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Beginner's Luck

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At any gambling casino, from Monte Carlo to Reno,
They'll tell you that a beginner comes out a winner.
Beginner fishing for flounder will catch a seventeen-pounder...
That's what I'd always heard, and always thought absurd,
But now — I believe every word.
Fred Astaire, "(I've Got) Beginner's Luck" (words by Ira Gershwin)

Sure, the Big Bad has slaughtered thousands of experienced soldiers and dozens of truly ace opponents, or perhaps has already taken over planets. That Rebel Alliance has no chance, and the Galactic Senate — doomed.

If you see a plucky kid who's never used your weapon of choice before, however, it's time to turn tail and run.

Plucky kids seem to have some innate link to Destiny, since they always seem to end up with the one power necessary to rule them all. Even worse, they tend to be savants at that thing, even when individuals around them have trained and worked for years only to be bested by a plucky kid within a few minutes.

Inherent to the Sixth Ranger trope, often with The Worf Effect later. Compare with Achievements in Ignorance, Falling into the Cockpit, Like a Duck Takes to Water, and Readings Are Off the Scale (although this trope applies to a person rather than a machine).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Subversion: Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion has a remarkable ability to sync with and pilot his Humongous Mecha, even compared to those who have trained for months and been cloned with the purpose of doing so. He's also the only one to cause his Humongous Mecha to go berserk in the main series for significant amounts of time, including it moving when it has no power. However, this all has been carefully planned out in advance, as Shinji is The Chosen One (if really only by virtue of his mother, Yui, having set herself up to be The Chooser of the One) and it rarely translates well when the situation calls for finesse, in which case dear old mom usually has to intervene to pull him out of the fire.
  • Amuro from Mobile Suit Gundam drops into a Humongous Mecha and, without even having used the controls before, handily survives an attack by an enemy war veteran. Handwaved by letting Amuro read a manual for the Gundam — for a few minutes, anyway. Most main characters from the spin-off series do the same, although there are exceptions.
    • Later subverted. While he had the advantage of a massively overpowered machine compared to his enemies early on, as Zeon threw superior machines at him he started having a lot more trouble despite new weapons and the required experience using them.
    • Played with in Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. Despite being Newtypes, none of the pilots can even walk properly on their first sortie. Judeau managed to drive off his first enemy in his first sortie, mostly through confusion on his opponent's part and...well, luck.
  • Kasuki Yotsuga from Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure discovers his incredible talent for piloting Core Robots when he's accidentally sealed into one while trying to rescue its wounded pilot. It turns out that his alternate-universe self is a Core Robot, and the psychic link between the two is what makes him so good.
  • Lyrical Nanoha. As a kid fumbling around with her staff for the first time, Nanoha Takamachi destroys a monster within minutes, she saves multiple universes multiple times at the age of nine, completely shattering the learning curve in the process, and years later as a fully trained battlemage, she's not only a literal ace (well, "A's") but has to have limiter upon limiter attached to herself and her staff at all times so as not to God Mode her enemies to death in seconds. The in-story explanation for the limiters is that a single unit is not allowed to have that many high-level mages in it, for fear of mutiny.
  • Misaki in Angelic Layer is known as the "Miracle Rookie", beating her opponents with the simple power of Power Copying and friend-magnetism when she's barely picked up an Angel. An interesting example because not only is this a game rather than world-saving heroics, it's just that, a game, not Serious Business - at least in the manga. (Even in the anime, Misaki doesn't treat it nearly as seriously as others do.)
  • Like many anime before it, Bleach's main character Ichigo Kurosaki starts as a simple human who can see ghosts. Turns out he not only has enough raw power to break magic, but then manifests a Giant Sword of Doom. For the first few arcs, he continuously manages to not only gain powers and/or abilities that other people have to work centuries to gain IN DAYS, but then continues to show that he is better at it. He also has no talent whatsoever for performing hakudo spells or special moves though. While his spiritual pressure is tremendous, he's just as tremendously limited in its use. He only has one special move, and his bankai is just a massive speed boost.
  • From Saki, Senoo Kaori from Tsuruga Academy is made of this trope. She's a complete noob, even going so far as to visually (and obviously) separate her tiles according to her winning hand. But she gets lucky many times, to the point where Yumi forbade her from playing Mahjong between the team competition and the individual so she could keep her luck. The result: First, in the team tourney, she slams Kiyosumi's Mako with a Suuankou (4 concealed triples, a rare Yakuman hand worth max points). Then she goes on to win her first individuals match by scoring a Kokushi Musou (aka Thirteen Orphans, another rare Yakuman hand) off of Ryuumonbuchi's Touka. Finally, just for fun, she drops a Ryuu-issou (All Greens) Yakuman in practice. She never calls out her hand correctly, because she doesn't even know which combo is which (each of her 'victims' had to tell her which hand she really won with).
  • Yuuri in Kyo Kara Maoh! commits this trope when he manages to defeat Wolfram in a sword-fight despite having no sword training at all. He then proceeds to defeat him using magic too, with no training or even knowledge of his own ability, even though everyone else he faces have a lifetime of training and effort. To be fair, though, he almost never uses magic outside of his Super Mode, which comes complete with a Split Personality that does know the ins and outs of spellcraft very well.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • In Pokémon: The Original Series, during Ash's very first matchup in the Indigo League, he relied on a Pokémon that he had no experience using in battle before: his Krabby. Krabby proceeded to evolve into Kingler and swiftly gives Ash his first win in the tournament. He does the same thing later when he used Muk (again, a Pokémon he had never used) in the fourth round, defeating his opponent's incredibly tough Bellsprout. (Although, that was one time he actually planned it out a little; the battle was on the Grass field, he figured his opponent would likely use a Grass Pokémon - which she did - so he decided to use Muk, who being a Poison-type, would have type advantage to such a Pokémon.) Brought up again in "Hello Pummelo", where Ash chooses another Pokémon he has never used before, his Tauros, in his lineup for the championship match.
    • In the same vein in Pokémon the Series: Black & White, Ash's new rival Trip easily beats Ash's Pikachu with his Snivy. He lampshades how easy it was to beat Pikachu but the audience knows that Pikachu wasn't up for a battle because earlier in the episode, Pikachu was zapped by Zekrom and couldn't use his electric or speed attacks severely making Pikachu having a huge handicap. While Trip doesn't believe Ash when Ash explains that in their next battle, Ash clearly tells Trip that he got lucky their first battle.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Secret Service, Gary's results at the academy are extremely high and whilst life on the streets may account for his observation skills, it still doesn't account for his skill with weaponry.

    Fan Works 
  • In Bound (How to Train Your Dragon), Hiccup manages to disarm Astrid for the first time in years on his first day of weapons training. He insists that it was a fluke, but she assures him otherwise.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
    • Anakin promptly gets into a starfighter that he's never seen before in his life and manages to fly it well enough to not only kick ass, but blow up a massive spaceship. Later in his life, while rescuing the Chancellor, he successfully lands planetside a ship whose controls he's never seen before, which is not designed for atmospheric , not designed for human pilots, has broken gravity generators, is missing about half its mass, and is on fire. He sticks the landing (right outside the Jedi temple, having a whole planet of landing sites to choose from) and walks away from the smoking wreckage.
    • His son, Luke, meanwhile, has at least some excuse. The Incom T-65 X-wing setup is almost a carbon copy of the Skyhopper's, which is a small airspeeder that Luke practiced with throughout the majority of his life on Tattooine, allowing Luke to adjust fairly quickly.
    • Rey from the Sequel Trilogy is able to fly the Millenium Falcon through wrecked Star Destroyers in a way that would leave its owner Han Solo staring in awe in order to escape several TIE fighters chasing her and her comrades, despite flat-out telling Finn that not only has she never flown it before, but the ship itself hasn't been flown in years. She also, despite having never wielded a lightsaber in battle or had any real experience with the Force, is able to fight and defeat Kylo Ren in their battle on the Starkiller Base despite her opponent having years of experience and training from Luke Skywalker, his uncle. Kylo at least has the excuse of being shot in the side by Chewbacca and fighting Finn beforehand, but both of these had only slowed him down by the time of their battle, not crippled him.
  • A rather humorous Double Subversion occurs in True Lies. Helen Tasker, a civilian held hostage by the Big Bad Arabian terrorists, picks up a fully automatic submachinegun for the first time... and promptly fumbles it. However, in the act of fumbling, the gun bounces down the stairs in slow motion, randomly firing and killing all but one of the terrorists. This is a more extreme version of Susan Calvin successfully shooting a machine gun with her eyes closed in I, Robot.
  • Played especially straight in The Karate Kid. Daniel stumbles on Mr. Miyagi attempting to catch flies with a pair of chopsticks ("Man who catch fly with chopstick — accomplish ANYTHING.") While Mr. Miyagi tries and fails throughout the scene, Daniel manages it within seconds of attempting it, prompting a disgruntled "You beginner luck," from Miyagi.
  • In Spaceballs, Princess Vespa doesn't even want to touch a gun. But when they shoot her hair, suddenly:
    Lonestar: That was pretty good. For a girl.
    Dot: That was pretty good for Rambo!
  • In the 1980 version of Fame, Leroy helps a friend of his audition for a seat at P.A. by acting as her back-up dancer. Despite having no training, his moves impress the teachers so much that he's the one who passes, while his friend is sent home in tears.

  • An oft-quoted example comes from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain.
    "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."
  • Exaggerated and Played for Laughs in Warbreaker. The Returned are fond of an absurdly complicated game called Terachin based around throwing various weighted balls onto different parts of a marked field. Lightsong never learned any of the rules and uses such brilliant tactics as choosing which ball to throw based on the color of his drink or throwing backwards without looking. He accidentally plays like a prodigy and frustrates the other Returned to no end by the fact that none of them can beat him.
  • The Wheel of Time. In the first book, Rand gets a blademaster's sword and starts learning how to use it. In the second book, he kills a real blademaster (one who earned a blademaster's sword by becoming a blademaster) in a fair fight.
  • In Ash & Cinders, when facing the Traveling Dark - creatures that disabled her brother and gave Orym a run for his money, Cinder trips and accidentally wills a burning branch to impale them when she throws up her hand to shield herself.
  • In Robert Asprin's Little Myth Marker, Skeeve (who has played precisely one game before this) plays Dragon Poker against the top professional player in the multi-verse, the Sen-Sen Ante Kid. Skeeve explicitly invokes this trope, stating immediately before betting his entire pot on the first hand that in a long term game he had no chance at all, but in a single hand he had a 50-50 chance of winning. He won.
  • In Gordon Korman's Beware the Fish, Bruno and Boots slipped a cold remedy created by school genius Elmer Drimsdale into the sports coach's energy drink. It reacted badly with the citric acid and mimicked intoxication, and the only way Bruno, Boots and Elmer could keep the coach from wandering over to the girls' school across the road was by agreeing to play poker for toothpicks with him. Elmer won all the toothpicks within the first half-hour, which Bruno termed "Beginner's luck."
  • Gregor from The Underland Chronicles seems to get lucky a lot when fighting, even though he's not the brightest. Somewhat justified in that he's a rager. Lampshaded in Gregor and the Code of Claw, when Gregor realizes that if his rager skills fail him, he's just a twelve-year-old kid who's had a few sword lessons, and therefore in big trouble.
  • In Through the Motions, Deanna, who had never even seen real magic prior to her first encounter with Marisol, is able to (partially) charge Sol's magic wand after crudely imitating her magic dance. Subverted in that neither of them knew at that point that someone had to directly touch the wand's Power Crystal before it could be used properly.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Gilligan's Island, the crew is harassed by a really mean witch doctor who uses voodoo dolls (among other things) to torment them. At the end of the episode, Gilligan tries making a voodoo doll of the witch doctor to get even; the Skipper tells him that's dumb, seeing as the witch doctor clearly had years of practice doing it. However, when Gilligan sticks a pin into it, it actually works; the villain (who was snooping in the bushes behind them) yells in pain and makes a run for it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition sourcebook Greyhawk Adventures includes optional creation rules that involve starting as zero-level characters — that is, as beginners before any specific Character Class is chosen. Among these rules are the "Luck" one, which consists in trying to perform a task you're not fully trained in by "trusting luck". On a lucky roll, you can attain Insight or Great Insight, allowing you to temporarily perform like a 12th-level character. The example given contrasts a trained cleric carefully attempting to Turn Undead on a vampire using the proper words and faith, with the overeager newbie who resorts to thrusting the holy symbol in the vampire's face and screaming "BOO!", startling the undead so much that it can work.

    Video Games 
  • Possibly inspired by all the above examples of Humongous Mecha pilots, the main character in Zone of the Enders is an ordinary 14-year-old boy, who stumbles into the cockpit of the super-advanced Jehuty while trying to hide from an attack on the colony. Within minutes of entering this robot, he goes toe-to-toe with The Dragon, a psychopathic, suicidal veteran of countless battles...
    • This seems somewhat justified after The 2nd Runner, as after seeing what Jehuty is capable of with a trained pilot in control, we realize exactly how little of the mecha's capabilities its first young pilot was able to make use of. It really was using only its most basic features, assisted by the AI; it wasn't just a handwave after all.
    • Cage Midwell in Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars similarly ends up fighting several battles when he ends up in control of a Super Prototype. In both cases, it's somewhat justified by the fact that the Orbital Frames in question also come equipped with powerful A.I.s who can help them in combat.
  • In Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior, the main character, Kais, tears through an enemy base, takes down a helicopter (equivalent) with nothing but a pair of rifles, rescues the Ethereal, almost singlehandedly stymies a boarding attempt on his ship, fights off entire squads of Space Marines, fights off Corrupted Space Marines, takes down a Humongous Mecha, and destroys a Greater Daemon... all during his first battle. However he does go completely insane after this. In the novel you find out that the Blood God Khorne was so impressed with Kais' bloodbath that he started backing the little blue guy.
  • Gordon Freeman (of the Half-Life series). Who knew scientists knew how to operate firearms? To be fair, he's given a training course on how to use an MP-5 as part of his HEV suit qualification. The people running Black Mesa must be Crazy-Prepared.
  • Justified in Knights of the Old Republic, where, near at the end of the game, you discover that you are Darth Revan with an almost destroyed memory, and thus your skills were there, you just had to awake them once again
  • Final Fantasy has an enemy called Tonberry. Tonberry's Karma attack does damage related to the number of enemies its target has killed. This is usually a One-Hit KO, but not if the character hasn't killed that many enemies but just survived on Leaked Experience.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Nasuverse has several examples. Fate/stay night gives us Shirou, who's been admittedly training for 8 years so hard it could nearly kill him... except he does it wrong and therefore it was pointless. By the end of the routes he's generally taking on experienced Masters and Servants 1v1 and winning. Shiki in Tsukihime is even more ridiculous, killing the 1000 year old Nero Chaos and 800 year old Roa, both of whom were supposed to be unkillable. With a small pocket knife, the only weapon he has any proficiency for at all. Shiki is a bit of a strange case. He has a power that can kill anything including abstract concepts such as invincibility itself, as well as a Superpowered Evil Side that is vastly more competent than he is and seems to be somewhat more than human.
  • In Tokimeki Memorial 2 Substories: Dancing Summer Vacation, Kaori Yae manages to get a perfect score on her first try at DanceDanceRevolution. The justification given by the storyline is that she has an innate sense of rhythm, and is in top-shape physical condition due to being a sportswoman.

    Web Comics 
  • Seems to be the explanation for the successes of, if not Scarlett, then at least for Harold and Clancy in +EV.

    Western Animation 
  • In Storm Hawks, The Dark Ace has already killed several experienced Sky Knights, but the leader of a young, inexperienced group beats him in their second fight during the first episode and would repeat that feat multiple times throughout the series. Though it should be noted the Dark Ace had him dead to rights in their first fight, but made the mistake of letting him live and pointing out the flaws in his technique in his arrogance, while the later victories can be chalked up to Aerrow being forced to catch up.
  • Subverted in Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids when the gang is talked into betting on a horse at the track and he wins. Bill Cosby notes, "Beginner's Luck," to the audience. Suddenly, there is an announcement that the gang's horse is disqualified, which nullifies the gang's winning while a stunned Cosby notes "That has got to be the shortest streak of Beginner's Luck in history!"
  • In Moomins on the Riviera Snorkmaiden sweeps the casino and becomes a millionaire despite not even knowing what gambling is.
  • In the Arthur episode "Cast Away" D.W. catches a fish on her first try, much to the annoyance of Arthur who has been trying and failing repeatedly.
  • "Barbary Coast Bunny" had Bugs Bunny posing as a rube in order to get back the gold that Nasty Canasta stole from him. At Canasta's gambling palace in San Francisco, Bugs passes off his own skill and prowess as beginner's luck.

    Real Life 
  • Often happens in poker, since beginners almost always don't know anything about poker strategy and play as they like. So, they're a) hard to estimate and b) also hard to bluff.
    • Poker is still partly luck-based, so any beginner has a chance to beat the best poker players in the world. (If you're playing against a single opponent without a betting limit, simply betting all your chips immediately at the beginning of every hand — without even looking at your cards — will give you about a one in three chance to win a match against anyone.)
    • There are some known strategies that are very good at beating beginning poker players. They don't work on experts, who know about them and what their flaws are, but techniques that good players use to get small advantages against each another generally work on the assumption that their opponent isn't an idiot and will react rationally to the information you reveal as you play. When playing against an actual idiot, they can be useless and counterproductive (for example, there's no point in trying to bluff someone who never folds), but if you know your opponent is an idiot, you can use an anti-beginner strategy to take their chips rather quickly.
      "The only two people you should never play poker with are the best in the world and the worst in the world."
  • Similarly to poker, expert chess players often cite beginners as being difficult to face due to their odd and nonsensical moves being next to impossible to predict in a game, making formulating a strategy impossible.
    • US Chess Champion Wesley So laughingly tells a story of how he once taught chess to a class of elementary school students as part of an enrichment program. After explaining the rules to a class of 3rd graders, he chose one girl to be his opponent for a demo match in which he intended to further explain to the class how the game worked. The girl checkmated him in six moves, unknowingly baiting into the so-called "Fool's Gambit" that, normally, is such an obvious ploy and so easy to block that "no-one but a fool" would ever try to use it against an experienced player. Mr. So relates that he didn't expect the girl to use any of the known gambits, and thus fell for the most obvious one of all.
  • Wilfrid May narrowly escaped being shot down by the Red Baron on what would be the latter's final flight because he was still a novice fighter pilot and Von Richthofen couldn't anticipate May's erratic movements.
  • The above two examples fall under an old military Murphy's Law corollary: "Professional soldiers are predictable, but the world is full of amateurs."
  • When it comes to playing a Fighting Game, such as Street Fighter, the more experienced player will know all the tricks to every move on every character while someone with little to no experience in the fighting game genre may resort to Button Mashing. The newbie player may actually win a few rounds against an experienced player this way just because they managed to mash up enough buttons to pull off a series of moves to stop their opponent while the experienced player is frustrated since they can't find an opening to attack in or block against all the spammed attacks. Not all fighting games fall under this and some may have counters against players who randomly mash buttons.
  • When betting on horse racing, at least in the UK, the first bet someone places (who has never done so before) is known as a Virgin Bet. It is commonly held that a Virgin Bet is usually lucky.
  • In many sports and martial arts, an individual has to pass through a curious phase where they have to surrender their natural athleticism in order to learn how to execute the movements of that art or sport. Consequently, a beginner performs better than someone who was just initiated because the beginner doesn't suffer the Centipede's Dilemma. For example, a person who has never lifted an epee will have a certain natural athleticism which will help them make up for having no technique. After a few lessons, performance goes down as the beginner is frozen by thinking about what they are doing. Passing through this step is one of the necessary sacrifices for mastering the art.
  • Non-sports example: Our knowledge of the outer planets of The Solar System was helped because right off the bat as we began Space Exploration in the 1960's the outer planets properly aligned for a "grand tour" in 1977 - an alignment that only happens every 175 years. The last time it had happened was 1802, and the next time will be in 2152. The Voyager Probes were sent on this tour.