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Know When to Fold 'Em

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Many a hero has felt this sentiment.

"You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealing's done."
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Sometimes, You Can't Fight Fate. And when things aren't going your way, it's good to know when to call the whole thing a wash and quit. After all, knowing when to just walk away is a useful skill. It may have even indirectly contributed to the creation of The Thirty-Six Stratagems as an actual list.

The Fatalist is quite aware of this wisdom. The Determinator, however, is not. The Determinator will rarely know when to back down, even when it would be beneficial; as such, not knowing when to quit will frequently be presented as a flaw for this kind of character. A Determinator who refuses to back down from a hopeless battle and gets their ass kicked is a very common and easy way to show that the threats are getting bigger, and that an iron-willed resolve isn't going to work against someone who can turn them into jelly. A Combat Pragmatist would see that sort of attitude as foolhardy; he'll fight as long as he can (and fight dirty, at that), but flees if it's clear that he's going to lose. Quitting while they're ahead also sometimes happens, with the rationale usually being that they're not going to survive a prolonged fight and would be better off using a temporary advantage as an opportunity to get the hell out of there.

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This trope is known as "risk aversion" in psychology circles. As seen in the prevalence of this trope, it's often a useful evolutionary trait. It's why most people, when gambling, try to quit when they've made more money than they started with. After all, nobody ever got rich from getting a lead and then betting it all anyways.

Taking this trope too far can lead to Dismotivation when they decide that since You Can't Fight Fate, why bother doing anything? The Straw Nihilist THINKS he understands this trope, but in reality wouldn't even be sitting down at the table. The same is true of The Eeyore, who has already folded before the cards are even dealt.

Serial villains in general owe a large part of their Joker Immunity to making escapes at the end of the encounter to appear in another. Good exit timing makes more formidable enemies than escaping a Cardboard Prison.

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Compare You Were Trying Too Hard, which is about situations where folding somehow causes you to win the pot. See also Screw This, I'm Outta Here; Villain: Exit, Stage Left; Opt Out; I Surrender, Suckers; Graceful Loser; I Will Fight No More Forever; Run or Die; Switch-Out Move; Sensing You Are Outmatched; Tactical Withdrawal. Contrast Sunk Cost Fallacy, which this trope tries to avoid, and Surrender Backfire. Compare with Dirty Coward and contrast with Rage Quit, which are more emotion-driven while Knowing when to Fold 'Em is strategically based, even though anyone who is willing to commit atrocities because he believes he has the upper hand and stands back because of biting off more than he could chew is a Dirty Coward by default. Also contrast with Leeroy Jenkins, who is pretty much the antithesis of this trope, and Attack! Attack! Attack!, where the character's determination blinds them to when it is time to give up. Compare and contrast the Determined Defeatist, who is a ZigZagged example, having the attitude of this trope, but who will press on anyway. Detrimental Determination is what tends to happen when somebody doesn't know when to quit, even when they should for their own sake.


Examples:

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    Card Games 
  • An important skill in poker. (In fact, that's what the Kenny Rogers song is about.) Also pretty much in any card game, where the Random Number God can make or break you depending on what you draw.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, any player may concede the game at any time, often due to the belief that one will soon or ultimately lose. This can happen during competitive tournament play, when a player may forfeit so he or she can play other games during his or her match in the time allotted. This rule even trumps cards whose ability prevents a player from winning or losing in a given situation (such as Abyssal Persecutor or Angel's Grace). The most frequent (and legitimate) reasons for conceding a match are:
    • Mana-Screwed/Mana-Flooded: Both are in reference to whether or not a player manages to get any lands. Getting mana-screwed means the player has been unable to draw or play any lands; getting mana-flooded is the opposite in that the player has been drawing nothing but lands. This is especially the case when there is a great land disparity as there is plenty a player can do if they have managed to get five lands faster than their opponent who was only able to get two.
    • Mulligans: the reason mulligans are allowed is to allow a player to reshuffle unsatisfactory hands. However, even mulligans can be a cause for premature surrender largely because once you're done and you've found a hand you like, you have to put a card back into the bottom of your deck for each time you had to mulligan. In general, most players do not mulligan more than three times so that they have four cards in their opening hand to have at least a small chance of making a comeback; any more and that puts them at a serious disadvantage in a game where hand advantage is important.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Footrot Flats, the Dog is trying to watch the farm while his owner is away, leading to many What Would X Do? questions. When a situation involving many, many stinging insects arises, it turns out Wal would...hide in the outhouse with the newspaper until they go away.
    What would Wal do, what would Wal do...Wal's no fool.

    Films — Animated 
  • Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman: As he is wont to do, Batman thrashes one of his suspect's bodyguards early in the story. When that bodyguard later finds Batman going through said suspect's room, he decides to practice the better part of valor and just walks away without fighting Batman. When another bodyguard asks if something's wrong, the first guard says "Nope" and keeps walking.
  • In Batman vs. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the brothers are getting soundly trounced by Batman when Donatello decides that they can't win and declares "I'm calling this! It's Ninja Vanish time!" and drops a smoke bomb to allow them to escape.
  • In The Book of Life, Chato orders a tactical retreat when he finds out Joaquin has the Medal of Everlasting Life, knowing full well that he simply can't win, and informs Chakal. Later, he orders a hasty retreat due to circumstances.
  • Cars 3: Lightning McQueen tries his best to keep racing despite all the cars being replaced by upgraded models (in an ironic parallel to what happened with Hudson Hornet from the first movie). Despite training and improving his skills, he ultimately realizes that he can't beat Jackson Storm straight up and that his trainer, Cruz Ramirez, who actually has wanted to race for awhile, is more than capable and worthy of taking his place, with him becoming her coach.
  • The Thief and the Cobbler: At the end of the original workprint, Tack and the Thief briefly get into a fight over the Three Golden Balls; just as the Thief has Tack and the balls cornered, he, having been through all sorts of hell over the balls throughout the film, finally decides the balls are more trouble than they're worth and lets Tack have them, walking off in a huff.
  • The Twelve Tasks of Asterix: After the last task is fulfilled, Julius Caesar is so afraid of what the Gauls will do to him if he doesn't keep his word he gives them full control of Rome as promised.

    Films — Live Action 
  • In Batman (1989), after rescuing Vicki Vale from the museum, Batman fights the Joker's goons, beating the crud out of all of them until only the villain's second-in-command Bob is left standing. Batman makes a taunting gesture towards Bob; Bob decides against it, drops his knife and high-tails it out.
  • Count Yorga, near the end, Micheal is ambushed by two of Yorga's brides (one of whom is a turned friend, Erica). He manages to hold his ground by swinging his stake stick at them and threatens to impale them. While Erica stays where she is, her fellow bride figures he isn't worth losing her undead existence over and flees the room.
  • The Crazies (1973): The sheriff's deputy initially fights back along with him but surrenders when his boss dies.
  • In Deadpool (2016), Ajax and Angel Dust enter Weasel's bar and try to threaten him for information on Deadpool. At that moment, however, everyone else in the bar draw their guns and level them at the two. Ajax realizes he's badly outmatched and chooses to leave (though not without stealing Weasel's photo of Wade and Vanessa on his way out).
  • Event Horizon: After viewing a recording of what happened to the title spaceship's crew, the captain turns it off and, in the most deadpan tone imaginable, announces to the rest of the crew, "We're leaving." Unfortunately, circumstances (namely the Event Horizon herself) interrupt.
  • This trope is one of the core underlying themes of Eyes Wide Shut. After stumbling across the existence of the Masquerade, the realization that they seem to be up to some shady stuff, and may have been responsible for murdering a woman who knew too much, he ultimately decides that pursuing the truth would probably go poorly for everyone involved.
  • The Fastest Gun Alive: After Harold kills rival fast gun Fallon, the local sheriff orders them out of town. Harold wants to resist but sees that almost a dozen men have shotguns pointed at his gang, recognizes there's no point in resisting and leaves.
  • Even kaiju can get in on this. In the Showa Godzilla films, we have the space monster Gigan, who tends to bail when the tide begins to firmly turn against him. He and King Ghidorah both book it at the end of Godzilla vs. Gigan, but he also abandons his ally at the end of Godzilla vs. Megalon, leaving the over-sized bug to face the wrath of Godzilla and Jet Jaguar alone.
  • Rodan in Godzilla: King of the Monsters has this attitude (combined with I Fight for the Strongest Side!). After being defeated in a Curb-Stomp Battle with King Ghidorah, he submits himself as The Dragon at his side. After Ghidorah is killed by Godzilla, Rodan challenges Godzilla for position as Alpha Titan, but is immediately cowed after Godzilla gives him a look.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Loki won't fight if he can't win:
    • Iron Man 3:
      • One mook realizes that laying down his life for a bunch of weirdos with superpowers isn't worth it.
        Mook: Honestly, I hate working here; they are so weird. [drops pistol and runs]
      • Rhodes jumps out of the overheating Iron Patriot suit and proceeds to drop-kick Savin. Then Killian shoots a stream of fire at him from his mouth. Rhodey evades, but he is immediately aware that he can't win that fight.
        Rhodes: You can breathe fire?! Okay... [stands down and gets knocked out]
    • Captain Marvel (2019):
      • After witnessing Carol single-handedly neutralize his Orbital Bombardment, annihilate his entire fighter screen and destroy an entire battlecruiser simply by flying through it, Ronan wisely decides to order the rest of his fleet to jump the hell away from Earth orbit.
      • Yon-Rogg's attempt to convince Carol to fight without her powers just gets him blasted several meters into the rubble behind him. He understands he's far outclassed, so when Carol extends her hand, he wisely takes it.
  • Joe Buck does this with his dream of being a "hustler" in the final scene of Midnight Cowboy. On the way to Miami, he disposes of his cowboy outfits and later admits to his friend Ratso that his experience in New York taught him that he was never cut out to be a man-whore (at least not a successful one) and resolves to find honest work as soon as they arrive.
  • Duncan and Charlie in Mystery Team when they decide that they're in over their heads and that they need to grow up and stop acting like kids.
  • Prom Wars: When Joseph is surrounded by four Lancaster students during the Paintball Episode, he realizes fighting or running is futile and offers to just blow his whistle and signal that he's out. They all pellet him anyway.
  • After being painfully reminded that they Alpha Betas have them beat in raw strength during the Tug-of-War event in Revenge of the Nerds, the Tri-lambs start the second round by simply letting go of the rope. Their defeat was inevitable, but this way they dropped the Jocks in the dust.
  • In the climax of Stand by Me, Jerkass bully Ace realizes that Gordie fully intends to follow through on his threat to shoot Ace if he gets any closer to the dead body. Ace backs down and leaves, but vows revenge on the four boys.
  • In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it's shown that at some point following his passing, Yoda came to realize that the way the Jedi Order had been operating (e.g. it was too full of itself and believed itself to be the sole keeper of the Light Side of the Force), had become obsolete around the time it failed to stop the rise of Darth Sidious, and fully agrees with Luke that it's time for the Jedi to end.
  • Strange Days: When Mace tries to slip into Gant's party, his three goons confront her. She pummels two of them, so the third simply says, "Enjoy the party!"
  • The Terminator: The T-800 may be a Determinator, but it has enough self-preservation to know when to flee for strategic reasons. After Kyle shoots it in the eye, causing it to crash a car at high speed and exacerbate damage to its arm, it chooses to flee and repair the damage before continuing to pursue Sarah.
  • Thunderball: after the battle at the end, the SPECTRE henchmen actually surrender and are taken into custody by the US Coast Guard.
  • In Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen, Optimus Prime is brought Back from the Dead, destroys the Sun Harvester, and delivers a major Curb-Stomp Battle to The Fallen. Megatron and Starscream, after seeing this, decide to cut their losses for the time being and leave while they're unnoticed. As Starscream puts it...
    Starscream: Not to call you a coward, master. But, sometimes, cowards do survive.
  • In The Transporter, Frank suggests he and Lai simply disappear after the villains blew up his house in an attempt to kill them. As Frank puts it, they're thought to be dead and it's not worth it to hunt down the perpetrators for revenge.
  • In WarGames, Dr. Stephen Falken tells David and Jennifer that despite his best efforts, the AI Joshua, though extremely intelligent, never about learned this trope. By the end, it finally understands.
  • The Wizard of Oz, when the Wizard points out to the Cowardly Lion that he's confusing cowardice with wisdom — running away from a situation that's clearly going to get you harmed or killed is obviously the smart thing to do.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): Steve Trevor watches a titanic battle between actual gods and decides to stay out of it, instead concentrating on the threat he can stop, a plane full of chemical gas.
    Charlie: Ohhhh my God! What're we gonna do?!
    Steve: There's not much we can do, if that's who I think it is.
  • In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Erik makes it clear that he's not willing to take on Charles without his protective helmet; he knows that he stands no chance against the telepath in a straight fight. When he loses his helmet at the end of the film, he retreats.

    Game Shows 
  • Deal or No Deal is a big example of knowing when it is a good time to stop and take the banker's offer. Far too often there will be contestants that will keep turning down offers and keep playing, even if they knock off every big prize amount on the board. This is a common fallacy (called the Sunk Cost Fallacy) in that people believe if they already gone this far, they might as well keep going to the end and try to get the big prize no matter how much they have lost. Once in a while, you will see players that wise up and cut their losses by taking the money that is offered instead of pushing their luck. Usually you get something in between, where a player will play until the dollar amounts go down, and they take the offer to avoid making things worse. Once in a great while, you see players that go too far the other way and take the banker's offer as soon as the first top dollar amount disappears, leading to them taking home a comically small offer from the banker. It's important to remember that "know when to fold 'em" doesn't mean "fold at the first opportunity".
    • A parody of Deal Or No Deal had contestants work their way up to a $750K offer from the banker which they refused because "it's not a million", but they were happy with their $400 winnings because they can now pay their rent.
  • The Price Is Right has several games where contestants can keep risking their luck for a bigger payout or stop and walk with what they won. There have been many times where the audience pleads with the contestant to stop, only for the contestant to keep going and lose everything. Other times there will be contestants that will listen and quit early to keep what they won. The big wheel is a great example of this trope being applied, people will very rarely spin again with a high amount, not wanting to risk going over just for a small chance at getting the dollar.
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? thrives on this trope. Contestants have to keep playing if they want to win a bigger cash prize, but getting a question wrong will end the game and reduce their winnings to the last threshold they passed, which can be a lot of money lost if the contestant advanced very far. Many contestants that were in a tight spot knew the risks were too high and simply ended the game early to keep what they won. The higher the dollar amount, the higher the likelihood they'll walk away. The most common dollar amount to walk away with was $16,000, some less intelligent and overly cautious contestants would walk away with dollar amounts below $1000.

    Music 
  • The Trope Namer of course is Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler", which wavers back and forth between being a Literal Metaphor about a poker game and a Morality Ballad about pragmatism.
  • Ingrid Michaelson's "Once Was Love" is about a couple breaking up when they realize they don't feel love for each other and that isn't going to change.
    "We can't hold us anymore/No, we've got to fold down to the floor"
  • The story in Tone Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" involves the rapper trying to use the eponymous love potion to find a girlfriend, but it works only too well. The first girl he dates as a result of it is a man in drag, and the second comes on way too strong, wanting to marry him. Eventually, he has enough and pours the rest of the potion down the drain.
  • In a filk titled Jirel of Joiry an Evil Overlord is told of Jirel's deeds and promptly decides "He who would rule does not squander his strength so I think we'll leave Joiry alone."
  • The core message of Michael Jackson's song "Beat It" is that rather than engaging in senseless violence, it is better to avoid it altogether or at the very least know when to back out of a situation that has escalated too far, i.e. knowing when to "beat it."

    Poetry 
  • The Parsian poet Archilochus wrote an elegy on the subject, possibly in response to the popular Spartan saying of "come home with your shield or on it".
    One of the Saiôn in Thrace now delights in the shield I discarded
    Unwillingly near a bush, for it was perfectly good,
    But at least I got myself safely out. Why should I care for that shield?
    Let it go. Some other time I'll find another no worse.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Most heels, when faced with a situation they can't overcome, will try and employ some method of escape, such as intentionally getting themselves counted out or disqualified. Especially if they're defending a title, as normally they can't lose the title that way. This sometimes backfires if a face authority figure counters this by restarting the match under no-countout/no-DQ rules or threatening to (if not actually) declare the walkout a forfeit (which does allow a title to change hands) if the heel doesn't return to the ring. If the champion is an Anti-Hero face that pulls an intentional disqualification, the heel challenger may take advantage of this in their next meeting with a stipulation where if the champion tries to lose the match by intentional disqualification, he loses the title as if by submission or pinfall, or the challenger may have the GM ban a certain move. Other times, other faces may block off the heel's retreat, also forcing him back into the ring.
  • How The Iron Sheik won his WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Bob Backlund, trapping Backlund — who came into the match with an (Kayfabe) injured back — in his dreaded Camel Clutch and pulling severely. Backlund refused to submit, but, fearing for his well being, manager Arnold Skaaland threw a towel into the ring, asking the match be stopped. (This, of course, set up the Iron Shiek to lose his title to newcomer Hulk Hogan.)

    Things came full circle in 1994 when Backlund — having returned to the WWF as an embittered heel — regained the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Bret Hart, after trapping him in his crossface chicken wing for several minutes, Hart refusing to submit and Hart's mother, Helen, throwing in the towel, convinced to do so by Hart's younger brother, Owen (who was, unknown to everybody, feigning concern). Days later, Backlund lost the title again ... and he didn't lose it because someone threw in the towel.
  • Seen often in matches between William Regal and Chris Benoit. When Benoit went for the Crossface, Regal would try to block the arm and resist as much as possible, but the moment it was locked in, Regal would tap out to avoid prolonged punishment.
  • Santino Marella once faced off against Triple H and John Cena in a battle royale at a house show. After literally bouncing off of the two men when he attempted to clothesline them both, he conceded the match, grabbed himself by the trunks, and threw himself out of the ring. Big Show could be seen visibly laughing in one corner of the ring.

    Religion 
  • The Bible: In the Book of Jeremiah, the titular prophet, who was living in the last years of the kingdom of Judah's existence that ended with the Babylonian invasion, advises its final king Zedekiah to submit unto the Babylonians so that Jerusalem would be spared and all its remaining citizens would not have to be taken into exile, since God was not going to halt pouring out His wrath upon His people. For this, he was considered The Quisling and thus his advice went unheeded, as after a long siege upon Jerusalem King Zedekiah tried to make an escape, but was captured by the Babylonians and brought to Riblah where King Nebuchanezzar passed sentence on him, and the city of Jerusalem was destroyed along with its Temple, and most of its remaining citizens (except the poorest of the land) were taken into captivity.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In chess, there is resignation, or "I realize I'm going to lose no matter what I do at this point, so let's just end this now." This isn't mandatory, but it's considered good etiquette over dragging out an impending defeat; at professional levels, resignations are far more common than playing all the way to checkmate.
  • This is usually the closest thing to a victory as you can get against The God-Machine in Demon: The Descent. It never sees people as enemies (or really as anything but factors in an equation) and cannot fall for the Sunk Cost Fallacy — if you hinder its plans, it will simply give up whatever it was doing and find some way to achieve its goals without provoking your antagonism. Fighting unnecessary battles is just a waste of resources, and something as large-scale as the God-Machine has a lot of potential alternate paths for any given goal. If you somehow manage to convince it that you do need to be dealt with, well...
  • The Dresden Files: A game mechanic. When faced with a losing battle, either side can offer a concession, meaning they still lose the fight, and therefore suffer some kind of setback, but they choose how and lose on their terms. This is handy for player and GM alike, to keep characters alive — perhaps the heroic wizard simply gets knocked for a loop while the villainous sorcerer makes off with the MacGuffin, rather than risking the next attack which will probably kill the wizard instead. Notable in that there is a distinction between the players conceding and the characters conceding, and that the negotiations are all out of character. So just because Jim B. offered a concession to keep Harry from having his head bitten off doesn't mean Harry broke character by giving up.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Most high-level monsters, especially Lower Planar leaders. Take pit fiends, for instance, high-up leaders among devils. Most information about them says their fortresses always have several escape routes that they don't hesitate to take if a fight somehow turns against them. In fact, one source says that their fortresses always have a few "fake escape routes" along with the real ones. The fake escape routes are more obvious, and an enemy is more likely to try to set up an ambush at one of them while the Pit Fiend uses the real, well-hidden escape route.
  • Eberron: The setting is "wide-spread magic, low-power magic," meaning that you can buy a level 1 spell in the average village, but you'll have a hard time finding someone capable of casting a level 5 spell in even the largest cities on the continent. The PCs are explicitly stated to be exceptional, meaning they will outclass pretty much everyone else in short order. Two general tactics are recommended for DMs dealing with high-level PCs: Have the enemy organizations send their extremely rare and valuable high-level troubleshooters at the problem... or quietly let the PCs go about their business. Keith Baker specifically calls out the Trust, the Secret Police of the nation of Zilargo. Yes, they could dispose of high-level PCs who are a threat to the security and peace of their nation. But that's expensive, and players are rarely happy with having their entire party dumped into a sphere of annihilation. Another possibility is for the party to simply wake up in the morning with whatever they were looking for sitting on their dresser with an attached note saying "Here's what you wanted. You can leave now."
  • In mahjong, particularly the Japanese riichi variant, there is betaori, a common strategy that revolves around abandoning all hope of winning a hand and just trying to avoid dealing into other players' hands until the round ends, which is a far less pleasant alternative to another player winning by self-pick (in which the reward points are taken from everyone else, not just one player), another player winning by taking a different player's discarded tile, or the round running out of tiles and a 3,000-point prize being split amongst everyone in tenpai (one more tile needed to win).
  • Spirit of the Century: A Gambling stunt is named after this. It allows the gambler's player to ask the GM to make an NPC's roll in advance and secret, then reveal whether the result was above or below the gambler's base skill; only after that does the player decide whether to opt into that particular game or bow out.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The smarter characters think like this. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thinking encouraged by the Dark Gods/the Warboss/the Commissariat, and in fact doing the smart thing like pulling back in front of superior numbers only gets you eaten by daemons/krumped flat/in front of a firing squad. However, a number of factions are noted to make regular use of this strategy.
    • The most successful Ork warbosses are from the Blood Axes clan, who are viewed as cowardly gits by other Orks for their tendency to retreat when the odds are against them; the Axes themselves just say fleeing means you can fight again next time, so it doesn't count as losing.
    • The Tau tend to see everything in terms of cost/benefit analysis for their civilization as a whole, and will readily retreat and give ground when they judge a fight's cost to not be worth its potential gains.
      • For instance, they may concede entire frontier worlds to Imperial advances, reasoning that, if the humans are willing to enter expensive meatgrinder wars for a few strategically worthless balls of mud, then they're welcome to keep them, and the the Tau can send their resources to deal with more important matters until the Imperium's watch eventually slackens and the Tau can come back and claim their old objectives for a much smaller cost (especially since they use diplomacy and actually improve the living standard for the humans who join them). To the Imperium, who bitterly holds onto even the most unproductive human worlds to the last as a matter of honor, this philosophy comes across as extremely perplexing.
      • The Tau view "glorious last stands" as evidence that a commander was particularly unsuited for the job if he managed to get himself stuck in one in the first place instead of falling back.
    • The Eldar and Dark Eldar, who have very low number and very low birth rates compared to everyone else, cannot absorb much in the way of casualties. Consequently, they will retreat from battles that start to go against them, as few objectives are worth enough to them to justify losing even more of their already dwindling numbers in fights they seem increasingly unlikely to win anyway.
    • The Night Lords have a particular line in this, to the point where even the more sympathetic Night Lords champions view fair fights as inherently biased against them. When the Night Lords are in a disadvantaged position, they tend to disappear rather than fighting to the last.

    Theatre 
  • A possible Aesop in the classic play, Death of a Salesman, where Willy Loman is told in so many words that he should give up his misguided dream of being a popular salesman and find a better life. This is further reinforced by the fact that the play makes it obvious he would have been far more happy and successful as a construction tradesman.
  • In Electra, the main character is told by every character but Orestes to give up her mourning, to behave meekly and submit to the will of stronger people because she is only digging a deeper grave for herself. Instead, by the end of the play she becomes determined to kill her step-father herself rather than accept death with no hope of salvation.
  • A meta example: In a performance of The Pirates of Penzance, the audience called for no fewer than '' three encores'' for the song "With Catlike Tread". An exhausted Jon English finally begged the audience to stop and let them get on with the rest of the operetta.

    Visual Novels 
  • The protagonist of Melody often has to judge how far to push a joke so as to appear fun but not pervy, or when to stop checking out a hot girl.

    Web Animation 
  • Dreamscape: Despite his cocky attitude, Ethan knows when he's outmatched.
  • In Mystery Skulls Animated Shiromori is willing to challenge Lewis to a fight after he punches her head off... until she looks from his flaming hand to her scissors. It is unclear if she fled due to feeling outmatched, or whether she felt the flower that would lead to Mystery would be damaged, losing his trail. The way she looks at the flower just before escaping seems to imply the latter, though.

    Webcomics 
  • In Archipelago, after certain events during the Final Battle Steller comes out with this observation:
    That's it! I'm as loyal a servant as anyone could ask for! But there is a time to say: 'That's a giant monster. Retreat and try again later.'
  • In Dracula: Ruler of the Night, the hunters go to Carfax Abby in hopes of killing Dracula. But soon find themselves facing not only him, but his vampire brides and a newly turned Lucy Westerna. Realizing they can't take all of them at the current especially when it's revealed that Minerva Westerna, Lucy's mother, whom they thought was being held hostage, has likewise become one of Dracula's brides, they wisely flee.
  • Girl Genius:
    • Several people suggest giving up during the Mechanicsburg battle (one of which provides the page image here). Agatha gives a pretty good breakdown for why she can't afford to fold here (which boils down to the fact that she doesn't have a fallback position, so if she folds today, she folds for keeps).
    • In the Paris arc: Once Colette has taken control of Paris, Terebithia advises the Queen of the Dawn to get while the getting's good. Her plans failed, but "took two Storm Kings, two Masters of Paris, and a Heterodyne to slow [her] down", so she shouldn't feel too bad about it.
  • Goblins — When facing down Mr. Fingers, Dies Horribly is perhaps better equipped to make a strategic determination than Grem.
  • Grrl Power: Minor supervillain Barberian, faced with the prospect of having to take on Jiggawatt and Dabbler, protests that he's a hairdresser, and is only even at the superbrawl because he got dragged along by his friends. When Dabbler points out that he could surrender, he immediately does so, deeply relieved to get out of the fight without injury.
  • In Homestuck, Tavros suggests to Vriska — after the two have died and gone to the afterlife — that they give up and accept their status as minor characters.
    Vriska: I think it's time to start fucking some shit up.
    Tavros: Oh, no.
    Vriska: More like oh yes!
    Vriska: I'm sick of this shit. I'm sick of being dead and useless and bored, and I'm not going to take it anymore.
    Vriska: You're with me, right?
    Tavros: No way.
  • Magick Chicks: Faith and Tiffany may be two of the toughest girls at Artemis Academy, but even they know when it's best to call it quits and hightail it. Such as the time Faith had been left weakened by an indirect attack, from Hecate, who had also enslaved Sveltvana and Veronique to kill them.
    Tiffany: (to Faith) "Ms. President, I vote we run."
    Faith: (in agreement) "The motion carries."
  • The Order of the Stick — A recurring theme:
    • Hinjo gets the Aesop — delivered using this exact phrase. His city has fallen, and he'd rather stand and go down fighting, but, as the leader of the city, he could better serve his people by surviving and retaking the city later.
    • In Start of Darkness, this is the difference between Redcloak and Right-Eye. While The Sunk Cost Fallacy continues with Redcloak, his brother Right-Eye decided early on that relying on Xykon's support in the Plan, and soon the Plan itself, wasn't worth the deaths caused. He even went as far as to renounce the Plan and the Dark One himself, calling the goblin deity a "Petty, spiteful god."
    • Xykon has also learned this. When he is killed by Roy, he orders Redcloak and the Monster in the Darkness to retreat with his Soul Jar, rather than try to recapture Dorukan's dungeon. The reason is that there are other gates he can find that presumably don't require a person with a good alignment to activate them.
    • Vaarsuvius runs out of spells during the battle for Azure City, and instead of fighting, opts to turn invisible and retreat to the ship. Though it was the only practical option for a Squishy Wizard, Vaarsuvius considers it My Greatest Failure and is haunted by the soldiers who made a Last Stand instead.
      Durkon: Don't be daft, there was nothin' ye could have—
      Vaarsuvius: Of course not. Without spells, retreating was the only viable option. My mistake was reaching that point in the first place. There was a time when I pursued arcane power above all else.
    • Haley names this trope again when she is asked by Roy whether or not he should destroy the second to last Gate, with not one but two stronger enemy groups closing in on their position.
      Haley: You know me. This is when to fold 'em. And when to run.
    • After learning how many spells Vaarsuvius has remaining, and comparing it with her remaining supply of Power Points, Laurin blinks out of the battle.
    • For all the problems his ego and plans cause him, Nale is at least smart enough to realize when a scheme has gone south and make his retreat — or tries to, anyway.
    • Redcloak casually murders a hobgoblin with a mid-to-high level spell after said hobgoblin explains that by vanquishing the Supreme Leader in battle, he can skip a long, painful and humiliating initiation ritual to join the hobgoblin tribe so he can eventually take it over, and just take it over right there. When Xykon asks if the guy Redcloak just killed was the Supreme Leader, the actual Supreme Leader (as noted by his assorted bling of Supreme Leadership), says that yes. Yes, he was.
    • In a blow-by-blow explanation of the Order's fight with Miko, Roy opts to lay down his weapons rather than take his chances trying a Desperation Attack against the paladin. It saves everyone's lives.
  • Both Sam and Fuzzy from Sam & Fuzzy take much of the strip learning their limits on when things are out of their hands or they need to let go. At the end of the climax of "Brain Damage" Sam rejects The Last Temptation when he realizes that even if Brain were to give him the power he wants to reshape the world and save everyone (a mighty big 'if'), he still probably wouldn't be the right person to do the job, and Fuzzy realizes that even if Brain were to restore his lost memories (an even mightier 'if'), his past and identity as Eric is still gone, and being Fuzzy is all that's important to him.

    Web Original 
  • In a Dragon Ball Z Abridged short, Yusuke Urameshi and Kuwabara decide to challenge Perfect Cell, showing off their incredible (still early canon) powers. Cell stops them and asks if they can disintegrate entire planets with them. They wisely pack up and leave.
    • Earlier on, during Tien's Kikoho barrage against Semi-Perfect Cell, Yamcha notes how useless he feels, and Master Roshi directly quotes the Trope Namer.
  • In A More Personal Union, when the Grande Alliance invades Portugal as a backdoor into Spain, King Sebastian almost immediately surrenders, knowing that his vastly outnumbered and outmatched forces don't stand a chance.
  • In the New Deal Coalition Retained timeline, a counterrevolution in the early 60s splits Cuba between a democratic east and a Communist west. The latter gets by on Soviet support until the 80s, when an intense pro-democracy uprising breaks out; seeing that the West Cuban government doesn't have a chance of putting it down, the Soviets pull all support and shift focus to more stable allies elsewhere in Latin America, leaving West Cuba to collapse and rejoin with the East.
    • At the start of World War III, the Soviets invade and occupy Iceland in order to gain naval dominance of the Atlantic, but upon doing so leave only a relatively small force to hold the island. Thus, when the Allies counter-invade to liberate the country later in the war, they quickly overwhelm the Soviets. Seeing that victory is impossible, and refusing to follow Moscow's orders to fight to the last man, the Soviet commanding general surrenders his forces in total.
  • In Noob, two of the members of the titular guild occasionally just plain bail out of fights they think can't be won. While Gaea tends to do it as part of her Dirty Coward and The Scrooge behaviour, it tends to be depicted as this trope when Only Sane Woman Ivy is the one who does it.
  • Resident Evil Abridged: Played for laughs by having the Mystery Gang make a cameo appearance at the Spencer Mansion to investigate the recent rash of homicides there. That changes the moment Daphne finds the Nemesis hiding in the closet. The gang immediately calls it quits and hauls ass.
  • The Ruins of an American Party System: In the late 40s, infighting amongst the Commonwealth Party causes the right wing factions to defect to the American Party. Despite this, Lyndon Johnson thinks he can salvage the party... until Commonwealth founder Huey Long is arrested on multiple corruption charges, tainting the image of the party as a whole. Seeing the writing on the wall, Johnson promptly jumps ship, abandoning the party altogether.
  • The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles: The Ottawa REDBLACKS are getting their asses whupped by the Toronto Argonauts in a million-yard game of Canadian football. When the Argonauts trick the REDBLACKS into getting stranded inside Manicougan Crater, the REDBLACKS unknowingly give their opponents a several-day lead before they realize what happened. At that point, the REDBLACKS decide enough is enough, forfeit the game, and go home.
  • Phase, of the Whateley Universe, handles power mimic Counterpoint by avoiding fighting him, so the power mimic doesn't get Phase's powers. It turns out in another book that Phase does have a way of fighting a power mimic, but it's lethal.


 
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Alternative Title(s): Know When To Fold Them

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The Kettlemans Give Up

Mr. and Mrs. Kettleman finally decide to stop riding out the inevitable.

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Main / KnowWhenToFoldEm

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