whilst everyone else is reeling from having their careful plans disrupted by Spanners in the Works.
- Less problematic for the fanbase is defining the other side of the Mega-Duo Of Utter Moral Ambiguity as a speed-chess player. Good, old, fog-bank Varys. He definitely plans, counter-plans and contingencies up to his eyeballs and beyond with the various plate-spinning political games he can choose to change at the drop of a hat. And, if all else fails, he falls back on plan Indy Ploy to see what he make of the results, later. He might have put Tyrion in the position that enabled him to kill Tywin, as helping him escape to Essos was part of the deal, sure... but... It's very unlikely that he actually fully planned on that specific thing to happen right then — not that that'll stop him using it. Other things he's done have been similar to that.
- Tywin Lannister isn't half bad when it comes to this trope, either (which goes a long way to explaining why he's held up as a general example of what it is to be a Hand of the King). Particularly when it comes to the realms of wartime strategy and cutting the knees of political opposition off. His downfall comes about solely due to the seemingly-insignificant weakness of an irrational hatred for a certain physically stunted fruit of his loins.
- A historical one can be found in Brynden "Bloodraven" Rivers. The sheer amount of direction and hard work he put into defeating the Blackfyres included an awful lot of making do with whatever tools came to hand, whenever they came to hand. Including a certain errant hedge knight and erring Targaryen princeling. He's utterly hated for it.
- In Lois McMaster Bujold's The Vor Game, the Big Bad makes up about four or five new plans in a single day as Miles tries to counter them and new chances arise. She even uses her old plans as pawns in her new plans. It backfires. In the end, Miles pointed out that if she had stuck to any of them, she would have been better off.
- Miles learns a valuable lesson here, and in subsequent books he is shown to be a great player.
- In Shogun Toranaga and Ishido do it through the whole book. Ishido seems to be better at it, as during much of the second half Toranaga mainly just goes through desperate attempts to buy more time and needs the help of several others to figure out how to counter Ishido's latest move. But in the end it's enough...
- From Honor Harrington:
- Victor Cachat specializes in these kinds of plays, usually with only a general plan to guide his decisions.
- The Mesan Alignment (and Albrecht Detweiler in particular) is playing its own game of Xanatos Chess, albeit on a much slower time scale. Just how successful they are remains to be seen.
- In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Galaxy In Flames, when Angron attacks the survivors of their treacherous attack, Horus (after being angry with himself for not predicting it) considers including him in the strike and so being rid of a dangerous ally. But he reminds his advisors of how he never lost, because he always managed to turn everything that happened in victory. He could bomb and take Angron out, or he could adapt his plan to use it and make a still more glorious victory. He explains afterward that by fighting their battle brothers, he had ensured their commitment.
- Big Bad Ublaz Mad Eyes and Starscream Rasconza play this in Pearls of Lutra.
- Trying to get someone else framed for a crime, especially for attempted murder, is probably harder than committing the crime itself. The Missing Clue, the last of the Usborne Whodunnits series for younger readers, for ultimately failing. But boy could he think on his feet. Being the screenwriter for a popular soap opera, he managed to frame his target not just once but, failing that, made a second fresh attempt within a single day while only touching the weapons once. With the series of arrests this triggers, he's then forced to not just make his third attempt - framing a third person by getting them to murder his target on live TV - but to write up an entirely new script in the same period of time. That's diligence.
- The Denarians in The Dresden Files are rather distressingly good at this. However, Harry's getting progressively better and better at it as well, meaning he can still crash their plans despite now being factored into them.
- Debatable. It's been noted that, with the exception of Nicodemus, the Denarians immortality and massive experience lend themselves greatly to their ability to plan but makes them horrible at improvisation.
- Skin Game is one long chess match between Nicodemus and Harry, each trying to maneuver the other into breaking the terms of the bargain that forces them to work together. Ultimately Harry is able to provoke Nicodemus into breaking his word, irrevocably tarnishing his name in the supernatural community.
- Arsène Lupin in the second and third canonical Crossovers with Sherlock Holmes read like this. In the second crossover, The Blonde Phantom, Holmes manages to find and capture Lupin's main accomplice the eponymous Blonde Phantom herself, and has a cab waiting outside to take them both to the station while he plans his next move. Three guesses on who is driving the cab. Later Lupin sends Holmes all tied up back to England, hoping to never see him again, then gets ready to clear his hideout of many years, since Holmes knowing about it compromises its safety. Guess which English Detective is waiting for Lupin to show up.
- Artemis Fowl: the Time Paradox is essentially a game of Xanatos Speed Chess between Opal Koboi and Artemis, with Time Travel added in to make it a bit more interesting.
- As noted in the quotes section, Senna Wales of Everworld is an absolute master of this trope. See her entry in Out-Gambitted for the most triumphant example.
- David from Animorphs plays a mean game too, which is only appropriate as Senna is his Expy. He loses mainly because he gets sidetracked trying to humiliate Rachel, as Cassie predicted he would.
- The final battle eventually breaks down into this, as the kids run around the ship wreaking havoc and looking for any edge to save Rachel, with Visser One (unsuccessfully) attempting to contain the situation.
- Neuromancer - the AI Wintermute describes himself this way: "I try to plan, in your sense of the word, but that isn't my basic mode, really. I improvise. It's my greatest talent. I prefer situations to plans, you see..." The plot of the book never makes a big point of this, though: when Molly decides to take a detour and when Case gets tricked by Neuromancer into thinking he's Wintermute, he doesn't manage to stop them.
- Moiraine Damodred never has trouble manipulating everyone around her even when they are ta'verenand aware she is manipulating them. When she ADMITS she is manipulating them, they only seem more compliant. The best example has to be when she goes through the ter'angreal to fulfill the prophecy about her needing to die to save the hero but she is rescued from the dimension she'd been trapped in with another well laid plan.
- Another candidate might be Cadsuane Melaidhrin. On the military side, Rodel Ituralde most definitely counts.
- Crowley from Good Omens pulls this when two Dukes of Hell are sent to drag him back down to... well, hell. After Crowley's Plan A works on only one of his foes, he turns to Plan B, which fails in record time. Time for Plan C! ...Unfortunately, there is no Plan C. He comes up with Plan C on the fly, which boils down to tricking the Duke, Hastur, into chasing him into phone lines, winding back and forth over miles and miles of cable, and then timing his own escape perfectly... back into Crowley's own apartment, where his own phone was ringing, at the exact moment before his answering machine picked up. The result? Hastur is now trapped in Crowley's answering machine. Doubles as a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Crowley.
- Phaethon from John C. Wright's The Golden Age starts off with a straightforward plan, which unfortunately Didn't See That Coming. Fortunately, he's also an engineer and believes in triple redundancy. The rest of the book is basically him working down the Xanatos index one by one.
- Duke Vincentio in William Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure pulls this off. After his initial plan to rescue Claudio fails, he changes tack to a brand new strategy almost immediately.
- The Martians from The War of the Worlds were good at this; when the British army and their artillery took down a tripod, the Martians understood that they had underestimated the humans' determination and strength in numbers and from then on used poison gas to clear new territory before they walked in with the tripods. Later, as there are no seas on Mars, the Martians had no idea how to battle the HMS Thunder Child of the British Navy and attempted to sink it with both gas and heat rays. They destroyed the ship, but not before it took two tripods with it and defended the escaping refugee vessels. After the battle, it's hinted that the Martians began to develop a sort of air force to combat the human navies. However, the Martians lacked any backup plan against the earthly diseases that eventually killed them.
- In the New Jedi Order, General Wedge Antilles proves to have some skill at this on Borleias. He's trying to strategically lose to fool the Vong forces, while keeping his own as intact as possible, when the Lusankya and the Millenium Falcon come into system in exactly the wrong time and place. He couldn't let those be destroyed, so he has to rearrange forces that were in retreat to rescue them, while still preserving as much of his fleet as possible. And he does, and it is awesome.
The tactic he needed clicked into Wedge's mind. In the span of a second, he evaluated it, tested it for major weaknesses, dismissed the weaknesses as irrelevant because of the Yuuzhan Vong's current state of confusion, and decided that he could probably use the tactic again - once - at a later time.
- The downside of course is that he ends up winning despite trying to lose, which turns into a Springtime for Hitler situation when the enemy then sends a much smarter commander to oppose him. (For those wondering, he fooled and out-strategized that one too.)
- In any Culture novel you'll find varied experts at every version of gambit, especially with some of the Minds, standout examples of of The Chessmaster. However, in Xanatos Speed Chess specifically, awards go to The Player of Games (where the protagonist decides to bring down an entire civilisation using this trope (his original plan having been cast aside for the continuous analysis of modifiers he discovers half-way through), Use of Weapons (where the protagonist lives on this trope (usually literally his own survival)), and Excession (where the Interesting Times Gang are long-time veterans of Xanatos Speed Chess and have elevated it to an artform).
- Wilkie Collins seems to have been fond of this trope; Lydia Gwilt in Armadale and Captain Wragge in No Name are both excellent Xanatos Speed Chess players.
- Common in the Dream Park novels, especially The California Voodoo Game.
- While Belisarius demonstrates an awe-inspiring level of long-term strategic planning (several of the characters realize that he'd set up the endgame of the war several years,and five books, before, ahead of it actually starting), on a tactical level he's constantly improvising on the fly and leaving everyone in the dust.
- Shift the ape, the villain of the final The Chronicles of Narnia book The Last Battle, is very good at adjusting his plans in seconds. When a Bolt of Divine Retribution strikes nearby after he and Bumbling Sidekick Puzzle think up a plan to pass himself off as a false Aslan, Shift claims it is a sign of divine approval for their deceptive plan. When a lamb protests allying with the Calormens because they worship the evil Tash, Shift just rebukes him and tells him Aslan and Tash are the same being. When Puzzle is captured and Tirian the king plans to reveal him as the false Aslan, Shift does their job for them by spreading the word about it but blaming Tirian for being the one to deceive everyone.
- Frederick Forsyth often has his characters doing this, and sometimes at the end (especially in The Devil's Alternative) they find out that they were being used in the Speed Chess of someone at a higher level than them.
- Tavi from Codex Alera by Jim Butcher is an exemplar of this trope. In book five, across the ocean from his home continent, surrounded by anthropomorphic wolves who easily outclass him, he plays a game of Xanatos Speed Chess with limited resources against a villain who has hundreds of thousands of extremely powerful fodder. AND WINS.
- The entire Korval clan in Miller & Lee's "Liaden Universe" books - particularly Delm Val Con Yos Phelium and his lifemate Miri.
- In Enders Game, Ender is able to lead Dragon Army to an unprecedented 7:0 win/loss ratio in his first week as a commander because of this trope. Most of his opponents used pre-planned formations and had little room for improvisation; Dragon Army was structured to operate as much smaller units and even had a specific team whose job was to come up with "stupid ideas" to keep the enemy off-balance. In short, Ender made use of the fact that his troops weren't just soldiers, but genius-level soldiers.
- From the Ender's Game spinoff Shadow series there's Achilles de Flandres. Despite being of ordinary birth and growing up a crippled street urchin, he's able to complete with genetically-engineered supergeniuses and effectively turn the world into his personal game of Risk. At one point mentor figure Colonel Graff pointedly tells Peter Wiggin that Achilles is not unbeatable, and that the reason why he keeps outwitting geniuses is because he's mastered the art of creating chaotic situations and then seizing opportunities.
- Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy: The Second Foundation
- In Sarah A. Hoyt's Darkship Thieves, Thena observes that she always has a Plan B, and often a Plan C, and all too frequently she has to resort to Plan F.
- In No Good Deed..., after Elsabeth and Hieronymus accidentally spoil Cuncz's attempt to steal incriminating information from Father Garnerius, he quickly improvises and decides to just use them to recover the information instead.
Live Action TV
- Forgotten Realms God Cyric. His Crowning Moment of Awesome and claim to master of Xanatos Speed Chess comes during a Trial where the other gods claim he is unfit for his duty as Greater God of Strife, Lies, Murder, and other nasty things due his (fake) holding of the Idiot Ball for years. The thing is, Cyric SET UP the trial as a way to get the gods to bow down and worship him through use of the Cyrinishad, his book of evil that convinced anyone, god or mortal, that Cyric was the greatest god ever and only true god. When his lackey failed to get the Cyrinishad on time and had the wrong book, Cyric immediately had two other ways of assuring he would win the Trial. And he did. One was the aforementioned lackey being made into a demi-god of lies, even though he couldn't tell a single lie due to a curse from the goddess of magic. Cyric said this made him perfect, because the best lie is the most unbelievable truth, once again showing Cyric is a Xanatos master. Oh, and he also gained the loyalty of an Eldritch Abomination during the course of all this and tends to threaten his enemies with the thing occasionally.
- More like losing and calling it winning. Bane's the real master. He, Bhaal, and Myrkul all had backup plans in the event of the failure of their gambits during the Time of Troubles. Bane didn't bother with mortal progeny (Bhaal) or depositing his essence in an artifact (Myrkul)—he created a demigod child to inherit his mantle. Even said child didn't know he was a glorified chrysalis—when he grew sufficiently powerful, Bane erupted from within him like a horrible, horrible butterfly. The Lord of Darkness was back in business, baby!
- The galaxy of Warhammer 40,000 is the chessboard for a four-way free-for-all game of Xanatos Speed Chess between Tzeentch, the Deceiver, the Eldar farseers, and the Emperor, with a few others dabbling on the side. All players involved are very, very good at it.
- It's probably worthwhile to note that, at the same time as all those groups work against each other, Tzeentch is playing an additional 1000 games of Speed Chess against himself, and at least 100 more against each of the other Chaos Gods. When you have literally thousands of Gambit Roulettes in action all at the same time (and almost all of them are solely because you love doing it), you tend to have to do a bit of multitasking. Then again, Tzeentch IS the Magnificent Bastard.
- And insane. Or, possibly worse, very very sane.
- Then there's the alternate character interpretation: it's all a Gambit Roulette by Tzeentch, and everyone else only THINKS it's a game of speed chess...
- Actually, Tzeentch is the only player in this four way game who cannot win. Because then he would have no one else to play against...
- Anybody who has ever played the group strategy game Mafia/Werewolf as a bad guy has had to attempt this. A detailed original plan NEVER goes off without problems.
- Pretty much all Cheapass Games work this way, with other players (and pure randomness) changing conditions so fast that any strategy has to adapt just as fast. Looney Labs games (Fluxx, Chrononauts) are similar.
- Chess, of course. Under a time control of 1 minute for the entire game, the only way to make your moves quickly enough is to choose a move because it is the most active move that stops the opponents threats.
- Any and every CCG or competitive boardgame ever. There's always that one person who whips out with "WTF" strategies that can and will throw the group off guard.
- The strategy game Hellgame runs on this trope. Not only do each player control three characters, positioned in different places in the turn order (so a player can be both the first and the last to act in a single turn), this turn order can be manipulated by the playing of cards. Random events abound; every turn begins with a random event (which can in turn cause other random events to occur, or put down triggers which cause them to happen later, often several times), and a typical spell causes random events to happen to other players (or yourself). Combat is resolved by die rolls, often modified by spell cards and said random events. A player can seem to be unstoppable, only for a completely harmless-looking opponent to suddenly jump to the end of the turn order to cut of the expected victory and grab it for himself, only for _another_ player to do the same, and then some. A game can last a single turn, or ten; which is in no way an indication of the elapsed time of the game. Successfully wading through this sea of random happenstances and quirky rules, battling the other players (five of them) for supremacy over the turn order is the path to victory.
- Paranoia sets the PCs up with mutually conflicting goals, then throws rapid-fire obstacles at them along the way. One suggested game mechanic is to ask each PC "What are you doing?", then only give them about five seconds to answer:
Friend Gamemaster: Okay, you've just been dropped off in Outdoors Sector. Suddenly, some people appear at the top of a hill, charging down toward you with long pointy sticks. *to PC #1* What are you doing?
PC #1: Uh, what do these people look like?
Friend Gamemaster: Dirty smelly Infrareds with ragged uniforms. One of them sticks his long pointy stick into your chest. *to PC #2* What are you doing?
PC #2: *realizing that PC #1 just dropped the team's camera* I shove PC #3 toward them.
PC #3: Hey!
- Most (but by no means all) theater-style American live-action roleplaying games are designed to be Xanatos Speed Chess tournaments.
- Online freeform roleplaying combat at a high level is this; prima makes their attack, secunda makes a response that is nigh-unavoidable, prima has to respond and try and take back momentum, and so on back-and-forth until someone runs out of moves to make. It's fun!
- The Munchkin card game has some of this, too, especially in epic games with high levels and four or more players. Given that the official time limit for interfering in seemingly successful Combat rounds is "a reasonable amount of time (defined as 2.6 seconds)," things can get a bit... hectic, when players are trying to aid/hinder another player's efforts, especially the final level(s).
- Magic: The Gathering is powered by this trope, especially in tournament play. Control mirrors are dozens of turns of this, with each player pretending they had it planned all along.
- Actually averted the better one gets at the game- there's a limit to how much strategies can be modified without bending one's deck and game out of shape. Good play is more like using this trope to back up a straight Batman Gambit.
- This is the only way to play the card game Fluxx, because the rules of play and victory conditions are constantly changing.
- Classes with the Leader role from Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition lend themselves to this style of play, especially Warlords. Generally, they employ subtle long-term buffs that shape their team's playstyle combined with dramatic short-term buffs that let them compensate for surprises that upset their planning. Given the right player and a good DM, battles can be fascinating affairs.
- While theoretically Go involves Xanatos Gambit\s, occasionally players will play unexpected moves, or will misread situations. This will lead to their opponent having to rapidly adapt. Some professional players have this as their style; being good enough to adapt while capitalising on their opponents more orthodox playstyles, essentially being both the Spanner in the Works and then playing Xanatos Speed Chess.
- Cyrano de Bergerac: Cyrano is good at this in Acts II and III, but he cannot fool Christian nor Roxane in Act IV. However, he manages to fool Roxane again in Act V:
Roxane: On his brow he bears the genius-stamp;
He is proud, noble, young, intrepid, fair...
Cyrano: (rising suddenly, very pale) ''Fair!''
Roxane: Why, what ails you?
Cyrano: Nothing; 'tis... (He shows his hand, smiling) This scratch!
- BIONICLE: Makuta didn't take the rescue of the Matoran of Metru Nui into account, though managed to get past that. When part of his plan called for leaving his body, he didn't expect it to be destroyed by the end, but he still managed to keep his plan going smoothly, taking over Mata Nui's body and the Matoran World within it at the end of 2008's arc.
- Kotomine of Fate/stay night has a pretty good one of these in Heavens Feel. Plan A: start with sending Lancer to figure out who everyone is, where they are and how strong. Crap, after roflstomping True Assassin he got his heart pulled out and eaten. Ok, uh, well we still have Gilgamesh, and he's pissed about the serial killings going on. Damnit, he got eaten too. Fine, we'll set up Sakura, the monster eating everyone to turn into the gate and destroy the world. Uh oh, the Core of the Grail just got hijacked, time to team up with Shirou to recover it. Oops, True Assassin came after him and humans can't kill Servants with the tools he has. Guess we'll destroy Zouken's body, using my fake heart as a decoy and then drive off Assassin. Woops, the Grail doesn't like me and just destroyed my heart. And, breaking the narration, he still makes it to the end of the path and still nearly unleashes a plan that is in fact much worse than the scale of what he was trying in the first two. Plus, Shirou's ideology has been neatly discarded, and Kotomine really hated it.
- Archer's plan in "Unlimited Blade Works". His repeated gambits to kill Shirou and set up either himself and Rin or a Rin/Saber team as the winners of the Grail War by playing Caster, Kotomine and the protagonists against each other are truly inspired.
- Maou from G-Senjou no Maou has a gift for revising convoluted plans on the fly, being an expy of Lelouch, which is how he keeps beating the protagonists, even until the very end.
- Ace Attorney wouldn't be interesting if it were not for the ability of every opponent to counter your arguments. Add the fact that frequent surprise evidence tends to shock all parties forces everyone to reconsider their plan on a regular basis and you've got a wild ride.
- The leader of a team of magical thieves in The Dragon Doctors starts off with a straightforward plan to rob a hospital of valuable materials, but are continually stymied by one lone surgeon defending the hospital. Elizabeth (the leader) continually adapts her plan towards a profitable solution even as all her teammates are taken out one at at time, and if it hadn't been for a slip-up she'd have still gotten away with it.
- Parson gives the other characters a lecture on playing Xanatos Speed Chess in this page of Erfworld.
- Freefall: Sam Starfall wanted to get Florence into (and safely back out of) the heavily guarded campus of Ecosystems Unlimited, and maybe borrow some things while they're there. This means improvising and readjusting his plans when circumstances ask for it, like stuffing crickets in his pants, releasing them into the fire detection system, and creating a makeshift disguise.
- In Girl Genius, Gil needs to get into the castle and have it be known that he did — so his father knows, and doesn't attack it. His plot to convince the crowd that he's Gilgamesh Wulfenbach convinces them that he's putting on a show. So — he tells them they're right, and by this means lures them to the castle and breaks the truth them only there. (With some unexpected backup from his friends.)
- Additionally, in chapter 6, both Tarvek and Anevka Sturmvoraus seem to be playing Xanatos Speed Chess with each other for control of Sturmhalten and The Other, executing back up plan after back up plan. Tarvek even says in this strip that "None of this was in my original plan, but it's all working out so beautifully!"
- Zola Malfeazium is "very good at improvising when things go wrong."
- Helen Narbon, of Narbonic, is another case where the fanbase—and even the characters in the strip—are never fully certain if Helen is playing Xanatos Speed Chess, Gambit Roulette, or if she's just luckier than anyone has any right to be. At several points, it seems Helen, herself, is not certain.
Artie: My last thought before blackout is this: That every aspect of my nature—my mind, my sense of ethics, the body in which I currently reside—seems, now, engineered for this moment, for shielding this woman from impact. I have never been able to fathom the disjointed workings of Helen's mind. Did she surmise that someday she would be in danger? Did she create me specifically to save her life? And, if she really can plan this far ahead, why couldn't she just find a way to avoid the whole stupid situation? I always knew I'd die with a headache.
- It doesn't help that some Sunday strips have suggested mad scientists may be able to see the future to a limited degree.
- The scene taken from Sluggy Freelance to demonstrate speed chess is actually a poor example, being at best an aversion. Bun Bun is not actually manipulating events, he is simply moving dolls on a chessboard to reflect events outside his influence, a fact that enrages him when it's pointed out.
- This XKCD strip: http://xkcd.com/433/
- The Sixth Doctor is a pro at this in The 10 Doctors, where he repeatedly manipulates a group of Renegade Daleks to do his bidding — even when circumstances around him are rapidly changing.
- In Associated Space, Fatebane's plan is constantly adjusting, due to the situation changing in almost every system he goes to.
- Chessmaster goes insane (well, further insane) when he loses a literal game of this.
- Subverted in Ayla 5, Ayla and the Networks, in the Whateley Universe. The bad guys TRY for this, but since they can't play NEARLY as well as each other, it comes down to 'Crap! When she did that, Plans A-J can't work, and now K-Y are useless...'
- Meanwhile, Ayla and Thurban are working a Vizzini Gambit/Xanatos Gambit. They'd won the game before a piece was played. Ayla's Laptops is useless, and the blackmail information is false!
- The Chessmaster does this in his massive Halloween attack. He even had a recovery plan that would have been perfect if the best precognitive on the planet hadn't chosen that very second to take over his communications system so he couldn't launch his recovery plan.
- The villian in "The Big Idea" tries to play this, but needless to say, ends up failing miserably.
- The Villain Protagonist of The Salvation War, Michael-lan, is a master of this trope.
- On Fairly Odd Parents, Norm the Genie's plans usually work like this: In "Fairy Idol", when he comes second to Cosmo and Wanda, he hits them with a wrecking ball and he gets in first.
- Shockingly, Fry, from Futurama, pulls a simple version off in the fourth season episode "The Why of Fry." After his Scooty Puff, Jr. falls apart, he's trapped in The Infosphere with some gigantic brains that want to destroy the universe. Regardless, he activates a Quantum Interface Bomb, trapping himself and the brains in an alternate dimension. The brains inform him that the Nibblonians, who he was acting on behalf of, were actually responsible for getting him frozen until the year 3000 in the first place, and enable him to return to the past in order to prevent it from ever happening. Thus returning, Fry briefly interrogates Nibbler in Applied Cryogenics, and, after Nibbler explains the situation, Fry agrees to allow his past self to freeze. He begins to disappear, and realizes he's on the verge of creating a time loop. Showing uncharacteristically quick thinking, he then tells Nibbler "Just remember that the Scooty Puff, Jr. suuuucks!" It's simple, but for Fry's simple standards it was genius.
- David Xanatos himself does this in the Gargoyles episode "Eye of the Beholder," as each of his plans to get the Eye of Odin back from Fox go awry. Goliath's responses to the gradual deterioration of his Machiavellian plots are utterly hilarious: "I hope you have a 'Plan D'" and "Not a good night for you"... though Xanatos actually does come up with a Plan D, and it's one of the last things you'd ever expect: telling the truth and asking Goliath and Elisa for help.
- In "Upgrade" he and his wife Fox pit The Pack and the Manhattan clan against one another in a game of literal Xanatos Speed Chess, complete with an actual chessboard and pieces modeled after their respective teams.
- Alluded to in Max Steel (which had the same developer as Gargoyles): Dragonelle was tasked with a mission, but the good guys manage to interfere and prevent their plan from being completely successful:
Dragonelle: Sir, I take personal responsibility for the failure of Chaos Strike.
Dread: Mmm, you're too hard on yourself, my dear. The great pyramid has been desecrated, and the explosion's left no evidence to trace the crime to us. Tensions in the region will rise, as planned. Besides, the test of the Dread probes was a qualified success, certainly more R&D is required. But I believe our ultimate victory is right at hand.
- Nerissa from W.I.T.C.H. adjusts her season-long plan a few times, most notably in the season finale where she seizes an opportunity to free herself from The Starscream's imprisonment and get the heroes under her control, while congratulating herself on coming up with such a great plan on the fly. Too bad it's actually a Lotus-Eater Machine
- The two-part My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "A Canterlot Wedding" features Queen Chrysalis, the ruler of a race of shapeshifters called Changelings that feed off of The Power of Love. Her evil plan is to disguise herself as Princess Cadance, marry the royal guard captain and Twilight's brother Shining Armor, and brainwash him into loving her, thereby not only providing a constant food source for her subjects, but also lowering Canterlot's defenses and paving the way for a full-scale invasion of Equestria. Twilight notices something amiss with the (fake) princess and calls her out on it? Chrysalis gets her kicked out of the wedding reception with a Wounded Gazelle Gambit and throws her in a dungeon while no one's looking. Twilight breaks out with the real Cadance and exposes the impostor to all, forcing her into a Beam-O-War with Princess Celestia? Chrysalis would be screwed, except she's absorbed enough love from Shining Armor to curb-stomp Celestia (keep in mind, even CHRYSALIS was surprised by the sheer POWER she had gained). Twilight and her friends seek out the Elements of Harmony to stop her? Chrysalis sends out a whole army of Changelings and captures them. Unfortunately for Chrysalis, this all leads up to a Near Villain Victory since she lets Cadance get close enough to Shining Armor to free him from his brainwashing and combine their powers to blast Chrysalis and all her subjects over the horizon.
- The Flim Flam brothers pull off a simpler one in "Leap of Faith". When Applejack finds out that the miracle tonic that Granny Smith bought from them was a fake, they don't even panic, cunning convincing her not to reveal their secret as it would ruin the newfound confidence and happiness that Granny Smith has gained. They even capitalize on it when Applejack comments that the tonic 'seems to work for Granny' saying she approves it, causing everypony who trusts Applejack to continue buying it, while at the same time, striking a blow at Applejack's conscience.
- The German strategist Helmuth von Moltke the Elder once said "No plan survives first contact with the enemy." This quote is usually used to mean that the victorious general is the one who is better at playing Xanatos Speed Chess. Molkte himself preferred being Crazy-Prepared. Plan A will not survive first contact, so develop a Plan B for every single point of failure, then a fallback Plan C, and then develop some excess capacity in case none of your fifty plans is working.
- Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington:
"They planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid piece of harness. It looks very well; and answers very well; until it gets broken; and then you are done for. Now I made my campaigns of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot; and went on."
- Sun Tzu's The Art of War emphasizes the importance of adapting one's battle plans on the fly to adjust to sudden changes in battle.
"Those who win thanks to tactics adapted to different situations can be called Masters of War."
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."
- Joe Louis, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
- Erwin Rommel, General in the Wehrmacht and the original Magnificent Bastard, built his entire career and reputation on this. If he was ordered to take an objective he wouldn't just launch an attack and take it. He'd launch an attack and take it, then plan another attack to exploit any weaknesses he'd created, then plan another attack to exploit any more weaknesses he'd created, and keep on inventing new attack plans on the fly until the other side surrendered or his side quite literally ran out of gas.
- Rommel was not alone in this, as it was an integral part of Blitzkrieg as devised by Guderian and the German doctrine emphasized including subordinates into the plan so they could improvise on the spot or take over should you fall. This was a large part of German success on the tactical level. Of course there were Speed Chess players amongst other armies as well, but to the Germans it was an integrated part of their doctrine.
- Most professional modern militaries use it these days: the standard format for issuing orders includes the larger context, why the orders are being issued and what the goal is. This allows junior officers (and troops) to be aware of the ultimate objective so that they can respond on the fly to changing conditions.
- The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. Not just between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but internally between the hardliners and moderates of each government. Adaptation is of the highest priority if "chess" here is more defined as "a Lensman Arms Race that involves getting nuked into oblivion for the littlest mistake."
- It's unclear whether President Anwar Sadat of Egypt planned the October War of 1973 (known as the Yom Kippur War in Israel and many other places) as one of these, or if his actions afterward were just a very successful Indy Ploy, but either way, it turned out like this. The main Egyptian goal in '73 was recapturing the Sinai Peninsula (and, if possible, to destroy Israel), so Egypt launched an invasion across the Suez Canal on Yom Kippur, the one day when the Israelis with Infrared Missiles would be praying, fasting, and at services (Yom Kippur is the most significant Jewish 'holiday' as a day of repentance, remembrance, and introspection). This allowed Egyptian forces to retake a substantial proportion of the Sinai (until bad generalship screwed things up and allowed the IDF to push them back out), but the first few days were just enough of a victory that Sadat could claim just enough political capital to allow him to start peace negotiations with Israel...and get back the Sinai (if Israel and Egypt are at peace, Israel doesn't need the Sinai as a buffer). Whether he knew this all along or just took advantage of opportunities as they came up is unclear, but either way, it really was a win-win (until Sadat got an assassin's bullet to the head for his trouble...oh, well).
- You might argue that he could have just asked for peace. That would be wrong. It's questionable whether the Israelis would have accepted a peace deal had he offered it—despite official policy statements, some members of the Cabinet (e.g. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who famously said "Israel has no foreign policy—only defense policy") might not have been so willing to take the deal. Even assuming that the Israelis' rhetoric matched their intentions, there's the matter of whether the Egyptians would have accepted a deal; the 1967 War was a humiliating defeat, and it would be difficult to sell a peace agreement to his people and even to the other generals who ran the government—it would be regarded as giving in to Israel's holding Sinai hostage. Starting a war with Israel in which Egypt won substantial military victories early on was necessary to show that Egypt and Israel were on an equal footing militarily, allowing any deal with Israel to be an agreement of equals rather than blackmail. Once the war started and the early victories assured, however, the path to securing Sinai was assured—either by military conquest (with the final peace treaty saleable because Egypt would be the victor) or by negotiation (as part of a negotiated settlement after an armistice seen as honorable because both sides had bloodied each other enough to show rough parity).
- American Civil War general, George B. McClellan—subverted. He believed that victory went to the commander who outsmarted his enemy. McClellan was always trying to decide what old Lee would have done and then come up with a really elaborate counterstrike that would wreck his plans. But his methods led to a loss as to what the objective was, leading him to pass up opportunities where all that was needed was a direct attack following a plan no more complicated than "keep shooting until the other side is all dead".
- William T. Sherman's march through Atlanta was an example of Xanatos Speed Chess. His adversary, Joseph Johnston, was the finest defensive general that the Confederacy could field. Rather than attacking him outright, Sherman adopted maneuver tactics. Johnston would set up a defense, and Sherman would go around him. The one major assault Sherman launched, the Union was driven back. In the end, he won the game—the Confederate government got fed up, replaced Johnston with John Bell Hood, a "fighting" general... and Sherman whipped him quite soundly.