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Flexible Tourney Rules

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Mokuba: Seto, Melvin's invoking the power of Satan again.
Kaiba: Eh. I'll allow it.
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series (mocking Yu-Gi-Oh!'s enforcement of the rules)

Tendency of a Tournament Arc that goes on a long time to feature an increasing amount of bizarre characters with abilities which could technically violate predetermined rules of the event. This will be ignored or actively encouraged. The hero, in contrast, will not resort to these tactics; if he does he is inexplicably reprimanded.

Makes slightly more sense if the tournament is organized by villains who will change the rules on a lark for entertainment value.

See also Unnecessary Roughness. Spontaneous Weapon Creation, when it's an extension of a person's ability, is one of the more common forms of abusing this trope.


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    Anime And Manga 
  • The only times someone was disqualified from the tournaments in Dragon Ball were the Man Wolf when he pulled a knife and Cyber Tao Pai Pai revealing his hidden sword. Otherwise is played straight, as Ranfan breaks the "no crying" rule with her Wounded Gazelle Gambit and nothing happens to her and Krillin throwing a pair of panties to distract Dirty Old Man Jackie Chun is fine as well. But Goku using the Kinto'un to come back is only given a one-off pass and would get him disqualified if he did it again. However, they don't seem to mind him taking off Muten Roushi's sunglasses to protect himself from Tenshinhan's Sun Fist (you'd think they'd at least question how he did that without getting a Ring Out). Groin Attacks are also banned, but we see an instance where Yamcha gets nailed and his opponent isn't disqualified because it was an accident (Yamcha did a jump kick, the other guy ducked, and his head happened to impact Yamcha's crotch), like the way Shen (said opponent) defeated Yajirobe earlier on—even though it turns out it probably wasn't an accident. Speaking of Shen, there's also the little bottle he pulls out to use the Mafuuba, but it's justified cause the announcer says "It doesn't look like a weapon, more like some kind of spell, let's see what happens."
    • Goku's fight against "Jackie Chun" in particular has numerous rules broken without affecting the match:
      1. When Goku sees the full moon and turns into a giant ape, he's not disqualified even though he's clearly touching parts outside of the ring.
      2. When Jackie seemingly killed ape Goku to stop his rampage, he's declared the winner, even though killing is supposed to get you disqualified. The ruling was only reversed when we they see he actually destroyed the moon, turning Goku back to normal.
      3. Finally, after Goku turns back, he's unconscious for what seems to be several minute before the count to ten even starts, giving him just enough time to get back up. Jackie complains about this, but nothing comes of it.
    • Cell sets up a tournament to challenge Earth's strongest fighters, borrowing the standard tournament rules for it. Halfway through his fight with Goku, he gets bored, blows up the ring, and declares the ring-out part to be void.
    • The Universe 6 vs Universe 7 tournament in Dragon Ball Super has rules that get changed chaotically due to Beerus and Champa constantly arguing over minor details. In one case, an "airborne ring-out" rule was implemented for a single fight so that if a fighter touched a clear case over the ring, they would be considered out of bounds. It turns out that Champa insisted on this to try to mitigate the weakness of his current fighter, namely that he could not fly. Another instance had Vegeta get knocked out of the ring... but since he was standing on a tiny piece of rubble that had been chipped off the ring earlier, and no part of his body touched the ground itself, this was not counted as out-of-bounds. A disqualification is even overturned just because Vegeta really wanted to fight the disqualified fighter, even after he was revealed to be cheating. The Running Gag of the referee forgetting to start the 10 count is also continued.
    • This is mostly avoided in the Tournament of Power between eight different universes, as the Grand Priest sets up a number of clear-cut rules that are adhered to quite stringently (no flying allowed, except for individuals who have wings as a natural part of their body; no weapons; everyone is subjected to the gravity of their homeworld; no killing your opponents; no interfering if you are already knocked out; etc). In a couple of cases where it seemed as though a rule might have been broken (Android 17 standing on the stage's "sun", Master Roshi using a jar as part of the Mafuuba, using a Potara for fusion, sacrificing your own life, etc.), the Zen'Os made the judgement on whether it was permitted... most of the time, their judgement was "It was cool, so it's allowed."
  • Dr. STONE sees the Science Hero protagonist joining a tournament hosted by a village with a Stone Age technology level. As a result, he and his allies get away with a lot by virtue of the fact that the judge simply doesn't have the scientific knowledge to realize what they're doing:
    • Kinro is allowed to put a mask on partway through his bout, on the basis that it's just a costume. The fact that the mask is rigged with lenses that compensate for his poor eyesight goes unnoticed.
    • Later on, the lenses are used to set Magma on fire, causing the onlookers to believe he has magic powers.
    • Gen, who is an expert in psychological manipulation, manages to convince Magma that he'll die instantly if he moves, on the basis that unless he actually does die, Gen hasn't actually interfered in the match at all.
    • Of course, Magma is cheating at least as bad. He implies he surrenders, but before his loss is actually called attacks Kinro when his back is turned. He has Suika kidnapped to get Kohaku to run off looking for her, and when it looks like she'll get back in time for her own match he orders Mantle to immediately lose—even though Kohaku is in sight by the time her match is supposed to start, she is still declared the loser. Not to mention that the entire tournament is for the hand of the priestess and the title of chieftain, and Magma is openly plotting to murder her so he can rule alone.
  • Gundam:
    • In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, the rules of the Gundam Fight let the participants get away with murder - literally, in some cases. In fact, Rule 7 specifically says "Destruction of property on Earth due to the Gundam Fight is not considered a crime." Thus you get situations such as one fighter assassinating his opponents before their matches, rampant and obvious cheating, and the use of The Virus to enhance one's abilities to the point where they're effectively immortal. The only rule specifically established to prevent death says that fighters are banned from targeting their opponents' cockpits - and Laughably Evil President Evil Wong Yun Fat eliminates that rule in the Finals, using his privilege as the host nation's leader.
    • Gundam Build Fighters has a similar situation where the world tournament's organizer has it in for one of the protagonists and deliberately rigs their matches in order to get them eliminated. This comes to a head in the final round, where he subjects the show's Char Clone, normally an honorable and friendly guy, to mind control that makes him fight like a crazed berserker.
    • In the school-sanctioned duels in Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, about the only thing that is considered illegal is anything that would be considered an actual real-world crime (i.e. murdering the other pilot or using banned technology). Not only are mobile suits allowed to be blatantly mismatched in power, but there are cases of open outside interference (for instance, in one duel, one of the sides had friends activate the sprinkler system to reduce the strength of the already-power-limited beam weapons, and in another, a suit had a shutdown program activate mid-fight). In fact, the agreement the two pilots make to start a fight is more or less an implicit agreement that anything goes as long as one side wins.
  • One chapter of Heaven's Lost Property had a wrestling tournament where this trope is averted twice. First is when Ikaros gets immediately disqualified for Beam Spam-ing, and second is when Sohara is barred from winning when it's pointed out that she didn't join from the start and only went in during the Tomoki and Mikako's match.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple had the Desperate Fight of the Disciples tournament, where the referee A. was evil. and B. admitted to just letting anything go as long as it was entertaining.
  • The Kujibiki in Kujibiki♡Unbalance is ostensibly a contest in which teams of four high school students compete to become the next student council. As we see more competitions, however (particularly in the Recap Episode), it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that all the competitors are actually students at the same school. And one time, the heroes have to face seven opponents at once, which is handwaved as a "numerical coincidence".
  • Megalo Box: Yukiko decides, on the fly, to allow Joe to get his match against Mikio despite having unwillingly forfeited the original match during the ceremony that was supposed to announce Mikio as the fourth Megalonia finalist. When Mikio points out to her face that the tourney rules have already decided the outcome, Yukiko's response is essentially that as the main sponsor and organizer of the tournament she is within her rights to dictate the rules to make the tournament more interesting.
  • Monster Rancher: When Tiger of the Wind enters a tournament to earn traveling money, the organizers don't seem to care too much about his final opponent pulling an I Surrender, Suckers on him. If anything, they're more concerned about the fact that Tiger is an infamous bandit.
  • Averted in Negima! Magister Negi Magi (the original manga) where the Tournament in fact allowed almost every form of combat (non-bladed weapons, no-incantation magic, Ki Manipulation, and other oddball techniques) - on the one occasion where a rule was broken, the guilty (Asuna, when she summoned her greatsword by accident) immediately lost the match. Of course, the tournament was part of a conspiracy to reveal The Masquerade, so they needed them to pull off all those super cool abilities.
    • Both Evangeline and Setsuna later broke the no-incantation rule. Sort of, as the referees weren't able to note and call them on it. Eva immediately canceled her spell and apologized (of course, she soon started using the same spell sans incantation), while Setsuna's spell/prayer is forgivable as she thought she was about to die.
  • The Davy Back Fight in One Piece is blatantly rigged in the Foxy Pirate's favor—all of the referees are from their crew. They allow such things as using weapons in a game where weapons were exclusively forbidden, leaving the ring and returning later when doing so was also a clear foul, and trying to eliminate the Strawhat team members for 'mouthing off' to the ref.
    This trope was played with in the anime-only dodgeball event, where what looked like cheating was actually using rules for uncannily specific circumstances that are rarely brought up—which the Foxy Pirate refs had to enforce faithfully, under penalty of death. This is not Loophole Abuse either— there is a rule for practically every possible situation, with their legality seemingly random. The rulebook is a doorstopper that took Robin the entire round to read, and she is a speed-reader.
  • In Saint Seiya, by divine decree, of all of Athena's Saints only the Gold Saint of Libra is allowed to wield weapons (and indeed, nearly every part of the Libra Cloth is a weapon. Even its shields.) Doesn't justify the iconic Nebula Chain wielded by the Andromeda Saint, the Chameleon Saint's whip, the Auriga Saint's discs or the Cerberus Saint's morningstar.
  • Just about every duelist ever in Yu-Gi-Oh!. Several of them claimed to have psychic powers, which should probably count as an unfair advantage even for the ones who weren't cheating and feigning magic to cover it. One duelist tried to kill the main character with flamethrowers over a children's card game. And the main character has a ghost in his head that plays for him who can apparently rearrange his deck to draw whatever he wants, and who can destroy people's minds with his magical powers, although he usually has the decency to win the duel first.
    • This is, of course, mercilessly mocked in the Abridged Series. "Stop this duel immediately! It violates Battle City rules! ...just like 99% of the other duels that I refused to stop."
    • Played with in one of the later rounds of Duelist Kingdom (at least in the dub), where Bandit Keith uses literal cards up his sleeve against Joey. When Keith is exposed at the end of the match, Pegasus reveals that he knew all along that Keith was cheating and that he let it happen to see if Joey was capable enough to win in spite of it; while also implying that if Joey didn't win he would have called Keith out and disqualified him for the violation anyway.
    • Also lampshaded in Battle City. Upon seeing the Big Bad Mariknote  arrive for the finals, Kaiba tells him he should disqualify him immediately for kidnapping his brother, but lets him continue to participate because he has an Egyptian God Card that he wants to win through the tournament's ante rules. This means that he could have stopped Marik at any moment for torturing his opponents and leaving them horrifically injured, but he was too greedy and prideful to do so.
  • The GX Tournament in the second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX attracted numerous shady characters, from the megalomanical to brainwashed minions; this was allowed, because the whole thing was just a trap to fish out the person who stole yet another super-powerful card strong enough to destroy the world.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, the Dark Tournament is run by a bunch of rich men who have a mutual interest in killing Yusuke (the main character) and his teammates. Thus the rules change in order to inconvenience and/or cripple Team Urameshi... until the one member of the rules committee not interested in Yusuke's death has the other members killed.
    • Even in the normal tournament battles, the team captains are allowed to agree upon a set-up that they'd think would be most interesting. The default is one-on-one with the combatants being whoever felt like going (although team captains go later in a round to conserve their strength), first team to get three victories advances (although they can go to five victories). There are also battle royales (including a five-on-one, at the solo fighter's request). Other variations shown in the Dark Tournament involves rolling dice to determine the match-ups and, when two fighters were exhausted, they were allowed to do a sudden-death match where whomever was pushed past a line lost. The referees are also allowed to delay the ten-count to give a fighter more time to get up or get back in the ring. The final round, however, is implied to be a mandatory one-on-one with each fighter only being allowed to fight once.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman: The Contest: Hippolyta keeps tweaking the rules and events in order to manipulate the outcome of the contest so that Diana will lose.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Domino City Effect, during the Duelist Kingdom arc, the rules for the card game during Pegasus's tournament are just as non-sensical as they were in canon, such as being able to seemingly any monsters together and the gameplay more like an RPG than a traditional game of Duel Monsters. However, it's mostly justified here, as the main character Vivian Willow learns that Pegasus purposefully changed the rules of the game for his tournament, which is why players can pull off moves they couldn't normally do in the regular card game.
  • In The Tainted Grimoire, during the Camoa Cup, Acidwire requested a single duel to decide the match between them and Clan Gully rather than the best of three that was supposed to happen. They got away with this because when they requested this, they made it seem like they were doing it out of consideration of the fact that Clan Gully has yet to recover properly from their last few matches when actually it was so they could make it easier for them to defeat Clan Gully. This backfired on them when Luso defeated their leader Suzuka.
  • White Sheep (RWBY): During the Vytal Festival tournament, Cinder throws Jaune into the ocean arena to get him out of the way, forgetting that he can't swim. She then jumps in after him, pulls him out, and gives him CPR to save his life. When Jaune wakes up, he assumes both teams have been disqualified for breaking various rules, but Ozpin laughs it off. The match was simply declared void and both teams fought again later, notably not against each other.

  • In the finale of Ip Man 2, wherein our eponymous Chinese Warrior and folk hero starts to win against Twister, the bloodthirsty Chinese-bullying British boxer, the referees "suddenly" remember that you're not suppose to kick in western boxing matches and call Ip Man on it; something they didn't bother to call on in the last match when Twister was having an orgasm beating a sick-and-elderly Chinese Warrior to death.
  • The Karate Kid Part III has Mike Barnes explicitly break every rule in the book (groin kicks, punches to the face, surprise punches after a separation is called, etc.) in his match with Daniel LaRusso. True, every such infraction costs him a point, but he gains it right back while Daniel is busy looking for his family jewels. Indeed, this is his strategy: to kick the living crap out of him for the full time period and then win in sudden death. But despite his blatant disregard for anything resembling competitive decorum, he is never disqualified. A cynic might believe that it is because Terry Silver had just spent millions putting together a permanent arena for the All-Valley championships and nobody wants to disqualify his star pupil. Nonetheless, Cobra Kai gets a lifetime ban from tournament participation when Barnes loses to Daniel (Cobra Kai also retroactively reveals what a lot of fans suspected by confirming that Terry paid off the judges and referee to look the other way).
  • Likewise, The Karate Kid (1984) has Daniel win the All-Valley final with a Crane Kick to Johnny Lawrence's face, well after the announcer explicitly stated that strikes to the face were prohibited. 33 years later, Johnny is still pretty sore over this, and makes sure to mention to Daniel that he won with an illegal kick.
  • Mortal Kombat: The Movie: Let's just say Shang Tsung's tournament structure is a bit....suspect. Seems the writers thought as much as well, since they made the sequel skip straight to Mortal Kombat 3, which was less "tournament" and more "war".
  • In the live action Speed Racer movie, one of the drivers pulls a gun on Speed and spectators react with shock and alarm, making it quite clear that he'll be disqualified. While the race was full of illegal crap up to this point, the drivers were careful to use them in situations where the cameras couldn't catch them doing it.
  • In Tekken (2010), Kazuya takes control and suddenly declares the tournament fights to be death matches partway through the tournament. One wonders what the other corporations that provided fighters for it thought of this.

  • In Ender's Game, the Battle School setting revolves around students playing a zero-gravity war simulation against teams of their peers. When the teachers realize that Ender might be the natural General they've been waiting for, they start stacking the odds against him to see how he responds to pressure (making him fight two battles in one day, pitting his team against two teams at a time, etc.). Eventually, when he gets into the simulations against the buggers, he realizes that he had it easy at that point.
    • Eventually Ender gets fed up with the constant screwing of the rules and sarcastically suggests a match with his team in a cage without guns.
    • A secondary lesson taught was to ignore the perceived "rules" of combat. Most of the Battle School commanders, smart though they were, could not break out of certain lines of thinking (such as the practice of moving in formations during battle). Ender starts thinking outside the box and royally owns everyone he goes up against, culminating in winning an impossible fight by performing the victory ceremony before the battle was over.
      Ender: "It doesn't matter if you try to beat me unfairly. I'll beat you unfairly first."
    • They specifically mention that it would take at least a year for the Battle School to recover from Graff's changes meant to train a single student. Of course, the Battle School is disbanded even before the end of the Bugger War.

    Live-Action Television 
  • In Fighter of the Destiny, the TV adaptation of Way of Choices, the Star Seizer Academy's entrance exam involves defeating a troll without magic or weapons. Chen soothes one to sleep with music, then when the examiners release three more, he protects himself with a force field bauble while repeating the trick, none of which disqualifies him. In the source material, Star Seizer uses a straight up test of strength and persistence.

    Video Games 
  • Not a tournament, but the double standard in the Ace Attorney trials is staggering. The judge is shown to disapprove of intimidation from the defense in the courtroom, but has no qualms about the prosecutor frequently and indiscriminately using a whip. A prosecutor presented forged evidence, he got a penalty. When the defense was accused of such, he got disbarred. Heck, Phoenix was once penalized for finishing the judge's sentence.
  • The Colosso tournament in Golden Sun, where the player is allowed to get help from the other party members to cheat on the obstacle courses, and the enemies in the battle portions use only physical attacks while you have Djinn and Psynergy.
    • Justified by the fact that the Ruler of Tolbi and host of the tournament told him to do that in order to see his powers. The beaten gladiators, though, can't stomach the loss and come after your party in The Lost Age.
  • The Imperial Arena in Jade Empire is theoretically supposed to be a display of various martial artists' skills in one-on-one contests, with magic in place to prevent the contenders' deaths. Under the management of Kai Lan the Serpent and Qui the Promoter, however, gimmick matches are thrown together with absolutely no regard for standards, ranging from pitting contenders against demons, to one-versus-many matches, to the use of styles that had been expressly banned by the rules. Oh, and illegal poisoned weapons are used to get around the Arena's death-prevention systems. In short, the Arena has gone from a Mixed Martial Arts competition to a Mafia-run Professional Wrestling promotion, and your role in the storyline is to clean the place up by becoming the Champion. Unusually, you can take advantage of this yourself: In the final match, when Kai Lan comes in to retake the title, you can have the Black Whirlwind fight in your place, and when the Serpent objects, you point out that it's not the first time someone's substituted a fighter for the scheduled match.
  • Common in The King of Fighters - Whip brings a gun to a martial arts tournament, in addition to her namesake weapon. Then again, there has yet to be a single King of Fighters tournament that wasn't used as a front by that year's villain, to the point the Ikari Warriors go on red alert every time they get an invitation.
    • Considering almost every character in the series can use some form of Ki Manipulation, this is probably allowed because neither Whip nor Yamazaki, who have a handgun and switchblade respectively, have attacks like that and thus they are at a disadvantage without themnote .
  • Mortal Kombat 9: Shang Tsung's tournaments seem to have no actual rules. He can declare 2 v. 1 matches. Ermac, who hasn't had any match, can fight against Liu Kang, who's at the most advanced stage by that point.
  • Street Fighter, despite supposedly being about a martial arts tournament, has several characters who wield weapons. This includes Vega (Wolverine Claws), Ibuki (kunai), and Rolento (an escrima stick and hand grenades). Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game tries to justify Vega's use of claws as him being in a division that allows the use of weapons, but that doesn't explain why he gets to fight combatants in the non-weapon division. In Street Fighter IV, some characters comment on C. Viper using a suit full of gadgets such as tasers and jet boots.
  • Despite being a game about boxing, Hoy Quarlo in Super Punch-Out!! uses a cane, Dragon Chan mixes flying kicks in with his punches, King Hippo straps a manhole cover to protect his stomach and so on, and so on. Aran Ryan seems to make a living taking advantage of this, although in his case its more just obvious cheating, like the horseshoes he so obviously has hidden in his gloves. Soda Popinski's use of mid-round Soda Pop probably qualifies as well
  • Yoshimitsu and Kunimitsu from the Tekken games seem to not object to bringing knives and swords to the fistfights.
    • With all the Cyborgs and Robots around, this hardly seems a big deal. Not to mention pandas and bears (oh my).

  • In this Biter Comics strip, a competitor in a Scrabble tournament finds a loophole in the rules.
  • In Kill Six Billion Demons the fighting tournament starts out pretty flexible, with pretty much no rules on combatants save that they remain within the arena, and it's taken for granted they'll use Supernatural Martial Arts and magic. At one point a character who didn't register jumps into the area and physically merges with another, which seemingly breaks no rules except that once the characters are separated the one who jumped into the arena isn't allowed to compete independently. Even so, Solomon gets some scorn for abolishing individual bouts mid-tournament and turning it into a battle royale with collapsing platforms (although this was because he learned his co-host Gog-Agog was manipulating the brackets to favor one particular fighter), then disqualifying people on what are little more than technicalities under the circumstances.
    • Of course, all this really just under-builds the arc's theme that the rules of the tournament are whatever God-Emperor Solomon David says are the rules. The tournament even ends on a call-back this theme: Though White Chain didn't succeed at drawing the requisite drop of blood, Solomon declares her the victor anyway because the audience thinks she won, putting Solomon in the position of either gainsaying his own audience and coming across as petty, or breaking the rules.
  • Done in Sluggy Freelance when they parody the Tri-Wizard tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Any message that comes out of the "Goblet of Flameyness" forms a Magically-Binding Contract, so anyone who tampers with the goblet can create whatever rules or exceptions to rules they want. This includes having an olympic athlete compete in a student competition, expanding the number of competitors from three to five, and having one of the Duh-Mentors compete.
    • This trope sometimes turns up even without goblet tampering, however. Such as when Torg takes "use the tools around you" to mean he can grab someone out of the audience and have her fight a giant monster for him.
  • The Rankers from Tower of God have the explicit right to alter test rules while the test is running.
  • In Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, one of the recent story arcs had players competing in a tournament with increasing convoluted cheats by the hobgoblins, which in the end have to be accepted due to a loophole in the rules that says the contestants use the rules from their own country.

    Western Animation 
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Avatar Korra Invokes this as a justification for being able to secretly compete in Pro-Bending in spite of being the sole person on Earth to command multiple Elemental Powers where other players' only have one. To compensate, she promises her teammates that she'll confine herself to waterbending. When she reflexively bends earth to defend herself against two simultaneous attacks she causes the referee to proclaim "Foul! ... I think." The only reason this display is not counted against her is that the referee hasn't foreseen the circumstance. After some deliberation, the referee Averts this by codifying the Obvious Rule Patch, allowing her to play on the condition that she only Waterbends.
    • Later on, Korra’s team is eliminated by a team who is flagrantly cheating and have paid the officials to ignore these fouls. But they get hit with a bit of karma when the Arc Villain, Amon, shows up and removes their bending.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Played with in "Brotherhooves Social." On the one hand, it's mentioned that despite the Social being intended as a competition between teams of sisters, the committee has a rather loose definition of "sister," and basically allows any pair to compete. This is why Orchard Blossom is allowed to compete despite the fact that it's blatantly obvious she's just Big Mac in a dress. On the other hand, brute-forcing the challenges and nearly injuring the other competitors is very much not allowed, and gets Big Mac and Apple Bloom disqualified.

    Real Life 
  • In a tournament held in the 13th century, a famous noble arrived with his warriors and announced that he would only be watching, not fighting today. Much later in the day, after having time to study the other fighters and let the other fighters grow tired, the noble announced that he had changed his mind.