This trope, also known as the "Antietam Defense" or the "Thermopylae Strategy", occurs in a situation where the objective is not to win outright, but rather to deny victory to the opposing party.
A rebel faction and an imperial faction face off over a particular resource. It does not matter who is attacking or defending, but the end result is that the rebel faction destroys the resource, denying it to the imperials/others. Thus, even though the rebels do not have it either, they can claim victory because the imperials did not obtain the resource, regardless of losses suffered by the rebels (similarly, the imperials might be able to claim victory since, while they're powerful enough to ignore the loss of the resource, the rebels are put at a disadvantage by failing to capture it).
Another version of this trope would be where one side holds the field despite superior losses, and can then gain something by this act, or where another side loses the field, but causes superior losses and gains, say, time by this act. This does not apply if one team leaves with fewer losses, but gains nothing by the battle.
When claiming victory in this manner, a faction must be looking at long-term objectives. Since in the short term the conflict was a stalemate, the participants instead must look ahead and figure out what they can or can't do as a result of the lack of progress.
In the end, this trope is primarily a mentality, because both sides of a conflict can view this as true for their side. For instance, the imperials in the above example can also use this trope because they forced the rebels to deny themselves the resource, all losses ignored, which drastically harms rebel efforts from the imperial perspective.
Compare Pyrrhic Victory, and Pyrrhic Villainy. When applied to video games, this is Spiteful A.I. or Hold the Line when the victory occurs for the computer or the human respectively. May overlap with No MacGuffin, No Winner in some circumstances. Compare Xanatos Gambit for setups where either outcome is favorable. See also Disqualification-Induced Victory, Rage Quit, and X Must Not Win.
This trope may sometimes happen at the resolution of the main conflict, so beware of spoilers.
- The point of Negi and Rakan's fight in Negima! Magister Negi Magi wasn't really to actually win, since Rakan isn't a bad guy. The point was to be able to go all out and truly measure himself. The battle itself is a tie and only that because Rakan held back a little in the beginning to give him time to start testing his new moves. But the point was made that he's a match for Fate or even better now plus his enslaved students were freed. Also pertinent to the trope is that Rakan was impressed enough with Negi's performance that he claimed a loss after the fact and gave him the other half of the prize money.
- Inverted in Initial D when Takumi ties with Kyouichi on Kyouichi's home turf. Kyouichi responds by calling it a victory for Takumi, stating that anyone who can tie his team on his home course is a Worthy Opponent.
- Shuu of Castle Town Dandelion is less interested in being king than running to stop Kanade from winning. He's doing this because he fears Kanade will risk running state funds dry trying to heal his leg.
- Tet in No Game No Life, is the God of Play and the God of the whole world. However, he only got the job and the power to overwrite free will itself because all the other Gods killed each other fighting amongst themselves. None of them won, so he did by default.
- Brian in Knights of the Dinner Table once won a bet this way.
- In Runaways, the team's victory against the Gibborim boils down to this. None of them are able to truly harm the Gibborim, who are huge and powerful, but they manage to prevent the Gibborim from collecting a soul that they desperately need in order to stay alive, and thus the Gibborim fade away.
- Superman/Batman #75 has a Calvin and Hobbes homage written by Brian Azzarello where the Joker suggests using a Thanatos Gambit and taking this trope to its (Insane Troll) logical conclusion:
- Lampshaded in In the Kingdom's Service when Oobleck claims that Jaune bested the Atlas Special Forces agent he fought. Even though she won their fight handily and Jaune was only saved by Cinder's arrival, neither's goal was to beat the other. The agent's goal was to recover the stolen Paladin and Jaune's was to stop her (as part of an undercover mission). Since she was forced to retreat, she lost and Jaune won.
- In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, when Ash faces Giovanni for his Earth Badge, the Team Rocket boss makes it clear that in the event of a tie he's not under obligation to give him the badge, making it clear that Ash has to get a clear victory to earn it. It becomes a moot point as Ash does manage to defeat him in a full battle, earning the badge.
- In "The Victors Project" Wren refuses an opportunity to end a Mexican Standoff with a career when they both have weapons likely to inflict mortal wounds pressed against each other, with one other (weak and unimpressive) tribute still alive. Stating "Anyone but a career" should win. Many future tributes and victors take this to heart in the decades that follow, to the point where they become known as the ABAC's (anyone but a career).
- All of Shu's invasions of Wei end in Wei's favour like this in Farce of the Three Kingdoms. Shu tends to win a number of battles... then shoot themselves in the foot, usually in some very predictable way.
- Scarlet Lady: The Puppeteer needs the Miraculous heroes' dolls made by Marinette to control them. Scarlet Lady saves herself from being controlled by destroying her doll.
- Demonstrated on a small scale in Thank You for Smoking when the protagonist demonstrates this as a debate strategy to his son, using a comparison of ice cream flavors as an example.
Joey: But you didn't prove that vanilla was the best.
Nick: I didn't have to. I proved that you're wrong, and if you're wrong, I'm right.
Joey: But you still didn't convince me.
Nick: I'm not after you. I'm after them. [points at passers by]
- In For Your Eyes Only, James Bond destroys the MacGuffin that he and the Russians were competing for. His mission wasn't to claim it, but to deny it to the Russians.
- Used as an Exact Words ploy by the Big Bad in The Luck of the Irish, when Kyle bets him that he can beat him at sports. They end up tying, and the villain claims that Kyle lost the bet since he didn't "beat" him.
- In Jupiter Ascending, this sums up Kalique's gambit in a nutshell. As the middle child, she seems to be well-off and financially stable. By allowing Jupiter to ascend and protecting her from Titus, she screws over her older brother, who loses his greatest asset by virtue of it being Jupiter's inheritance, and prevents Titus from becoming more powerful by keeping Jupiter out of his hands.
- This is the goal of the surviving humans in War for the Planet of the Apes, as the mutated strain of the Simian Flu is starting to affect those who were previously immune, turning them into mutes with diminished mental capacity, meaning that no matter what they do, human civilization is doomed in a generation or two. However, they're still trying to massacre the apes anyway if only to stop them from becoming the species that replaces them.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- This is how the airport battle in Captain America: Civil War ends. Team Captain America is trying to get to Siberia to apprehend Helmut Zemo when Team Iron Man shows up to arrest all of them. The two sides square off with neither gaining an advantage. Eventually, Team Cap decides that Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant Man will Hold the Line and allow themselves to be captured while Cap and Bucky (who were the ones Team Iron Man was after in the first place) escape so that someone will be able to stop Zemo.
- Doctor Strange (2016): This is essentially how Stephen Strange defeats the Eldritch Abomination Dormammu at the climax. He can't possibly defeat him mano a mano, so he traps the two of them in a "Groundhog Day" Loop where they're stalemated with Dormammu forever killing Strange and Strange forever coming back for more and telling him he's come to bargain. Strange is perfectly fine with getting killed over and over again since it ensures Dormammu won't be able to attack Earth. Dormammu finally begs Strange to release him, which he does on condition that Dormammu leave Earth alone.
- A Knight's Tale: Due to the way tournament jousts are scored, when William takes the deceased Sir Ector's place in the opening joust, his opponent has to completely unhorse him to win due to points Ector accrued in previous tilts. William completely misses his target, but keeps his seat despite being hit in the face hard enough to crumple his helmet's faceshield (he takes advantage of this to avoid showing his face to the judge, which would have exposed the switch and landed them in prison).
- Played for Laughs and inverted in duel against the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After King Arthur chops off all his arms and legs:
King Arthur: All right... we'll call it a draw.
- A criminal is at the center of a hexagonal room. Police are entering from six doors, one in the center of each wall. If the criminal tries to go through a door with a police officer, they will be caught; if the criminal tries to go through a door with the police officer on either side, they will also be caught. The criminal has a gun and automatically kills whoever he shoots. What is the minimum number of bullets the criminal must fire to avoid capture? Answer: The criminal is supposed to "avoid capture," not escape, so the answer is one: he shoots himself.
- In Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he calls this kind of mentality "Win-Lose" because it causes people to care more about one-upping someone else than trying to perform well themselves. In the most extreme cases, this mentality turns into a "Lose-Lose" one where the person will do anything to make sure the other person doesn't win even if it means destroying their own chances of success too. He states that highly effective people think "Win-Win" instead and try to make sure that they and the people around them mutually benefit from opportunities.
- This was a repeated strategy of Zandramas in The Malloreon. The theory was: before the Choice could be made, certain conditions had to be fulfilled by both sides. If Zandramas killed someone on the good side who hadn't fulfilled their condition, she'd probably win by default. The same was true for the other side; Poledra points out that if the Child of Light gets to the Place That Is No More and found no Child of Dark waiting for him, he'd probably win by default.
- This is mentioned by Luck, er, The Lady, during her game against Fate in the Discworld novel Interesting Times. It makes sense because Fate is pursuing a specific outcome while Luck just wants to mess things up so there are a lot more ways for her to win.
Fate: How can you hope to win without sacrificing the occasional pawn?
The Lady: Oh, I never play to win. But I do play not to lose.
- In Going Postal, Moist's Post Office "wins" the race against the clacks company not by actually sending their message faster, but by changing the clacks message so that the clacks owner comes under suspicion and the race is called off.
- This is mentioned by Luck, er, The Lady, during her game against Fate in the Discworld novel Interesting Times. It makes sense because Fate is pursuing a specific outcome while Luck just wants to mess things up so there are a lot more ways for her to win.
- This is how the diamond in Charles Benoit's Relative Danger is finally disposed of, with a slight twist—none of the people trying to get it actually have the right to it, and the main character knows he's outclassed, so he publicly reveals its existence and location, letting the antagonist take credit for discovering it, but denying him the ability to legally claim it. (It winds up in a museum.)
- In Dragon Bones, while Ward first pursues the goal of convincing everyone that he is, in fact, not stupid, and was only Obfuscating Stupidity, that changes, and in the end, it is all about thwarting the villain's plan.
- In Area 7, Mother describes a war game Scarecrow had been involved in where he'd managed to evade the enemy until the time limit ran out. Scarecrow didn't hurt the opposing team in any way, but he denied them a clear victory for the first time, which had infuriated the opposing team.
- In William Prochnau's Trinity's Child, this is why the Soviets launch a limited nuclear strike on the United States. The Soviet premier explains that they can no longer afford the conventional arms race with America, so a limited nuclear war is necessary to damage the U.S. enough to deny the Americans a clear win of the Cold War. As a concession, the premier notifies the President that he is willing to accept a U.S. counterstrike that inflicts equal damage on the Soviet Union.
- In The Dresden Files, Mouse uses this trope to convince his Evil Twin to flee. Mouse would lose in a fight, and both of them know this, but he would leave his opponent too exhausted to carry out his Evil Plan or fend off the other characters who would try to stop it. Both of them also know Mouse is not afraid of dying for the greater good.
- This also tends to be Harry's modus operandi: he's not out to win, necessarily, so much as he's in it to make sure that the other side doesn't win. Since the bad guys tend to be involved in plans that have weak points, Harry tries to identify the weak points and smash them. Best exemplified in Dead Beat, where Harry realizes that the bad guy's plans hinge on summoning the Erlking and initiating the Wild Hunt. So Harry instead summons the Erlking himself and traps him, to prevent him being summoned by the bad guys. When that doesn't work, Harry realizes that the Darkhallow has a moment of vulnerability just before it's completed, and that any shifting of attention from that moment will result in an explosion that kills the necromancer. So Harry does his best to get to the caster at just that moment, and hits him with a stick.
- Ward: Victoria often take this approach, drilled into her by her superhero mother: if you don't have the capability to actually defeat your enemy, then at the very least, screw up their plans and deny them whatever it is they're trying to accomplish. In a world where the Superpower Lottery leads to some heavily lopsided confrontations, it's a good mindset to have.
- In Victoria, this is the strategy the secessionists in the incipient Northern Confederation successfully employ against the US federal government. Realistically, their rag-tag rebel forces naturally have no chance whatever to, say, march on Washington and demand its surrender—but they don't really need to, either. All they have to do is to hold out and deny the Federal authorities control of New England, in order to win the war on the moral level: when the rest of the country sees that the Administration is unable to hinder secession, it loses its legitimacy and rapidly collapses.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Peak Performance" introduces Kolrami, a grand master of the game of Strategema. His first match with Data established that Kolrami is able to beat him; in their second match, Data plays for a draw, eventually causing Kolrami to Rage Quit.note At first Data insists that he did not technically defeat Kolrami, but bows to his fellow crewmembers' insistence that he "busted him up."
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- The first major example was in "Call to Arms", when Starfleet mined the entrance to the wormhole so no new enemy ships could come through, then left the station undefended when the Dominion/Cardasian alliance came to take it over (in order to facilitate taking down said minefield). The reason? Starfleet sent a massive strike force to take advantage of a weakness this created in the Dominion's lines to destroy several ship yards, preventing them from making any new ships.
- The Dominion themselves are big fans of this philosophy. They once tried to negotiate a new border that would leave them with several less systems, but give them one they didn't have. That system would have allowed them to make more Ketracel White (the substance that the Jem'Hadar soldiers need to survive). When this was discovered, Starfleet rejected the plan outright.
- Used more casually in "Take Me Out to the Holosuite", where the command crew and friends get in a contest with an all-Vulcan crew. The game is baseball, which the Vulcans have been playing heavily but the main crew other than Sisko know nothing about. In the end they have a celebration for scoring a single point instead of suffering the complete curbstomp the racist Vulcan captain was hoping for.
- Red Dwarf has an example in an early season episode: Rimmer is playing checkers against a skutter (a small service robot), and has been backed into a position in which he has only one possible move, and then the skutter takes his last piece and wins. Rimmer, however, confidently expects victory, because the skutter is due to leave for its shift fairly soon, thus forfeiting the game, provided Rimmer stretches out his turn long enough.
- In the Madam Secretary season 3 premiere, Liz, Russell Jackson, and President Dalton set out to do this in his reelection bid. After Dalton loses to a primary challenger whom he and Liz both hate, Liz encourages Dalton to run independently because he has enough support that he can prevent either of his opponents from getting a majority in the electoral college, which forces the House of Representatives to decide the election.
- In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Making Friends and Influencing People", SHIELD and HYDRA are both racing to recruit Donnie Gill, a powerful Gifted with the ability to freeze people and objects. While the primary mission is recruitment, both sides have orders to kill Donnie if it means stopping the other side from using him. The difference being that with SHIELD, killing is the absolute last resort only to be used if Donnie joins HYDRA, whereas HYDRA has a strict Join or Die policy. In the end, HYDRA take control of Donnie, and Skye is forced to kill him - essentially, SHIELD wins by denying HYDRA a powerful asset.
- At the end of the Doctor Who-episode "Last of the Time Lords", the Doctor once again thwarts the Master's plan, and explains that he's going to keep him prisoner on the TARDIS. However, right as he says that, the Master is shot by Lucy Saxon. Instead of regenerating, the Master chooses to die in the arms of a wildly sobbing Doctor, happy with the fact that the Doctor is once again the Last of His Kind thanks to him.
- In the third season of Ultimate Beastmaster, despite both countries no longer in the running following the heat stages, Italian commentator Franceso Facchinetti claims that Italy won because France was eliminated. Technically, he wasn't wrong...
- Corner Gas: The Dog River River Dogs hockey team is absolutely terrible and loses every game, with their proudest moment being the one goal they got last season. When they manage to tie the Stonewood Saints, it's such an achievement for them that they act like they just won the Stanley Cup.
Ronnie: Celebrating a bit much for a tie, aren't we, boys?
Davis: [mockingly] You're just mad 'cause you didn't win!
Hank: Yeah, you poor tie-er!
Brent: Sleep well knowing you don't suck any less than we do!
[The River Dogs all point and laugh at the Saints]
- The objective on Press Your Luck is to have the highest total in winnings while trying to avoid the Whammy—or at least trying not to land on him as often as your opponents. However, a contestant could have one spin left (the last spin in the game) with $0 (after ostensibly landing on a Whammy) and passing that spin to the opponent with the next highest score. If that contestant hits a Whammy, then neither player wins. (The third player in the game would win by default provided he/she had either not landed on a Whammy in his/her last spin or had been eliminated which happens after hitting four Whammys).
- This couplet from ABBA's "Waterloo" (which itself is essentially the trope in a nutshell):
And how could I ever refuse?
I feel like I win when I lose.
- The "disqualification rule" or "champion's advantage", which specifies that a champion can only lose his title by pinfall or submission, often turns into a form of this trope. A champion will "defend" his title by walking away from the ring (taking a loss by countout) or by intentionally forcing a disqualification (for example, by attacking a referee or using an illegal weapon) — and thus losing the match but keeping the title, as he wasn't pinned or forced to submit. One loss is, of course, considered less important than the storyline glory of being a champion. However, a booker who has a champion do this too often risks having the public turn on the champion, which costs everyone money in the long run. Thus, a babyface champion will only do this in rare instances when provoked to anger by a heel challenger, and a heel champion who repeatedly uses this tactic to the point of Loophole Abuse inevitably gets cut off by a Reasonable Authority Figure scheduling the next title defense as one of the many varieties of Gimmick Matches in which countouts and disqualifications are not a factor, or as a straight match but with the rule suspended outright.
- Beat the Clock challenges, when the fastest win gets a title shot, with either everyone in the match taking part or just one participant, fall under this - if a match goes long enough with a time to beat already set, it'll end when the match can no longer beat the set time; in the later type of tournament, the non-participating competitor picking up a win qualifies as a win for the standing time, regardless of the speed of the match.
- The WCW Television Championship had an element of this. The belt had to be won on tv and within a certain time limit. Heel champions would often use this as a way to hold onto the title by holding out long enough not to lose the belt.
- The lead up to WrestleMania XXVIII played off this to spark a rematch from the previous year: Undertaker defeated Triple H by making him submit to Hell's Gate at WrestleMania XXVII, however Triple H was the one who walked out under his own power and continued to appear and sporadically wrestle throughout 2011, whereas Undertaker was carried out on a stretcher and wasn't seen at all for the rest of the year. For this reason, Undertaker, despite officially claiming victory, was the one who sought Triple H out for a rematch for the sake of his pride, while Triple H TRIED to use the aforementioned logic to obliquely claim that he was the real winner and justify an "executive decision" to refuse the request. Naturally, Undertaker was very displeased by this claim, and thus struck at Triple H's inferiority complex toward his best friend Shawn Michaels in order to goad his pride into accepting the match. As a result Triple H ended up suffering a FAR more crushing defeat at Undertaker's hands that year, with Michaels as the guest referee to boot.
- This is common in association football, where a weaker team going against a much stronger team is better off playing not to lose rather than trying to win, so they'll aim for a draw. As well, especially later in the league seasons where points become precious, a draw can be a season-changer.
- Regarding the English Premier League, the Arsenal fan takes this one step further than anyone else, as they have their own celebration whenever the day comes that they are mathematically guaranteed to finish ahead of hated rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the table, no matter where in the table that might be. Liverpool suffered this in the 2013/14 season, where they could have won the title, if they hadn't drawn Manchester City in their fixture only days before.
- In the 2013/14 season of the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona fans hoped to invoke this trope after their elimination in the quarterfinals while Real Madrid was drawn to confront Bayern Munich in the semifinals.note Real Madrid won, thus defying the trope.
- The Irish national team suffered two notorious cases of this in the qualifiers for the 1996 UEFA European Cup. Having made the Round of 16 at the 1994 World Cup and earning a Top 10 world ranking heading into Euro 96, Ireland was expected to be a major contender, and dominated their early matches. But when they played a rematch with Northern Ireland (whom they'd already defeated 4-0), it ended 1-1, but, with all the political ramifications and the perception of Northern Ireland as far inferior to their neighbor, the draw was viewed as a huge coup for Northern Ireland. After regaining their form with some wins, Ireland then traveled to face Liechtenstein, which was competing in international play for the first time. The entire population of Liechtenstein wouldn't even fill up the Irish national team's stadium, and, as expected, Liechtenstein had suffered a series of Curb Stomp Battles heading into the match and no one thought Ireland would have any trouble with them. Instead, Ireland came out sloppy and uninspired, and the 0-0 final was a major triumph for Liechtenstein (who lost all their other qualifying matches). Ireland never completely recovered from the humiliation, failing to qualify for the Round of 16.
- Also common in Test cricket, where a team that is sufficiently behind in the match will give up all attempts at winning and just play for time, hoping to deny the other team the victory. Given the nature of the sport, this can mean surviving for one or more days.
- On a smaller scale; this is a very common strategy in roller derby. If a lead jammer finds herself being outperformed, or is more concerned with preserving a lead than with taking more points, she will often simply call the jam before her opponent hits the pack. She doesn't score any points, but more importantly, neither does her opponent.
- Whenever a team loses (specially in either final matches and/or humiliating defeats) the rival team's fandom will celebrate copiously because their hated rival lost, even if the fans' own team wasn't even in the match. One example is with University of Southern California football fans, who even when they're not playing their archrivals UCLA and Notre Dame, still define a "Perfect Day" as a day when USC wins but UCLA and Notre Dame lose.
- This can also happen due to the way that one team's record can affect another team's fate for the season, meaning that a team (and therefore that team's fans) can still have a vested interest in the outcome of a game in which they're not actually playing. For example, in the 2003-04 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers ended up in a situation where they needed both a win in their own game and a loss by the Minnesota Vikings in their final game against the Arizona Cardinals to make the playoffs, so the Packers fandom was naturally rooting for the Cardinals. Just as the Packers' own game (a 31-3 blowout of the Denver Broncos) was drawing to a close, news reached the team and the fans that the Cardinals had beaten the Vikings on a stunning last-second touchdown and the stadium erupted in cheers. The receiver who caught the touchdown was promptly invited to attend the Packers' playoff game the following week as a guest of honor, arriving in Green Bay to a hero's welcome.
- Similarly, in the 2017-18 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills needed a win in their own game against the Miami Dolphins and a loss by the Baltimore Ravens in their game against the Cincinnati Bengals in order to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. This video depicts the scene inside the Bills locker room when the Ravens lost on a last-second touchdown. When the Bills hosted the Bengals in a preseason game the following year, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was greeted with a standing ovation from Bills fans.
- Collegiate American Football didn't universally adopt overtime until 1996, so before then there were several notable examples of games that ended in ties, but in which a team made a Miracle Rally that turned them into the de facto victor:
- In the 1968 Harvard-Yale game, Harvard got the ball back with less than four minutes left against undefeated and heavily favored Yale, trailing 29-13. What happened next? Harvard drove down the field, scoring a touchdown with 42 seconds left in the game. The two-point conversion made the score 29-21. Harvard got the ball back on an onside kick (expected onside kicks are recovered by the kicking team less than one of every five tries). A couple of plays later, as time expired, Harvard scored another touchdown. They then converted another two-point conversion to tie the game, which then ended. The next day's Harvard Crimson headline read Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.
- The 1991 BYU-San Diego State game was a similar situation. BYU entered the game undefeated in Western Athletic Conference play, SDSU (led by future NFL great Marshall Faulk) had one loss, and it was their final conference game. An SDSU win would've given the Aztecs at least a tie for the title, and since they would've beaten BYU head-to-head, they would've earned a bid to the Holiday Bowl (played at their home stadium). The 56,737 fans at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego (at the time the largest home crowd ever for a regular season SDSU game) were thrilled to see the Aztecs take leads of 45-17 in the third quarter and 52-38 in the fourth, but BYU quarterback Ty Detmer (the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner) led a comeback that ended up cutting the lead to 52-51 late in the game. Rather than risk missing a two-point conversion, BYU kicked a PAT and the game ended as a 52-52 tie, allowing BYU to clinch the conference title outright when they beat archrival Utah a week later.
- The "Choke at Doak:" In 1994, the Florida State Seminoles and their arch rivals, the University of Florida Gators, were both top ten teams. Entering the game with identical records of 9-1, each still had an outside shot at the national championship. On its home field, the Seminoles scored first with a three point field goal — to which the Gators responded with thirty-one unanswered points. And that's where matters stood as the fourth and final quarter began... when the Seminoles started to score. One... two.. three... four unanswered touchdowns and extra points. In fact, the Noles had the ball and were driving again when time simply ran out. Rematched in that season's Sugar Bowl, the Noles won 23-17. (FSU legendary coach Bobby Bowden has denied ever since that this outcome was the result of his own Long Game plan.)
- Another way this could apply in college football during the pre-overtime years was for a huge underdog to claim a moral victory with a tie. The craziest case of this has to be the 1983 rivalry game between Oregon and Oregon State. It was the final game of the season and neither team had a great season (Oregon was 4-6, OSU was 2-8), but Oregon, the home team, was still placed as a 13.5 point favorite by oddsmakers. Oregon State managed to hold the Ducks scoreless. One problem, though: Oregon held the Beavers scoreless as well. The game was played in a heavy rainstorm and was an absolute comedy of errors for both squads. They combined for 11 turnovers, 16 punts and 4 missed field goals. Still, the 0-0 game was an odd triumph for OSU, all things considered. The game, now nicknamed "The Toilet Bowl" because of the excess water and lousy performances, was the last scoreless tie in FBS history.note
- The page image shows the headlines of the New York Post, which is said to have been inspired from the Harvard-Yale game, when the United States held England 1-1 in the group stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The United States would go on to top their group ahead of England on goals scored.
- Just to clarify this point: As is troped on This Very Wiki, Soccer-Hating Americans are very much Truth in Television, and in the World Cup, the team was often seen as a joke. And of course, Americans get a lot of ribbing for being bad from England and one of the big reasons Americans do not like football is because it frequently ends in draws. A draw against England was a victory in America because they could finally say to Britain "just as good as you" while it was a major defeat in Britain because they lost to the Joke Character of the World Cup and the one whose country couldn't bother to care about the outcome. Most British papers did cover the draw with a tone reserved for exceptionally bad losses.
- And of course, a good part of the reason the game ended in a draw was because England goalkeeper Robert Green mishandled a shot from Clint Dempsey and dropped the ball, which proceeded to bounce into the goal and tie the game.
- This is true of Boxing, similar to Professional Wresting above. The Challenger has to actually beat the Champion — a draw or any other outcome causes the Champion to retain the belt.
- In timed sporting events, a team with a large enough lead does not need to score again, but rather merely prevent the other team from scoring and run out the clock. With a large enough lead, you don't even need to stop the opposing team from scoring; you just need to slow them down so that they run out of time.
- The infamous Formula One's rivalry between Aryton Senna and Alain Prost in the 1989-1990 seasons ended with this trope and endless controversy. In 1989 Suzuka, Prost and Senna collided, deliberately giving Prost a world title. In 1990 at the very same circuit, Senna crashed out Prost, handing Senna a world title.
- It's not unknown for teams in various sports, who are certainly not going to make the playoffs, to play very defensively for the tie (and the lesser points thus awarded) when facing a team who needs all the points they can to make the playoffs, especially if that team is a longtime rival, just to spite them.
- Just about any multinational football tournament sees this happen- fans of a country that gets eliminated seem to care less about the loss and more that their country's historical rival got eliminated first.
- In rugby union, the Six Nations. Whenever a team with 4 wins and chasing a Grand Slam fails to win its last match, the other nations celebrate. Having won the most times, England in general also receive this treatment, as shown in an advert for the 2012 Six Nations, which was pulled before it was to be broadcast.
The Six Nations. It's not about who you want to win it's about who you want to lose.
- In the 2017 NFL season, the Cleveland Browns finished 0-16 (the second time since the 2008 Detroit Lions that a team lost all 16 games). When they started their 2018 season, they played their divisional rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and ended in a 21-21 tie. This was monumental for the Browns because: 1.) This was the first time since 2004 that their season opener wasn't a loss, and 2.) This was also the first time since December 2016 that they didn't lose a game, thus ending their 2-year losing streak (the Browns would end their winless streak in week 3 when they defeated the New York Jets 21-17).
- An unusual and politically charged case: losing a final at home turf by the hands of your Arch-Enemy is supposed to be a national disgrace. And yet the 2021 Copa América had plenty of Brazilians celebrating that Argentina took it all in Rio de Janeiro because it meant a defeat for a government that downplayed the COVID-19 Pandemic yet jumped at the opportunity at getting a football tournament when the previous hosts bailed out.
- Jacksonville State won the Atlantic Sun Conference's regular season men's basketball championship in 2022, but was upset in the semifinals of the conference tournament by Jacksonville,note 54-51. So that knocked JSU out of contention to make the NCAA tournament, right? Wrong. For the conference championship game, Jacksonville U. faced Bellarmine, who, as a school in the midst of reclassifying from NCAA Division II to Division I, wasn't eligible for the tournament. If Bellarmine won, the conference ruled that JSU would get the automatic NCAA bid by virtue of being the regular season champ, and sure enough Bellarmine beat Jacksonville 77-72, putting the JSU Gamecocks into the NCAA field, while Bellarmine chose not to compete in any postseason tournament after the NCAA rejected an appeal to be included in the field of the lesser National Invitation Tournament.
- One of a number of ways you can earn a punch in the face when playing Warhammer 40k is to rig your army so that you can deny your opponent every objective on the board in one (i.e. the last) turn. It's a bit of a crapshoot, considering that objectives only constitute victory in 2/3 of games, and the game has an equal chance of ending on turns 5, 6, or 7, but when the dice are going your way (or your opponent's way) this can be a very cheap way to secure a draw. In a tournament setting, this can knock you straight out of any kind of running, as tournaments tend to reward not only victory, but utter annihilation of your opponent. Getting even one draw will likely cost you the whole thing.
- Some of the older armies, such as the Eldar, practically live off stunts like this, and would not survive the codex creep were it not for their ability to pull it off on command.
- Because of how objectives work in 5th edition note , many objective-based games can end in draws. The "Capture and Control" mission of 5th edition is especially egregious for this because there are a total of two objectives on the table which must be placed one in each player's deployment zone, but without any other restrictions (so long as both objectives are 18" away from each other). It took power gamers all of about two seconds to realize they could park their objective on their board edge. Five to seven turns later, barring utter annihilation of one player, these games just about always end in draws.
- This is all far less of a problem for Warhammer Fantasy because Fantasy uses a Victory Points system for everything, whereas 40k almost never does.
- Two factions can do this in the Dune board game (inspired from Frank Herbert's eponymous novels) : the Fremen and the Guild. The Fremen, being the native inhabitants of Arrakis, win the game by default if no one else does since it means they have successfully defended their homeworld and their culture from external threats. The Guild wins if no one else wins and if a set of additional conditions (meaning that no major faction is in position to control the Spice market) are fulfilled. The Bene Gesserit can pull a similar trick, but it is closer to things going All According to Plan.
- It's very possible to do this in 7 Wonders, which requires that you build up victory points that are only calculated at the end of the game. At the end of each "play", you pass your cards to another player, so that everyone, in theory, gets a more or less equal chance to play every card. But if you see one of your opponents working on a specific strategy, you can play a card that gives you little to no benefit, simply to deny them the ability to profit off their strategy. It's risky (you're essentially screwing up your own strategy to mess with theirs), but it can pay off. It's especially useful if your opponent is pursuing a technology chain, since the points values for those grow exponentially.
- In most rules for casino-level Blackjack, the house has a few edges to ensure more wins. If the player busts (exceeds 21), regardless of the House's hand, the House wins. This compensates for the increased payout for a player's 2-card 21 and various other moves the player can do (such as double down, split, and stand on hands less than 17).
- Standard Blackjack returns the wager to the player in a "push", or a hand where the player's total equals the dealer's total and neither has busted. Some variants of Blackjack give other advantages to the player but compensate by awarding pushes to the house.
- In Chess, if one side only has a king, there are quite a few combinations of pieces that can force checkmate. However, if their opponent doesn't have enough pieces, or just makes a mistake, the losing side can sometimes maneuver into a stalemate. Like other draws, a stalemate is counted as half a win, and drawing a much stronger opponent is considered a great accomplishment.
- In the BattleTech universe, the overuse of these tactics by the Great Houses led directly to a precipitous technological decline during the Succession Wars. "If I can't have technology X or weapon Y, then no one can!" Cue factory after factory being destroyed, damaged, or sabotaged, and the few scientists who could've understood the blueprints to rebuild them being ruthlessly assassinated. Though in hindsight, much of the usage of these tactics was secretly encouraged by the Church Militant Comstar, in order to deliberately starve the Houses of the technology they needed to wage war.
- It's common in scenario books for there to be lopsided scenarios where one side's victory conditions are "destroy X number of enemy mechs in Y number of rounds" while the other side's victory conditions are "survive Y number of rounds" or "get X number of mechs to the far side of the map within Y rounds." In one particularly notable instance, the "victory" condition for one force was to simply hold out long enough that the other side got frustrated and wiped them with nuclear strikes.
- The Ebon Dragon, the Shadow of All Things in Exalted, is almost defined by this trope. As the embodiment of betrayal and degradation, it can lose anything and consider it a victory as long as the other team suffered even more.
- In the Discworld: Ankh-Morpork board game the Sam Vimes player wins if the game ends without anyone else fulfilling their victory condition (as a police officer, Vimes is trying to maintain the status quo).
- A poker variant combined with The Runner-Up Takes It All regards the "bad beat jackpot", where if a player loses with a strong hand, he gets half of a betting pot (the winner gets a quarter, everyone else gets the rest). Thus there are players who will fold instead of letting the opponent lose and get lots of money out of it. A 2006 case had an old lady do so to spite a Trash Talking guy, even if by winning she'd get $15,000 ("I don't need the money, but I knew you did.").
- In Bang!, the Renegade has this as a problem unique to themselves. The law enforcement faction (Sheriff and their Deputies) achieve victory if they kill all Outlaws and the Renegade, which is simple enough. The Outlaws win if they kill the Sheriff. The Renegade wins if they are the last player standing, but if the Outlaws kill the Sheriff, then the Outlaws win because they fulfilled their win condition first, even if the Renegade didn't die. This means the Renegade has to aid law enforcement by helping them defeat the Outlaws first, then the Deputies (if they kill the Sheriff before the Deputies, the Outlaws win even if they are all dead), then the Sheriff, in order to be sure nobody else wins.
- Many multiplayer online games include an "attack/defend" mode where one team tries to break into/capture/destroy the enemy base somehow, and if they can't before time runs out the defenders win. An example would be Payload from Team Fortress 2.
- In Halo: Reach, the primary objective of the initial Covenant strike force was to secure a Forerunner artifact before it fell into human hands. At which they fail and the UNSC learns about the location of the first Halo. However, the main invasion fleet arrives a few days later and successfully wipes out the largest center of human population outside of Earth, single-handedly scoring the most important victory of the entire war.
- In a certain puzzle in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future Dimitri Allen challenges Layton to a "puzzle battle". They each have five armies of varying strengths, and Layton has to arrange his so he avoids defeat. But at first glance this seems impossible, the armies you're given are vastly weaker than his. (His go up to strength 5 and the best you have is a 4) But if you do things right, you can arrange it so both sides win 2 battles, lose 2 and draw 1, thereby tying. The rules never stated Layton had to ''win'', he just needed to "avoid defeat."
- In the Mario Party series, a player who's winning by a wide margin may purposely work against his partner(s) in a 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 1 mini-game because if he is winning already, he can still win the whole game by making sure the other players don't win, even if he technically lost the mini-game.
- In both The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games, sometimes Maple runs into Link causing them to both drop several items and a mini-game where they race to collect the items. If the screen they ran into each other on had a lot of deep water that the items fall into it and disappear, even if the total value of the items Link collects is better than that Maple collects, Maple still counts the items that disappeared as if she collected them.
- In Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth and similar multiplayer games, both sides will often consider the outcome of a battle a "victory." For example, a lone Blue team player taking out two enemies is a victory for them, whereas Red Team's duo could consider it a victory just for taking a dangerous opponent out of play for a minute or two. Even a Total Party Wipe can be considered a victory in some cases, if it denies enemies a crucial objective or has some other benefits. Of course, this only applies on the small scale; the team that kills the other team's Ancient/Nexus/whatever first wins everything, if you lose yours there's nothing good you can take away from it.
- In the Battle Frontier and similar areas in the Pokémon games, any scenario in which one trainer's last Pokémon uses a Suicide Attack to knock out their opponent's last Pokémon will result in the computer winning (because the player cannot be on the overworld with their whole team knocked out, and the game can't force the player to the Pokémon Center without a loss). In player vs player matches, the one who declares the Suicide Attack loses.
- Many games such as Gears of War have multiplayer modes without infinite respawns where the objective is to kill everyone on the opposing team. It's common for the last player left alive on a team to run and hide in order to wait out the clock and force a draw, rather than risk the chance of the other team winning. Some games have tried to combat this by awarding victory to the team with more players left alive after the clock runs out.
- PlanetSide 2's Alert system creates server-wide missions to take over as much territory on a continent as possible. However, if one (of three) factions is overpopulated, they'll often end up owning the vast majority of the territory by simply overrunning defenders with sheer numbers; particularly common with the Vanu Sovereignty on the Emerald server, where the Terran Republic and New Conglomerate will occasionally purposely abandon bases to each other in order to force a tie in order to deny the VS a victory.
- World of Tanks:
- In competitive league play, a standard tactic in the last minute or so of a round when one team has only one or two tanks left, is outnumbered (or if the other team significantly outweighs the survivors in terms of tank size), and the team that's stronger doesn't have enough time left to capture the base, is for the weaker team to run. If there's even one of their tanks left alive when time runs out, they've forced a draw. For this reason, the tiebreaker match in championships is a king-of-the-hill style match which forces a winner: if the attacking team (usually the one that has the least amount of points in the match) can't either destroy all the enemy tanks or capture the base before time runs out, the defenders win.
- In regular gameplay, this is the alternate win condition for the defenders in an Attack/Defend scenario. The attackers win if they either capture the base or destroy all enemy vehicles. If they fail to do either, the defenders win by default once the in-game timer runs out (ten minutes instead of the standard 15).
- Late in Tales of the Abyss, Sync, while encountering the heroes, taunts them about how they haven't found the Jewel of Lorelei (which, unbeknownst to anyone at this point, is currently inside Luke). When Luke fires back and says the villains haven't found it yet, Sync replies that if no one finds it, his side will keep the upper hand.
- Meta example from the Fire Emblem series: the Spiteful A.I. enemy wins if they kill a single one of your soldiers, even if you were just about to accomplish your objective, because, let's face it, you're gonna Rage Quit and restart the chapter because you love your quirky soldiers, don't you?
- In the challenge mode of Blast Ball in Metroid Prime: Federation Force, ending any match in a tie results in a game over.
- Dissidia Final Fantasy (2015) will result in everyone losing if the time runs out. While not exactly this trope in multiplayer, it is most certainly this in offline play as one loss in arcade mode sends you right back to the start.
- In the Empires spinoffs of Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, one of the conditions for losing when invading another kingdom is to time to expire. If, on the other hand, the player is defending their own kingdom from invasion, they have a secondary victory condition in allowing time to expire; so long as they do not die or allow their own main base to be taken, they can win without having to take the enemy's main base.
- The player can do this to the Rebels in FTL: Faster Than Light: If the Rebel Flagship is destroyed at roughly the same time as the player's ship (but before the point in the player ship's "hull destroyed" animation where the game declares a Game Over), the game will be considered cleared. Justified, in that destroying the Flagship means the leaders of the Rebels are dead and the Federation claims swift victory as a result, and the overall goal of the game is "defeat the Rebels," not "defeat the Rebels and self-preserve."
- The goal in AI Wars Fleet Command is to destroy the AI Home Command Centers. How this is done, and what the galaxy looks like afterwards, isn't important. Even if the player decides the war has crossed the Godzilla Threshold and unleashed the Nanocaust or Dark Spire, if they kill the AI before turning their attention to the player, it's considered a win.
- In O.N.G.E.K.I., reaching the end of the song without defeating the boss results in a draw rather than winning outright. This is still much better than a loss, which is caused by running out of health (from hitting too many bullets) and which cuts the song short, depriving you of a lot of potential jewels, Score, and most importantly, Technical Score. Usually a draw happens because even though the player had the skill to avoid damage, they didn't have powerful enough cards to deplete the boss's health.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses: If the 100-turn timer runs out, whoever has the most Life Points left wins. But if it's a tie, the computer wins.
- Xenoblade Chronicles X: Elma takes this approach after the Ganglion's assault on NLA, which also results in them stealing the mysterious super-mech the player recovered a few chapters earlier. Ryyz tries to claim that this was a Ganglion victory because they stole the mech, but Elma, intent on wounding Ryyz's pride, declares that so long as the human city of NLA is standing, regardless of how much damage it took, then it's the Ganglion's loss. Since they couldn't destroy the city completely, humanity wins. Ryyz is reduced to barely coherent rage at this.
- There's a rare objective in Advance Wars where the player and the computer fight over properties, and the one with the bigger number when time runs out is the winner. If they have the same amount of properties, the player wins, as seen here.
- In the backstory of Tales from My D&D Campaign, a continuous battle rages between Big Good Ioun and Big Bad Vecna over control of the Source of all magic. Faced with the potential for Vecna to win, seizing the Source, annihilating all other gods, and ruling unopposed and unopposable for all eternity, Ioun long ago adopted this strategy, focusing entirely on not losing. Since Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, it's very effective.
- In Red vs. Blue season 13, this is part of the Blood Gulch Crew's strategy against the Space Pirates. Washington and Carolina don't have to secure the Purge Temple, or even defeat their opponents ( Felix and Locus). They just have to hold the fight long enough for the other soldiers to take control of the tractor beam and use it to crash the Tartarus into the Purge Temple, destroying both.
- Local58: In the event that the United States was ever conquered by an enemy force, the "Department for the Preservation of American Dignity" would call upon all Americans to commit mass suicide, presumably as a final "screw you" to the enemy, declaring "even in defeat we claim VICTORY" and instructing the viewer to assume the "victory position" upon death if possible.
- This is ultimately the punchline of Overwatch vs. TF2: Episode 2. While they did kill essentially everyone on the opposing team, TF2's team still loses because they spent the entire time fighting rather than moving the payload, which was the entire point of the match. Ashe, the sole survivor of their team, points this out.
- In Dinobot's final episode in Beast Wars, he destroys Megatron's golden disk, thus denying its secrets to the Maximals but also preventing the Predacons from exploiting it. Then it turns out Megatron saved a piece of the disk and it helps him a lot when Ravage shows up to arrest him on behalf of the Tripredacus Council. The saved piece contains a message left behind by G1 Megatron about a plan to change the past so Optimus Prime's team of Autobots wouldn't be around to stop the Decepticons in the original series. Ravage is a Decepticon who swore loyalty to G1 Megatron.
- Used in Xiaolin Showdown where Master Fung teaches the warriors that they can't get the jade elephant from him if it's no longer an elephant, but a pile of jade dust instead. Omi puts this lesson to use by sending a teleporting Shen-Gong-Wu to the Earth's core rather than let any of the villains have it.
Master Fung: Your goal was to win. Mine was merely not to lose.
- In Hey Arnold! Grampa was able to win a Chinese checkers game in a tie, though he won it because he went home with the trophy. The fact that his opponent (and long-time rival) reacted so badly to the tie also helps to the perceived victory.
- An episode of Rocket Power has Team Rocket place in a sandcastle competition with an impressive replica of the local amusement park, but they ultimately lose to a little girl with a dinky little castle—since she's the only competitor who actually built a sandcastle. However, since their reason for entering in the first place is to deny Insufferable Genius Oliver van Rossum a victory in the competition, their attitude on the outcome is, "At least somebody beat those nerds."
- Gravity Falls: Dipper and Mabel's goal when they agree to help Stan run for mayor is to prevent Bud from winning. They're sad about Stan being disqualified, but are otherwise happy about the election result because Bud didn't win either.
- Angela Anaconda: Subverted. When Angela loses a bicycle race, Gina tries to comfort her with the fact Nanette also lost. Angela says it would normally be enough but she counted on the $200 cash prize to make up for losing her father's new wallet and the $200 he kept inside it.
- Miles from Tomorrowland: In "Double Trouble", Commander Nemmex tries to steal a cloaking device and the heroes decide to destroy it to stop him.
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: As Catra's Sanity Slippage gets worse, she does this. She starts out as a pragmatist who occasionally takes the opportunity to Troll her ex-friend Adora when they cross paths. By the end of season 3, she's so upset over Adora "winning" all the time (note: Adora's life sucks by most measures, and she certainly doesn't get everything handed to her like Catra is acting) that she decides she doesn't care what happens, as long as Adora loses. Adora spends a few episodes desperately trying to warn people that Hordak's portal device will destroy the world. When Catra's subordinate Entrapta says the same thing, Catra knocks her out, refuses to pass the message along to Hordak, and activates the machine herself.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: At the climax of the Citadel arc, Osi Sobeck invokes this by deciding to simply kill Captain Tarkin rather than recapture him; sure the Separatists won't get the intel that Tarkin is carrying, but the Republic won't either and keeping the information out of enemy hands is just as much a victory as getting it themselves. Unfortunately for him, Ahsoka sneaks up and shoves her lightsaber through his back while he's distracted by trying to do this.
- Several Bob's Burgers episodes see Bob in competition with Jimmy Pesto and they both lose. In those cases, Pesto losing is good enough for Bob.
- The Owl House: In the episode "Convention", Luz challenges Amity to a witch duel, and it quickly escalates when the siblings Eda and Lilith, their respective mentors, find out about it and get involved. Both mentors help their students by cheating during the duel and both of them are found out by the end. However, despite this turning into a mutual loss for them, the bragging rights go solely to Eda, because she is shameless about her cheating while Lilith is a witch of high prestige, and thus by cheating in a duel, regardless of her reasons, she still was brought down to Eda's level.
- Total Drama: In "I Triple Dog Dare You", Gwen admits that even if she doesn't win the money, ensuring that her rival Heather loses would be the sweeter victory. In the penultimate challenge of Island, the final three campers, Gwen, Heather, and Owen, have to complete dares devised by the 19 campers who were eliminated before them, with the first to chicken out of a dare automatically losing. Gwen and Owen form a temporary alliance to take down Heather, forcing her to take dare after dare. Eventually, Heather gets a Sadistic Choice: either have her head shaved and stay in the game or keep her hair and lose out on the chance for $100,000. As the razor approaches her, Heather chickens out and kicks the razor in the air...only for it to land on her head and give her a Traumatic Haircut. When Chris announces that Heather is out, she protests, saying that she got her head shaved, but Chris retorts that she intended to reject the dare. Gwen and Owen celebrate Heather's defeat.
- The battle of Thermopylae during the Greco-Persian wars: It (and its sister sea battle at Artemisium) were intended to be holding operations to stall the much larger Persian army and fleet until the Greek city-states could raise their levies and prepare for a counter-attack. Both were technically Greek defeats both tactically and strategically (they only succeeded at stalling the Persians for less than a week and Athens fell as a result), although the over-extension of the Persian fleet in trying to hunt down the Greek one ultimately led to the battle of Salamis, which turned the tide of the war.
- Suppressing rebellions is subject to a cost-benefit analysis on the part of The Empire. When the Romans tried to outlaw circumcision, a rebellion broke out among the Jews. Militarily, the Romans won the war, but doing so was so much trouble that they decided to let the Jews practice their religion freely anyway.
- This was basically the approach of the Byzantine Empire for much of its history. They were well aware of their lack of resources and troublesome strategic position, sandwiched between Muslims to South and East, and barbarians to West and North. Byzantine's goal was, more often than not, simply to outlast their enemies until the latter simply gave up, avoiding direct conflict and using harassment as a way of minimizing their own casualties.
- British editors at the English-language Wikipedia adamantly refuse to label the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739-1748) a British defeat, pointing that there wasn't British land lost to Spain and that the war was subsumed into the War of the Austrian Succession from 1740 anyway. Never mind that the war was started by the British government, with the explicit aim of conquering Spanish colonies, and that the British invasions of New Granada and Cuba (deemed easy at the time of the war's declaration) were soundly defeated. Plus, the side backed by Britain in the War of Austrian Succession (Austria) lost land to Spain and her ally, Prussia.
- The American Revolution was fought with this trope in mind once the Shot Heard 'Round The World was fired that April morning in 1775. George Washington wasn't the most strategically sound general (he was rather prone to Complexity Addiction when it came to battle plans) and overall throughout the war the Continental Army lost more battles than won — the New York/New Jersey campaign in the summer of 1776 was an especially bad time for them as the Continental Army was outmaneuvered, bloodied, and was only able to retreat from New York after not being destroyed entirely after the Battle of Long Island thanks to fortuitous bad weather. But Washington understood that in the long term his top priority was to preserve the Continental Army as a fighting force to oppose the British, who had to transport and supply their troops from an ocean and three weeks' travel away while they could organize local militia much more quickly to buy time for the Americans to solicit help from Britain's rivals on the European continent, chief among them France. Even the British taking the main ports (the five largest cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, SC and Newport, RI were at various points during the war all occupied) wasn't enough — they would have to go out into the countryside to defeat the rebellious colonies there. Which they couldn't do before France and other European rivals joined in, sealing Britain's military fate at Yorktown in 1781 and their political fate soon after when Lord North was ousted as Prime Minister.
- The War of 1812: The war ended in an expensive military stalemate, with no changes in territory and no meaningful concessions on any side; while the impressment of American sailors ended, the cause for the blockade that the sailors had been taken for was over. This resulted in all major sides in the conflict claiming victory due to this trope - the US claimed victory because they maintained their territorial integrity and the British were no longer kidnapping American sailors, the Canadians claimed victory because the US failed to conquer Canada, and the British claimed victory because they had successfully prevented the US from helping France during the Napoleonic Wars. The only clear losers were the Native Americans, who lost their British sponsors. This had major positive long-term ramifications for the US; because the British failed to win, they failed to curb American expansion. Because the Native Americans lost, there was no one left to prevent further American expansion. As a result, the US eventually became one of the largest and most powerful countries in the world, surpassing the UK and making further wars with them untenable. Conversely, the Canadian colonies got considerable self-esteem for defending themselves, which led to the continuing desire to be different from the US, which led to the later creation of Canada as a determined separate nation.
- In the other war of 1812, the battle of Russians against Napoleon at Borodino falls under this trope. Neither side won the actual battle: Napoleon's goal was to destroy the Russian army while the Russians had defense of Moscow as their prime objective; neither side succeeded. The Russians lost far more men than the French and was forced to leave the field and opened the way for Napoleon to take Moscow, but since they had at least managed to hold their ground for awhile against a stronger force while also exhausting the Grande Armée so that they couldn't chase down and destroy them outright, it was demoralizing for the French, which contributed to the unraveling of military order after the city fell. The fact that Napoleon had not prepared for a long campaign meant that the onset of General Winter was a debilitating blow to the Grande Armée, who was forced to retreat from Russia with such heavy losses that erstwhile allies Austria and Prussia turned on him.
- At the Battle of Waterloo, the Prussian forces arrived on Napoleon's right flank, after he'd already been fighting for hours against Wellington and the other allies. He'd actually already defeated them at Ligny, but failed to destroy enough of them to take them out of the equation.
- The two Canadian Rebellions of 1837-8 in which the demand for responsible government in both Lower and Upper Canada were a primary cause. Both insurrections were crushed militarily by the British colonial forces, but when Lord Durham was sent to investigate the causes of the trouble, he recommended that the colonies be given responsible government so as to avoid future trouble, which was eventually carried out.
- The Alamo: A small group of Texans hold out in an old mission. The Mexicans win and wipe out the Texans nearly to the last man, but lose three times more fighters than the Texans and are stalled long enough fighting them that the rest of the Texans have enough time to regroup and prepare for the final battle.
- The American Civil War had this trope as the win condition for the South — whilst the North had to actively go forth and defeat them, the South only had to hold out long enough for the North to sue for peace due to war weariness or to be recognized as an independent nation by Britain and France (the superpowers of the age). The South knew it had been done before with the American Revolutionary War less than a century prior. Both of these came close to happening at different times during the war.
- Antietam: The Union held the field at the end of this bloody battle, but suffered greater losses than the Confederacy. Despite this, by claiming the battle as a victory Lincoln was able to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which changed the whole character of the war in the Union's favor in a couple of ways. On the immediate strategic level, Antietam was a victory because it stopped a Southern invasion of the North, forcing the invaders to retreat and preventing them from taking Washington. In that respect, it is very much comparable to the Peninsular Campaign and Seven Days Battles before Richmond earlier in 1862, and to the later Gettysburg campaign in 1863. In both cases, the defending forces forced a retreat on the attackers while sustaining greater losses themselves. Had the Army of Northern Virginia succeeded in taking Washington in the Antietam campaign, that would have made it much more likely that France or Britain would have recognized the Confederacy as an independent nation while also dealing severe damage to the Union's war effort. Politically, Lincoln's issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation also made it untenable for Britain or France to recognize the Confederacy going forward because doing so would have been implicitly supporting slavery, meaning the South would have to win this war on their own.
- Gettysburg is another good example of this trope, even though the South's chances of victory were smaller in 1863 than in 1862. The Southern invasion of Pennsylvania was beaten back, but the Army of the Potomac sustained the heavier losses and Meade did not dare to attack the Army of Northern Virginia as it retreated south. However, at the same time Vicksburg fell and the Confederacy was cut in two as the Union forces brought the entire length of the Mississipi under their control. During the entire war, there was a certain pattern that while the CSA was quite successful in Northeastern Virginia - even making a few attempts to take Washington, D. C. - this was more than offset by Union victories in the other war theaters. A big problem with the way both Jefferson Davis and Lee planned the war, and with many accounts of the war after it was over, was that too much importance was attached to the war in Virginia and not enough to the Western fronts. The reasons are fairly obvious from Lee's perspective; taking Washington would have been a potentially fatal blow to Union morale, and the terrain in that region nullified the Union's numbers advantage.
- As the war progressed this trope became a win condition for the North instead once they started winning their strategic objectives, and the naval blockade of the South started straining their resources - while the Army of Northern Virginia had repeatedly defeated the Union Army of the Potomac by inflicting greater losses and stalling their advances, once Grant took command he simply accepted the losses and advanced anyhow (see the Battle of the Wilderness in which Lee's army inflicted heavy losses but Grant simply marched around), eventually bringing Lee's army to bay in 1865.
- The Battle of Jutland in World War I. The British lost more ships, but "won" because the German High Seas Fleet never challenged the Royal Navy again, leaving the North Sea in Entente control and securing Britain itself from any possible seaborne invasion.
- This is the way French citizens see the Second World War and the Resistance: there was the defeat in the battle of France, and Hitler going to Paris, and the Vichy Regime, but there were French who never surrendered between '40 and '45, who hurt the Nazi war machine, saved the lives of three-fourths of the French Jews, and fought alongside the Allies until the victory.
- Didn't hurt the Nazi war machine much, though. Vichy France was a huge provider of war material for the Axis cause, and their government collaborated more enthusiastically than the Germans had even asked for in a failed effort to gain German respect (with the sole exception of the Vichy navy, which eventually scuttled itself rather than hand over its ships for German use). And while many French Jews were merely persecuted rather than executed, German Jews who'd fled to France for sanctuary were put into internment camps by the old Republican government, and cheerfully sent to the death camps by the succeeding Vichy government. The Free French forces do get some credit here, but they had nothing to do with the plight of the Jews of France.
- That being said, once the Free French started taking over they saw a phoenix-like rebirth of the French military, to the point where there were nearly as many French divisions by the end of the war as there were American (at least in the Rhine) and they played a key role in hammering the final nails in Hitler's coffin.
- A stronger case can be made for the French Navy winning because Germany didn't accomplish its goal of absorbing them. If Germany had done this, then the Axis navies in Europe would have been strong enough to potentially oppose the Allied navy. So the French just blew their navy up when the Germans tried to take it, essentially ensuring an Axis naval defeat.
- Finland in WWII. The nation managed to preserve her independence, freedom and Western lifestyle and not succumb to forced integration with the USSR and Communism. Finland was never conquered and never occupied, and her economy quickly revived after the disaster of the war. There is even a specific word for this trope in the Finnish language, torjuntavoitto, roughly translating to "victory by causing the aggressor to fail".
- While Operation Barbarossa in WW2 is often held to be this, with the claim that the Russians only won by burning everything in the Germans' path, just like they did against Napoleon, it did achieve two very important things that are often overlooked by the stereotype: (1) Attrition is a valid strategy, and the massive losses incurred by the Germans was simply something their logistics (already stretched at that point) could not keep up with; and (2) their own warmaking capability was still largely intact, making them much more capable of continuing to fight the war than the Germans.
- Unternehmen Zitadelle, or the Battle of Kursk (July 1943), has been portrayed as one by German generals in their post-war memoirs. They prefer to think of it as a mere failure to succeed in encircling the well-prepared Soviet force in the Kursk salient, rather than the first in a series of non-stop defeats that followed from the capture of the Germans' Vyazma salient in the north (while they were still busy down south with Zitadelle) and ended with the Germans' Panzer forces utterly annihilated after six months of non-stop campaigning. note
- The Korean War: The Chinese and North Koreans didn't succeed in uniting Korea. The United Nations (mostly Americans, British, and about twelve per cent from other allied nations like France, Australia, and Turkey) and South Korea only "won" because they stopped the advance of communism and inflicted incredibly high casualties against the enemy, but in reality at the end of the war everything was pretty much status quo. Except for the 2 million people killed due to North Korean aggression.note
- Technically the war is still ongoing as no peace treaty was ever signed between North and South Korea, and China and the United Nations never declared war on each other. Nor did the United States actually declare war on North Korea, or China on South Korea.
- Conquering North Korea was only a secondary goal for America and her allies- the primary goal was to save South Korea, which they succeeded at. In fact, by advancing as far as the Yalu, and threatening to cross over into China, MacArthur far exceeded his actual mandate. China's goal also wasn't conquest of South Korea (at least not initially; they had that goal at the start but abandoned it after the failure of the Fifth Phase Offensive), but rather keeping North Korea as a buffer zone, which they also succeeded at, albeit at a huge cost (one that they considered fully acceptable). The real losers here were the North Koreans.
- Basically everyone other than North Korea won because North Korea didn't.
- In more practical terms, South Korea won in the long run by staying out of North Korean control. While South Korea has grown into a fully modernized nation with access to proper utilities and services, North Korea has been left behind technologically and militarily; this wasn't the case for the first three or so decades after the war, as North Korea was being held up by Soviet subsidies while South Korea was always the poorer part of the country even before the war. But it became the case as South Korea's capitalistic economy and export model began to tell by the late 1980s while the centrally planned North Korean communist system, unable to rely on handouts anymore, rapidly collapsed following the Soviets cutting off the money. Today, 97% of the GDP generated in the Korean Peninsula belongs to South Korea. Satellite images of North Korea during the night show the country as a nation shrouded in darkness compared to the city lights that come from the neighboring countries of coastal China and South Korea. It's so bad that North Korea is considered a "failed state" by a few political science textbooks. In essence, by simply surviving, South Korea won by being able to gain more amenities.
- The Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese failed to outright defeat the American forces, unlike in their wars with the French and Chinese. They never won any major battles (though had a lot of small-scale successes), and suffered grievously disproportionate casualties.note But the war slowly deteriorated in terms of public support back in the States and the US withdrew all their forces from Vietnam. However, this trope was averted when North Vietnam went against South Vietnam where the South was steamrolled by the North despite rough parity in numbers and arms.note At a conference after the war, an American officer insisted that the NVA and VC had never won on the battlefield. His Vietnamese counterpart replied, "That may be so, but it is also irrelevant." Simply put, there were limits to how much the American public was willing to sacrifice to achieve victory. The same was not true of the North Vietnamese.
- Henry Kissinger noted with regards to this war and guerrilla warfare in general that "the guerrilla wins if he does not lose; the regular army loses unless it wins." Ironically, in this case the guerrillas did lose; the Viet Cong were basically annihilated in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, and the current Vietnamese official military history concedes that they controlled basically no territory in the south by 1969. This failed to make much of a difference because the North Vietnamese simply replaced the South Vietnamese insurgents with NVA regulars instead, who infiltrated through porous borders and were kept supplied in their guerrilla war from the north. South Vietnam was ultimately conquered in a large armored offensive by the regular North Vietnamese Army.
- To be fair to South Vietnam, it's hard to defend one's country successfully when one's biggest ally not only pulls out, but cuts off the supplies you're still dependent on.
- Three Kingdoms Shu, Wei, Wu: The famed Battle of Red Cliffs came about because Sun Quan was convinced by several of his advisors that as long as they prevented northern warlord Cao Cao from breaching their defenses on the Yangtze River and establish a beachhead on their side of the river, they could hold out against Cao almost indefinitely. Sure enough, even when Cao Cao came back with an even larger army and his best generals (compared to his initial attempt at Red Cliffs), Sun's forces were able to hold him off until bad weather compelled Cao to call off the campaign.
- Wei Yan's defenses at Han Zhong revolved around this concept. They were specifically designed to hold off an enemy until the treacherous terrain made resupply so difficult that they'd be forced to withdraw. Counterattacks against a retreating enemy were discouraged, since the whole point of the defenses was that they were purely defensive. When, decades later, Jiang Wei reworked the defenses to lure enemy armies into chokepoints where they could be destroyed (and thus gain a glorious victory), they failed completely and left Shu open to invasion.