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"There is a small Rahi called a Water Wraith. So small, so insignificant is it that larger fish do not even consider it a worthy meal. But every now and then, a bold water wraith will attack a fish much larger and more powerful than it. It is a one-sided battle, of course, that ends with the poor water wraith in the mouth of its foe. Of course, what the larger fish quickly discovers is that the outer shell of a water wraith is coated with deadly poison. The larger fish dies instantly and the water wraith escapes to feast for months on its very foolish and very dead opponent. Sometimes, my brothers, the best way, the only way, to win... is by losing."

The player has just defeated The Dragon, or perhaps another servant of the Big Bad. While The Hero is quick to spare his enemy's life, he can take some satisfaction in knowing that he is, in fact, strong enough to take on the villainous forces that plague his world. least until he finds out the truth.

You see, there was a reason why he won. This character was involved in some kind of plan, and part of the process required him to lose the battle. That's right! You're not as tough as you thought! Robbing you of the satisfaction of victory makes him just as much of a Magnificent Bastard as the fact that you have been unwittingly aiding his scheme!

...but wait. Something doesn't add up. His attacks were fierce. It took you a few tries to get past him, each time having to witness that dreaded Game Over screen when you failed. You know, if he's so interested in letting you win, maybe he could show enough courtesy to give you a bit more of an advantage in the battle? True, if you won too easily, you might think that something's up. Or maybe he's so proud that he believes that if you failed to defeat him at merely a portion of his power, you don't deserve to be his unknowing pawn anyway.

Some cases of this can be chalked up to Gameplay and Story Segregation. After all, there would be a lot of drama lost if you demonstrated that you were truly capable of destroying your enemies so early in the plot. Sure, a Hopeless Boss Fight would make a lot more sense, but where's the fun in that?

Most instances of this trope are also examples of The Battle Didn't Count, although for some villains, Death Is Just The Beginning...

Compare Deliberate Under-Performance, for a more mundane way to purposefully fail.

Naturally, even reading the game names here is likely to be a SPOILER.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ultimately subverted in Accel World. In the manga, Chiyu makes a deal with her long-time friends Taku and Haru- that they'll install Brain Burst on her if she wins against them at a game- a deal that results in her pairing with Kuroyukihime in a doubles tennis match against the two of them. After the girls win the first set hands down, Kuroyukihime notices that the guys weren't taking it seriously. Kuroyukihime realizes that Taku wants to let Chiyu win so he can install Brain Burst on her, but convinces him that the kindest thing he can do for her is to give the match his all. The guys then narrowly win the next set, but the girls narrowly win the third and final set.
  • In Blood Reign: Curse of the Yoma, Kazami allows Hikage to kill him since he can't bring himself to kill his friend over his master's crazy idea to borrow power from the yōma.
  • Devilman: The final battle of Violence Jack has Satan only stand around and never attack Devilman. Even when Devilman was on the verge of attacking him he only tried to dodge, implied to be Satan not wishing to kill Akira again like he did at the end of the original manga.
  • In Digimon V-Tamer 01 Warg and Melga think they have become a bad influence on Hideto and end up attempting suicide under the cover of Zeromaru's new ability. It doesn't work and Taichi has to hammer the point into Hideto instead.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Subverted in Dragon Ball Z, where the world champion Hercule finds himself facing the fresh kid champion Trunks in a public fight. Having seen his battle with Goten earlier, Hercule realizes he has no chance whatsoever of winning the eight-year-old, so in order to save face, he pulls this off and pretends to have lost intentionally. He even leans down to give Trunks a "free shot" at his face so he could appear to be going easy on the kid.
    • Goku deliberately holds back from using his SSJ3 form against Vegeta in their battle after Vegeta is corrupted by Babidi's magic. While there were many plausible and good reasons for Goku to do this (not wanting to give too much energy to awaken Majin Buu, not wanting to burn up his limited time on Earth too quickly, etc.) after Vegeta finds out, he immediately assumes it was this trope and becomes furious over it.
    • Beerus almost does this to Goku in the Battle of Gods arc of Dragon Ball Super, using just enough power to make it a good fight against Goku's SSJG form, and even pretending to be scared at points. He eventually manages to win by a hair at the end, but it's soon revealed that he wasn't using anywhere close to his full power, to the point where only at the end of the series has Goku arguably surpassed him.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • During the S-Class Exam, Cana and Lucy go up against Fried and Bickslow, prompting the former two to have an immediate Oh, Crap! reaction. While Lucy was able to defeat Bickslow a few arcs ago, she needed the help of Loke (who's partnered with Gray on the exam), and during the same arc, Fried was able to easily defeat Cana. Cana and Lucy seemingly manage to win by distracting Fried with naked women... but Fried admits after being defeated that he was faking that weakness, and threw the fight because he felt indebted to the two.
    • In the same phase of the exam, Mest goes down easily against Gray and Loke, who then proceed to frighten Wendy away. Mest's reason for throwing the fight is so he can investigate Sirius Island freely for the Council.
    • A non-combat example happens during one side story. Natsu loses a shooting competition against Asuka (Alzack and Bisca's daughter), and is forced to do whatever Asuka wants. In the climax, however, he uses his sharpshooting skills with his Fire Dragon Slayer powers to shoot down some thieves and retake the snowglobe that Asuka bought (one that Alzack and Bisca had pawned off to pay for her medicine during the Time Skip), revealing that he could have won the competition if he'd wanted, but threw the match to let Asuka have fun with him. Lucy notices this, and concludes that he's a good person at heart.
  • In the final arc of Food Wars!, Soma's father Joichiro, who's been touted as the best chef in the series, loses a culinary battle against his former disciple Asahi. Later when Soma faces Asahi himself on the BLUE, Soma states that Joichiro must have lost on purpose so the two of them would face one another, and he wouldn't have lost if he'd been serious.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: One episode has Batou go undercover to investigate a former cyborg martial arts champion. The former champ challenges Batou to a sparring match and knocks him out using a trick called the prosthetic blind spot, but after Batou finds proof that he's a spy they fight again and the champ tries using the same trick again, only for Batou to easily perform a Punch Catch and reveal that he'd thrown the first match.
  • Kuroko's Basketball:
    • It is hinted that Kiyoshi let Kagami win during their faceoff in Quarter 55, due to the fact that he was wearing his indoor shoes at the time.
    • During their final one-on-one in America, Kagami deliberately allowed Himuro to win. Contrary to his expectations, this did more harm than good, as he failed to realize that Himuro has a huge Can't Catch Up complex concerning him.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, even Gato starts to speculate that even with Kou and the Albion's constant attempts to stop him, it seems too easy. And he's right.
  • Naruto:
    • This is stated to be the real reason why Sasuke could win against Itachi. The elder brother wanted to wear Sasuke down enough in order to release Orochimaru and to rid Sasuke from the cursed seal. He also knew he was going to die in that fight, one way or another.
    • This is also the reason for Kakashi's victory against Obito. The entire fight with Kakashi was planned by Obito in order to remove Madara's seal as it prevented him from becoming the Ten Tails Jinchuuriki. So Obito allowed Kakashi to strike him in the heart, thus removing Madara's seal and becoming Jinchuuriki.
  • One Piece:
    • Garp let Luffy win so he could save Ace, since Garp is a marine and Ace a pirate and his adopted grandson. His relation to Luffy was also a factor.
    • Garp's superior, Fleet Admiral Sengoku, isn't fooled for a second. But Garp is the legendary hero of the Marines, so there'd be too much bad PR if he were punished.
    • Heavily implied during Smoker's fight with Vergo. Smoker apparently let himself be beaten during the last seconds of their fight so that way Law could get his heart back. It's up to interpretation as to whether or not Smoker could have beaten Vergo on his own, because the only reason he let Law regain his heart was so that he would be out of debt to him.
  • The eponymous protagonist in Saki tends to do this for her to end matches with a ±0 score.
  • In the finale of Samurai Champloo, Jin is forced to break out his master's ultimate, most dangerous sword-fighting technique to defeat the Big Bad; he purposefully leaves a gap in his defense and allows himself to get run through on his opponent's sword, taking advantage of the resulting opening to stab his enemy and take him with him.
  • In Space Patrol Luluco, Over Justice's response to having his ass handed to him is to call it a draw.
  • In Yaiba, during the Oda Nobunaga Tournament Arc, the Brilliant, but Lazy Master Swordsman Soshi Okita manages to best Yaiba, but is so amazed by the latter's spirit and determination that decides to forfeit.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters:
      • In the Duelist Kingdom arc, Mai holds back from using the Harpie's Feather Duster and allows Tea to destroy her Harpie Lady, then immediately resigns. She does this in order to honor her promise of giving Yugi the starchips he won back from Panik for her, as well as to avoid revealing all of her cards to him.
      • Later, when Yugi duels Rebecca Hawkins, her grandfather reveals Yugi had actually drawn a card that would have allowed him to win the duel, as it would have allowed him to banish up to five cards from either Graveyard, which would have weakened Rebecca's Shadow Ghoul enough for the Dark Magician to destroy it and reduce Rebecca's life points to zero.
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Crow Hogan deliberately holds back on two occasions:
      • Despite having a face-down Mirror Force on the field, he lets Leo (Zora's son) win after the latter gathered his courage to prove himself as a person, which was Crow's intention.
      • He tries it again during his second duel with Jaeger, as he sees Jaeger's family cheering up for him. However, Jaeger sees through Crow's apparent misplay and decides to lose the duel to face Yliaster instead of running away.
    • Zig-zagged in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. When Midori Hibiki goes up against Reggie Mackenzie, she has Reggie on the ropes, but hesitates to finish her off, since of Reggie loses the Shadow Game and falls unconscious, she won't be able to give Midori information on how to possibly wake her brother from his coma. However, when Judai comes by, Midori decides to give up on her brother in order to protect him from Reggie, but by this point, Reggie's able to turn the tide and win. Earlier, there's a straight example, when Reggie allows Misawa to beat her, but a glance at her hand shows cards that would have gotten out of that situation.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, the Toguro Brothers faked their loss at the end of the "Rescue Yukina" arc for Sakyo and so they can challenge the heroes in a Tournament Arc.

    Card Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering during the climax of the Eldritch Moon set the Gatewatch seal Emrakul within the moon. However, the spell to do it was failing until Emrakul possessed Tamiyo and finished the binding for her. It's implied this version of the spell is temporary, as Jace had spoken with some manner of avatar which had complained it wasn't the right time. Yet.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman (Tom King): It's revealed that a simple headbutt really didn't bring down Bane. He feigned defeat so he could be in Arkham Asylum just as he planned.
  • In The Brave and the Bold story arc The Lords Of Luck, Supergirl lets Lobo win an arm wrestling match just so that the alien bar's patrons don't spread all across the galaxy that Lobo has been beaten by a girl.
  • In Dark Nights: Metal, Barbatos claims Batman was able to defeat him once because he let him win.
  • In The Transformers: Unicron, Shockwave reveals that he's only a prisoner right now because he let it happen; once he's ready to leave, he just teleports out with zero fanfare.
  • In Uncanny X-Men (2016), Exodus is beaten up by Magneto, but writer Cullen Bunn hinted in an interview that Exodus let him win that one.
  • In The Unknown Supergirl, Linda Danvers lets Dick Malverne win a swimming race out of kindness towards his fragile ego.

    Fan Works 
  • In Ashes of the Past, a lot of Ash's Pokémon often have to take a dive during beginners training.
  • In Bound Destinies Trilogy, Majora let Link and co. stop the Fierce Deity so he could corrupt Link himself.
  • Code Prime: In the R2 chapter "Sword of the Past, Shield of the Present", while the Auotbots and Black Knights were able to drive off Schneizel, steal the Avalon, and acquire the Skyboom Shield, Cornelia suspects that it wasn’t really a victory, as Schneizel told Cornelia during his interrogation of her that he was conspiring to betray Megatron, and that by losing the fight, Megatron would remain focused on Lelouch and Optimus. The chapter "The Demon and Dragon Cometh" would confirm Cornelia’s suspicions, as Schneizel had nanoscophic tracers placed on the Avalon, which allowed him and Starscream to locate Horai Island to destroy it with the Damocles. Too bad he never gets the chance, as Megatron reveals that he survived the bombardment from the previous chapter, and has Scheizel and Starscream killed before heading for Horai Island himself.
  • In Cracks Along The Prism, Trixie finally lashes out at Sunset for months of bullying her. Per Word of God, however, Sunset let Trixie beat her up, feeling horrible for beating up and humiliating her in the past, thinking that letting Trixie wail on her would make her feel better.
  • In Diaries of a Madman, Discord created the Elements of Harmony so that other species would stand a chance against him, as part of a way of breaking up the monotony of his endless existence.
  • In crossover fanfiction Ed, Edd n Eddy/Devilman: crybaby, the demon Vis allows Edd to overcome him and become a Devilman.
  • Exaggerated in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Envy And Arrogance - When the mane six and their allies confront Arrogance in her sanctum and get completely trashed, she actually stops and expresses her annoyance with their weakness, outright stating that her boss' Xanatos Gambit had them beating her as the more favourable outcome. Then she purposefully launches into a long-winded Evil Gloating monologue, giving them the time to heal behind her back and prepare for round two. Then ,when it looks like they might actually stand a chance, she states that her job is done and disappears, willingly abandoning her host body.
  • Equestria Girls: Friendship Souls: The narration makes it clear that the only reason Applejack beat Sweet Cider was because Sweet Cider getting her memories back made her end their fight.
  • The God Empress of Ponykind: Tzeentch claims that he and the other Chaos Gods let the Emperor defeat them, faking their deaths in order to get rid of him.
  • Downplayed in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: strictly speaking Moody didn't let Harry hit him when he issued his challenge. But as Harry points out later, he wasn't really trying to stop him — all he did was sit back, wait for Harry to begin his next attempt, and then shut him down. The point of the exercise being less to compare their relative strengths, and more to get Harry to break out of the role of a "duelist" and genuinely do whatever it would take to land that one hit.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, during the first battle between Ash and Paul, Ash's Charmeleon easily defeats Paul's Grotle. However, Misty notices that Paul doesn't seem upset, almost as if he had thrown the fight. And as it turns out, right before Grotle was knocked out Paul had discreetly signaled it to set up a Stealth Rock to cause problems to Ash's other Pokémon.
  • The Ponies of Olympus plays this for laughs: Iron Will gives Spike advice at how to beat him during their match in the preliminaries of the Atlas Strongest Tournament, so that when he does, he can try and offer to sell Spike his new book on fighting techniques.
  • Rainbooms and Royalty: When Twilight is fighting Blackened Armor (the brainwashed Shining Armor), he gloats about how he always beat her when they fought as foals. Twilight admits that he did always win... because even as a filly, she always held back with her magic out of fear of losing control and hurting somepony. Since she has no problem with that now, she proceeds to kick his ass and purify him.

    Films — Animated 
  • In The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Donkey Kong, after being defeated by Mario in a battle, lies to Peach about having let him win to impress her. Mario doesn't buy it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Crazy Rich Asians: A type that doesn't involve physical fighting. Rachel and Nick's mother Eleanor agree to meet at a mahjong parlor to talk over the situation over a match. By this point it's been made pretty damn clear that most of his family opposed Nick and Rachel getting married for various reasons: Rachel's middle-class, has no connection to any of the big-name families in East Asia, is American (Eleanor's particular craw, as she believes Asian-Americans are selfish and don't consider family important), and was born out of an extra-marital affair because Rachel's mother was being abused in China and had fled to escape it. After bringing up all of this, Rachel discards a tile, which Eleanor picks up and uses to win the mahjong game. Rachel then reveals that Nick, despite all of that, still proposed to Rachel the previous day, but she turned it down. Eleanor remarks that Rachel had the winning hand in regards to Nick and said "Only a fool folds a winning hand." Rachel then turns it back on Eleanor; she had realized that Nick was facing a Sadistic Choice between either losing his family in order to marry Rachel, or resenting his family for the rest of his life for making him break it off with her, so Rachel turned him down first in order to save him the long-term pain. He will be free to find another wife more acceptable for Eleanor and her family and he will be happy with his family...while Eleanor will always be reminded that it was all possible because of Rachel. To emphasize that last point, Rachel flips over her tiles before walking out, showing that Rachel could have won the game by keeping the tile she discarded, but she chose not to; thus, Eleanor had won only because Rachel let her.
    Rachel: I just want you to know: that one day — when he marries another lucky girl who is enough for you, and you're playing with your grandkids while the Tan Huas are blooming, and the birds are chirping — that it was because of me: a poor, raised by a single mother, low class, immigrant nobody.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Discussed. When Gamora and Nebula, adopted daughters of Thanos, were children, he would make them fight each other. The loser would be painfully cybernetically augmented, one little bit at a time. Gamora always won, and Nebula really wishes that she had let her win a few times—or really, anything other than beating her every single time.
    Gamora: I just wanted to survive!
  • The finale of Pulp Fiction has Jules do this to the muggers at the diner. He makes it clear that if they had pulled this on any other day, he'd have just killed them both and gone back to his coffee without a second thought. Today, however, he's had a Heel Realization and is trying to change for the better, so he lets them take his money and leave in the interest of avoiding bloodshed.
  • Star Wars - A New Hope: On the Death Star, Obi-Wan Kenobi duels his old apprentice Darth Vader, who boasts that he has grown strong enough to defeat his former master. However, Kenobi retorts that he has grown wiser in the Force, and "if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Sure enough, he allows Vader to strike a killing blow, causing Obi-Wan to disappear and become one with the Force, allowing him to continue to mentor Luke after death.
  • In the ending of Tag, it was revealed that Hoagie had been suffering from liver cancer and may not live for another year to play tag again with his friends. Knowing this, Jerry ultimately allowed his long-time friend Hoagie to tag him to end his perfect 30-year record of never been tagged.

  • The Alice Network: Eve mocks René by telling him, among other things, that she let him win at chess whenever they played, but that she’s actually rather good at the game.
  • In the Discworld novel Maskerade, Granny Weatherwax plays a game of cards against Death for the life of a small child. If Granny wins, Death takes the soul of a cow instead. If Death wins, he gets the kid and Granny. Fortunately, this is the Discworld Death, who happens to be on the side of the living. Granny cheats and deals herself a better hand than Death, but he stops her, switches the cards... and then complains that he got "four ones" (read: four aces) resulting in a defeat. Rather an odd case of the trope since both characters were technically on the same side, but still. She then notices Death seems to be favoring his arm due to the cold and sets it back into place, and he asks what she would have done if he hadn't lost.
    Granny: I'd have broken your bloody arm, for starters.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In Cold Days, Harry wrests control of The Wild Hunt from the Erlking and Kringle, but he later realizes that there was no way he could have conceivably won that fight, and that they must have wanted him to lead the hunt, but couldn't just give it to him.
    • In Ghost Story Harry reflects upon his first battle with He Who Walks Behind and concludes this must have been the case, as the idea that his teenage self managed to overpower an Eldritch Abomination is utterly ludicrous. He suspects the creature is grooming him for something, although he's not sure whatnote .
  • Greatcoats Series by Sebastien de Castell - Zig-Zagged:
    • Falcio has never won a practice duel against Kest, his childhood friend, except once in the duel to become the leader of the Greatcoats. Kest is considered to be the best swordsman in the Greatcoats and it is often wondered by many characters how Falcio was able to beat him that one time, leading some to wonder if Kest let him win. But both Falcio and Kest insist Falcio won the duel fairly, even though Kest himself does not appear to know exactly how he lost. Kest is such a great swordsman he eventually becomes the Saint of Swords by defeating the current Saint, a Saint is blessed by the gods and are considered the best in the world at what they do. Later when he cuts of his own arm to stop being the Saint, he starts training with his off hand and while he does not become as good as he was previously he is STILL considered to be one of the best swordsmen in the world.
    • It is revealed in the forth book that Falcio trained with Kest using real weapons every day for days before the leadership duel. Falcio knew that Kest was good enough to not injure him, and that he was unlikely to beat Kest in these practice matches. His goal was to train Kest's muscle memory to stop before connecting the blade, therfore giving him an advantage in the actual duel.
  • The Tamuli: The Cyrgai are an extremely rigid warrior culture and don't hold intelligence in high regard. Their king is considered, by himself and his people, to be the greatest warrior who's ever lived, having never been defeated... because none of his opponents, even during training, have dared to raise their blades against the king. It's made very clear that he's routinely killed sparring partners who let him do so just because of his position. When he faces an outsider opponent who fights for real, he's taken down with ease.
  • In The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign, this describes all conflicts between Kyousuke and his nemesis, the White Queen. The latter is infinitely more powerful, being a Reality Warper with Complete Immortality who has literally conquered the laws of the universe. The only reason he can win (or avoid losing) is the White Queen's twisted love for him. She won't ever let him die, and deliberately makes it possible for him to win because she finds his struggles adorable.
    • A particular example is Volume 7, in which Kyousuke has created the Colorless Little Girl, an entity designed to be capable of permanently destroying the White Queen. She actually accomplishes this... only for the Queen to suddenly reappear, having somehow survived. She reveals that she knew all about the Colorless Little Girl, and had deliberately lost. The action of defeating the Queen would warp the Colorless Little Girl into an even greater danger than the Queen was. This would leave Kyousuke no option except allying with the White Queen to take her down.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow. In Season 2, Thea has left Starling City to train with her supervillain father Malcolm Merlyn. Her brother Oliver, unaware of this, tries to convince her to return. Malcolm however refuses to let her leave until she completes her training, but relents after she defeats him in a sparring contest. Thea however quickly realises he let her win, which seems like a Pet the Dog on Malcolm's part until the later reveal that he's using Thea for his own schemes.
  • In an episode of Farscape, Rygel lets a villain win a chess-like game as part of a con. When he's called out on it, he gripes that the guy had been so terrible that letting him win had been harder than beating him would have been.
  • Home Improvement: In "Up Your Alley", After being Bested at Bowling, Tim tries to save face by claiming that he's letting her win because of her mother's conviction for grand theft auto.
  • Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger: Ura pulls one on the Rangers by letting them win against Orgs powered by the thousand-year evil spirit, then using its matured power to power himself up.
  • Jessie: In "All the Knight Moves", Zuri beats every opponent in a chess tournament to win a trip to Paris for Jessie; but in the end, she decides to let her French finalist win so he can go home and make amends with his family.
  • Just Roll With It: In the climax of "Family Squabbles", Owen and Blair decide to answer the last question incorrectly on purpose and let their opponents win because they felt bad for them when the kids announced their dad lost his job and they're resorted to living off the grid. Until it was revealed they tricked them and they're not very nice at all.
  • Las Vegas: "Delinda's Box: Part 2" features a Tibetan monk named Soli Tendar. Every few years he comes into one casino and cleans it out for millions winning highly improbably amounts in short time. When Sam asks him about this, he explains this is the good karma he's done coming back to him. By the end of the episode, Sam convinces him to do one more all-or-nothing bet on roullette. He then demonstrates this trope after he places his bet on a numbe and the ball is rolling, he whispers to Sam another number which is where the ball actually lands.
  • In Power Rangers Beast Morphers episode "Crunch Time", the Rangers succeed in defeating and capturing Evox and throw him in a cell. However, it turns out that he intentionally allowed them to win so he could be taken into Grid Battleforce without suspicion and enact the final phase of his master plan.
  • Employed in Rutland Weekend Television, in which a prisoner who is going to be hanged tomorrow is playing chess against a guard, while another guard idly watches. The guard eventually says he's letting him win, to the prisoner's disbelief — both of the guards then reminisce about a time when he didn't let the prisoner win, effectively making him a Jerkass.
    Playing Guard: I had this whole setup, could beat him in one move! But did I do it? No, I didn't!
    Watching Guard: ...Well, you did.
    Playing Guard: ...Yeh, I did. Beautiful move.
    Watching Guard: Beat him in his last game'a chess...You Bastard!.
  • In Stargate SG-1 episode "Orpheus", It was said after a pep talk Bra'tac gives to Teal'c.
    Bra'tac: You have forgotten that a warrior's true strength comes from his heart and his mind. You have had a physical advantage over me for a long time, and yet I have never lost a sparring match to you.
    Teal'c: Because for years, old man, I have let you win.
    Bra'tac: Better. Much better.
  • Supernatural: Lilith is the Big Bad for Seasons 3 and 4. Sam eventually proves immune to her powers, and manages to kill her in the Season 4 finale. Notably, she doesn't fight back and is laughing as he does so. This is because she's a Barrier Maiden, and her death frees the Devil who will in turn trigger the apocalypse. Oops.

    Myths & Religion 

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Mildred Burke's reasoning for breaking the WWWA away from the National Wrestling Alliance after the NWA awarded the World Women's title to June Byers after one fall instead of the then standard two, saying she was just surprised in the first fall and conceded in order get some breathing room but had every intention of kicking Byers's ass in the next two, or any other time had she not effectively been banned from the NWA by Byers's husband. Byers, for her part, didn't care.
  • Tommy Dreamer never beats Raven, except for that one time he did, where Raven said he let Dreamer win so Raven could leave ECW for WCW.


    Video Games 
  • Abyss Crossing:
    • The Final Boss is Siro, the Goddess of Creation and Order. She wants to test the party's strength, but holds back her power so that she's about on the same level as the Dark and Light Rulers. She holds back less in her optional rematch, where she has 600000 HP compared to her previous 100000, though she does start the party with a buff as a handicap.
    • The Superboss, Kuro, also holds back in her fight due to being the Goddess of Destruction and Chaos, though she doesn't hold back as much as Siro because the party already proved themselves capable of defeating her wardens.
  • In Baldur's Gate II, Kangaxx is a disembodied lich, whose body was torn apart, its bits hidden in tombs. If you reunite his body for him, he rewards you (or attempts to) with death. If he fails, he laughs madly, as he apparently needed to get his body back first, then have it destroyed, to be transformed into a demi-lich, which is much harder to kill and much more likely to ruin your day.
  • In the above game's Spiritual Successor, Blazblue, there's a notable encounter in Bang's story where he seems to defeat and apprehend Ragna the Bloodedge, the most wanted criminal on the planet and a prime badass by any measure, but:
    Bang: "I've finally caught the notorious super-villain, Ragna- eh, skip the rest. The residents of Kagutsuchi can now sleep in peace! I am now one step closer to the reconstruction of Ikaruga! I feel like I could just fly to my dear Miss Litchi! I am... ze wind! A love storm! Passion with legs! To my beloved!" ''*runs off*
    Ragna: *gets up, unharmed* "... He's finally gone. Seriously, it's exhausting to deal with an idiot like that. Geez, it's never easy pretending to lose."
  • Bravely Default: This unintentionally happens after the first fight with Victoria and Victor. Right as they are about to finish the heroes off, Victoria suffers a sudden and violent seizure, forcing Victor to call the battle off.
  • Castlevania:
    • After you defeat Death in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, he informs you that he has a reason to hold back. Indeed, he does: he can only bring back Dracula if you kill the guy who's usurping his power. This does not explain why he seizes you with chains and ends your life with one quick Sinister Scythe swipe if you are unable to free yourself first.
    • After Soma fights Julius Belmont in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, he suspects something is up, as any other vampire hunter would have put up a better fight, and Julius admits he was holding back. Are highly damaging giant cross item crashes standard issue for vampire hunters now?
  • Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening has the recurring boss and/or advisor, Jester, who claims he needs Dante alive but doesn't hold back. Given that Jester was only a boss in the "Special Edition", which was somewhat panned for its quality, it is difficult to say if this trope occurs intentionally or out of developer laziness. He's actually Arkham.
  • At the end of chapter 6 in Duel Savior Destiny you finally get the change to have a fight with Lily. After winning, she mutters about how she was intending to do this but in the end actually fought seriously.
  • In EverQuest II the resident Lord of all Vampires, Mayong Mistmoore, reveals to players at the end of the major Rise of Kunark questline that he's the God of Blood, and he allowed the ancient and powerful sword SoulFire to be taken from him simply because he finished studying it. He then promptly begins studying another ancient artifact, a doomsday calendar called the 'Chelsith Stone'. (One must wonder about the impact of letting an ancient and powerful Vampire/God study equally ancient and powerful artifacts).
  • Final Fantasy
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Used by the Black Knight in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn's localized version (replacing a retcon of questionable quality the Japaneses version uses) to explain how he was back after being defeated and Left for Dead by Ike back in Path of Radiance. (Although his return was obvious if only because his identity was never revealed.) For comparison:
      • Translation: During that climactic battle in Path of Radiance, Ike reveals that his father crippled his sword arm, a fact that the Black Knight didn't know. As the Black Knight's true goals was to surpass his teacher, aka Ike's father, this revelation makes the Black Knight realize that his victory over Ike's father was hollow, as he never got to experience Greil's true ability. So he allows Ike to win in the hopes that later Ike would become as powerful and skilled as Greil, in short a substitute for Greil to test his skills against.
      • Original: The Black Knight's warp powder malfunctioned, leaving Ike to fight his spirit, that was not only weaker than his true self, but returned to his body after defeat.
      • Also used at the beginning of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, when Ike spars with Greil; Greil deliberately holds back, and is impressed that Ike noticed.
    • Fire Emblem Heroes: In Book VII, the Order appear to defeat Nerþuz in battle, but she reveals there was no way that mortals could have won against a god, and that she is willingly forfeiting because she finds them too cute to beat.
  • In Growing Up, you can intentionally lose to Alex and Charles when playing at the arcade or bowling with them in their respective routes, but they'll dislike you for downplaying your skills and not giving them enough competition. The former will even ditch you and drop out of middle school if you deliberately lose to her too many times because she won't see you as a worthy rival.
  • Guilty Gear has a mild example in the form of Slayer in any battle. His story dialogue and battle animations suggest a strength far greater than most of the cast, and his defeat pose has him simply lying down with an "I'm tired of this" look as opposed to being knocked out like everyone else. Especially evident in stories where he fights Sol Badguy, arguably the strongest person in the GG universe next to Slayer.
    • Speak of the devil. A lot of win quotes from other characters suggest that Sol is intentionally holding back on them tremendously. His reasoning for doing so is unknown, but a likely guess is he'd really seriously hurt people if he went all-out, and he's just not like that.
  • Indivisible: Lord Ravannavar deliberately baits the heroes into unleashing their strongest attacks on him while he is right next to the seal that keeps Kala bound. Naturally, this means the seal is broken in the crossfire and Kala is released. Ravannavar dies in the resulting explosion, but he doesn't care since his original plan would have ended in his death alongside everything else anyways.
  • Subverted in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories; after the first fight with Larxene, she is seen in a later cutscene musing about how it was hard to hold back enough to throw the fight - but then Axel and Vexen both mock her for trying to justify getting her ass kicked.
    • Vexen also holds back against Sora the first time in order to get data on him and create the Twilight Town card.
    • In Reverse/Rebirth, Axel tells Zexion that even in the second fight, he decided to let Sora think that he'd finished him off.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV, it was made clear that Osborne has no problems letting Rean win. Considering all the things that Osborne can do throughout the series, let alone the Erebonia arc, the entire continent better be grateful that he wants to lose so that he can win against the Greater-Scope Villain of the Erebonia arc.
  • Played for Horror in Luminous Avenger iX: Mytyl's attacks have glaring blind spots and/or aim to deliberately miss because she wants Copen to end her suffering.
  • Mega Man:
    • In Mega Man X5, the first boss fight is against Sigma in the form of a large floating head. After the player defeats him, a virus breaks through Earth, which was what he wanted. Zero clearly states "he lost to us on purpose!"
    • In Mega Man Zero 4, The Dragon Kraft is apparently going along with the Big Bad's evil schemes because he's descended into a "survival is everything" paradigm and thinks it's the only way to protect his and his ex's skin. After the first battle against Kraft, Zero asks him what's holding him back. Later, Kraft pulls a (sorta) Heel–Face Turn into a Knight Templar and threatens to Kill Sat an entire city of civilians to get at the Big Bad, and you have to go stop him. This time, he believes in what he's fighting for, so naturally, he's harder.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Metal Gear Solid: Some are more obvious about it than others; Vulcan Raven practically tells you that he let you win after you defeat him the first time. This group is incredibly devoted to this trope, as the majority of them die simply to convince you that you're not doing the dirty work for them.
    • Other games in the series use this trope almost as much. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater even applies this trope to the final boss, kind of. (The Boss WANTS you to win, but she wasn't going to LET you win.)
    • Used again in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, when Liquid at the end of the game fights Snake, it's pretty obvious that, having completed his agenda, he's just looking to go out with a bang. Which in this case means kicking Snake's ass a lot until Snake kills him.
  • The Mortal Kombat series gives us two heroic examples:
    • Mortal Kombat 9: Raiden intentionally lets Shao Kahn merge Outworld with Earthrealm, so that he can be punished by the Elder Gods.
    • Mortal Kombat 11: Shang Tsung deduces that Fire God Liu Kang allowed him to defeat his oppositions before realizing the latter let him win his battles knowing of his Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, up until the moment Shang Tsung defeats Kronika and takes the Crown from her. Shang Tsung actually finds it amusing that Liu Kang would go that far just to defeat him at the last minute, and lampshades it.
    Shang Tsung: You let me win.
  • The campaign mode for Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3 makes heavy use of this trope. In order for the story to advance, Naruto has to defeat most of the other Leaf ninja in single combat, including adult chunin and jonin who are canonically stronger and much more skilled than he is. However, since the competition is a friendly one and Naruto has more emotionally invested in it than they do, the battles with stronger ninja such as Shizune, Anko, and Kakashi tend to end with Naruto absolutely exhausted and the stronger ninja saying "Okay, that was pretty good, you obviously care more about this than I do, so here are my Plot Coupons," having not even broken a sweat.
    • At the end of the campaign, Kakashi defeats Naruto, then forfeits the match, claiming Naruto won.
  • Near the beginning of the Ninja Gaiden X-Box remake, you fight Ryu's uncle and The Man Behind the Man Murai to a standstill. He calls it training, but during the fight never hesitates to kill you if you let him. Justified somewhat earlier when Ryu is cutting his way through Murai's ninjas: Ryu's inner monologue points out that their training is lacking and they would never survive if they couldn't defeat him. Also, Murai's ninja clan and Ryu's ninja clan are enemies of a sort, and battles to the death are apparently common.
  • In many of the Pokémon games, certain trainers will claim they let you win. However, it usually seems like they're lying to save face, rather than that their defeat serves some kind of plan.
  • In Project × Zone, Sanger declares that he lets Yuri and Estelle win, otherwise he could have dealt a fatal blow against them. Considering you're using Yuri and Estelle at this point in a very short two-on-one duel, you would have to use an item just to survive against him and that Sanger's comments may be directed more to the player.
  • Suikoden:
    • In Suikoden, if Pahn wins his duel against Teo (which is difficult to do unless you can read his tells, in which case, like every duel, he's a pushover), he will wonder aloud if Teo went easy on him in the aftermath of the battle.
    • Suikoden II features an inversion in that it requires you to refuse to attack Jowy in the battle at the end of the game. He will not hold back, but if you're appropriately leveled, he won't be able to kill you (fortunately, he only uses normal attacks, so you can defend without worrying about counterattacking him automatically). Despite the fact that he could kill you, he will collapse from his own illness after only three attacks. If you somehow do fall in battle, you get better anyway, but you have to let Jowy win to get the good ending.
  • In Super Paper Mario, Mr. L claims that he was scouting the heroes, and he was a ridiculously strong boss (his attacks do more damage than anything else likely to hit you until you reach Count Bleck) for that particular part of the game. Considering Luigi's abilities in other games, he's probably telling the truth.
  • Tales Series:
    • Tales of Eternia, about halfway through the game, the temporary party member Ras reveals that he's the incredibly powerful knight you've been hearing about, and attacks you to prevent you from escaping to Celestia. After you beat him to a pulp and get to the next town, your party realizes that he couldn't have been fighting you for real - he kept pulling his punches and not taking advantage of openings, leading them to conclude that he let them win.
    • In Tales of Symphonia, this takes place the first time you fight Kratos — provided that you do win, which for a first-time player isn't a given (the story goes the same way regardless). Lloyd is all too aware of this. Amusingly enough, he is far easier the next times you fight him when he isn't holding back — of course, you've gained quite a lot more power in the meantime.
    • Inverted in Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, where In order to get the good ending, Emil has to let Lloyd and Marta win. Unfortunately, You're playing as Emil in that fight, so that means YOU have to throw the fight. Beating them gives you the Bad Ending.
  • Thunder Force V has you battling the Guardian, an AI infested with alien coding (from the ship of the previous game). Towards the end, however, it's revealed that Guardian was helping the pilot all along. Since it couldn't destroy itself, it deliberately paved a path for the pilot.
  • Used constantly in many of the Touhou Project games, partially because most denizens of Gensokyo view fighting as a game and mostly to justify defeating some of the most absurdly powerful beings imaginable (manipulation of fate, manipulation of boundaries, killing anyone with a thought, control of nuclear fusion etcetera). Explicitly stated in Touhou Chireiden ~ Subterranean Animism, in which the stage 3 boss Yuugi says she was just playing around, her sake NOT EVEN DROP!
  • Warcraft III begins with a nice example of this in the Human Campaign with The Lich King tricking Arthas into picking up a BFS and becoming his champion/bitch.
    • The Lich King, now Arthas himself, continues to do this in World of Warcraft. A good number of times players defeat his lieutenants and wipe out large numbers of his soldiers. In the final battle, Arthas reveals that it was all a plan to get them stronger, to let them become the champions of the world... so that he could kill them all in one shot and raise them as undead. He would have succeeded, too, if the ghost of Arthas's father didn't revive everyone at the last moment.
  • The entire campaign of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is one giant I Let You Win by a Khornate Daemon looking to be released from its can.
    • Almost: it was entirely irrelevant to the Daemon who won, as either way there would lots of killing to power its release. After all, Khorne cares not from whom the blood flows, only that it does.
  • In Wild ARMs 4, Gawn, the only Brionac villain without a special power, stops fighting you after he runs out of bullets. He obviously let you win, because he could have just reloaded, or better yet, used his bare hands since he can punch missiles with them. Since he shoots you before you can ever do anything offensive against him, this might seem like a Hopeless Boss Fight, but surviving through it actually counts as a win for you.

    Web Comics 
  • Erma: The backstory of Emiko and Sam's marriage has them fighting against the former's overwhelmingly powerful father in order to be together, eventually being able to escape and go into hiding in the United States. Several years later, after reconnecting with her yōkai family, Emiko tries to chew out her father over how he can't just turn over a new leaf and act like his years of abusive behavior towards her and the rest of her siblings didn't happen. His unamused response to this includes the bombshell that her and Sam never actually defeated him back then. He discovered where they were and where they were going the day after they escaped, and he could have easily destroyed their happy little suburban life with their daughter Erma at any point in the past decade. The revelation causes her to spend the following day in a Thousand-Yard Stare.

    Western Animation 
  • In the penultimate episode of Amphibia, this is how King Andrias is defeated. After gaining the upper hand in his duel with Anne, Andrias receives (through Sprig) a letter from Leif, Sprig's ancestor and Andrias' oldest friend, assuring him that she never forgot him and warning him against closing his heart. While The Core attempts to do a Villain Override on him, it's interrupted by Sasha. Realizing that he's free of the Core's influence, Andrias removes his armor just before Anne's final desperate attack, letting her strike him down.
  • In Central Park, Season 1 "Squirrel, Interrupted", when Paige and Molly are having their "Mother-Daughter Blood Chess" (it's just regular chess, Paige is over-competitive), Paige is genuinely shocked that Molly beat her, despite Molly pointing out she beaten her 50 times. She immediately realizes that her mom let her win and Paige only did that because she didn't want to discourage her from playing chess anymore.
  • In The Great North, Season 1 "Tusk in the Wind Adventure", Tusk Johnson has Beef and Wolf compete in a survival skills challenge. Beef wins the first two challenges but when he sees Wolf struggling he lets himself lose so Wolf doesn't feel disappointed. After Beef realizes that Tusk is a reckless fraud and a bad influence and he kicks him out of his home, Wolf gets into an argument with Beef and accuses him of being jealous because Tusk liked him better and he beat him in the survival challenges, but Beef reveals he let him win which angers Wolf even more and he storms off.
  • In Home Movies, Brendan decides to get own back on his bully, Shannon and has Melissa film a rematch to the fight. Shannon coincidentally tries to apologize for beating him up, and while Brendan pretends to accept it, he sucker punches him in the stomach. As Shannon appears to be near tears and reeling in pain, Brendan begins to dance over his victory, not noticing Shannon by then already got up and told Melissa he was faking it and did it to give him some of pride in standing up to him.
  • Spoofed in South Park. Satan challenged Jesus to fight for the fate of the world. It was a scam. Satan knew everyone would bet on him, given how strong he was compared to Jesus (this was before he turned badass in "Red Sleigh Down"), so Satan bet on Jesus and threw the match, returning to hell with all the money.
    Jimbo Kern: Man! That guy is a jerk!
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Idiot's Array", Chopper steals one of Lando Calrissian's fuel canisters during the firefight with crime lord Azmorigan and his goons. At the end of the episode, after the Ghost crew has left, Lando reveals he knew they stole it, which is why he claimed he couldn't pay them.
  • In Wander over Yonder, Wander comes to the realization that Lord Dominator is doing this. The reason the heroes keep escaping from her is because she's holding back; she's secretly extremely lonely, but has no idea how to interact with others, so she goes around bullying people as a villain and lets them escape so they can be terrorized or fought again another day. That's the closest thing to companionship she can find.

    Real Life 
  • In the first game of the 1972 World Chess Championship match between American Grandmaster Bobby Fischer and Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky, Fischer made a beginner's mistake, allowing his bishop to be trapped in a way that even most amateur players could have avoided. Fischer ended up winning the match in the end, and when interviewed years later, he claimed that he had purposefully done that because he was so confident that he effectively wanted to give Spassky a handicap. Whether he was actually telling the truth is disputed, though, as many saw it as just an excuse to avoid admitting that he made such a bad mistake.


Video Example(s):


Beef Gives Wolf the Truthscuit

During the survival skills challenge, Beef saw Wolf struggling and lets himself lose so he doesn't feel disappointed.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / ILetYouWin

Media sources: