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Xanatos Speed Chess

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"Hardin once said: 'To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well.'"
Hober Mallow, Foundation (1951)

Some characters have an amazing gift not only for making The Plan but for revising it whenever new circumstances arise. Even a Gambit Pileup does not prevent this character working around it to success.

While the plots can be — or become — as complex as anything The Chessmaster (or the Manipulative Bastard) lays out, they tend to function differently. The plotting character tends to be more The Trickster. We usually follow, if not the plotter themself, then characters near them, so we can witness their continual and brilliant improvisations. The plotter is more likely to be a hero than a villain because the plot is always teetering at the edge of failure, making its success more dramatic. If it is used by both sides, the drama is squared.

Xanatos Speed Chess players build in the need for such flexibility in advance because of the old adage that "no plan survives contact with the enemy." Indeed, many players start with a plan as simple as possible because that introduces as few things as possible to go wrong. Closely related to the Indy Ploy, which has simpler goals like "escape" or sometimes "hope for the best", but in this case, the plan is still in operation, just modified to fit new situations. The distinction here is that Xanatos Speed Chess involves changing an existing plan quickly, while an Indy Ploy started with no plan whatsoever.

A much more dangerous form of it is to alter the plan to take advantage of unexpected windfalls. This usually introduces exploitable flaws, and if it does not lead to disaster, it can come very close.

A Sub-Trope of Improvisational Ingenuity.

Compare Xanatos Gambit, which involves a predetermined plan — but one so well-made that there can be no failure, only degrees of success.

Contrast the Gambit Roulette, where the planner incorporates events that they would have no way of foreseeing into his plans — they rely on chance as much as on brilliance. Contrast the Clock King, a consummate planner who is rarely good at this. If prophecy, time travel, or being able to see the future is involved, may escalate to Scry vs. Scry. Compare Unintentional Backup Plan — where something completely unexpected occurs to help the plan — though it can still be adapted into this.

Not all people who attempt Xanatos Speed Chess can pull it off. This is why being good at Xanatos Speed Chess is one of the defining marks of the Magnificent Bastard.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • It is difficult to know how much of Akagi's playing is this and how much he actually plans out. In any case, he's a Magnificent Bastard.
  • Bleach: Aizen and Urahara have been opposing each other for a century. As they're both chessmasters, their entire battle has consisted of elaborately designed plans and constant revision of those plans as first one then the other gains the upper hand. From Aizen framing Urahara for catching him red-handed, to Urahara using his exile to set up an elaborate protection of the Hougyoku. From Aizen losing the element of surprise and thus having to prepare for war in one month instead of four, to Urahara anticipating exactly that and setting up a series of secret kidou traps to ensure Aizen is depowered by Ichigo in the end...most of the characters freely admit they can't keep up and eventually even Aizen is forced to admit he can't keep up with Urahara's intelligence.
  • Case Closed:
    • The show has a fair amount of it, especially whenever Conan's directly up against the Black Ops and needs to not get killed.
    • It's not just Conan who pulls this off. The other high-school detectives do this regularly.
    • And, of course, the absolute winner of this trope is Kaitou Kid (originally from Magic Kaito) — who is constantly changing his heist plans (which are, more often than not, successful).
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Aleister Crowley constantly uses this so that whenever something unexpected happens, he weaves it in to complete his plans even faster. However, even Crowley cannot keep up with everything: Shiage Hamazura defeating Mugino caused a domino reaction that completely threw his plans all out of whack, and he's now desperately attempting to get everything back under his control.
  • Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass does this out of necessity, because the writers love screwing all of his plans by unexpected events that no sane person would ever consider. He turned the tables when pitted against the Britannian military and their Chinese allies right after losing his best fighter and a large part of his army. Lampshaded with the fact that he can play real chess very well.
  • Death Note:
    • Light Yagami, when things first started to get out of hand, but it didn't last. Misa forced more Speed Chess on him than anyone else; sometimes by being smarter than he expected but usually by being impulsive. Before long Light could flawlessly predict even her actions.
    • L was also good at Speed Chess, but not as good as Light. A major unexpected twist once left L at a loss for weeks, although this was simply due to not knowing all the details of Kira's power.
    • Near and Mello are also masters of this trope because they were raised in the same way and for the same purpose as L. The entire series, especially all the events after L's death, can be summed up as Xanatos Speed Chess on crack.
    • The supplementary "How to Read" volume includes a list describing every trick used by anyone and rating them by level.
  • Desert Punk the main character's modus operandi is trickery and traps, as seen in the hostage rescue episode — he forms a complex number of backup plans, flips between them on the fly and always ends up with his opponent caught in one of his traps even if not in the way originally planned. He's beaten at his own game after turning to the dark and on the cusp of victory, when his apprentice maneuvers him into her own pre-planned trap.
  • Yukio Oikawa, the apparent Big Bad of Digimon Adventure 02, does this as well in regards to his goal of accessing the Digital World. First, he instigates Ken into becoming the Digimon Emperor in order to plant Dark Towers to weaken the borders between worlds. When Ken undergoes a Heel–Face Turn, Oikawa has Arukenimon and Mummymon try and destroy the Destiny Stones to do that. When that fails, he decides to create a portal from Earth by implanting kids with Dark Spores copied from the one inside Ken, then harnessing their power once they've peaked. Due to BlackWarGreymon sealing the door to the Digital World, he ends up going to an entirely different world where emotions become power…which still helps Myotismon come back to life!
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • In a series largely defined by the physical strength of its heroes and villains, Cell stands out. He is the first (and last) seasonal Big Bad who is not introduced as already having an overwhelming power advantage over everyone else, with the Kami-powered Piccolo fighting him to a draw in their first meeting (and Piccolo probably would have won if Cell hadn't had the tactical sense to retreat). He travels from city to city, patiently absorbing Muggles until he has a power surpassing that of Piccolo and the androids and only then does he challenge them. Later, when his plans are disrupted by the arrival of Vegeta and Trunks, his initial reaction is to throw a tantrum, but after getting that out of his system he quickly demonstrates his Speed Chess skills by breaking out the only advantage he has left — Vegeta's ego. Ultimately his is one of the closest Near-Villain Victory examples in the entire series, and the only reason he is ultimately defeated is because of his own success, as after becoming perfect he no longer has a purpose other than battle, and so foolishly goads Gohan until the young Saiyan unleashes his true power...
    • Super Buu is also very good at doing this, despite being a mere thug in personality. He noticed Gohan's growing power, so he fought against Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks and tested the limits of his strength and his weaknesses (e.g. fusion limit). After briefly fighting Gohan and finding himself overwhelmed, he goes through an intentional Super-Power Meltdown, knowing he will regenerate and buys time (and getting Goten and Trunks to recuperate, to fuse again). When he returns he goads Goten and Trunks into fusing again at full power and absorbs Gotenks and Piccolo into his being, deciding 30 minutes is more than enough to handle Gohan (he was right). Goku arrives and the fusion breaks down. Goku says Gohan alone is strong enough to defeat Buu, but then Buu reveals that he planned for this eventuality as well, and had a piece of himself ready to absorb Gohan the whole time, who he goaded into standing still until it was too late. Interestingly, the only character this didn't work on is Vegito, who was too strong, too wily, and had plans of his own, as he later found out.
  • Played with in Durarara!!. Izaya is a Manipulative Bastard who spends great amounts of the series pulling strings to cause everything to fall into chaos. He regularly employs Batman Gambits with a high success rate and to most appears to always come out on top. However, Shinra points out that this is only because Izaya loves humans, so he will accept anything they do and will always be happy with their reactions. This creates the illusion that Izaya is always in control, and he often is, but in the end he is merely going to be happy no matter what people do.
  • Fairy Tail: Brain in his plan to obtain Nirvana. He originally intended to get it by himself, but when he realized that Wendy was with the group sent to stop him, he used her to make his plan move faster, having her heal Jellal, who would in turn fetch Nirvana for him. When Jellal attacked him, instead of going This Cannot Be! he ordered Cobra to follow him. His assumption was right, as Jellal restarted Nirvana... With the intent of destroying it. But, instead of breaking down or trying to force Jellal to obey him by any meaning, Brain simply deactivated the self-destruction spell Jellal cast on Nirvana, succeeding in his plan at last.
  • This is Miho Nishizumi's main strength in Girls und Panzer. While all of the tank commanders are decently good strategists, Miho has a knack for split-second opportunistic decisions and coming up with unexpected plans on the fly that take her enemies by surprise.
    • This is the general MO of Alice Shimada, scion of the rival sensha-do school, in the film. She'll make a general plan of attack, then alter it according to how the opposition reacts. She repeatedly corners the high school teams because of clever adjustments of her plans during important skirmishes.
  • Gundam:
    • In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Enigmatic Minion and eventual Big Bad Paptimus Scirocco is the undisputed master of this. He's got his own designs on power pretty much from day one, but for most of the series he's content to sit back and let his enemies destroy themselves, telling characters he's "only a witness to history". That facade goes out the window the moment he knocks off Jamitov, and by the end of the series he's gone from a minor official from Jupiter to the unquestioned leader of the Titans.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: This trope is played with in the character of Ribbons Almark, an Expy of the above-Scirocco who is also introduced as a stock Enigmatic Minion before usurping the Big Bad role from a Disc-One Final Boss, Alejandro Corner in his case. All indications up to this point are that Ribbons is a true player of this trope in the vein of Scirocco, but in the second season it is revealed that he is actually getting all his mileage from the Veda supercomputer, which according to the World Report Book operates roughly in this manner, allowing for deviations to the original plan that are caused by unknown factors, if it manages to be in line with the same end result. Since Veda is some sort of quantum supercomputer Speed Chess is pretty much its normal speed, but in any case, the actual Speed Chess playing is done by Veda, not Ribbons, and after the main characters eventually adapt to this Ribbons quickly becomes the Xanatos example of Villain Forgot to Level Grind.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: McGillis was already scheming to rise to power in Gjallarhorn before the series began, but when Tekkadan rises up as a major thorn in Gjallarhorn's side, he takes advantage of it by covertly providing aid to them and using them to eliminate the ones standing in his way within Gjallarhorn, resulting in him coming out on top at the end of the first season.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Most of the battles from the series are this. A large part of Stand battles is figuring out what the opponent's Stand does, finding its weakness, and exploiting it.
    • Battle Tendency:
      • In the final battle, Joseph Jostar defeats Kars by defending himself from an attack with the Stone of Aja, which he wasn't even aware he had, and having the resulting explosion and debris launch Kars into space. Joseph even admits that he didn't plan for that to happen.
      • There's also his battle with Esidisi, involving the two continuously trying to out-fox and out-trap each other with an unraveled, hamon-empowered yarn cap and prehensile blood vessels filled with boiling-hot blood, respectively.
      • His battle with Wamuu was no less of this, with both coming up with plans for defeating each other on the fly and quickly working to deal with them, such as Joseph realizing he can't draw the high-powered crossbow he was holding himself, and then using the momentum of Wamuu's crossbow shot hitting him to draw it.
    • Diamond is Unbreakable: While claiming to be the luckiest man alive, Yoshikage Kira's continued survival and anonymity owe more to using every little advantage that presents itself to its absolute maximum, generally through using his powers to construct a series of ingenious traps, tailored to his opponents and situations.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: In contrast to Kaguya who can use her affluence to craft intricate plans ahead of time but falters should unforeseen elements be introduced, Shirogane most often relies on his quick wit to create opportunities to attract Kaguya, and is adept at improvising should his schemes go awry.
  • Monster: Johan Liebert can change his plans on a whim. Because of this, his plans almost always work out... until the end.
  • Naruto:
    • Tobi aka Obito Uchiha showed very good skills in this. While at first sight it would look like he planned everything that has happened in the series, he is in fact very accomplished in cutting his losses and creating new plans out of his ass as the situation demands. Hell, around 5% of the things happening during Fourth Shinobi World War were in his initial plans and he is still at the top of the game. He was fairly miffed about Kabuto bringing the real Madara Uchiha onto the battlefield, as it forced him to drop his Dead Person Impersonation gambit, and even more miffed when Itachi ended Edo Tensei and it meant that Madara freed from control Edo Tensei and will soon be here. But he had back-up plans for that anyway.
    • His mentor, Madara Uchiha, plays the same game (though he is more of an Opportunistic Bastard than this). When they reunited after two decades, they subtly maneuvered against one another until it was time to seal the Ten-Tails, at which point both began openly moving against the other to come out on top.
  • Toua Tokuchi is the Anti-Hero / Magnificent Bastard / Chessmaster protagonist of One Outs who plays Xanatos Speed Chess just as successfully as he does Gambit Roulette.
  • One Piece:
    • Marshall D. Teach, also known as "Blackbeard", appears to have a fully-formed plan in mind with which to reach the top of the pirate world. Despite a reckless streak, he has shown himself to be highly adept at taking advantage of unexpected opportunities to progress this plan and acting quickly when something appears to threaten it.
    • Donquixote Doflamingo as well. While well-established early on that he is a man who tries to remain several steps ahead of his foes, Doflamingo's ability to tweak plans and make new ones on the fly is best evidenced when he managed to sneak out of Trafalgar Law's ultimatum. When Luffy and Law arrive in Doflamingo's homeland of Dressrosa simultaneously, Doflamingo continues to compensate for unexpected setbacks, such as the presence of a Marine Admiral on the island, Sabo taking Luffy's place in the Colosseum, a full-scale invasion by the Tontattas, and the liberation of the Toys, using psychological judo to sway people to his side or render certain crucial tasks impossible. This includes taking the hatred the entire populace soon has of Doflamingo and redirecting it towards all of Doflamingo's enemies. He only fails because of Luffy using an unforeseen technique of his fruit as well as underestimating the populace's resolve.
  • Why Hanbe from Sengoku Basara is considered a genius: he has a plan for every possible outcome. Demonstrated when he brings out a series of maps of the country, and they all depict different potential strategies by other characters, including ones based on the assumption that their allies might betray them (which they do).
  • Earl Touka Bergatt of Snow White with the Red Hair quickly keeps adapting his original plan as things go wrong, even predicting most of his setbacks such as his brothers turning on him. The real reason things didn't work out in the end was that he didn't have any knowledge of Obi who had spent the better part of two years far from Zen in the north and whose very subdued and quiet knighting meant that almost no one knew he was Zen's knight — Touka never even became aware of Obi's interference.
  • Nana Hiiragi from Talentless Nana is astoundingly quick on the draw, able to concoct and modify existing plans provided she has enough prior information and planning. As soon as she knows the rules and the limitations her opponents play by, the fight is good as won for her.
  • Keima Katsuragi from The World God Only Knows has a knack for this, frequently adapting his plans in response to events, no matter how unexpected.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Scrooge McDuck proves himself as this multiple times, but a standout example comes in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck story "The Cowboy Captain of the Cutty Sark". While captaining the titular ship in pursuit of some cowthieves on a steamboat, Scrooge and his crew are hit by a curveball that literally no one could have predicted; The Krakatoa eruption. Thanks to the scientific advice of Gyro Gearloose's grandfather, Scrooge proceeds to come up with ways to survive the following four aftereffects of the eruption on the fly:
    • The explosion causes the loudest known sound in human history. When informed about the relatively low speed of sound and realizing that he has maybe a minute, Scrooge orders the crew and all the animals onboard to stuff their ears with cotton the Cutty Sark was transporting. We never get to read any sound effect, but the panels are visibly shaking, but the crew is safe.
    • The next threat is the wave of heated gases and ash. Scrooge quickly orders the sails taken down and dunked in water. The crew survives (although one has his beard burned off).
    • With the sails gone and no chance to catch up with the steamboat, Scrooge exploits the next threat, a tidal wave, by riding it using Cutty Sark like a surfboard.
    • The final threat of Krakatoa is the island itself. Specifically, volcanic rock filled with gases (and thus floating) raining from the sky. Having gotten within walking distance of the steamboat thanks to the tidal wave, Scrooge jumps on his horse and rides it across the floating rocks and proceeds to beat up the cowthieves.
  • Adric Fell from the Dungeons & Dragons comic book (2010) is a master of this, frequently coming up with plans on the fly. When locked in a wizard's tower with mutated drow besieging them, he quickly reasoned that there had to be a teleportation circle and got to work finding it. As Drey points out in issue #6, this is also part of his curse: His plans are made up on the fly, and are thus never perfect. He can never save everyone.
  • Reformed The Flash villain Trickster, being blackmailed by another villain to steal a relic from a museum, sets up an elaborate plot to convince that villain to leave him alone. When Impulse confronts him with the fact that a museum employee is being unjustly blamed for the theft, Trickster adapts the plan to ensure that the employee appears a hero, saving his job by getting him to catch the crooks, even though the relic is lost. (Trickster takes the opportunity to return it to the church he had stolen it from.)
    • The Trickster is so good at this that during the Underworld Unleashed Crisis Crossover he successfully out-gambits Big Bad Neron, who is heavily implied to be the actual devil (later stories would Retcon him into 'just' a really high-ranking demon).
  • Godzilla: Aftershock: Ex-MI6 Eco-Terrorist Alan Jonah is very good at thinking on his feet when he needs to. He escapes from detainment on Guam amid the havoc caused by Jinshin-Mushi's attack. He manages to covertly hijack Emma Russell and Miles Anderson's private jet in an attempt to take them hostage and force them to fly him off the island covertly, but once Jonah ends up in a Mexican standoff with Tarkan, he escapes by tackling Tarkan, then firing his gun into the air outside the jet to create confusion and bewilderment whilst he disappears again before he can be re-apprehended. Not only does Jonah continue to evade capture, but he still finds another way off the island afterwards.
  • In Justice, a character explicitly thinks that the difference between the heroes' plan and Brainiac's is that the heroes are expecting things to go wrong.
  • The Justice League villain Prometheus is perhaps the premier patron for this trope as far as villains from that corner of the DC universe go. As something of an Evil Counterpart to Batman, this is to be expected.
  • Marvel's Loki and his spiritual twin Doctor Doom are both masters of this trope and employ it regularly. Loki uses it more due to his preference for indirect manipulation and lies, while Doom uses it partly as a necessity for matching the (supposed) genius Mister Fantastic, and partly because of his continual dalliances with The Dark Arts.
  • Sleeper (WildStorm) (along with its prequel Point Blank) by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is pretty much built out of this trope, with TAO and Lynch using ever more convoluted plans to entrap each other and manipulate Double Agent Holden (who has plans of his own).
  • S.W.O.R.D. (2020) and its successor series X-Men Red (2022) have Abigail Brand enacting a long-term plan. The infopages show how much is genuine long-term plan, and how much is rolling with the inevitable craziness and compensating as best she can.
  • Ultimate Marvel:
    • Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: Things started with all technological media devices being interrupted with a clip of dead aliens. Nick Fury was forced to redesign the plan all the time, as new information about it arised.

    Fan Works 
  • Pretty much Jaune's hat in The Beacon Civil War. Initially, his quick thinking is only to make himself look good but after some time, he starts quickly coming up with plans to win the titular war game for his side. The final examples include negotiating for peace, and when that doesn't work (due to Ozpin announcing on the PA that it was against the rules) he uses a Batman Gambit to free up his forces to attack the capture points. When the girls' forces start to stalemate them with only seconds left, Jaune gets Zwei to grab the flag at their location to deny the girls a capture point just in time to win.
  • Child of the Storm: Usage of this trope, along with total mastery of the Batman Gambit and spectacular manipulation of the Butterfly Effect and For Want of a Nail, cement Strange as the Magnificent Bastard in a world with quite a few of them.
    • During Ghosts of the Past, Harry starts progressing from his traditional Indy Ploy to this, having learned the hard way that his habit of suddenly switching gear/plan to get him out of trouble works in the short term and makes him a major Spanner in the Works for the bad guys, it often drops him into even deeper trouble and doing it without warning friends and allies means that he often winds up facing that trouble alone, leading to a brutal Trauma Conga Line in the Forever Red arc. After, having been Taught by Experience, he leans more towards this trope, setting a basic plan in motion, communicating it to allies, then improvising as necessary.
  • Children of Time: Professor Moriarty is The Chessmaster in the Season 1 finale and changes his plans according to every shift in circumstances to meet his goals, but Beth Lestrade is the player with the most moves throughout the three episodes. She gambits with Holmes, the entire Time/Space Continuum, and Moriarty and Moran, moving from half-formed plans to well-plotted schemes to going in blind. When something goes wrong, she might blank out for a few minutes but she will adjust accordingly. Better still, her gambits win more than anyone else's...
  • In every Communication Quest, each Host of Consensus find themselves doing this eventually, having to adapt to the unforeseen curveballs the universe that they are in manages to throw at them.
  • In the Total Drama fanfic Courtney's Crusade for Redemption, Courtney often finds herself changing her plans whenever something happens In Spite of a Nail that derails her strategy. The best example is when she ends in the villainous team because of her own misjudgment; she uses this chance to talk with Gwen and fix their friendship early on.
  • The Dark Lords of Nerima: Tanizaki Kazuo is established as being an accomplished chessmaster, but he's not above playing an unexpected card, and is able to think fast to turn sudden events to his advantage. He is still Out-Gambitted because he decided kidnapping a precognitive seer friendly to his ultimate targets. And his opponent did it while in captivity.
  • In Fever Dreams Light Yagami has to scheme fast in order to save L, Misa, and himself from his old plan and plan around whatever countermeasures L is planning to try and trap him. Fortunately he has Rem as his accomplice.
  • Precia is a master of this in Game Theory. Although her carefully laid plans are severely disrupted by Nanoha's presence and the dimensional quake that attracted the attention of the TSAB, she manages to adjust smoothly, and acquires everything she needs to reach Alhazred. And it turns out that she had actually come up with an entirely different plan by incorporating the new elements, to revive Alicia and fake her own death, which she implemented successfully without telling anyone.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters:
    • Ludmoore and his brothers have a grand plan in place, but they're keeping it flexible enough to adapt to whatever happens.
    • When Nerissa realizes that Wong is more dangerous than she first thought, she decides to let his plot against Phobos play out, figuring she can adapt her plans to deal with whoever comes out on top.
  • In Hero Class Civil Warfare: The Villain Team in general, thanks to Izuku in particular. He made sure all of them knew what was expected of them for the exercise, up to and including exactly which members of the hero team they could and couldn't beat in a straight fight. These preparations included stacking the deck in their favor with partners and gear, preplanning escape routes, trapping the ever-loving [bleep] out of their hideouts, and having fallback spots already set up in advance. Thus, even when the villain team is caught dead to rights by Shouto's siege of their base in chapter 26, they are able to quickly put together a plan of action to not only get out of there with all members and acquired objectives in their possession, but also get the next-to-last objective on their way out.
  • Jaune Arc, Lord of Hunger: Much like in canon, Cinder is adept at adjusting her plans when things go wrong and can adapt to a new situation on the fly. During the Vytal Tournament, her original plan was to have Penny destroyed and broadcast her death all over the world — the resulting public backlash attracting the Grimm to Vale. The sudden appearance of Darth Nihilus, and his subsequent rampage across Beacon, completely derails all of that. However, Cinder quickly improvises and has Mercury broadcast live footage of Nihilus slaughtering teams of Huntsmen. The existence of what appears to be an sentient Grimm wielding supernatural powers creates a worldwide panic that accomplishes Cinder's goal of drawing the Grimm to Beacon.
  • J-WITCH Series: In "Rigging the Games", the J-WITCH group decide to enter on both sides of the reality show so that whoever wins, they still get the Amnesty Idol containing the Water Demon Chi, and they are all present in case Drago shows up to steal it. When it turns out there are over a hundred of them, Elyon suggests voting her off the island before she secretly circles back, which will let them keep searching and lower Drago's guard in case he's watching, giving them a chance to catch the Knights of Vengeance with their heaviest hitter. Even though he can see through the plan, Drago still has to attack if he wants to get his hands on the Demon Chi, giving them a massive advantage.
  • The Karma of Lies: After Hawkmoth is defeated and unmasked, Lila starts making plans to get out of Paris while the getting's good, deciding that Adrien is more useful as an Unwitting Pawn at this point. She readjusts her plans further when foolishly trusts her claims of remorse and types in the passwords to the Agreste emergency funds in full view of her, making her decide to incorporate that into her scheming.
  • Let the Galaxy Burn: Everyone has to do a lot of planning on the fly as the War of the Ten Warlords progress, due to having failed to consider things like the dark magic in the Iron Sector, and the sheer incompetence of Rheager and Aegon's loyalists. Word of God explicitly notes that mere months, if not weeks, into the conflict the pre-war plans of every faction aren't worth the paper they were written on. Western commander Addam Mabrand stands out as one of the characters best at improvising; before the beginning of hostilities he displays a multi-tiered and ambitious plan to take out the Riverlands and Reach ships, then scrambles to (decently) modify it when Dorne's attacks on the Reach eleminate the chance of them charing to put down any insurrection in the Riverlands. Tyrion approvingly notes that Addam is good at immediately adapting to the circumstances (albiet with visible frustration), while many westerners "would defend their strategies for one or two months before realizing events had overtaken them."
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fic Loved and Lost, an extended retelling of "A Canterlot Wedding", Prince Jewelius allies with Queen Chrysalis to take over Equestria with her and helps her steal his cousin Princess Cadance's identity as per canon. However, when he meets Twilight Sparkle, he tricks her to develop feelings for him. Deciding Twilight to be a more valuable pawn than Chrysalis, he devises a new plan after Chrysalis imprisons Twilight in the underground caves. As the wedding ceremony proceeds, he sends his assistant Vivian to help Twilight and Cadance out of the caves so that they can expose Chrysalis. After Celestia, the Mane Six and Shining Armor each fail to stop the Changelings (and before Cadance can help Shining Armor blast them away), Jewelius reveals a jar, prompting Twilight to use the spell he showed her earlier to turn the Changelings tiny enough to trap the entire army in the jar. He immediately afterwards publicly calls all the other heroes but Twilight out of their mistakes, manipulating the entire city of Canterlot (and later Twilight as well) into blaming them for the invasion while making himself Equestria's king.
    • In the 13th chapter, Luna saves Celestia from hanging and frees the Mane Five, Shining Armor and Spike. The escaped Changelings then appear to battle Jewelius' soldiers, so the heroes run to the medical wing to rescue Cadance who's trapped there. Even though Jewelius is caught off guard by all of this, he and Vivian arrive at the medical wing's door before the heroes. Vivian then petrifies them all with a spell, and Jewelius attempts to kill Cadance (the only hero in addition to Twilight who hasn't lost the public's trust) and frame the escaped heroes for it. The only reason this fails is because Cadance is free of her restraints and ready to pulverize her traitorous cousin.
  • Mare of Steel: Brainiac is constantly updating and modifying his plan against Rainbow Dash/Supermare; for example, when he deems Steel Wing more trouble than he's worth and leads the authorities to him, choosing to ally with Silversmith instead.
  • Professor Arc: Thanks to Jaune's warnings, Velvet is able to break Emerald's hold on Pyrrha, saving Penny from destruction. Unfortunately, Emerald switches her focus to a nearby Atlas soldier, brainwashing him into attacking Pyrrha on live TV. While Pyrrha doesn't die, the attack manages to expose Penny as an android, the apparent (to everyone else) recklessness of Atlas' forces creates the anger that Cinder exploits to unleash Grimm.
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures fic Queen of All Oni, when Jade's Batman Gambit to get a mask on Jackie and get him to use it goes wrong when the Sumo-khan mask ends up on Captain Black like in canon, she quickly modifies the plot and manages to lure him away, and get him to use the mask by throwing him off a building, and the plan goes ahead.
  • The Death Note fanfic Silent Partner, Unfinished Business becomes a giant game of speed chess once everyone ruins everyone else's slow and deliberate plans. Between Light and Ryuzaki, Misa and Naomi, and Isamu and Nabiki Egawa, nobody has enough time or resources to get a handle on anything, so it's all about who can improvise best. It STARTS with a sudden suicide, and goes on to making the protagonists fugitives, melting off faces, raising a cult via a call-in show, employing paparazzi for an escape route, creating a friendship bracelet from Death Note paper...
  • Soul Eater: Troubled Souls: Medusa is an excellent chessmaster, sticking to a nigh-foolproof plan that she revises slightly as others make their moves or progress. Tsuji and Marcellus try to exploit a loophole in her first game, she simply takes away his aim. The group use teamwork to easily get through the maze, so she does the unthinkable to make them fail. Shaula fails to hold her end of the bargain, but it has absolutely no effect on her own designs; Shaula destroying the Academy would simply make it so she wouldn’t have to do it later. Finally, the group splits, the best one coming after her, so she sneaks Free past them and then does her hardest to keep a fighter from going back to protect the weakened people from Free’s wrath.
  • In Stabilization, Paolo Albiani is revealed to be an example. The only part of his plan that remains unchanged throughout the fic is "kill Simone and restore Genoa's stability". The rest is constantly altered as new unforeseen circumstances arise (the first of which being Paolo's own unexpected and unrequited affection for Amelia, which he is quick to pinpoint as a dangerous weakness).
  • Unbreakable Red Silken Thread: A surprising inversion when it comes to Heather, she is quick to take advantage of anything that comes her way, though often times the results backfire in her face, sometimes quite literally.
  • In The Universe Doesn't Cheat, Lieutenant Commander Kanril Eleya responds to the Kobayashi Maru computer trying to blunt one tactic by switching to another one. Computer tries to jam her transmissions so she can't negotiate with the Klingons? She switches to plain old radio. Klingons brush off her attempt to negotiate? She uses a preprogrammed macro to fire the phasers disrupt the Maru's shields and beam the crew off, while simultaneously going to warp straight through an enemy battlecruiser. Klingons come about impossibly fast? She pulls a Crazy Ivan. It gets to the point where the computer apparently says "screw it" and quite blatantly spawns a battleship directly in her path to take her down.
  • Vow of the King: Aizen's plan gets disrupted more than once, but he's quick to adapt as need be. Sometimes things even work out better for him than expected.
  • In What About Witch Queen?, this is what Hans is doing ever since he escapes from Koenigsberg castle. When he meets Anna again, it takes him one conversation to reshape the current situation so that he'd end up better off than he was before and he outright admits that he doesn't have any plan and just makes it all up as he goes. His brother Michael is similarly gifted, although on smaller scale.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, Evil Chancellor Preminger goes through at several plans to embezzle the kingdom and subsequently "save" it from financial ruin by marrying into the royal family. First he plots to marry the princess; upon learning the queen has arranged a political marriage for her daughter with someone else, he plots to abduct Princess Anneliese to call off the wedding, then "rescue" her and secure the Standard Hero Reward. When Anneliese escapes, he tracks her down to the dress shop where her pauper doppelgänger works, then imprisons her and leaves her for dead. At that he arrives at his third and final plan: present the fortune he "discovered" to the queen, and in her grief over losing her daughter, she accepts his hand in marriage to save the kingdom.
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • In Aladdin, Jafar has a knack for this. His original plan to become ruler of Agrabah was to obtain Genie's lamp so he could wish himself Sultan. After his first minion was proven unworthy to enter the Cave of Wonders, he was undeterred and sought out the "diamond in the rough" who was allowed in (i.e the titular character). After this plan failed when the lamp seemingly disappeared with the Cave of Wonders (thanks to Abu stealing it back when he wasn't looking), he was momentarily at a loss until Iago suggested he try marrying Jasmine to become Sultan that way. He went with this strategy even when Prince Ali showed up as competition, which he attempted to get rid of. When Ali ruined that plan and exposed his treachery at the same time, he wasn't bothered in the slightest as he learned that Ali was really Aladdin and had the lamp, causing him to swap back to his original plan of obtaining the lamp.
    • In Frozen, pulled off expertly by the villain, whose plans remain obscured until just before the climax. The original plan, to marry the newly crowned Elsa, had to be rapidly adjusted in the face of a sudden magical catastrophe. Instead, he swaps his marriage target to Anna, a perfect target for him, and takes leadership of the people in their time of need. Almost every step has him carefully poised to appear like the just and legitimate ruler that the land needs. And at the last, he's not above a little good ol' fashioned regicide.
    • In The Great Mouse Detective Ratigan and Basil are good at this. Ratigan when he realizes Basil is hot on his tail (no pun intended), decides to use the fact that Basil's heading right to his lair to set up a trap. Basil in turn figures out a way to escape Ratigan's deathtrap.
    • In Hercules, Hades originally planned to assemble an army of the most vicious monsters in Greece alongside the Titans to aid him in overthrowing Olympus. Unfortunately, in trying to kill Hercules, he dispatches all his monsters against him, and they end up getting wiped out, forcing Hades to make do with just the Titans. Nevertheless, the Titans were more than enough to help him overwhelm the other gods and he nearly succeeded, if not for Herc's timely arrival.
    • Details from the beginning of the The Lion King (1994) strongly imply that Scar's initial plan was to have Simba killed only, so he'd remove competition for the throne. It wasn't until the hyenas' failure to kill Simba due to Mufasa's interference, as well as Banzai's sardonic question of whether Scar should kill Mufasa to get the throne that Scar even considered the idea of killing Mufasa in the first place. Even more impressively, when Simba makes his big return, after getting over his initial shock at Simba being alive, Scar is able to improvise and nearly win again by killing Simba.
    • In The Little Mermaid (1989), as part of the deal she made to transfrom Ariel into a human for three days, Ursula had Ariel give up her voice, knowing that Eric wouldn't recognize her as the mystery girl that saved his life without it and figured it would render Ariel's chances to get Eric to fall in love with her slim. However, when it looks like Ariel would be holding up her end of the deal after all (Ursula begrudgingly admitting she was better than she thought), the Sea Witch decides to pull a Moving The Goal Posts by transforming herself into a girl named Vanessa, using Ariel's stolen voice to enchant Eric and make him believe she was the girl he had been looking for.
    • Mulan: Despite most of his army being wiped out by an avalanche, Shan Yu was able to improvise, with him and his generals sneaking into the Imperial City and hiding amongst the celebration of their supposed defeat to reach the palace and take the Emperor prisoner.
    • Over the course of Tangled, Gothel's plan to keep Rapunzel's hair for herself quickly evolves from manipulating Rapunzel into staying in the tower, to framing Flynn for abandoning Rapunzel while staging a fake rescue, to outright chaining Rapunzel up and wounding Flynn.
  • Initially, the plan of the Dazzlings in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks is simply to show up at Canterlot High School to find the source of the magic they saw. They continuously adapt to their surroundings by brainwashing the principal and vice-principal, spreading a Hate Plague through the school, and even bumping the Rainbooms forward in the Battle of the Bands, just so they could manipulate Trixie into trapping the Rainbooms beneath the stage.
  • In Osmosis Jones, Thrax's original plan was to gather together all the gangster germs in Frank's body to storm the brain and steal a DNA bead from Frank's hypothalamus gland within 48 hours of his arrival. The loss of his forces when Jones and Drix blew up their HQ didn't deter him, taking advantage of his supposed death and everyone disbelieving Jones to pull a one germ infiltration.
  • In Shrek, Lord Farquaad's initial plan is to hold The Tourney to determine who the first knight he'll send for Fiona and defeat her dragon guardian will be (with the runner-up and so on being sent if the winner fails). When Shrek shows up, he decides to name the knight who can kill Shrek his champion and send him to go and save Fiona. When Shrek beats them all, Farquaad realizes that he has the perfect champion right in front of him and makes a deal with him after learning why Shrek had come.
  • In the climax of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, even though SpongeBob and Patrick escape from Dennis, return to Bikini Bottom with the crown, and save Mr. Krabs from execution at the last moment, Plankton isn't worried as he has a contingency plan: he drops a mind-controlling bucket helmet on King Neptune to kill all of them himself.
    Patrick: SpongeBob, what happened?
    SpongeBob: Plankton cheated.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Air, Sonny Vaccaro has to adapt to a lot of changing situations and has the added disadvantage that neither his immediate boss nor the company CEO are initially on board his plan.
  • The female protagonists in Bound (1996) plan out a complex con that quickly goes off its rails when their victim reacts unexpectedly, forcing them to improvise new strategies on the fly.
  • The eponymous Jason Bourne of The Bourne Series is a good speed chess player. In The Bourne Ultimatum (he gets better at this with each film), he has several Xanatos Speed Chess triumphs, one of the more Oh Shnap of which culminates in:
    If you were in your office, we would be having this conversation face-to-face.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Helmut Zemo spends the entire movie playing this. His actual plan is very simple (find proof the Winter Soldier killed Tony Stark's parents, show Tony, watch the Avengers fall apart as Steve and Tony fight), which means he can both compensate when the plan doesn't turn out perfectly (like when the HYDRA agent refuses to give him information) and take advantage of existing circumstances (he had nothing to do with the Sokovia Accords).
  • This was a remake of Dial M for Murder, in which the husband is so good that his hastily-improvised new plot is arguably a better way of getting rid of his wife than the murder.
  • Die Hard is a battle of wits as much as it is a gunfight. Hans Gruber's robbery plan is nearly perfect, save for the Spanner in the Works John McClane. John is constantly trying to figure out how to sabotage Hans, and Hans has to figure out where John is and try to stop him. The movie as a whole elevated the action movie genre by introducing a hero who had to use his wits and limited ammunition, since he couldn't just wade into battle.
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is basically a chess match between Freddie Benson and Lawrence Jamieson to see who can scam Janet Colgate first. Janet wins.
  • In Draft Day the Browns have to play this during the 2014 draft to make sure their initial choices don't have disastrous consequences.
  • Fargo: Jerry Lundegaard finds himself in a game of this, and is not very good at it, but never gives up.
  • Death from Final Destination is a master at this, mostly due to the fact that it is an omnipresent supernatural force that can't be physically threatened. If an intended method of execution for a victim on Death's List is thwarted — either by themselves or intervention from another character — Death will rapidly readjust its plan to either kill them in a different way or outright skip them and kill the next in line. The endings of Final Destination 3 and Final Destination 5 even go as far as to imply that Death will entirely change its own design for the purpose of dispatching past survivors, to the extent of killing hundreds of unrelated people in new disasters.
  • Kimble vs. Gerard in The Fugitive, particularly towards the end, as Kimble goes from trying to evade Gerard to realizing that he needs him on his side. So when Kimble finally finds the man who killed his wife, he deliberately lets Gerard trace him there (escaping before he arrives, of course), knowing that Gerard (who has already begun to suspect that Kimble is innocent) will start putting things together. To top it off, both men soon realize the extent of the conspiracy surrounding Kimble and how it was masterminded by his so-called friend Dr. Nichols, leading Gerard to race to find Kimble not to arrest him, but to protect him from the police and prevent him from committing murder for real in order to avenge his wife.
  • CRS in The Game (1997). Although at times it seems that the success of the company's gambit depends upon Nicholas Van Orton doing exactly the thing he does, upon further reflection, it seems very likely that no matter what move Nicholas makes, they've planned for it and can adjust their "game."
    Feingold: Thank God you jumped, because if you didn't, I was supposed to throw you off.
  • Walter Burns in His Girl Friday. He's ALWAYS got a plan. Really, the only thing keeping him from being a (relatively nice) Magnificent Bastard is that he's so easy to see through.
  • Deconstructed in Glass Onion: Miles Bron is initially believed to be good at this, but as the film goes on, it is made pretty obvious that he is not even close to be clever enough to do this; he is only an Opportunistic Bastard with Creative Sterility, poor impulse control, no problem committing murder to do what he wants, and way too much money, influence and luck - and opponents that ironically enough are Too Clever by Half. When he finally encounters a problem that he cannot escape, he does the funniest tantrum ever performed by Edward Norton.
  • Inception: One can assume that the core extraction team of Cobb, Arthur, and Eames are exceptionally good at this. Going into a mark's subconscious has to be a tricky prospect no matter how much is planned out ahead of time.
  • If anyone might be considered a Xanatos Speed Chess grand master, it would be James Bond. None of his plans go off without a ton of snags, but he's always able to come out on top in the end, using every means at his disposal and in general having a feel for what his adversaries and allies might end up doing at any given moment.
    • In Licence to Kill, Bond's assassination attempt against Franz Sanchez fails, but he manages to convince Sanchez to think one of his associates did the job, and Sanchez has him brutally executed, getting Bond a place inside his circle.
    • Goldfinger actually outplays Bond through most of the film. At least once he does it unknowingly since Bond secretly placed a note with a tracking device on someone Goldfinger killed for other reasons. In fact, Bond only succeeded due to to a Heel–Face Turn by Pussy Galore and he didn't even know she'd turned.
  • The McKenzie Break: Schluter is chillingly efficient at adapting his plans whenever they are threatened. When he realizes that Connor might discover his escape tunnel, he has it rerouted to under the guards' barracks, and then stages a disaster to make the guards go elsewhere during the escape.
  • The point of Miller's Crossing. Depending on your interpretation though, it could be a Gambit Roulette.
  • The main character in The Next Three Days managed to pull the strings of enough Batman Gambits in order to break his wife out of prison and escape the American authorities. However, there were many factors which throws off his plans off, either unforeseen circumstances or miscalculations on his part. This includes: him being cheated out of his money, his first attempt to break into the prison using a "bump key" failing spectacularly, his wife is being moved to another prison in 3 days, the police managed to figure out part of his plan beforehand, the party he left his son on was at the zoo, and his wife refusing to leave without their son. Despite all that, he still managed to pull off his plan by lots and lots of improvisation.
  • Daniel Ocean's crew in the Ocean's Eleven series are surprisingly adept at this. Naturally, they continue this in Ocean's Thirteen, particularly with The Cartwheel by Basher. They attempt this in Ocean's Twelve as well, but they fail. But it's okay because they had already won before they started.
  • Porter from Payback continually sees complications come up in his simple plan to track down his backstabbing ex-partner and get back the share of his money from the last job they pulled together. He adapts to circumstances and finds new ways to persevere, probably best exemplified when his plan to use the son of the head of The Syndicate (Porter had kidnapped the son) goes to hell when the Syndicate goons grab him after a shootout and start trying to torture the information out of him. In the midst of the torture session, Porter comes up with a new plan, and leads the Syndicate bosses into a booby trapped room.
  • In the ironically-named A Perfect Murder, Michael Douglas' relatively simple plot to arrange for his cheating wife to be killed by her lover is quickly derailed when the wife kills her attacker, only to have it be revealed to not be the lover after all. The rest of the film consists of his ever-more-complex game of Xanatos Speed Chess against the wife, her lover, and the cops, as he attempts to bump her off, tie up a proliferating number of loose ends, and keep the police in the dark about it all.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • The franchise is extremely fond of speed chess, as the characters learn quickly that no one in the cast can be trusted. A trickster's plans are often derailed by some Spanner in the Works, forcing them into countless on-the-fly renegotiations.
      Do you think he plans it out ahead of time, or just makes it up as he goes along?
    • Cutler Beckett, though, is arrogant enough that he thinks he doesn't need to do this, relying solely on his schemes as he originally conceived them. He's wrong, and the aggregate chess games of Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, Calypso, Will, and even to an extent Davy Jones all come around and bite him hard.
    • Jack, in particular, is an absolute master of the game. The reason everyone thinks he's mad? He's playing multiple games at double speed. He looks crazy because no one else can keep up.
    • The Brethren Court meeting in the third film is a game of Gambit Speed Chess between Barbossa and Jack using whatever resources they have, culminating in the climax of the film.
  • Pitch (2009): According to Belial, he had been working on his plan for months, but hadn't expected Gene to come home that night and catch Cheryl and Bill in the act of cheating. Thus, his corruption of Gene was done on the fly, as was his handling of Jim's attempted interference.
    Belial: Sometimes you've gotta... improvise.
  • The Prestige is basically Xanatos Speed Chess: The Movie. Two rival magicians spend the movie finding increasingly elaborate ways to one-up the other, getting increasingly out of control as events progress, until one of them has framed the other for his own murder... and that's not even the final gambit.
  • Riff and her friend are forced into this in Rock 'n' Roll High School after Miss Togar's henchmen steal their tickets on her orders. They win when a Spanner in the Works blasts a free ticket giveaway by chance and they participate in a Gambit Roulette and get both tickets.
  • Hoffman in Saw VI and Saw 3D proves to be a master at this. Every time one of his plans disintegrates, he improvises a new, better, plan within roughly 10 seconds. It's fun to watch.
  • This turns out to be an unexpected forte of bank teller Miles Cullen in The Silent Partner.
  • Speed is all about Jack (Keanu Reeves) dismantling Howard's (Dennis Hopper) crazy "bus-goes-boom-if-it-drops-beloe-50mph" ransom plan and a bunch of contingencies with a metaphorical gun to his head. And when Howard realize he might loses he starts coming up with backup plans to get his money.
  • Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars ... so much that people now assume every single aspect of the series is his doing, and all went as planned (except dying). They forget that most of The Phantom Menace has him quickly changing his game plan, either because he underestimated the heroes or because unexpected factors kept popping up. This is fairly typical for him. He ends up getting what he wanted, but Word of God says there were enough setbacks that he had to wait a decade to get the ball rolling on the next big step in his plan, including the loss of an apprentice. That he was able to take one of those complications and befriend him early so he could turn him into a replacement apprentice is testament to his speed-chess abilities.

    It's eventually revealed that he did anticipate and plan for Maul's death, since Chronic Backstabbing Disorder is expected among the Sith and Masters and Apprentices trying to kill each other is part of their tradition. But the Jedi being sent to deal with the Trade Federation, as well as Amidala's arrival on Naboo, were not part of his plans according to supplementary materials (Valorum consulted the Jedi without informing the Senate first, and he did expect Maul to succeed in retrieving Amidala). In fact, his original plan was that he and his agents would create turmoil, draw the occupation out for months or even years, and cause enough pressure to cow the Senate into electing him. Almost everything after Amidala turned up on Coruscant was improvisation and moving up the timetable considerably.

    Plus, he and Banking Clan big shot Hego Damask (alias Darth Plagueis) meant for Amidala to be a martyr. And there was a 9-year-old hydrospanner in the works as a side effect of Plagueis' experiments.
    • Palpatine's speed chess is in fact so proficient that his plan changes almost completely, all to his benefit, no fewer than three times in the course of a couple minutes in The Rise of Skywalker. Initially, since he is bound to a crane-like device to so much as move around, he desires for Rey (who is his granddaughter) to kill him so he can pull a Grand Theft Me and inhabit her body. When a redeemed Ben Solo enters the scene, he quickly changes his plan to killing them both. Then he realizes that the two form a rare phenomenon in the Force known as a dyad, which allows him to drain their energy and properly revive himself.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, Shredder sends one of his Foot soldiers to infiltrate April's news crew, her being the key to finding the Turtles. When his spy brings back a dandelion mutated by the ooze, the Shredder sees an opportunity, as he realizes he can use the ooze to create his own mutants to combat the Turtles.
  • Josh and his crew from Tower Heist (an Affectionate Parody of heist films like Ocean's Eleven) start out with a plan, but when things go south Josh proves himself a master of this trope.
  • Wag the Dog: As just about every plan Conrad, Stanley, and Winifred come up with eventually goes south, they have to come up with new ones constantly, sometimes on the spot. When the FBI learns that there isn't actually a war in Albania and force them to shut it down, they spin a story about a POW being left behind to keep the story in the news and when the guy who they get to play said POW ends up dying, they claim that he died on his way back to the United States and plan a mock funeral for him.

  • David from Animorphs plays a mean game. He loses mainly because he gets sidetracked trying to humiliate Rachel, as Cassie predicted he would.
    • The final battle eventually breaks down into this, as the kids run around the ship wreaking havoc and looking for any edge to save Rachel, with Visser One (unsuccessfully) attempting to contain the situation.
  • Arsène Lupin in the second and third canonical Crossovers with Sherlock Holmes read like this. In the second crossover, The Blonde Phantom, Holmes manages to find and capture Lupin's main accomplice the eponymous Blonde Phantom herself, and has a cab waiting outside to take them both to the station while he plans his next move. Three guesses on who is driving the cab. Later Lupin sends Holmes all tied up back to England, hoping to never see him again, then gets ready to clear his hideout of many years, since Holmes knowing about it compromises its safety. Guess which English Detective is waiting for Lupin to show up.
    • Lupin in the final confrontation with Holmes, where he readjusts his plans again and again to adjust to a constantly changing situation involving 1) Holmes showing up with the police, 2) an attempt at bribery by Holmes, 3) blackmail by Holmes, and 4) a hidden door with an uncooperative lock. Lupin gets away with the Blonde Phantom, though not with the diamond.
  • Artemis Fowl: the Time Paradox is essentially a game of Xanatos Speed Chess between Opal Koboi and Artemis, with Time Travel added in to make it a bit more interesting.
  • The eponymous main character of the Belisarius Series develops a grand strategy for defeating the Malwa Empire. But he relies largely on his unmatched ability for improvisation from battlefield to intercontinental levels. The Big Bad Link is fully capable of developing an effective overall strategy, but it's nearly impossible for it to improvise or adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. In fact, it can barely even conceive of an unexpected outcome, or admitting it needs help. Unlike Belisarius.
  • Shift the ape, the villain of the final The Chronicles of Narnia book The Last Battle, is very good at adjusting his plans in seconds. When a Bolt of Divine Retribution strikes nearby after he and Bumbling Sidekick Puzzle think up a plan to pass himself off as a false Aslan, Shift claims it is a sign of divine approval for their deceptive plan. When a lamb protests allying with the Calormenes because they worship the evil Tash, Shift just rebukes him and tells him Aslan and Tash are the same being. When Puzzle is captured and Tirian the king plans to reveal him as the false Aslan, Shift does their job for them by spreading the word about it but blaming Tirian for being the one to deceive everyone.
  • In Jeramey Kraatz's The Cloak Society, Cloak realizes the opening the Rangers' disappearance gives and decides to pose as superheroes first to advance the plan and then permanently. Their history of not wearing masks, because they did not realize they wanted to be imposters, means that the heroes can prove who they are with footage.
  • Tavi from Codex Alera by Jim Butcher is an exemplar of this trope. In book five, across the ocean from his home continent, surrounded by anthropomorphic wolves who easily outclass him, he plays a game of Xanatos Speed Chess with limited resources against a villain who has hundreds of thousands of extremely powerful fodder. AND WINS.
  • Wilkie Collins seems to have been fond of this trope; Lydia Gwilt in Armadale and Captain Wragge and Mrs Lecount in No Name are all excellent Xanatos Speed Chess players.
  • Contrary to his depictions in the movies, this is the normal operating mode of Conan the Barbarian, and the primary reason that in a world where a sorcerer always gets what he wants, a scrappy thief whose primary interest is acquiring easy money and then drinking it away before the beginning of the next story is somehow the setting's game-breaker.
    • In one story Conan needs to interrupt a magical god-summoning ritual, and with the help of some seers comes up with an elaborate plan that centers on using a disrupting artefact to bypass the seal on an ancient tomb to retrieve a sword that is the god's bane before the ritual can take place. When shenanigans involving teleportation pop him out of the tomb swordless and with only one use of the nullifier, he uses the knowledge he's gained from the tomb to try to assassinate vital personnel for the ritual. When that doesn't work and he's caught by the gloating villain and tied up to witness the summoning of the god, he waits until special effects start happening, slips his bonds, and throws the half-expended nullifier artefact at the bit that's glowing with the most obvious arcane power, gambling that the backlash of the disrupted ritual will target the conjurer before any bystanders.
  • In any Culture novel you'll find varied experts at every version of gambit, especially with some of the Minds, standout examples of The Chessmaster. However, in Xanatos Speed Chess specifically, awards go to The Player of Games (where the protagonist decides to bring down an entire civilisation using this trope (his original plan having been cast aside for the continuous analysis of modifiers he discovers half-way through), Use of Weapons (where the protagonist lives on this trope (usually literally his own survival)), and Excession (where the Interesting Times Gang are long-time veterans of Xanatos Speed Chess and have elevated it to an artform).
  • In Sarah A. Hoyt's Darkship Thieves, Thena observes that she always has a Plan B, and often a Plan C, and all too frequently she has to resort to Plan F.
  • The modus operandi of Havelock Vetinari in the Discworld books, especially later in the series. He maintains that he does not make plans because plans can be derailed; he merely deals with events as they occur.
    • Moist von Lipwig blurs the line between this and a string of Indy Ploys.
  • The works of Stephen R. Donaldson are rife with Chess Masters, both heroic and villainous, but they rarely have a detailed plan. Rather, they work by creating an overall situation where it is likely that they will get what they want, and then seizing every opportunity to add to that likelyhood. (e.g., by giving a mentally unbalanced person the ability to destroy the world, and then messing with their head in every way conceivable).
  • The Dresden Files
    • The Denarians are a inversion. It's been noted that, with the exception of Nicodemus, the Denarians immortality and massive experience lend themselves greatly to their ability to plan but makes them horrible at improvisation.
    • Skin Game is one long chess match between Nicodemus and Harry, each trying to maneuver the other into breaking the terms of the bargain that forces them to work together. Ultimately Harry is able to provoke Nicodemus into breaking his word, irrevocably tarnishing his name in the supernatural community.
  • Various Illuminati in Duumvirate are so good at this it's impossible to know whether or not they planned everything out in advance.
  • In Ender's Game, Ender is able to lead Dragon Army to an unprecedented 7:0 win/loss ratio in his first week as a commander because of this trope. Most of his opponents used pre-planned formations and had little room for improvisation; Dragon Army was structured to operate as much smaller units and even had a specific team whose job was to come up with "stupid ideas" to keep the enemy off-balance. In short, Ender made use of the fact that his troops weren't just soldiers, but genius-level soldiers.
    • From the Ender's Shadow spinoff series there's Achilles de Flandres. Despite being of ordinary birth and growing up a crippled street urchin, he's able to compete with genetically-engineered supergeniuses and effectively turn the world into his personal game of Risk. At one point mentor figure Colonel Graff pointedly tells Peter Wiggin that Achilles is not unbeatable, and that the reason why he keeps outwitting geniuses is because he's mastered the art of creating chaotic situations and then seizing opportunities.
  • The Expanse: Charismatic space terrorist Marco Inaros gives the impression of extreme competence by always running multiple unlikely plots simultaneously, then retroactively declaring whichever of them happened to succeed to have been the real plan all along, no matter how many others failed. This tends to backfire on him when people figure out that he's doing it.
  • Frederick Forsyth often has his characters doing this, and sometimes at the end (especially in The Devil's Alternative) they find out that they were being used in the Speed Chess of someone at a higher level than them.
  • Phaethon from John C. Wright's The Golden Age starts off with a straightforward plan, which unfortunately Didn't See That Coming. Fortunately, he's also an engineer and believes in triple redundancy. The rest of the book is basically him working down the Xanatos index one by one.
  • Crowley from Good Omens pulls this when two Dukes of Hell are sent to drag him back down to hell. After Crowley's Plan A works on only one of his foes, he turns to Plan B, which fails in record time. Time for Plan C! ...Unfortunately, there is no Plan C. He comes up with Plan C on the fly, which boils down to tricking the Duke, Hastur, into chasing him into phone lines, winding back and forth over miles and miles of cable, and then timing his own escape perfectly... back into Crowley's own apartment, where his own phone was ringing, at the exact moment before his answering machine picked up. The result? Hastur is now trapped in Crowley's answering machine.
  • Hive Mind (2016): This is the job of Lucas and the rest of the tactical team. Given the information provided by the telepath and the liaison team, they concoct a plan to capture the wild bee with as little damage to the Hive and risk to people as possible, adjusting it on the fly to take advantage of any opportunities and minimize any new problems.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • A hallmark of all successful strategists, particularly Honor herself. While sometimes grand traps succeed, and sometimes, it simply comes down to determination and crew discipline, for the most part a commander that can't adapt to everything going wrong won't stay a commander very long.
    • Victor Cachat specializes in these kinds of plays, usually with only a general plan to guide his decisions.
    • The Mesan Alignment (and Albrecht Detweiler in particular) is playing its own game of Xanatos Chess, albeit on a much slower time scale. Just how successful they are remains to be seen.
  • In Ben Counter's Horus Heresy novel Galaxy In Flames, when Angron attacks the survivors of their treacherous attack, Horus (after being angry with himself for not predicting it) considers including him in the strike and so being rid of a dangerous ally. But he reminds his advisors of how he never lost, because he always managed to turn everything that happened in victory. He could bomb and take Angron out, or he could adapt his plan to use it and make a still more glorious victory. He explains afterward that by fighting their battle brothers, he had ensured their commitment.
  • Haymitch Abernathy of The Hunger Games has to juggle the political and media backgrounds of the titular games at the same time as the protagonists are frantically trying to survive in the field, with neither side able to directly communicate with the other. At one point in the first book, Katniss realises that he is using his limited influence to give her more support than he's giving Peeta, because she is able to understand the subtle signals he communicates through the timing of the support packages he can send her, and she adjusts her approach accordingly.
  • Jeeves of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster pulled this off once or twice, when his first plans failed.
  • Journey to Chaos: Tasio the Trickster makes long terms plans but all of them have vague and flexible areas so he can adjust as necessary. He calls this "planning something of that nature". Being an advocate of free will, it also allows him to incorporate the wishes of the people his plan relies on.
  • In Kushiel's Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey, most of the principle cast has some basic training in XanatosGambits. Melisande is just so good at it, other characters have to play Speed Chess to keep up.
  • The entire Korval clan in Miller & Lee's "Liaden Universe" books — particularly Delm Val Con Yos Phelium and his lifemate Miri.
  • Duke Vincentio in William Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure pulls this off. After his initial plan to rescue Claudio fails, he changes tack to a brand new strategy almost immediately.
  • Zack State, the Anti-Hero of The Mental State, can exploit any situation he finds himself in and takes full advantage of any new inmates that show up. On top of that, his goals and ambitions keep getting grander with each new opportunity that presents itself. Upon discovering an undercover cop, he exploits that particular knowledge in truly extraordinary ways.
  • Trying to get someone else framed for a crime, especially for attempted murder, is probably harder than committing the crime itself. The Missing Clue, the last of the Usborne Whodunnits series for younger readers, for ultimately failing. But boy could he think on his feet. Being the screenwriter for a popular soap opera, he managed to frame his target not just once but, failing that, made a second fresh attempt within a single day while only touching the weapons once. With the series of arrests this triggers, he's then forced to not just make his third attempt — framing a third person by getting them to murder his target on live TV — but to write up an entirely new script in the same period of time. That's diligence.
  • In Neuromancer, the A.I. Wintermute describes himself this way: "I try to plan, in your sense of the word, but that isn't my basic mode, really. I improvise. It's my greatest talent. I prefer situations to plans, you see..." The plot of the book never makes a big point of this, though: when Molly decides to take a detour and when Case gets tricked by Neuromancer into thinking he's Wintermute, he doesn't manage to stop them.
  • In the New Jedi Order, General Wedge Antilles proves to have some skill at this on Borleias. He's trying to strategically lose to fool the Vong forces, while keeping his own as intact as possible, when the Lusankya and the Millenium Falcon come into system in exactly the wrong time and place. He couldn't let those be destroyed, so he has to rearrange forces that were in retreat to rescue them, while still preserving as much of his fleet as possible. And he does.
    The tactic he needed clicked into Wedge's mind. In the span of a second, he evaluated it, tested it for major weaknesses, dismissed the weaknesses as irrelevant because of the Yuuzhan Vong's current state of confusion, and decided that he could probably use the tactic again — once — at a later time.
    • The downside of course is that he ends up winning despite trying to lose, which turns into a Springtime for Hitler situation when the enemy then sends a much smarter commander to oppose him. (For those wondering, he fooled and out-strategized that one too.)
  • In No Good Deed..., after Elsabeth and Hieronymus accidentally spoil Cuncz's attempt to steal incriminating information from Father Garnerius, he quickly improvises and decides to just use them to recover the information instead.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents You Believe Her, Robot Penny repeatedly wins against the version of herself which stole her body because while that version is a great at putting together complex plans, she is much better at adapting to things in the heat of the fight.
  • Second Apocalypse: Dunyain monks such as Kellhus can think extraordinarily quickly, allowing them to react on the fly to new developments and stay on the shortest path to success. When two opposing Dunyain encounter each other, they each see possibilities collapsing and new opportunities opening with each passing second as their minds race to stay on their own path.
  • In Shogun Toranaga and Ishido do it through the whole book. Ishido seems to be better at it, as during much of the second half Toranaga mainly just goes through desperate attempts to buy more time and needs the help of several others to figure out how to counter Ishido's latest move. But in the end it's enough...
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Many arguments have been waged among fans about whether resident Magnificent Bastard Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish makes it up as he goes or has it all planned in advance. It can be argued that Littlefinger's equal parts The Chessmaster and The Trickster, with speed poker as his true forte. Littlefinger himself believes (or at least would have others believe) that it is 100% this trope; he claims that one of his favourite tactics is to simply create chaos and then trust his own ability to sense and capitalise upon opportunities on the fly whilst everyone else is busy reeling from having their careful plans disrupted by Spanners in the Works. It makes working out what his schemes are supposed to be about very tough to do, let alone if one's actually just flopped on him and he's lying about it.
    • Less problematic for the fanbase is defining the other side of the Mega-Duo Of Utter Moral Ambiguity as a speed-chess player. Good, old, fog-bank Varys. He definitely plans, counter-plans and contingencies up to his eyeballs and beyond with the various plate-spinning political games he can choose to change at the drop of a hat. And, if all else fails, he falls back on plans Batman Gambit or Indy Ploy to see what he make of the results, later. He might have put Tyrion in the position that enabled him to kill Tywin, as helping him escape to Essos was part of the deal, sure... but... It's very unlikely that he actually fully planned on that specific thing to happen right then, since Jaime triggered it all by forcing him to directly free Tyrion — not that that stopped him using them both to undermine each other (and their whole family) while "under duress". Other things he's done have been similar to that.
    • Tywin Lannister isn't half bad when it comes to this trope, either (which goes a long way to explaining why he's held up as a general example of what it is to be a Hand of the King by other nobles able to appreciate his play). Particularly when it comes to the realms of wartime strategy and cutting the knees of political opposition off. His downfall comes about when he finally goes too far and develops a 0% Approval Rating, leading to his assassination
    • A historical one can be found in Brynden "Bloodraven" Rivers. The sheer amount of direction, craftiness, and hard work he put into defeating the Blackfyres included an awful lot of making do with whatever tools came to hand, whenever they came to hand. Including a certain errant hedge knight and erring Targaryen princeling. He's utterly hated for it by almost everybody.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • The Thrawn Trilogy: Grand Admiral Thrawn. He was tripped up by some unforeseen elements coming together at once, and his initial backup plan in case of death was also thwarted, but damn if he didn't adapt when he could see it. Thrawn also gets credit for recognizing the unforeseen elements possibly being a problem...he just didn't have a plan for them YET.
    • Also, his three would-be successors in the two-book series Hand of Thrawn, who are sometimes frantic in their behind-the-scenes efforts to maintain the illusion that Thrawn has returned. Thrawn's student Pellaeon demonstrates it too.
    • There is a set of four short stories, collectively a novella, where Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole collaborated. In very, very short it involved Thrawn going in disguise, reporting a Rebel meeting near the home of a criminal who supported someone that Vader hated but wasn't allowed to interfere with, and calling down the nearest Imperial forces. He ended up working a pair of planetary policemen into that plan, getting them in through a convoluted scheme and letting them arrest the man. We never, ever get to see his thoughts, but at the end he confesses to a trusted subordinate that he hadn't known about the policemen, but when he saw them and determined they were after that criminal, it was too good an opportunity to miss.
    • In Outbound Flight, Thrawn's plan is to destroy the Vagaari threat, and he uses all the new species and technology and ships he encounters for the first time over the course of the book to do so. All of them. Humans, a stolen gravity-well generator, Neimodians, droids, the Trade Federation, Darth Sidious, Outbound Flight, Jedi...all of them. Magnificent. His plan nearly fails, though, when Jorus C'baoth goes over to the Dark Side and tries to Force Choke him. This was because he had never even heard of a "Jedi" until recently, and had no idea of the kind of power they possessed.
    • X-Wing Series: A certain amount of speed chess helps prop up Wraith Squadron's plans when things start going off script. Face Loran is perhaps the greatest practitioner of the art, exacerbated by his tendency to never tell anyone anything, except when strictly necessary (for reasons of operational security), meaning that even when he has planned for something, his allies are usually unaware. His more-or-less-designated successor, Voort or "Piggy", is more of a pre-planner, but embraces the need for this trope at the climax of Mercy Kill, dragging his wayward plan back into line with a combination of mechanical know-how, reliable subordinates, money, and Gamorrean striptease.
  • Uprooted: The Wood is an ancient, malevolent Genius Loci and excellent at this, able to convert major setbacks into advantages with terrifying ease. Its plots are likened to seeds — it sows thousands of them, some of which might lie dormant for decades, then nurtures them as they take root.
  • Village Tales: The Duke of Taunton sees no crises and no setbacks: merely opportunities to exploit. Well: if one is the sort of chap who can think rings around everyone else combined.
    The Duke: (blandly, to the Nawab) As I say, one cannot foresee everything, one merely tries to take advantage of such strokes of fortune. But all this is dependent upon events and chances which are by nature unforeseeable.
    The Nawab: There really are no options in this which do not — your opponents have no options before them which do not — leave you with at least a partial victory.
    The Duke: None which are obvious, but that is the point: one never knows. One cannot plan against everything.
    The Nawab: (drily) No: merely fold events into one's plans and make them serve one's objectives.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Miles Vorkosigan spends most of his appearances playing Xanatos Speed Chess, often as a result of a simple plan running out of his control.
    • In The Vor Game, the Big Bad makes up about four or five new plans in a single day as Miles tries to counter them and new chances arise. She even uses her old plans as pawns in her new plans. It backfires. In the end, Miles pointed out that if she had stuck to any of them, she would have been better off. She's also the person who taught him that the best plans are Xanatos Gambits, though she meant it as a taunt. She even provided the current opening quote for that page, but Miles and Emperor Gregor are both excellent at this trope.
  • The Martians from The War of the Worlds (1898) were good at this; when the British army and their artillery took down a tripod, the Martians understood that they had underestimated the humans' determination and strength in numbers and from then on used poison gas to clear new territory before they walked in with the tripods. Later, as there are no seas on Mars, the Martians had no idea how to battle the HMS Thunder Child of the British Navy and attempted to sink it with both gas and heat rays. They destroyed the ship, but not before it took two tripods with it and defended the escaping refugee vessels. After the battle, it's hinted that the Martians began to develop a sort of air force to combat the human navies. However, the Martians lacked any backup plan against the earthly diseases that eventually killed them.
  • The Way of Kings (2010) (first book of The Stormlight Archive): Sadeas is the "set everything up in my favor and see what happens" flavor of Chessmaster. He uses this to justify "suddenly" betraying his oldest friend, getting thousands of soldiers killed in the process.
    Dalinar: It wasn't simply a convenient opportunity. You set this up, Sadeas.
    Sadeas: I planned, but I'm often planning. I don't always act on my options. Today I did.
    • In the sequel, Words of Radiance, Shallan gradually develops skill in this, eventually becoming a full-blown Guile Heroine. In order: after being shipwrecked in the wilderness, she manages to bluff her way into getting a caravan to cart her to the Shattered Plains, convinces a group of deserters who planned to rob her into fighting another group of bandits for her, earning their loyalty in the process, and gets an experienced con-woman to give her lessons. When said con-woman turns out to be working for the same organization that shipwrecked her, Shallan is forced to kill her in self-defense, then uses that as a way to replace her and begin infiltrating that organization.
  • The Wheel of Time: Moiraine Damodred never has trouble manipulating everyone around her even when they are ta'verenand aware she is manipulating them. When she ADMITS she is manipulating them, they only seem more compliant. The best example has to be when she goes through the ter'angreal to fulfill the prophecy about her needing to die to save the hero but she is rescued from the dimension she'd been trapped in with another well laid plan.
    • Another candidate might be Cadsuane Melaidhrin. On the military side, Rodel Ituralde most definitely counts.
  • The works of Wildbow are full of these, with the protagonists of Worm, Pact and Twig all having their quick-thinking and versatility being their most important survival traits, and typically facing enemies who are pretty good at this themselves. Taylor turns the ability to control bugs into being a Memetic Badass mostly through her creativity on-the-fly (though she's no slouch at longer-term planning), and Blake is pretty damn successful at improvisation considering the universe is literally against him thanks to the spirits that control the world believing in the Sins of the Father. Out of the three, however, Sylvester is probably the best, as he has no superpowers or magical abilities (and is physically a slender boy in his early teens), yet still goes against vastly more powerful enemies with nothing except his ability to talk until an opportunity presents itself. Early in the story he explicitly states that his preferred tactic is simply to cause as much chaos as possible, as it makes people more predictable as they panic, and gives him more openings to exploit.

    Live-Action TV 

In General:


  • The bad guys on 24 are very good at this. Jack Bauer is better. Whereas there have been complaints that Tony's plan in Season 7 involved the use of elements he couldn't predict, in fact he was employing this trope rather than a Gambit Roulette He had been working patiently to gain the trust of the real Big Bad and it just so happened that Jack screwed up his original plan and simultaneously gave Tony a new opportunity to carry out his revenge against the Big Bad.
  • The entire series of Alias could be seen as one extensive game of Xanatos Speed Chess between Arvin Sloane and Jack Bristow, encompassing thirty years of national security, the entire global intelligence community, two generations of their respective families, and the many shifting loyalties of Irina Derevko. It's capped by this:
    Jack: (to a captured, but immortal Sloane) You beat death, Arvin. But you couldn't beat me. (presses detonator)
  • Angel. Both the Angel gang and Wolfram & Hart are very adept at this. For the first three seasons, Angel repeatedly stops Wolfram & Hart from committing some act of heinous evil or another, just to watch the evil machine keep on chugging along. They even congratulate him every now and then. Eventually, he does manage to derail into their Ancient Conspiracy, if only temporarily.
  • Alfred Bester, in the fourth season of Babylon 5, implemented a plan involving Michael Garibaldi that was basically a big one of these mixed with Gambit Roulette (several factors not under Bester's control worked in his favor, as he later admitted). The goal? Finding the root of an anti-telepath conspiracy, so that the Psi Corps could deal with it.
  • Kevin from Season 11 of Big Brother US was quite good at this, and were it not for a come-from-behind victory in the final head of household competition by Jordan, would have won the season.
    • His best example comes from week 5. Julie announced that only the veto winner or the head of household would be safe. Despite Kevin not being on anybody's radar at that point, he proceeds to actually put effort into winning the competitions. When he wins the veto he doesn't use it so that even if the nominations are changed, he can't go up. Once the nominations are changed, Kevin takes the opportunity to get rid of Jessie (the head of his alliance) so he would not have to go after him later.
  • The third season finale and basically the entirety of Season 4 of Breaking Bad is one long game of this between Gus and Walt.
    • The second half of Season 5 is a rapid-fire one between Walt and Hank.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Similarily to Xena, Buffy has a talent for this, notably in the episode "Helpless" she replaced the water in a Vampire's water bottle with holy water. When the Vampire took his painkillers with the holy water, it burned through, and killed him.
  • Michael Westen of Burn Notice is a master at this trope, sometimes pulling off two per episode (one for helping his clients, and another for gaining more information on the people who burned him, although the latter ones don't always succeed). Because the first plan never goes as expected he has to make changes on the fly, often with little or no communication with his team about the new plan.
    • In "End Run", Michael faces off against Brennan, who's so smart and Genre Savvy that the entire episode is Michael coming up with modifications of modifications of his original plans. The beauty of it? Michael sets things up so that the guy KNOWS Michael's playing him, be he still has to play along.
    • The scene where he first meets Victor actually takes place in a chess park. Their conversation is interspersed with shots of people playing literal speed chess.
    • There's another great example in "Question and Answer", with "reverse-interrogation". Michael's undercover as a junkie snitch, Sam as a corrupt cop, and they have to let the bad guy interrogate Michael about information neither of them have. The entire episode is Sam playing head games with the bad guy, while Michael pretends to know information he doesn't, and they pull it off.
  • Annie in Community episode "Debate 109" is able to thwart an attempted Batman Gambit by passionately kissing Jeff, causing him to drop Simmons.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor is a renowned master of the Indy Ploy. However, on those rare occasions where he actually has a semblance of a plan, if things go awry, he'll tend to only pause momentarily in shock before dashing off to salvage victory regardless. The Seventh Doctor, who always has a plan, does this more often than not (including at least one long, drawn-out game with an Ancient Evil from the Dawn of Time).
    • The Master has his own knack for turning bad situations to his advantage — witness his magnificent comeback from accidentally destroying about a quarter of the universe to holding the rest to ransom in "Logopolis". And in the first part of "The End of Time", after his scheme to come Back from the Dead went awry, killing his support network and causing him to Come Back Wrong, and he gets kidnapped by someone who wants his help with fixing some Applied Phlebotinum, he quickly hatches and executes a scheme to take control of said Phlebotinum and use it to take over the world. He succeeds. Unfortunately for him, he gets Out-Gambitted by Rassilon, Lord President of the Time Lords, who fixes the population of Earth with a wave of his hand. He then proceeds to tell the Master he's outlived his usefulness and, well, the Master decides to take his revenge.
    • In "The Invasion of Time", the Doctor succeeds in spite of learning the people he was foiling were only the façcade. It's implied that the Doctor knew they weren't the Big Bad the entire time, and only dealt with them in the first place solely so that they would reveal who or what the real threat actually was. The first half of Invasion of Time actually goes exactly according to the Doctor's original plan; the second half he made up once he knew who he was actually dealing with.
    • "Victory of the Daleks": The Daleks play an absolute blinder on the Doctor — using the Doctor's knowledge of them to make the Progenitor spawn more Daleks. Then, when they're about to lose, they make Bracewell into a walking bomb by equipping him with an Oblivion Continuum; eventually he will go boom and take the Earth with him. They threaten to set him off, the Doctor scarpers off to deal with it, and, in the ensuing chaos, the Daleks decide the smart course of action is too not push their luck any further and get the ever loving hell out of there — which is exactly what they do, with the only Dalek casualties being the old "impure" Daleks!
    • The fifth season of the revived series ends with not one but two quite brilliant examples by the Doctor himself. The first to save the universe and the second to save himself, both fully exploiting the possibilities of time travel in a way he doesn't usually try.
    • River Song's first encounter with the Doctor (from her perspective) consists of her repeatedly pulling weapons out to kill him, which he has unloaded (or in one case switched with a banana) moments before. As he puts it: "I know you know." In the end, she poisons him with a kiss and points out she was planning to do it like that anyway. "I know you know I know".
  • The crew of Moya in Farscape have had to get very good at improvising a plan in minutes over their time on the run. When Scorpius joins them, he's just a little bit appalled to learn that instead of Crichton being a similarly brilliant long-term planner, Crichton is instead not entirely rational and the reason he's still alive and free is that after all the times his brain has been given a swirly no-one can quite predict what he's going to do next.
  • In The Flash (2014), Captain Cold has built this into his default approach to heists: Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to go off the rails. Throw away the plan. He still aims to achieve the original goal, but never assumes that the details will survive the reality of the heist.
    • Flash later repeats this to Citizen Cold, Captain Cold's Earth-X doppelganger.
      Citizen Cold: Wow. That is... that is terrible advice. I always have a plan, down to the second, so nothing ever goes wrong.
  • The Cranes from Frasier are masters at this whenever they get into a tight situation (i.e., most episodes), as are Roz and Daphne. Granted, they frequently fail on a level or two by the end of the episode, but the skill and slickness with which they lie, manipulate events, think up new plans, and navigate a tangled thicket of cross-purposes and plot threads to keep everything running smoothly for 20 minutes of airtime is impressive to watch.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Part of Littlefinger's strategy appears to be fomenting chaos and reacting to opportunities as they present themselves.
    • Euron had planned on wooing Daenerys, but when Yara and Theon take the best ships with their own plans to join forces with Daenerys, Euron switches to brokering an alliance with Cersei.
  • General and I: Bai Ping Ting and Chu Bei Jie excel at it, usually against each other. The war against Liang is full of examples. Bai Ping Ting and the army of Liang encamp at the top of a mountain, while Chu Bei Jie and his army are at the bottom of it. Bai Ping Ting orders the soldiers to poison the water. Chu Bei Jie guessed she'd do that, and ordered his soldiers not to touch it. The only undefended way up the mountain is a dangerous abandoned bridge. Chu Bei Jie decides to use it. Bai Ping Ting suspects he'll try it and takes steps to prevent it.
  • Heroes: Unlike earlier Big Bads who seemed to have Fate in their corner always dropping events in their favor, Volume 5 Big Bad Samuel Sullivan has a general master plan but is also frequently forced to adjust when unexpected events unfavorable to his scheme pop up.
  • Colonel Hogan on Hogan's Heroes is a master of this and the Indy Ploy, because no plan ever goes quite as planned.
  • In House of Cards (US), Frank Underwood has a ritual involving rapping his knuckles on his desk before leaving a room, representing a combination of preparation (building calluses on your knuckles in case of a fight) and luck (knocking on wood). This trope is intentionally his entire philosophy on political maneuvering.
  • Similarly, Hustle frequently includes spontaneous modifications to existing plans in order to stop the entire elaborate con collapsing. More common during Danny Blue's brief stint as head of the crew, since improvisation is his forte. It does occur under Mickey Bricks as well, but less often; Mickey is more likely to have Plan B, C and D than an improvised change.
  • On the Canadian crime drama Intelligence (2006), being skilled in this was apparently a job requirement to get into the Vancouver Organized Crime Unit.
  • Jeeves and Wooster: Jeeves is a master at this, even when Bertie isn't and comes up with plan Bs like "Feign amnesia!"
  • In Kamen Rider Double, there's a game of Xanatos Speed Chess going on between Ryubee Sonozaki and Shroud going on throughout the series, both trying to work around the plans of the other. Shroud ultimately wins by sending Shotaro to ruin his plan.
  • The Kill Point is basically eight straight hours of this (well, OK, seven hours of this and one hour of Villainous BSoD). John Leguizamo leads a team of bank robbers who end up taking hostages when their plan goes bad. He spends the rest of the series cooking up no less than three separate escape plans, while stringing the hostage negotiator along.
  • Nate Ford of Leverage prides himself on being a Crazy-Prepared Chessmaster. However, his plans always go awry and he has to create a new one on the fly, which actually works out spectacularly well. Every single episode. Except when things are going as they planned but they're operating on the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, so it appears to viewers that something has gone wrong.
    • In "The Gold Job," he tells Hardison that Nate succeeds because he always starts with the simplest possible fallback plan, in case everything goes sideways.
  • Lost:
    • Benjamin Linus of is the poster child of this trope, adapting and changing to events around him with such ease over the course of the series that one can't help but find the constant Gambit Roulettes fairly plausible. Then Seasons 5 and 6 happened, where so many events come at him out of left field, even his actor admits he's being forced to act less more like Indy.
      "I think Ben has a lot of layers of plans, but I think we're way off the main stem of anything that works for him. I mean, Ben's doing like moment-to-moment scrambling now."
    • The Man in Black has been shown to play a round or two in the final season, one example culminating in him blowing up a submarine and killing 3 of the main cast.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Murdoch Foyle survived the incinerator and rerailed his prison escape Batman Gambit by ensuring his abusive foster mother would burn in his place.
  • Mission: Impossible is made of this trope. Rarely, if ever, does the IMF's complex plot go completely according to plan. The IMF team simply improvises around whatever does go awry, and eventually achieves its goal anyway. Of course, there were several instances where the audience thought this was happening, but it was really just the plan working perfectly (for instance, when the bad guy becoming wise to the con was actually part of the con). This trope only kicks in for them when their Batman Gambit is about to go awry, which is roughly once an episode. Their use of Xanatos Speed Chess is to draw the villain back to the gambit and/or away from discovering The Masquerade.
    • One first season episode, "A Spool There Was", was entirely Xanatos Speed Chess. Rollin was specifically sent in without a plan, because the mission was to recover a wire recording that an agent had hidden in the few minutes between losing his tail and his death. No one knew where he had hidden it, so they had to rely on Rollin figuring out how to find it, how to recover it, how to return it, and do it all under the eyes of enemy agents.
  • Michael Scofield of Prison Break is excellent with this. When he isn't planning large gambits, he's doing this anyway (especially in the fourth season). However, due to various interventions even his large gambits such as the Fox River prison break are always threatened to be ruined unless Michael plays some speed chess.
  • Jim Profit, the title character of Profit is a master of this. Need to undo a recent acquisition? Jim trades them the Ultra Chip in exchange for going away. His rival finds out? Jim reveals the illegal deal to the Commerce Department, making himself look like a hero. Ultra Chip doesn't work? He trades the developer instead, tricking him into a shipping container on a one-way
  • Emily Thorne from Revenge (2011) spends her days manipulating people into manipulating each other, but when this doesn't always go to plan, Emily will adjust her plans accordingly. In the second season episode "Penance", no less than three people go rogue on her (two of which do so in order to commit homicide). She adjusts her scheme mid-episode without breaking stride, and still comes out getting exactly what she wanted all along.
  • The entirety of Season 3 of Scandal is either this crossed with a Batman Gambit or a Gambit Roulette on behalf of Command/Rowan/Eli Pope, depending on how much he could have anticipated given his access to all of B613's intelligence. There's also some ambiguity over how much he instigated versus how much he took advantage of. Regardless, he certainly got what he wanted by the season's end: his daughter got on that plane, the President owes him and is unlikely to interfere with B613 ever again, his most troublesome agent is out of the picture, and he got to torment his terrorist wife and kill her lover.
  • Smallville:
    • Lionel Luthor is breathtakingly good at this. To exemplify: When Chloe is blessed/cursed with the gift of having anyone answer her questions truthfully, she does of course start asking Lionel questions. He realizes what's going on after the first question and immediately counter-attacks her on her weak spots, thereby distracting a highly intelligent, pretty fearless and incredibly nosy young woman from using her golden chance to get into the secrets of a powerful, rich baddie. She could have asked questions every moment, she was just too stunned to do so.
    • Chloe herself pulled one in "Roulette", regarding a complicated Batman Gambit, manipulating Oliver and Clark in an attempt to help Oliver find his inner heroism.
  • Stargate:
    • Lampshaded in Stargate SG-1 in the Season 7 episode "Evolution part 1". When SG-1 and SG-3 set a trap for one of Anubis' Kull warriors, O'Neill orders Reynolds of SG-3 to set up a secondary perimeter. The man jokes with O'Neill about not having "much faith in Plan A" causing O'Neill to respond "Since when has Plan A ever worked?"
    • Several instances also occur in Stargate Atlantis.
      • When two hives force the Daedalus to retreat, Sheppard quickly latches onto one of them before they jump to hyperspace; once they come out, Sheppard blows away the hyperdrive of one, delaying them until the Daedalus comes back with the Orion.
      • Another instance is when he was instructed to man an Ancient ship, he tried to hijack it but Larrin foiled his plan; he responded by alerting his teammates with an SOS signal disguised as hyperspace background radiation.
      • Having a Mensa-level I.Q. certainly helps. And he does beat Rodney in chess at least once. It helps that Sheppard's intelligence is highly focused on tactical scenarios (being military), whereas Rodney's genius applies to much different subjects, while he also suffers from overconfidence and a tendency to make poorly-considered mistakes (especially in cases where significant foresight is required — Rodney very much lives in the moment). It's entirely possible (if not likely) that even Ronon could beat Rodney in a game like chess, especially since Rodney would probably be thinking of ten different things during the game.
  • The characters from Star Trek are really good at these.
    • Picard may have the slight edge in execution, in that he generally tried to stick to the plan and obey orders. Kirk on the other hand just made shit up, thus he's more a master of the Indy Ploy.
    • Gul Dukat only ever had goals (mostly involving power or revenge) rather than long term plans. He was always willing to switch sides (which he did a lot), grab any opportunity that presents itself, or try to work situations to his favor.
    • While he may not have had as many opportunities to display his skill, Dukat's nemesis Garak is a far better player, as he works with seemingly no resources, and by the time he's done, only those closest to him can suspect his involvement, but never prove it.
  • Supernatural:
    • Crowley. Oh, Lord, Crowley. He has to be the master of Xanatos Speed Chess in Supernatural. He's the only demon who has EVER been able to convince the Winchesters to actually DO WHAT HE WANTS! And as of the end of S6, he has yet to die, even though his "death" has been shown onscreen many times, it was always fake and/or a setup. Crowley is a Xanatos master.
    • The Trickster/Gabriel was pretty good at this too, faking his death in virtually every episode and throwing in the occasional Batman Gambit in his manipulations of the Winchesters. He gets outplayed in the end though, and Killed Off for Real.
    • Chuck, if you think about his true identity. He can play Xanatos Speed Chess with the best of them, though he is very secretive about it and never reveals his true intentions ( Of course, being as he's GOD, this is quite easy for him and his intentions are always for the Greater Good).
  • The form of strategy generally practiced by wannabe Chessmasters in Survivor, to effectively counter the numerous twists the show tends to throw that has been the bane of their predecessors. Some like to pretend that they're really playing Roulette, just to seem more impressive than they really are.
  • Tales of the Tinkerdee: Taminella's plans keep going awry, and her stint in the castle is basically a continuous streak of adjusting her plans of the fly with disguise after disguise. Though at times even she gets them mixed up, and her clumsy dunce of an ogre minion isn't always up to speed on her plan, particularly while he's ordered to club the very princess that Taminella had disguised herself as...
    Taminella: Oooch!!
  • Wizards of Waverly Place Justin wants an Alex-proofing monster for his room but because of Max he has to use a computer for a brain instead of something else. Frankengirl captures Alex and is then outsmarted by her, so Justin resets Frankengirl into a clingy BFF. It only takes a few minutes for Alex to turn Frankengirl into her Sidekick Ex Machina. Justin eventually wins though, by turning Frankengirl into a 'cheerleading fool' and then convincing her to drag Alex to the try outs. Apparently Alex is more afraid of being a cheerleader than a monster's captive. Justin hits three snags, but his original goal of keeping Alex out of his room is ultimately acomplished.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess. Both Xena and Gabrielle are particularly adept at this, it was even Lamp Shaded in the episode "A Day in The Life", where Xena is reluctant to re-use a trap from a previous episode.
    • In addition to "A Day in The Life", Gabrielle shows a remarkable penchant for this in the series finale, when she Uses a ladder as a means of acrobatically reaching a water tower, and putting out a massive fire that was destroying the town of Higuchi.
    • The show is basically made of these. Xena: Warrior Princess, is also Xena: Queen of Xanatos Speed Chess.
    • The Xena comic "Contest of Pantheons" also has a pretty note worthy moment on the part of Callisto, where she Sees the army of Egyptian dead, infers that Anubis has stolen the power of the Greek god Hades, and kills Xena, to send her to the Underworld where she could defeat Anubis, and restore Hades to power.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Any and every CCG or competitive boardgame ever. There's always that one person who whips out with "WTF" strategies that can and will throw the group off guard.
    • Magic: The Gathering is powered by this trope, especially in tournament play. Control mirrors are dozens of turns of this, with each player pretending they had it planned all along.
      • Actually averted the better one gets at the game— there's a limit to how much strategies can be modified without bending one's deck and game out of shape. Good play is more like using this trope to back up a straight Batman Gambit.
  • A good game master for nearly any TRPG knows how to do this with his/her games. While having a solid story to follow is important, not all players can pick up on cues and hooks that easily (and some like to deliberately jump off the rails) so a good amount of flexibility with the story keeps the game interesting and immersive to the players while avoiding undesirable Railroading.
  • Pretty much all Cheapass Games work this way, with other players (and pure randomness) changing conditions so fast that any strategy has to adapt just as fast. Looney Labs games (Fluxx, Chrononauts) are similar; Fluxx in particular changes both the rules and the victory condition(s).
  • Speed Chess, of course. Under a time control of 1 minute for the entire game, the only way to make your moves quickly enough is to choose a move because it is the most active move that stops the opponent's threats.
  • Classes with the Leader role from Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition lend themselves to this style of play, especially Warlords. Generally, they employ subtle long-term buffs that shape their team's playstyle combined with dramatic short-term buffs that let them compensate for surprises that upset their planning. Given the right player and a good DM, battles can be fascinating affairs.
    • In 5th edition, rogues gain the ability to engage in a variety of normally full-action maneuvers using a bonus action each round, while other classes can almost never use their bonus action for anything other than slightly enhancing their main or move action. In the hands of even a moderately savvy player this makes the rogue the speed-chess champion, able to switch targets, change formation, and (with the appropriate specialization) even alter the playing field at the drop of a hat once the original tactics fall through.
  • Forgotten Realms God Cyric. His claim to master of Xanatos Speed Chess comes during a Trial where the other gods claim he is unfit for his duty as Greater God of Strife, Lies, Murder, and other nasty things due to his (fake) holding of the Idiot Ball for years. The thing is, Cyric set up the trial as a way to get the gods to bow down and worship him through use of the Cyrinishad, his book of evil that convinced anyone, god or mortal, that Cyric was the greatest god ever and only true god. When his lackey failed to get the Cyrinishad on time and had the wrong book, Cyric immediately had two other ways of assuring he would win the Trial. And he did. One was the aforementioned lackey being made into a demi-god of lies, even though he couldn't tell a single lie due to a curse from the goddess of magic. Cyric said this made him perfect, because the best lie is the most unbelievable truth, once again showing Cyric is a Xanatos master. Oh, and he also gained the loyalty of an Eldritch Abomination during the course of all this and tends to threaten his enemies with the thing occasionally.
    • More like losing and calling it winning. Bane's the real master. He, Bhaal, and Myrkul all had backup plans in the event of the failure of their gambits during the Time of Troubles. Bane didn't bother with mortal progeny (Bhaal) or depositing his essence in an artifact (Myrkul)— he created a demigod child to inherit his mantle. Even said child didn't know he was a glorified chrysalis— when he grew sufficiently powerful, Bane erupted from within him like a horrible, horrible butterfly. The Lord of Darkness was back in business, baby!
  • While theoretically Go involves Xanatos Gambits, occasionally players will play unexpected moves, or will misread situations. This will lead to their opponent having to rapidly adapt. Some professional players have this as their style; being good enough to adapt while capitalising on their opponents' more orthodox playstyles, essentially being both the Spanner in the Works and then playing Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • The strategy game Hellgame runs on this trope. Not only does each player control three characters, positioned in different places in the turn order (so a player can be both the first and the last to act in a single turn), this turn order can be manipulated by the playing of cards. Random events abound; every turn begins with a random event (which can in turn cause other random events to occur, or put down triggers which cause them to happen later, often several times), and a typical spell causes random events to happen to other players (or yourself). Combat is resolved by die rolls, often modified by spell cards and said random events. A player can seem to be unstoppable, only for a completely harmless-looking opponent to suddenly jump to the end of the turn order to cut off the expected victory and grab it for himself, only for another player to do the same, and then some. A game can last a single turn, or ten; which is in no way an indication of the elapsed time of the game. Successfully wading through this sea of random happenstances and quirky rules, battling the other players (five of them) for supremacy over the turn order, is the path to victory.
  • Most (but by no means all) theater-style American live-action roleplaying games are designed to be Xanatos Speed Chess tournaments..
  • The Munchkin card game has some of this, too, especially in epic games with high levels and four or more players. Given that the official time limit for interfering in seemingly successful Combat rounds is "a reasonable amount of time (defined as 2.6 seconds)," things can get a bit... hectic when players are trying to aid/hinder another player's efforts, especially the final level(s).
  • Online freeform roleplaying combat at a high level is this; prima makes their attack, secunda makes a response that is nigh-unavoidable, prima has to respond and try and take back momentum, and so on back-and-forth until someone runs out of moves to make. It's fun!
  • Paranoia sets the PCs up with mutually conflicting goals, then throws rapid-fire obstacles at them along the way. One suggested game mechanic is to ask each PC "What are you doing?", then only give the player about five seconds to answer:
    Friend Gamemaster: Okay, you've just been dropped off in Outdoors Sector. Suddenly, some people appear at the top of a hill, charging down toward you with long pointy sticks. *to PC #1* What are you doing?
    PC #1: Uh, what do these people look like?
    Friend Gamemaster: Dirty smelly Infrareds with ragged uniforms. One of them sticks his long pointy stick into your chest. *to PC #2* What are you doing?
    PC #2: *realizing that PC #1 just dropped the team's camera* I shove PC #3 toward them.
    PC #3: Hey!
  • The galaxy of Warhammer 40,000 is the chessboard for a four-way free-for-all game of Xanatos Speed Chess between Tzeentch, the Deceiver, the Eldar farseers, and the Emperor, with a few others dabbling on the side. All players involved are very, very good at it.
    • It's probably worthwhile to note that, at the same time as all those groups work against each other, Tzeentch is also playing more games of four-way Speed Chess with different rules against the other Chaos Gods. Interestingly, he is the only player in any of these four way games who cannot win, because winning means he would have no one else to play against, and that's suicidal when you're the literal embodiment of scheming. Initially, this would seem like a bit of an impasse: He cannot stop scheming, but his schemes would lead to him winning, which would kill him... Tzeentch's solution? More Speed Chess games against himself, constantly foiling his own plans so that he will never attain victory. To spell out the irony — the Chaos God of scheming and change is the greatest enforcer of the Status Quo.
  • Anybody who has ever played the group strategy game Mafia/Werewolf as a bad guy has had to attempt this. A detailed original plan NEVER goes off without problems.

  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Cyrano is good at this in Acts II and III, but he cannot fool Christian nor Roxane in Act IV. However, he manages to fool Roxane again in Act V:
    Roxane: On his brow he bears the genius-stamp;
    He is proud, noble, young, intrepid, fair...
    Cyrano: (rising suddenly, very pale) ''Fair!''
    Roxane: Why, what ails you?
    Cyrano: Nothing; 'tis... (he shows his hand, smiling) This scratch!

  • BIONICLE: Makuta didn't take the rescue of the Matoran of Metru Nui into account, though managed to get past that. When part of his plan called for leaving his body, he didn't expect it to be destroyed by the end, but he still managed to keep his plan going smoothly, taking over Mata Nui's body and the Matoran World within it at the end of 2008's arc. While he did account for the fact that Mata Nui could die from his actions in sending him to sleep, he didn't expect it to actually happen, but he got around that as well by relying on the Toa to bring him back before it was past the point of no return which even played into his hands by letting him sneak his soul into Mata Nui's body before his own spirit could properly reunite with it.

    Video Games 
  • Though it's hard to tell what he's thinking, Jon Irenicus in Baldur's Gate II seems to do this. His original plan is simply to experiment on Imoen and the player character in his own personal lair. However, this runs into trouble when Shadow Thieves attack him, his prisoners escape and, on top of all of this which he could have handled simply by virtue of his great power, the local wizard authorities get wind of the unsanctioned use of magic and teleport in to arrest him. Killing hundreds of them is not the path of least resistance even for him, so he suddenly decides to go peacefully, but making sure they also arrest Imoen. They are both taken to a wizard asylum, which Irenicus soon takes over, continuing his experiments with Imoen and waiting for the player character to come after him. The player character already has two potential motives for doing this — wanting revenge on Irenicus and to rescue their "little sister" — but a third one is added when Irenicus somehow appears in their dreams and speaks of unlocking their potential as a descendant of a god, speaking as if the player character could gain great power though he really has no interest in giving it to them but rather just stealing it away. Unless that's just the Bhaal in you talking and not Irenicus at all. (This is also, in a way, the game masking its But Thou Must! plot element. You have to go after Irenicus and Imoen, but at least you get to pick your motivation out of a fair selection.) The player may make various choices along the way and choose to ally or not with two characters who are actually Irenicus's pawns, but the end result is the same — in a non-contrived way — and they end up just where Irenicus wants them.
  • Scarecrow in Batman: Arkham Knight is very good at this. He seemingly has a backup plan every time it seems Batman has foiled him. He neutralizes the giant fear toxin bomb, but Scarecrow has another. He overcomes Scarecrow's gas, and Scarecrow uses Barbara to further his plan. This is why, in the end, he becomes the first ever Batman villain in any media to ever unmask him to the world.
    • However, Batman himself turns out to be even better, and manipulates Scarecrow into solving a much worse problem: stop the Joker personality from taking over.
  • BlazBlue has Rachel Alucard and Hazama/Terumi Yuuki, who are playing Speed Chess against each other with the fate of the world on the line. Calamity Trigger involves gathering the pieces, with the game proper beginning in Continuum Shift, with extra rounds shown in Extend. While Terumi's record is impeccable, Extend reveals a scorch mark that keeps it from being unwavering — this mark was left not by Rachel, but by Makoto, who fell on the board due to Terumi's own machinations against her. Undoubtedly, Rachel is factoring this into her future plans... In Chronophantasma, the Imperator quickly cancels out Kagura's entire game's worth of planning a rebellion by resigning from the position and naming a successor, throwing most of the NOL into confusion and dissention.
  • In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, General Shepherd proves to be a mean player of this. Sure, he didn't expect Price to fire a nuke at Washington D.C., but he capitalized on it very quickly in the subsequent cutscene; before the nuke even hits, he's already convinced the Secretary of Defense that the nuke was fired by Makarov, and gets government approval to track Makarov down with what is essentially a blank check.
  • Lord Recluse of City of Heroes is made of these. The protection over his city fortress of evil alone is nothing short of impressive; it has a mile high wall, reinforced city base, a psychic monitoring network, an army of super-villains, Elite Mooks and an island of nuclear warheads; And if any one of those isn't enough he uses the other five. What's more even when every single one of those is pushed to the limit he still manages to improvise. "Rival" (and that is putting it charitably) Villain, Nemesis has a bad case of Complexity Addiction but even he has no luck breaking in, Two-Hundred some odd evil schemes via rivals can be undone by a hand-full of just-in-cases Lord Recluse keeps for blanket emergencies. And on top of all that he still recognizes that The Player Is the Most Important Resource, hence why he recruits player villains to his side to engage in their own Xanatos Speed Chess for said situations.
  • Surprisingly for an educational game, Malicia from The ClueFinders Reading Adventures Ages 9–12: Mystery of the Missing Amulet. She kidnaps Leslie and Santiago at the start of the game, and later on it's revealed that she was posing as the princess to get the ClueFinders to find and assemble the Amulet of Life for her. When that failed and she grabbed the wrong one, she still got Joni and Owen to come to her with the amulet anyways since she still held their friends hostage. It's even lampshaded in a cutscene...
    "Why would they give you what you want?"
    "Because I have what they want... you."
  • In Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars, Kane's complex Gambit Roulette is threatened multiple times by the actions of GDI, the Scrin, or HIS OWN FORCES! However, he's still Kane, so he has the player character iron out all the wrinkles in his plan.
    • And even when things don't work out, he has proven time and again that he is practically immortal, being able to resurface after things like a Ion Cannon strike on the head.
    • And in Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, he finally got what he wanted, and so is the tactical victor of the Tiberium wars, even if it took him like 70-80 years and the blood of billions to reach the victory he sought.
  • In Deus Ex, each faction has someone playing this as the rogue piece — the player — changes the board every step of the way. One could say that the villains are most adept at this, but of course they lose in the end and really their situation is more along the lines of planning out a dozen or so counters to any foreseeable action. The nominal good guys, on the other hand, actually have to make it up as they go.
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War:
    • The Omar's strategy comes across as this, especially from the point of view of their ending. Their fair and helpful dealing with the player through the entire game? Laying the groundwork to put them in the right place at the right time. The recruitment of (and eventual modification of) Leo? Setting up a pawn close enough to the player to influence their decision at the proper time. Leo refusing the final upgrade? With as much modification has already been completed, how can he (or you) truly know for sure whether or not he still retains any free-will at all? By seemingly rejecting their offer and asking for your help, Leo becomes the ONLY character in the entire game who is seemingly both free of outside influence as well as complicated plots or goals of his own — putting him in a perfect position to offer advice without the player looking for an ulterior motive (thus making him the perfect way for the Omar to influence the player without their knowledge).

      Note that's it's LEO'S advice at the crucial moment that convinces you to kill every faction (thus killing off every hope of stablizing society and eliminating the only real threats to eventual Omar hegemony). By following the advice of the man who is quite possibly an Omar puppet, you guarantee Omar victory. It might sound like too far-fetched and overly complex a gambit to even remotely be true — until you remember you're basically playing a game which is almost entirely built around the idea that most conspiracy theories are real, the fate of the entire world is regularly decided by insanely complex plots, and that the more insane a plot seems, the more likely it is to have been true the entire time. Both Billie and Klara were deliberately recruited by other factions, and both were used in attempts to influence Alex's actions. Did you honestly believe that Leo's cultivation by the Omar was a coincidence?
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Emperor Mateus from Final Fantasy II. His plans begin with simply wanting to take over the world and whenever the heroes cause him trouble, he drives them back with rapidly escalating methods of destruction or clever scemes. The heroes barely get a moment to savour a current victory before he turns it around on them. He even dodges death by splitting his soul in half, because now he wants heaven and hell, too.
    • When the Dark Elf steals one of the four Crystals of Light in Final Fantasy IV, Golbez kidnaps Rosa, forcing Cecil and his party to go get the crystal in exchange for her life.
    • Kuja from Final Fantasy IX had no less than two of these. First, it's revealed that his entire plan was revolved around stealing Alexander, the most powerful of all Eidolons (summon monsters). This fails when his boss shows up and blows it to hell. Panicked, his next plan involves using the protagonists to fetch a powerful stone for him and extracting other, lesser summon spirits from a little girl. This fails when her Moogle guardian goes Trance and proceeds to kick ass. Kuja then changes his plans AGAIN in order to gain his own Trance power. Kuja finally achieves this and proceeds to kill his former boss. It's too bad that he learns that he's going to die soon anyway, prompting the mother of all Villainous Breakdowns.
  • Sephiran (and to a lesser extent Lekain) of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn.
    • Still not sure if Bastian is utilizing this trope or another one...
    • It's somewhat implied that while devious himself, Lekain was mostly just Sephiran's pawn. Sephiran, on the other hand, has been playing chess since before Ashera went to sleep.
  • Toshimi Tagami, from Ghost in the Shell on the PS2: Her plans begin with high political intrigue to gain a region its independence, all for her brother's cause, and when Section 9 shows up to throw in some spanners, she quickly switches gears and manipulates the lot of them to get her way in the end. Even her death didn't stop it.
  • Xemnas in the Kingdom Hearts series is very good at this. There are many points where things do NOT go exactly as planned for him...and yet he always seems to quickly make whatever happens work in his favor. Sora won't comply to aid you? Use his Nobody Roxas instead. Does Roxas gain a will of his own? Use a Sora's clone Xion that can absorb power from Roxas, and if that's successful then mass produce them. Does the clone develop a will of its own? Make Roxas and it fight each other to the death then use the one that's left. Does Roxas disappear? Then go back to Sora and manipulate him into helping you without knowing it. Sora finds out about this? Kidnap his Love Interest and force him to keep fighting Heartless for you. All of this fails and you're destroyed? Have a way prepared to come Back from the Dead in a fashionable black and white coat and do them in when they're weakened. Truly, Xemnas is a master Xanatos speed chess player.
    • He probably gets it from Master Xehanort. Wanna know about the Keyblade Wars? Recreate them. Need someone to turn into the X-Blade for you? Grab some orphan no one will miss. Orphan not quite what you need, but it's too late to drop him? Cut his heart in half and see if that works. Getting on in years and the plan's not quite done? Find some Unwitting Pawn to commit Grand Theft Me on. Pawn, orphan, and their spanner-friend wise up to all this? Lure them to your home turf and take them out that way. It's actually way more complicated than even that, but this guy is on top of ALL OF IT.
    • And then there's DiZ AKA Ansem the Wise, who might be, perhaps, just as good — he was, after all, taking on the Organization, headed by Xemnas, and he was winning. In fact, at least at the end of Chain of Memories (and, one could argue, even the end of Days), everything was going pretty much according to plan. In the end, the only thing that toppled him was his own arrogance causing him to bite off more than he could chew (something which he admits to the King, just before his Heroic Sacrifice, as well as in the Secret Reports) and the fact that, consequently, his game became a Gambit Roulette. Like Xehanort and Xemnas, he lost track of all the players — Sora isn't anywhere close to being a Speed Chesser, but he's rather effective as a Spanner in the Works, and Riku's just as bad, since DiZ isn't as able to predict his actions as he'd like to think he is. Couple this with the fact that his cynicism and bitterness were pretty much incapable of predicting Sora's idealistic, selfless heroism, and by the end of it all, even he had to admit he'd lost the game.
  • The Legend of Spyro: This is part of what makes Malefor such an effective Chessmaster. Spyro turns out to be alive and frees The Dragon from his control? Trick Cynder into luring Spyro to the Well of Souls and freeing him. In fact, taking Cynder in the first place may have been an adjustment in response to Spyro's egg not being present at the Dragon Temple.
  • Happens in Marathon whenever two AI's go up against each other, perhaps the most epic instance being Durandal vs Tycho in Marathon 2. Durandal pretty much always eventually wins.
  • The Reapers of Mass Effect aren't bad at this. Their original plan (which has worked for millions of years), is to let civilizations grow using the Citadel and mass relays. They then use these to harvest every space faring civilization. Here are the adjustments they've had to make:
    • Ancient race, the Protheans, disabled a system in the Citadel integral to their plans so they indoctrinated the rachni and started a war, hoping to capture the Citadel and manually activate it.
    • Krogan wiped out said species? Try again with the Geth.
    • Shepard defeated Sovereign and put the kibosh on that plan? Kill him/her, try and recover the corpse, then build a human Reaper to take Sovereign's place.
    • Shepard came Back from the Dead, killed your servants, and destroyed the human reaper, Sovereigns future replacement? Fine, get everyone to the Alpha Relay. Oh, and use indoctrinated servants to capture Shepard, so you can turn him/her to your side.
    • Shepard escaped capture and took out the Relay? No matter, that only delays the invasion a few months anyway.
    • Once in the galaxy, brutally attack Earth and Khar'Shan immediately and hopefully take out Shepard. Even if Shepard survives, humanity gets crippled right at the start. All your other preparations can proceed as planned either way.
    • Presumably, their adjustments to the plan are so ideal that by their arrival proper — assuming Shepard doesn't stop them — people expect the Reaper invasion to finish quicker than the last time it happened, where things did go according to plan. All the past wars they created had left the galaxy divided and much easier to defeat than in the previous cycle.
  • In the third Mega Man Star Force game, Heartless' plan to betray King is potentially ruined when Jack and Tia confront him ahead of schedule. However, she adapts her plans nigh-flawlessly and pulls it off anyway, while also saving Jack and Tia from their impending doom.
  • Mental Omega: By Act II, things happen fast and the Allies and Epsilon start engaging in increasingly insane levels of this. To summarize: Yuri attempts to seize the London Fortress by constructing a Psychic Amplifier in Rome (The Cardinal), and the Allies counter him by chronoshifting a strike team into Rome and successfully destroying said Amplifier (Puppet Master). Yuri pulls a fast one on the Allies by building another Amplifier in Morocco to draw the Allies' attention away (Ghost Hunt) from a Soviet salvage operation in Germany which is attempting to dismantle an old Chronosphere, seizing the Chronosphere (Divergence) and using it to Chronoshift the Aerial Fortress Irkalla into London to destroy the Steins Tech Hangar there and drive the Allies out of the conflict entirely (Godsend). The allies countered by prematurely deploying the Paradox Engine and destroying his taskforce, only for Yuri to then block their escape by setting an ambush for the Paradox Engine in the Isles of Scilly (Bottleneck). The Allies neutralize the ambush with the newly trained Chrono-legion and EVEN recharge the Paradox Engine using YURI's Bio-reactors on Tenerife (Hysteria). Yuri is forced to bring his trump card Libra earlier than expected (Dance of Blood). Later, Yuri then threatens the Pacific Front's newly-developed Weather Controller with brainwashed Russians (Stormbringer), and then ups the ante with a Psychic Amplifier + 2 Tactical Nukes (Paranoia), only for the Allies to neutralize BOTH threats.
    • Arguably, the entirety of the final Allied and Epsilon missions are one big game of Xanatos Speed Chess.The Allies destroy all the Mental Dynamos shielding the Mental Omega Device on the surface, only to find that Yuri was Crazy-Prepared and hid one underground. Their attempts to destroy the last Dynamo only buy time for the Epsilon to drive back the Allies. The Epsilon manage to prep the Mental Omega Device to begin mind controlling the whole earth, only for the activation to be aborted by the Allies activating a Time Freeze. In response, the Epsilon sneak Infiltrators on board the Paradox Engine to disable its weapons. While the Time Freeze still works, the Engine has no weapons to push past the Epsilon defense. In a last ditch effort, the Allies decide to try and freeze the Device in time, only for Libra to successfully damage the Engine. Finally, (though its not clear if this was an intentional response or not), the Engine rams into the Device and manages to damage it, but not enough to render it inoperable.
  • The Patriots, at least by the time of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, take this level of planning to an artform. Raiden's entire mission, every small victory, every ostensible moment of cleverness was in fact scripted by the organization well in advance, leaving no room for escape or resistance — suicide or failure is not an option, as they took hostage and wired loved ones to his vitals. Solidus's plan to regain control from them was in fact doomed from the beginning — he was to be killed by his "son" in much the same way they arranged for Solid Snake to kill Big Boss. Even the information he would've retrieved from Raiden's cerebral cortex turned out to be bunk, in the end. Understandable for an international cabal of super-intelligent AIs several leaps above humanity.
  • The final chapters of Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark are about fighting off the Archdevil Mephistopheles, bent on Taking Over The World just so that he can turn it into such a literally hellish place that it will move to become the tenth layer of the Nine Hells of Baator — thus accomplishing the nearly impossible task of becoming the supreme ruler of Hell in place of Asmodeus. How did Mephistopheles come by this plan? He was captured by an upstart mortal on the Material Plane and manipulated her so that he got free and, well, while he's here...
  • Return Of The Obra Dinn: Edward Nichols gets away with stealing the treasure onboard the Obra Dinn by knocking out Hok-Seng Lau, who was guarding it, and then when Nunzio Pasqua appears unexpectedly, killing him and pinning it on Lau. Later, when he returns to the Obra Dinn as the Sole Survivor of his mutiny, Nichols finds the crew is none too happy with him (and for good reason), so he attempts to smooth things over with the crew by yielding and returning the treasure, likely with a plot to take it again... but he is instead shot dead by Chioh Tan, who was none too happy that all of his fellow Formosans died because of him.
  • SLAMMED!: In a world where only half the storylines are planned out, Alex' greatest strength is her ability to simply roll with events and take advantage of opportunities.
  • Sarah Kerrigan of Star Craft Brood War plays Xanatos Speed Chess. She allies with the Protoss by brainwashing the Matriarch Raszagal and helps them kill some rogue Zerg opposing her, and when she kills off the member of their group that was getting wise to her schemes she takes off laughing as they realize they've been played. She then recruits Raynor and Fenix to rescue the Dominion emperor Mengsk from the UED, uses the three of them to destroy one of the UED's main bases of operations, then backstabs them and kills Fenix and Mengsk's general leaving the two demoralized and de-powered. She then kidnaps the Protoss Raszagal and uses her to blackmail her co-commander Zeratul into giving her access to special assassins that will kill the Zerg hivemind and leave her in complete control of them. By the end, Kerrigan plays all of her enemies against each other, weakening them in turn while she accumulates power for herself to the point that the developers said in materials for StarCraft II she basically could have wiped all of them out at the end of the game, but chose not to.
    • It's been implied more than once that Samir Duran in turn manipulated her into working towards his endgame. So he's at the very least capable of keeping up with her Speed Chess.
  • System Shock: SHODAN always has a backup plan.
    • In the first game, SHODAN's plan amounts to this (backup plans listed after initial plans):
      • Destroy life on Earth using the space station's mining laser, so she can remake life in her image. The player responds by destroying the laser.
      • Conquer earth by unleashing the (biological) virus she created to transform everyone into her servants. The player responds by jettisoning the part of the station which was incubating the virus.
      • Transmit herself to Earth (she is an AI). The player responds by blowing up the station's antennae.
      • Crash the station into Earth, to unleash the remnants of her virus that way. The player responds by setting the station to self-destruct.
      • Eject the station's bridge, which houses her mainframe. The player responds by gaining access to the bridge and manually purging her from the computers.
    • The second game originates from the player's actions in the first game. The incubator that the player jettisons in the first game is discovered and found to be overrun by SHODAN's spawn... and SHODAN herself had a backup on the computers. This probably happened by chance, however, and not through SHODAN's plan. SHODAN acts more as a Manipulative Bastard in the sequel, however, manipulating the player with less of a multi-tiered plan. At the start of the game, the player is one of her few resources, but by the end she's clawed her way back up and is on the brink of literal near-omnipotence.
  • This is the favored sport of Yggdra Union's Nessiah.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney wouldn't be interesting if it were not for the ability of every opponent to counter your arguments. Add the fact that frequent surprise evidence tends to shock all parties and forces everyone to reconsider their plan on a regular basis and you've got a wild ride.
    • Phoenix Wright himself is a master of this, often coming into court with only the very basic plan of "use this piece of evidence I found yesterday to defend my client" or even just "find contradictions until I uncover something that shows my client is innocent." His ability to adapt to new information and adjust his strategy on the fly is implied to be why he can keep up with much more experienced attorneys and Chessmasters like Miles Edgeworth and Manfred von Karma.
    • Of course, the undisputed master of this would have to be Simon Keyes, from Investigations 2. Edgeworth appearing was by no means part of his elaborate revenge scheme... but he was quickly able to use Edgeworth's presence by putting together an even better plan involving pushing his targets to commit murder and get found out by Edgeworth.
  • In the very first scene of Code:Realize, Arsène Lupin lectures Impey on how a great thief requires a plan, the patience to pull it off — and the nerve to go all in and wing it when the first two elements fall short. There is a lot of on-the-fly improvisational scheming going on throughout the game, especially on the occasions in which Lupin and Sholmes match wits with one another.
  • Maou from The Devil on G-String has a gift for revising convoluted plans on the fly, being an expy of Lelouch, which is how he keeps beating the protagonists, even until the very end.
  • Fate/stay night
    • Kotomine has a pretty good one of these in Heavens Feel. Plan A: start with sending Lancer to figure out who everyone is, where they are and how strong. Crap, after roflstomping True Assassin he got his heart pulled out and eaten. Ok, uh, well we still have Gilgamesh, and he's pissed about the serial killings going on. Damnit, he got eaten too. Fine, we'll set up Sakura, the monster eating everyone to turn into the gate and destroy the world. Uh oh, the Core of the Grail just got hijacked, time to team up with Shirou to recover it. Oops, True Assassin came after him and humans can't kill Servants with the tools he has. Guess we'll destroy Zouken's body, using my fake heart as a decoy and then drive off Assassin. Woops, the Grail doesn't like me and just destroyed my heart. And, breaking the narration, he still makes it to the end of the path and still nearly unleashes a plan that is in fact much worse than the scale of what he was trying in the first two. Plus, Shirou's ideology has been neatly discarded, and Kotomine really hated it.
    • Archer's plan in "Unlimited Blade Works". His repeated gambits to kill Shirou and set up either himself and Rin or a Rin/Saber team as the winners of the Grail War by playing Caster, Kotomine and the protagonists against each other are truly inspired. It still doesn't go quite to plan given Shirou not only doesn't die but still refutes Archer's points, but hey, not too shabby.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Cinder's plans largely involve simply setting up as many things in her favor as possible, and then moving quickly when things start to fall apart. She witnessed a thief steal a necklace; she recruited her for her interesting Semblance. She went to recruit a world-famous assassin but found his son had already killed him for being an abusive drunk; she recruited the son instead. She tried to have the Grimm attack when the city was undefended but the attack went off too early; she joined in the defense (she and the above two recruits were undercover as guest students for the upcoming tournament), then tried again a few months later.

    Web Comics 
  • The leader of a team of magical thieves in The Dragon Doctors starts off with a straightforward plan to rob a hospital of valuable materials, but they are continually stymied by one lone surgeon defending the hospital. Elizabeth (the leader) continually adapts her plan towards a profitable solution even as all her teammates are taken out one at at time, and if it hadn't been for a slip-up, she still would've gotten away with it.
  • Parson gives the other characters a lecture on playing Xanatos Speed Chess in this page of Erfworld.
    • Charlie, on the other hand, is more of a long-term planner and has significant trouble when planning against someone as nimble as Parson. While the normal kings in Erfworld are easy enough to manipulate on the fly, Parson regularly forces Charlie into suboptimal plans that backfire. Charlie is left dumbfounded and panicked when Parson sets off the Gobwin Knob volcano, and in spite of his dozen-turn set up for the battle of Spacerock, loses to Parson's quick thinking and willingness to very literally burn everything around him to the ground in order to win. Finally, in book three, both Parson and Charlie are left without any kind of long-term plan after Lillith the decrypted Archon is freed from captivity. Within the space of minutes in-universe, Gobwin Knob loses its entire treasury, Parson is forced to turn, Jack the foolamancer tricks Charlie's forces into opening fire on Parson, refilling the treasury, Parson turns back to Gobwin Knob, Charlie sends an entire force of Archons on a suicidal revenge mission in a rage, the casters in the Magic Kingdom turn on both sides, and pretty much everyone is now embroiled in the conflict. However, after all of this, the only side that seems even slightly poised to prosper is Gobwin Knob, and Charlie's inflexibility is costing him in every sense.
    • And demonstrates (sort of?) his prowess...on the OTHER chessmaster, here.
  • Freefall: Sam Starfall wanted to get Florence into (and safely back out of) the heavily guarded campus of Ecosystems Unlimited, and maybe borrow some things while they're there. This means improvising and readjusting his plans when circumstances ask for it, like stuffing crickets in his pants,releasing them into the fire detection system, and creating a makeshift disguise.
  • In Girl Genius, Gil needs to get into the castle and have it be known that he did — so his father knows, and doesn't attack it. His plot to convince the crowd that he's Gilgamesh Wulfenbach convinces them that he's putting on a show. So — he tells them they're right, and by this means lures them to the castle and breaks the truth to them only there. (With some unexpected backup from his friends.)
    • Additionally, in Chapter 6, both Tarvek and Anevka Sturmvoraus seem to be playing this trope with each other for control of Sturmhalten and The Other, executing backup plan after backup plan. Tarvek even says in this strip that "None of this was in my original plan, but it's all working out so beautifully!"
    • Zola Malfeazium is "very good at improvising when things go wrong".
  • Helen Narbon, of Narbonic, is another case where the fanbase — and even the characters in the strip — are never fully certain if Helen is playing Xanatos Speed Chess, Gambit Roulette, or if she's just luckier than anyone has any right to be. At several points, it seems Helen, herself, is not certain.
    Artie: My last thought before blackout is this: That every aspect of my nature — my mind, my sense of ethics, the body in which I currently reside — seems, now, engineered for this moment, for shielding this woman from impact. I have never been able to fathom the disjointed workings of Helen's mind. Did she surmise that someday she would be in danger? Did she create me specifically to save her life? And, if she really can plan this far ahead, why couldn't she just find a way to avoid the whole stupid situation? I always knew I'd die with a headache.
    • It doesn't help that some Sunday strips have suggested Mad Scientists may be able to see the future to a limited degree.
  • In The Order of the Stick, The High Priest of Hel i.e the vampire spirit controlling Durkon's body is a crafty master at this. When Roy didn't take a vague hint of the location of the Godsmoot, they were fortunate enough to meet one of the clerics going to the meeting. When Roy learned his true colors, the High Priest Broke Him By Talking and used a protective spell to keep Roy at bay until the vote was complete. When the vote ended in a tie, he had a backup plan in the works to enable him to rig the vote, and had created a new High Priest to take his place so that Hel's vote would still count. Even in the middle of a battle he turns the tide around in a 180 the moment it looked he could lose, by having his subordinates Mind Control the attackers rather than directly confront them; in the end, the only thing that outdoes him is Durkon himself Fighting from the Inside.
  • The scene taken from Sluggy Freelance to demonstrate speed chess is actually a poor example, being at best an aversion. Bun Bun is not actually manipulating events, he is simply moving dolls on a chessboard to reflect events outside his influence, a fact that enrages him when it's pointed out.
  • This xkcd strip:
  • The Sixth Doctor is a pro at this in The 10 Doctors, where he repeatedly manipulates a group of Renegade Daleks to do his bidding — even when circumstances around him are rapidly changing.

    Web Original 
  • In Associated Space, Fatebane's plan is constantly adjusting, due to the situation changing in almost every system he goes to.
  • Double Life SMP: Grian was able to nab the only pieces of sugarcane on the map, which were incredibly important due to the server's modded recipe for TNT needing four paper. Foreseeing the way that other teams would tear up his base to get some sugarcane of their own and inevitably break his monopoly, he quickly stole all of the sand on the server — a much easier task thanks to the map's lack of a desert — and only leaving behind enough pieces of sand for one or two pieces of TNT, thereby creating a second monopoly on explosives, this time with a non-renewable resource.
  • The Villain Protagonist of The Salvation War, Michael-lan, is a master of this trope.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • Chessmaster goes insane (well, further insane) when he loses a literal game of this.
    • Subverted in Ayla 5, Ayla and the Networks. The bad guys TRY for this, but since they can't play NEARLY as well as each other, it comes down to 'Crap! When she did that, Plans A-J can't work, and now K-Y are useless...'
    • Meanwhile, Ayla and Thurban are working a Vizzini Gambit/Xanatos Gambit. They'd won the game before a piece was played. Ayla's Laptops is useless, and the blackmail information is false!
    • The Chessmaster does this in his massive Halloween attack. He even had a recovery plan that would have been perfect if the best precognitive on the planet hadn't chosen that very second to take over his communications system so he couldn't launch his recovery plan.
    • The villain in "The Big Idea" tries to play this, but needless to say, ends up failing miserably.
    • Jessie, in The Final Trump, starts off with A Simple Plan, which is then continually adjusted due to the constant bumbling and interference of not one, but three nemeses. Being from a supervillain family, her eventual success (and her willingness to share the wealth) earns her big props.

    Western Animation 
  • On The Fairly OddParents!, Norm the Genie's plans usually work like this: In "Fairy Idol", when he comes second to Cosmo and Wanda, he hits them with a wrecking ball and he gets in first.
  • Shockingly, Fry, from Futurama, pulls a simple version off in the fourth season episode "The Why of Fry." After his Scooty Puff, Jr. falls apart, he's trapped in The Infosphere with some gigantic brains that want to destroy the universe. Regardless, he activates a Quantum Interface Bomb, trapping himself and the brains in an alternate dimension. The brains inform him that the Nibblonians, who he was acting on behalf of, were actually responsible for getting him frozen until the year 3000 in the first place, and enable him to return to the past in order to prevent it from ever happening. Thus returning, Fry briefly interrogates Nibbler in Applied Cryogenics, and, after Nibbler explains the situation, Fry agrees to allow his past self to freeze. He begins to disappear, and realizes he's on the verge of creating a time loop. Showing uncharacteristically quick thinking, he then tells Nibbler "Just remember that the Scooty Puff, Jr. suuuucks!" This gives Nibbler the presence of mind to provide Fry with a substantially more powerful ship — The Scooty Puff, Sr. It's simple, but for Fry's simple standards it was genius.
  • Gargoyles:
    • The Trope Namer David Xanatos does this in the episode "Eye of the Beholder", as each of his plans to get the Eye of Odin back from Fox go awry. Goliath's responses to the gradual deterioration of his Machiavellian plots are utterly hilarious: "I don’t suppose you have a 'Plan D'" and "Not a good night for you"...though Xanatos actually does come up with a Plan D, and it's one of the last things you'd ever expect: telling the truth and asking Goliath and Elisa for help. That doesn’t work either so he goes to truly desperate Plan E: put a tracker on Goliath and follow him, hoping he changes his mind.
    • In "Upgrade", he and his wife Fox pit The Pack and the Manhattan clan against one another in a game of literal Xanatos Speed Chess, complete with an actual chessboard and pieces modeled after their respective teams.
  • Hot Wheels: Battle Force 5: Zemerik deems himself a “thinking warrior”, in that he adapts his plans to deal with changes and setbacks.
    • In “Basic Training”, when the Battle Force (accidentally) travels to the first Battlezone Vert visited for training, they find a hidden Sark foundry there. Zemerik reveals that he built the foundry after Vert first defeated him there, in anticipation that Vert may return there one day.
    • In “Glitchin’”, Zemerik captures Spinner and places him in a virtual reality battle simulator as a means of upgrading the Sark’s intelligence. When the rest of the Battle Force breaks into his HQ to save Spinner, Zemerik has his base’s surveillance cameras hooked up to the simulator, tricking Spinner into fighting against his friends.
  • In the Season 2 finale of Justice League Unlimited, after his original plan to become a god by uploading his mind into a copy of Amazo is ruined by the core members of the Justice League and Amanda Waller, Lex Luthor quickly finds his body taken over by Brainiac, the sinister computer brain having been residing within him for years since the events of "Ghost In The Machine" (an episode of Superman: The Animated Series that had aired seven years prior). It's then that Luthor decides to take advantage of the situation and convinces Brainiac to join forces with him. The two of them end up merging together, with designs on absorbing all the information in the universe and remaking it.
    • Braniac's own plan was to use Luthor to upload himself into the Amazo copy before he could even know he was inside him, with the League's intervention forcing him to come out and attempt to deal with them himself. He then decided that Luthor's plan to join forces would benefit them both if they ultimately became a single being.
  • The Legend of Korra: Zaheer and the rest of the Red Lotus straddle the line between this trope and the Indy Ploy. Over the course of their tenure as villains, they seem to frequently change their plans on the fly, and generally succeed at whatever their newly improvised plan is....but they also display a notable lack of foresight, which ultimately leads to their defeat, and the group ultimately accomplishing the exact opposite of what they intended as a result. They exhibit great short-term planning, but very flawed long-term planning.
  • Alluded to in Max Steel (which had the same developer as Gargoyles): Dragonelle was tasked with a mission, but the good guys manage to interfere and prevent their plan from being completely successful:
    Dragonelle: Sir, I take personal responsibility for the failure of Chaos Strike.
    Dread: Mmm, you're too hard on yourself, my dear. The great pyramid has been desecrated, and the explosion's left no evidence to trace the crime to us. Tensions in the region will rise, as planned. Besides, the test of the Dread probes was a qualified success, certainly more R&D is required. But I believe our ultimate victory is right at hand.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
    • The two-part episode "A Canterlot Wedding" features Queen Chrysalis, the ruler of a race of shapeshifters called Changelings that feed off of The Power of Love. Her evil plan is to disguise herself as Princess Cadance, marry the royal guard captain and Twilight's brother Shining Armor, and brainwash him into loving her, thereby not only providing a constant food source for her subjects, but also lowering Canterlot's defenses and paving the way for a full-scale invasion of Equestria. Twilight notices something amiss with the (fake) princess and calls her out on it. Chrysalis gets her kicked out of the wedding reception with a Wounded Gazelle Gambit and throws her in a dungeon while no one's looking. Twilight breaks out with the real Cadance and exposes the impostor to all, forcing her into a Beam-O-War with Princess Celestia. Chrysalis would be screwed, except she's absorbed enough love from Shining Armor to curb-stomp Celestia (keep in mind, even CHRYSALIS was surprised by the sheer POWER she had gained). Twilight and her friends seek out the Elements of Harmony to stop her. Chrysalis sends out a whole army of Changelings and captures them. Unfortunately for Chrysalis, this all leads up to a Near-Villain Victory since she lets Cadance get close enough to Shining Armor to free him from his brainwashing and combine their powers to blast Chrysalis and all her subjects over the horizon.
    • The Flim Flam brothers pull off a simpler one in "Leap of Faith". When Applejack finds out that the miracle tonic that Granny Smith bought from them was a fake, they don't even panic, cunningly convincing her not to reveal their secret as it would ruin the newfound confidence and happiness that Granny Smith has gained. They even capitalize on it when Applejack comments that the tonic 'seems to work for Granny' saying she approves it, causing everypony who trusts Applejack to continue buying it, while at the same time, striking a blow at Applejack's conscience.
    • In the final season, The Legion Of Doom pull of an epic one. During "The Summer Sun Setback", in order to distract the ponies while they infiltrated the Canterlot archives and got a book telling the secrets of the Bewitching Bell, they caused havoc among the three pony tribes during the Summer Sun Celebration. After getting the book, they realized how easy it was to get the pony tribes to turn against each other and decided to spread distrust among the pony tribes so that the heroes wouldn't have the love of Equestria behind them to win. As an unexpected bonus, they created so much disharmony among the ponies that it brought back the Wendigos. Chrysalis would then decide to use this to their advantage as well by being the ones to drive away the Wendigos and save Equestria and ingrain themselves to the grateful ponies.
  • The Owl House: In "King's Tide", Luz fights Belos during the eclipse only to be quickly overpowered by the emperor who begins petrifying her, causing her to notice a branding glove on his desk nearby. Luz proceeds to enrage him into throwing her against the desk by pointing out he'll be a Stranger in a Familiar Land. She then offers the deal that she'll become his guide in exchange for her friends' safety, but slips on the glove and renders it invisible with a glyph, allowing her to brand him while they shake on it in an attempt to force him to end the Draining Spell to save himself.
  • In the third season premiere of Rick and Morty, "The Rickshank Redemption", it's revealed that the real reason Rick allowed himself to be arrested by the Federation was so he could use the prison ship to access the Federation's mainframe and destroy their monetary system, eliminating the Federation from within. Unfortunately, the Citadel interfered before he could access the mainframe, so he infiltrated the Citadel and teleported it into the prison ship's space, turning the Citadel and Federation on each other, enabling him to destroy the Federation's currency while at the same time, kill his most hated enemies, the Council of Ricks.
  • Voltron Force: Sky Marshall Wade turns out to be surprisingly adept at this, taking advantage of setbacks he suffers to make his plans greater and more dangerous.
    • He first shows this after Keith successfully saves the Black Lion from his secret base on Tarvos in the series premiere. He decides to turn the ruined base into a deathtrap for the Voltron Force, using a robotic Coran decoy to lure the Force to Tarvos while holding the real Coran hostage inside the moon in an attempt to keep his enemies to remain there long enough for them to be destroyed with Tarvos.
    • It’s later revealed that he performed this once more in the series premiere, right after his false Lion was absorbed by Commander Kala, now turned into a spider Robeast by Maahox. When Kala merged with Wade’s machine, due to Wade controlling it with his mind, his and Kala’s minds actually merged together. At first, he resisted, but then he realized the potential he’d have in merging with Kala and gaining her as an ally. As a result of the merger, the two were able to speak telepathically and coordinate their future plans. Through Kala, Wade learned of Haggarium and how it could be used a tool for his plans. In “Lion Riders Return”, he used Haggarium granted to him by Kala to extract Corite metal from Planet Ariel, using the Corite to build a device that allowed him to take direct control of Voltron.
  • In Voltron: Legendary Defender, Lotor is a master at not only making plans, but quickly adjusting them in order to deal with changes in the situation that are beyond his control.
  • Nerissa from W.I.T.C.H. adjusts her season-long plan a few times, most notably in the season finale where she seizes an opportunity to free herself from The Starscream's imprisonment and get the heroes under her control, while congratulating herself on coming up with such a great plan on the fly. Too bad it's actually a Lotus-Eater Machine. (As you can see, Greg Weisman likes this trope a lot.)

    Real Life 
  • The German strategist Helmuth von Moltke the Elder once said "No plan survives first contact with the enemy." This quote is usually used to mean that the victorious general is the one who is better at playing Xanatos Speed Chess. Moltke himself preferred being Crazy-Prepared. Plan A will not survive first contact, so develop a Plan B for every single point of failure, then a fallback Plan C, and then develop some excess capacity in case none of your fifty plans are working.
  • Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington:
    "They planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid piece of harness. It looks very well, and answers very well, until it gets broken, and then you are done for. Now I made my campaigns of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot and went on."
  • Sun Tzu's The Art of War emphasizes the importance of adapting one's battle plans on the fly to adjust to sudden changes in battle.
    "Those who win thanks to tactics adapted to different situations can be called Masters of War."
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower
    "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."
  • Joe Louis, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
  • Erwin Rommel, General in the Wehrmacht and the original Magnificent Bastard, built his entire career and reputation on this. If he was ordered to take an objective he wouldn't just launch an attack and take it. He'd launch an attack and take it, then plan another attack to exploit any weaknesses he'd created, then plan another attack to exploit any more weaknesses he'd created, and keep on inventing new attack plans on the fly until the other side surrendered or his side quite literally ran out of gas.
    • Rommel was not alone in this, as it was an integral part of Blitzkrieg as devised by Guderian and the German doctrine emphasized including subordinates into the plan so they could improvise on the spot or take over should you fall. This was a large part of German success on the tactical level. Of course there were Speed Chess players amongst other armies as well, but to the Germans it was an integrated part of their doctrine.
      • Most professional modern militaries use it these days: the standard format for issuing orders includes the larger context, why the orders are being issued and what the goal is. This allows junior officers (and troops) to be aware of the ultimate objective so that they can respond on the fly to changing conditions.
    • Rommel's American counterpart, George Patton, was no slouch either. He stood out among the Allies' generals for his strategic prowess, so much that in the leadup to Operation Overlord he was put in charge of the decoy First Army in because Allied high command wanted the Germans to think it was the real deal. In fact, Harry Yeide's book Fighting Patton reveals that the Germans mostly didn't know or care who Patton was, but fortunately they still fell for the misdirection. Patton's crowning achievement was during the Battle of the Bulge, where he moved to relieve the besieged 101st Airborne Division defending the city of Bastogne, a vital hub in the war effort that the loss of which would bring the entire Allied offensive to a screeching halt. At the same time, he was already engaged with several German infantry and armored divisions to the south of Bastogne, and had to make sure that, even as he moved to relieve the 101st, the Germans would still remain effectively stalled so they would not realize he was pulling back, and along with all of this, he was dealing with Allied supply lines stretched thin, with his tanks literally outrunning the fuel trucks supplying them, and with that he had 100 miles of what could loosely be termed as "roads" between him and the 101st, and doing all of this in the coldest part of the European winter. He dealt with all of this, and more, attacking the Germans at their flanks in Bastogne and breaking the seige, and preserving the Allied lines. Magnificent Bastard indeed.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. Not just between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but internally between the hardliners and moderates of each government. Adaptation is of the highest priority if "chess" here is more defined as "a Lensman Arms Race that involves getting nuked into oblivion for the littlest mistake."
  • It's unclear whether President Anwar Sadat of Egypt planned the October War of 1973 (known as the Yom Kippur War in Israel and many other places) as one of these, or if his actions afterward were just a very successful Indy Ploy, but either way, it turned out like this. The main Egyptian goal in '73 was recapturing the Sinai Peninsula (and, if possible, to destroy Israel), so Egypt launched an invasion across the Suez Canal on Yom Kippur, the one day when the Israelis with Infrared Missiles would be praying, fasting, and at services (Yom Kippur is the most significant Jewish 'holiday' as a day of repentance, remembrance, and introspection). This allowed Egyptian forces to retake a substantial proportion of the Sinai (until bad generalship screwed things up and allowed the IDF to push them back out), but the first few days were just enough of a victory that Sadat could claim just enough political capital to allow him to start peace negotiations with Israel...and get back the Sinai (if Israel and Egypt are at peace, Israel doesn't need the Sinai as a buffer). Whether he knew this all along or just took advantage of opportunities as they came up is unclear, but either way, it really was a win-win (until Sadat got an assassin's bullet to the head for his trouble...oh, well).
    • You might argue that he could have just asked for peace. That would be wrong. It's questionable whether the Israelis would have accepted a peace deal had he offered it — despite official policy statements, some members of the Cabinet (e.g. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who famously said "Israel has no foreign policy — only defense policy") might not have been so willing to take the deal. Even assuming that the Israelis' rhetoric matched their intentions, there's the matter of whether the Egyptians would have accepted a deal; the 1967 War was a humiliating defeat, and it would be difficult to sell a peace agreement to his people and even to the other generals who ran the government — it would be regarded as giving in to Israel's holding Sinai hostage. Starting a war with Israel in which Egypt won substantial military victories early on was necessary to show that Egypt and Israel were on an equal footing militarily, allowing any deal with Israel to be an agreement of equals rather than blackmail. Once the war started and the early victories assured, however, the path to securing Sinai was assured — either by military conquest (with the final peace treaty saleable because Egypt would be the victor) or by negotiation (as part of a negotiated settlement after an armistice seen as honorable because both sides had bloodied each other enough to show rough parity).
  • The American Civil War general, George B. McClellan subverted this. He believed that victory went to the commander who outsmarted his enemy. McClellan was always trying to decide what old Lee would have done and then come up with a really elaborate counterstrike that would wreck his plans. But his methods led to a loss as to what the objective was, leading him to pass up opportunities where all that was needed was a direct attack following a plan no more complicated than "keep shooting until the other side is all dead".
    • William T. Sherman's march through Atlanta was an example of this. His adversary, Joseph Johnston, was the finest defensive general that the Confederacy could field. Rather than attacking him outright, Sherman adopted maneuver tactics. Johnston would set up a defense, and Sherman would go around him. The one major assault Sherman launched, the Union was driven back. In the end, he won the game — the Confederate government got fed up, replaced Johnston with John Bell Hood, a "fighting" general... and Sherman whipped him quite soundly.
  • The best players in team-based sports demonstrate this ability, specifically, team-based sports that have a main method of play be passing the ball from player-to-player. To use skilled quarterbacks in American Football as an example: first, every throwing play is designed to give the quarterback multiple players to throw the ball to. The QB is expected to go quickly through his progressions to see who is open. Second, many quarterbacks will try to read defenses before the ball is snapped, and if they think the play they are about to run will be ineffective, will audible to a different play. Third, some particularly mobile quarterbacks will decide to run with the ball. Sometimes this is a last-ditch effort when nobody is open, but other times it is the core concept of an offense, since the threat of such runs can force defenses to devote defenders away from potential receivers in future plays. Fourth, quarterbacks will use body language, particularly where they're looking, to get defenders to move away from their actual intended play and open up opportunities elsewhere. And fifth, the really good quarterbacks will use ball placement and chemistry with their receivers to change the play mid-throw, something generally referred to as "throwing your receiver open".


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Alternative Title(s): Gambit Speed Chess


"Luckily, I love to improvise"

Anarky quickly adapts his plan when Batman places a huge dent into it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

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Main / XanatosSpeedChess

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