Know When to Fold'Em

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Some people need more convincing than others.

You've got to...
Know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run

An Aesop having to do with how You Can't Fight Fate. Knowing when to just let go is a useful skill. Good luck trying to tell that to the Determinator. The Fatalist on the other hand is quite aware of this wisdom.

The Trope Namer is the Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler," which uses poker as a metaphor for life.

The Determinator, if presented as a flaw, will rarely if ever Know When to Fold'Em, even when it would be beneficial. Compare You Were Trying Too Hard, which is about situations where folding somehow causes you to win the pot.

See also Screw This, I'm Outta Here, Villain Exit Stage Left, Opt Out, I Surrender, Suckers, Graceful Loser, I Will Fight No More Forever, Run or Die. Listed as #36 (and probably the first made) of The Thirty-Six Stratagems.

Examples of Know When to Fold'Em include:

Anime and Manga

  • In an episode of Digimon Adventure 02, Takeru successfully convinces all but one of the Chosen group to make a strategic withdrawal. Subverted when Daisuke, the one who isn't convinced, succeeds despite ignoring the logic, but only through pure dumb luck.
    • As the goggle-headed Hot-Blooded protagonist, "defy all logic and win via pure plot convenience" is basically Davis/Daisuke's job description. Tai, Takuya, and Marcus would approve. (Digimon Tamers' place on the Sliding Scale meant it did things a little differently.) Also apparent in the Intercontinuity Crossover with the Alternate Universe manga 'Digimon Adventure V-Tamer 01. Not even getting cautioned by both Takeru and Hikari dissuades him from taking rash action. Gets funny later when the alternate universe version of Taichi, Diasuke's role model, has the sense to immediately retreat when faced with an enemy he has difficulty defeating—much to the shock and disgruntlement of Daisuke.
  • In Ranma ½ this is known as the Saotome Secret Technique, employed by the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts. It relies on speed, obfuscation, and contemplation. Or, put more plainly, run away and hide until you come up with a better plan. While introduced mostly as a joke early on, this is actually Ranma's most useful skill, as most of his fights are won less through sheer skill (Having just learned how to fight with teacups and teaspoons a few days ago), and more through outsmarting his opponents.
  • Similar to the one above, in the manga JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Joseph final super special plan consists of basically making the best use of his legs. In other words, to run the hell away. He usually comes up with a better plan while he's at it. It also seems to be hereditary.
  • In the Pokémon anime, it is stated on numerous occasions that it is a trainer's duty to end the battle if there is any serious danger to their Pokémon (the first battles with Brock, Sabrina, and Blaine all ended in this fashion). However, this is pretty much a Broken Aesop as Ash will determinate himself through anything, even winning one badge when Pryce forfeited despite Ash ignoring the option to do the same earlier.
    • Ash was also berated for making his Treecko continue to fight Brawly's Makuhita Hariyama despite Treecko having no chance to win. It didn't help that he was almost ready to give up before, but Treecko got up anyway.
      • Ash was pretty pissed at himself for making that decision to continue after he lost. We do run into the problem that Ash's Pokémon take after his personality; they all hate to give up.
    • Recently, the Team Rocket trio has actually began doing this. When things start going too far south, they get the heck of there instead of fighting until they're sent blasting off. It's worked much better for them.
    • Also bit Ash in the ass during his first full battle with Paul. Ash was once going to withdraw Buizel, since it had taken massive damage from Paul's Ax Crazy Ursaring. This would have been the logical thing to do, but Buizel gives Ash the thumbs up, signaling it can still fight. Ash leaves Buizel in, and it gets massacred. Ash was called out on this by Paul's brother Reggie who stated that Buizel was eliminated due to poor judgment by Ash. Moral: The trainer is responsible for knowing when a Pokemon should be switched out, and relying simply on faith in your Pokemon doesn't cut it when the odds are stacked against you.
    • Speaking of Paul, he actually does know when to cut his losses, when his emotions aren't getting the better of him. After Cynthia completely annihilates Paul's Pokemon, he decides to concede the battle after seeing there is a massive difference in skill and power. Keep in mind, Cynthia is the most powerful trainer in the Sinnoh region, so there's no shame is losing to her at all.
  • Early on in Eyeshield 21, Monta learns that it's okay to give up playing baseball because he's just bad at it and find a sport he can be good at instead. Forfeiting the match against the Hakushuu Dinosaurs is also the reason Taiyo Sphinx quarterback Kiminari Harao is still walking properly; If he had kept the game going, the Dinosaurs' monstrous Rikiya Gaou would've definitely crippled him. The Sphinx had no other option but to forfeit as they had no linemen left.
    • In a literal gambling example, Hiruma folds in a poker game against Clifford when he realizes that Clifford has the winning hand (hopefully this isn't foreshadowing.)
  • Similarly, an ep of Ojamajo Doremi has perennial athlete Aiko give up her spot to Hazuki in a swim relay. Despite Hazuki taking the lead, she cramps in the homestretch.
  • When Chrono and Rosete of Chrono Crusade are ambushed by an enemy, Chrono tells Rosette urgently that they have to retreat. Rosette—being a Determinator—argues with him, shouting "Why are you saying we should give up?!" She then grabs his arm as he tries to take her away. This distracts him and gives their opponent a chance to shoot at Chrono, nearly killing him. Things only go downhill from there.
  • One of the big Aesops of Infinite Ryvius.
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is an insanely Badass Determinator, but is rational enough to walk away from a fight once he's exhausted every other option. This is the principle difference between him and Kamina.
  • Code Geass - One of Lelouch Lamperouge's flaws is his inability to back down. This stems from a personal variation on the Sunken Costs Fallacy (see below): if he doesn't achieve his goals, then all the people who died aiding him will have their deaths rendered meaningless. That, and he simply refuses to accept defeat.
    • He plays it straight during the Battle of Narita by ordering a retreat after Kallen losing her Radiant Surger Wave claw in a Diabolus Ex Machina. He knows full well that in spite of his side's tactical advantage this battle, continuing would be a war of attrition. Exactly one season later, Schneizel himself orders a retreat, only in this case on account of Zero inciting a rebellion in China via publicly exposing the eunuchs' plans, knowing that the eunuchs are nothing without the support of the public.
    • Also, while Lelouch hates backing down once a battle has started, he also recognises that he is hopelessly outmatched in terms of brute strength, so generally prefers to use guerilla tactics. In addition to the Battle of Narita, there are a few other times when he doesn't continue to press his advantage because it would become a war of attrition, and his battles often end with him ordering his forces to use various pre-planned escape routes, showing that he does fully appreciate the necessity of retreating, even if he hates doing it.
  • In chapter 206 of Fairy Tail, Natsu, of all people, surrenders after realizing just how great the gap between him and Gildartz really is. Good thing it was a Secret Test of Character meant to test Natsu's judgment, and he passed.
  • Knowing when he no longer has anything to gain by continuing to fight is one of the things that makes Neo Roanoke one of the most effective tacticians in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny.
    • One of his subordinates, Sting Oakley is this to the rest of the Extended trio. Auel and Stella will fight to the end, but Sting is smart enough to know when the battle is going against them, and typically bails soon afterwards, taking the other two with him.
  • The "Unknown Enemy" of Gundam AGE don't bother fighting battles they know they can't win. Only once has an entire UE attack force been wiped out in the course of a battle, and that's because they were blindsided by two extremely powerful mobile suits they had no way of predicting. In every other case, they've retreated the moment the battle started going against them.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, this occurs during the Yugi's two-episode duel against Rebecca Hawkins, who contested that his grandfather Solomon had stolen one of the four Blue-Eyes White Dragons in the world from her grandfather Arthur previously. With his Dark Magician about to be destroyed by Rebecca's Shadow Ghoul unless he acts, Yugi instead chooses to surrender.
    • Coincidentally, Arthur and Solomon were once trapped in a tomb and dueling for their remaining supply of water. As Solomon explains near the end, the duel had gone much the same way as their grandchildren's, right down to where he surrendered to Arthur, believing his friend needed the water more. Arthur himself then appears, explaining that had given his "Blue-Eyes" to Solomon as a token of friendship. For good measure, he reveals that Yugi could have won if he so chose,[1] and uses the moment to teach his granddaughter that there is more to life than winning.
  • Toga from My Hero Academia might be crazy, but she still had the sense to withdraw after enemy reinforcements arrived. It may be worth noting she feared for her life, but her opponents are legally obliged to take her alive (or not take her at all).
  • One Piece:
    • In the East Blue arc where Sanji was introduced, the armored pirate "Foul Play' Don Krieg (who's as rotten as his title implies) barges onto Zeff's restaurant-ship demanding food for his crew of fifty men. Several of the staff try to drive him off, but are curb-stomped quickly. Eventually, Zeff decides to do the smart thing, and simply give him what he wants, bringing out the food and telling him sternly to take it and go. Unfortunately, this makes it worse, as Don Krieg recognizes Zeff as the former captain of the Cook Pirates, and now wants to stay around for a different reason.
    • Of course, Kreig himself does not know when to fold em, even if his crew does. When Dracule "Hawkeye" Mihawk (the legendary greatest swordsman in the world) shows up pursuing Krieg due to boredom. Later on, Mihawk has fought Zoro, Luffy's crewmate and no slouch at swordplay himself, and despite seriously curb-stomping Zoro is impressed by his spirit. When Krieg tries to attack Hawkeye again (ignoring how the last time his crew fought Hawkeye, it cost him his entire fleet save one ship), Krieg's men start begging him to just let Hawkeye leave unmolested, telling him "For the love of God, if the man wants to leave, let him leave!"

Comic Books

  • God gives the eponymous character an epic put down in the last issue of the Lucifer series, using the tale of Buddha and the Monkey King to illustrate the foolishness of fighting someone that you could never conceivably defeat. Lucifer counters that he lost with pride at least, the validity of which is up to the readers to decide.
  • Simply having the presence of mind to recognize when to back down is considered a strength among many Micromasters in Transformers Generation 1; Swindler of the Race Car patrol knows when he's beat. Detour of the Sports Car patrol is a bit of a coward, but can tell when the other shoe's about to drop, too.
  • All-Star Superman: This is Superman's answer to the riddle of the Ultra-Sphinx.

Ultra-Sphinx: Question: What happens when the Unstoppable Force meets the Inmoveable Object?
Superman: They surrender.
Ultra-Sphinx: Answer acceptable.

  • Both Romans and Pirates in the Asterix comics give up fighting at some point. The pirates are infamous for sinking their own ship once they realise there are gauls on the other vessel and they can't run away fast enough.
  • At least twice Marvel comics has used the schtick that an alien force is intent on invading Earth only for one person doing the research to realize they are trying to invade a planet that has defended itself successfully, multiple times, against other invading aliens, multiple galactic empires (at the same time), cosmic entities no one else in the universe has ever managed to even slow down, and is home to entities capable of eating stars, assorted deities, and a Watcher who thinks the planet rocks so much he's actually done stuff instead of merely observing. One time the fleet commander listens and does a u-turn. Another, not so much. The invasion is defeated by three X-Men (one of them drunk).
    • Made literal in the latter case when one group of the invaders backs off when faced with a lethal bet in a card game against Wolverine.

Computer: Requested files from Imperial Shi'ar infobank now integrated and online. Precis follows. Objective has been the site of numerous hostile incursions by such star-faring races as the Kree, Skrull, Aakon, Badoon - among many others - resulting uniformly in defeat for the aggressors.
Archivist: What?
Computer: Further, objective planet has successfully repulsed multiple assaults by the World-Devourer, Galactus. It is the only planet known to do so.
Archivist: WH-A-AT?!?
Computer: Further, objective is the homeworld of Galactus' current Herald, identifying nomenclature 'Nova'. Further, objective is reputed to be the adopted homeworld of the Phoenix.
Archivist: WHA-A-AT?!? We're doomed! We're lost! We're mad to put ourselves against such an orb!

  • The Dragon from the third Blue Beetle series advocated just up and leaving when it became clear they weren't in control of the situation. The Big Bad always shot down his suggestion that they quit while they were ahead.
  • This is a part of what has always made Doctor Doom such a capable antagonist. Unlike most supervillains, Doom can recognise when the plan has gone south and it's time to leave. Yeah, Reed Richards is still alive, and you don't have what you came here for. It doesn't matter. It's time to go. Long before he had his diplomatic immunity, Doom regularly got away by having planned his escape in advance, and leaving the minute he was in danger of being surrounded.
  • Reed Richards once contacted an alien invasion fleet right before they were about to attack Earth. In the middle of introducing himself, the aliens realised who he was (the supergenius leader of the group that has foiled other alien invasions and Galactus himself) and wisely got the hell away from Earth.
  • DC's version of the trope, had the Reach, who plan centuries-long infiltrations of their targets, get exposed by the Blue Beetle to Earth government's. The humans demand the aliens surrender. Knowing they can't even defeat the regular forces of human governments, let alone the superheroes of Earth, they do.

Fan Works

  • In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Daimonji was the only member of the photography ring who gave up rather than resisting. He got off the lightest.
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX fanfic The Ultimate School Duels, Hassleberry folds against the OC Backfire in their duel when he realized he had no way he could win against his supreme monster. However, it was due to this action of Knowing When to Fold'em that ultimately got him the position they both were dueling for.


  • Subverted in WarGames, when Stephen Falken says, "Now, children, come on over here. I'm going to tell you a bedtime story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Once upon a time, there lived a magnificent race of animals that dominated the world through age after age. They ran, they swam, and they fought and they flew, until suddenly, quite recently, they disappeared. Nature just gave up and started again. We weren't even apes then. We were just these smart little rodents hiding in the rocks. And when we go, nature will start over. With the bees, probably. Nature knows when to give up, David." He claims that the computer he built will not realize in time, as humanity hadn't, that it is impossible to win a Thermonuclear war. Eventually, he is convinced to help avert the crisis, and the computer learns the nature of acceptable futility through being unable to win millions of perfect-play games of Tic-Tac-Toe and nuclear war scenarios.

JOSHUA: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

    • Of course, at that point the Russians could have won because the United States' missile system was crippled by a computer that wouldn't "play".
  • Done with Picard in Star Trek: First Contact, who became Captain Ahab IN SPACE! when the Borg are around.
  • Oddly enough, this trope is included in The Wizard of Oz, when the Wizard points out to the Cowardly Lion that he's confusing cowardice with wisdom—running away from a situation that's clearly going to get you harmed or killed is obviously the smart thing to do. This trope is also present in Baum's original version as a subtext—the Lion is deeply afraid of the Kelidas roaming the forest, and does his best to avoid them... but the fact that they're twice his size and have the heads of tigers and the bodies of bears suggests that avoiding them might be the smart thing to do until you can find a better way of handling it, which the Lion does with the help of Dorothy and her friends.
  • In the film (and comic) Watchmen, when the villain dramatically reveals his evil plan, one by one the heroes accept that he is right that the only way they prevent the plan's success is by revealing it to the general public... which will save no one and possibly destroy the world. The final hero is a deontologist and so believes that people should be told the truth, no matter the cost. Naturally, he announces this to the villain. His death is swift.[2] Everyone else Knew When To Fold Em -- they get to go home and mope.
  • Danny DeVito's great counter-speech to Gregory Peck's more idealistic plea in Other People's Money. "We're dead all right. We're just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure."
  • Duncan and Charlie in Mystery Team.
  • Would you believe that the film version of The Return of the King contained this during its production? Peter Jackson's crew, to make filming the large-scale war scenes easier without requiring thousands of extras on hand, developed software that rendered virtual armies that would act out their simulated battles, complete with an A.I. which would cause each unit to "think" independantly and decide the best course of action. Unfortunately, for those opposing Sauron's forces, their A.I. worked too well—so hopelessly outnumbered, all of the soldiers fighting on the Fellowship's side turned tail and ran as soon as the battles started.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, the Red Skull activates the self-destruct measures in his base and prepares to flee when he realizes that the prisoners are revolting and are being led by Captain America. When Zola questions his actions, he responds by simply stating that their forces are outmatched.
  • In The Avengers, after recovering from his brutal beatdown by the Hulk and when cornered by the rest of the heroes, Loki simply asks Tony Stark for that drink he offered earlier.


  • The mountain in The Farthest-Away Mountain, which would always stay the same distance away as long as you kept going toward it. You had to turn around and go the other way to get there.
  • Dianna Wynne Jones' Charmed Life also has a garden that stays the same distance away no matter how long you travel towards it. It is bespelled so as to be inaccessible to people trying to reach it, so those trying to enter only suceeded when they had given up on doing so.
  • The No Ending (except for that of the main plot) of the last A Series of Unfortunate Events book. Sorry, you'll never (ever) get all the answers, just accept it as it is...
  • In Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, Alice can't get to the hills where the chess game is being played. She keeps on getting stuck at the house again. Then she tries to find the house, and finds herself on the hill.
  • This is an explicit theme of From a Buick 8: Some things just can't be explained, like that Buick 8 in the police impound that shoots lightning, makes people disappear, and causes Cosmic Horror aliens to materialize from nowhere. Then the climax completely undermines this message.
  • In Meredith Ann Pierce's Firebringer Trilogy, the greatest and most legendary figure in the history of the unicorns is the princess Halla. Four hundred years before the events of the books Halla's people's lands were invaded by wyverns, first in secret, then in open warfare. When it becomes clear that the wyverns are too dangerous to continue fighting (they have poisonous stings and what amounts to armor under the skin), Halla orders the unicorns to withdraw and leave their lands to the wyverns until the time comes that the unicorns are capable of meeting them in more evenly matched combat. The main character of the Trilogy's been raised on her story all his life, but still can't quite stomach the part of the legend where Halla orders the retreat for the sake of survival.
  • Atlas Shrugged does this with Dagny's obstinate refusal to abandon Taggart Transcontinental as a lost cause, despite all the evidence of its decline and predictions of its imminent demise (which turn out to be true). Dagny is eventually convinced to leave it all behind, but Eddie Willers never learns to leave the dying railroad/dying world and presumably dies with it.
  • The Hunt for Red October: the Soviet admiral orders the fleet to avoid harrassing the Americans after a heavy cruiser is subjected to a false attack. He knows the Soviet navy is wasting time that is needed to find the Red October and will be destroyed if the Americans decide to attack for real. The American admiral later says: "they make the first move, we up the ante, they just plain fold."
  • Timothy Zahn has a few characters who do this. In The Thrawn Trilogy, Thrawn knows when a battle has been lost and, unlike most Imperial commanders, withdraws without wasting his men - sure, he's got reserves, but why spend them without a need? Pellaeon, back during the Battle of Endor, had found himself to be the highest-ranked survivor and had ordered the retreat. And of course during the Hand of Thrawn duology, Pellaeon was the one to look at his Imperial Remnant and decide to make peace with the NewRepublic, ending the war.

Thrawn: "You were expecting, perhaps, that I'd order an all-out attack? That I would seek to cover our defeat in a frenzy of false and futile heroics?"
Pellaeon: "Of course not."
Thrawn: "We haven't been defeated, Captain. Merely slowed down a bit."

  • A continuing theme in Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series is that sometimes you have to abandon an ambition in order to achieve other ambitions and/or live a fulfilling life. The main character of "Bitten", the first book, spends her character development deciding which of her conflicting desires to pursue and which to abandon. In later books, the trope is more subtle, but still reoccurs often.
  • In the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Kobayashi Maru, this is essentially Sulu's resolution. He decides the whole thing is a trap and elects not to enter the Neutral Zone.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: Owen Orzell in Home Free knew that he had no chance of winning once the Vigilantes caught him. As bonus points, he reveals that he gambles, tries to be very careful not to get addicted, and so he would clearly understand this trope very well.

Live-Action TV

Garak: "There comes a time when the odds are against you and the only reasonable course of action is to quit! That's why I managed to stay alive, while most of my colleagues are dead! Because I know when to walk away."

    • Star Fleet abandoning the Deep Space Nine station.
    • Likewise when the Dominion abandoned the station.
  • Practically a catchphrase of Commander Adama in the revived Battlestar Galactica. In the miniseries pilot Roslin convinces Adama that retaking The Colonies is hopeless, and their best hope is to escort humanity's survivors somewhere safe from the Cylons. In You Can't Go Home Again, Adama is forced to concede that the search and rescue mission for Starbuck is hopeless. And in Lay Down Your Burdens Lee makes the point that two ships with skeleton crews cannot hope to hold off a Cylon invasion fleet.
    • Also in the revived Battlestar Galactica, the reason Tom Zarek was such a thorn in Roslin and Adama's side for all four seasons, is that he recognized when he shouldn't overextend himself, and was simply smart enough to quit while he was relatively ahead. For example he wanted to assassinate Roslin outside the Tomb of Athena, but once Commander Adama and his men showed up he realized it was too risky and simply dropped the plan. One of Zarek's goons even urges that they go through with it anyway, but Zarek cites this trope... the goon tries on his own initiative, and gets killed.
  • This comes up in the original Battlestar Galactica, too. Commander Cain (Lloyd Bridges) is in command of the other surviving Battlestar, the Pegasus, and wants to launch an offensive. Cain is brilliant, but wrong; as Adama (Lorne Greene) points out, two Battlestars, encumbered by a refugee fleet that is essentially defenseless and that houses the last survivors of their people, can't win a war against the Cylon Empire. They must run or die, and Cain eventually realizes that Adama is right.
  • Oddly, Full House once used An Aesop very similar to this. Stephanie works hard to prepare for a school Spelling Bee. She doesn't just lose, she doesn't even get her first word right ("mnemonic"). Not willing to admit to being second-best, she challenges the winner to a private match. She loses again, on another word with a silent letter ("sarsaparilla"). The Aesop: "It's okay to lose, because no matter how good you get at something, there will always be someone else who is better."
    • And that words with silent letters are tricky.
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
    • Master Vile. He actually realized fairly quickly that he wasn't going to beat the Power Rangers, and he'd be better off cutting his losses and going home to his galaxy, where evil always wins. It can just as easily come off as him acting like a kid who throws a fit and goes home in frustration.
    • Goldar. One reason, it seems, why he lasted so long as enforcer for both Rita and Zedd is because he was smart enough to retreat when a battle turned aganst him, a trait that the typical Monster of the Week clearly does not have.
  • The episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Reese gets driving lessons. The A-plot involves Reese's annoying co-student not letting him have any time behind the wheel - and when he finally gets his chance, someone rear-ends him by mistake. He assumes he caused the crash, panics, and ends up being followed by the police. The B-plot consists of Francis coming up with increasingly paper-thin excuses to get himself out of trouble. When Reese calls Francis for advice, Francis at first encourages him to keep looking for a way out - then, as everyone he's lied to marches into the room, he admits that sometimes the best you can do is end things "with class". This inspires Reese to return to the driving school, complete the obstacle course flawlessly, and then give himself up.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Dracula is powerful enough to survive being staked, but after Buffy manages to do it twice, he decides it's better to simply leave Sunnydale than continue the battle.
  • Doctor Who. Most of the time, "Run Away" is the initial tactic while trying to figure out something better. But also, as a specific example for the antagonists, 11th doctor, after a speech. Ending of speech: "Hello, I'm the Doctor. Basically, Run." They run.
  • This frequently happens on Pawn Stars to both the customers and the pawnbrokers alike when they're negotiating on a price for the customer's item. One of the parties will make a final offer when it comes to how much they'll pay or accept for the item, and then the other party has to decide whether to accept this final offer or simply break off the negotiations without making a deal.

Game Shows

  • In many game shows where All or Nothing is involved and/or contestants have the ability to stop playing and take what they won so far, you will get people that become greedy and try to aim for the big prize, only to lose everything or to keep playing against the odds because they figure they may as well go all the way instead of quitting.
  • Deal or No Deal is a big example of knowing when it is a good time to stop and take the banker's offer. Far too often there will be contestants that will keep turning down offers and keep playing, even if they knock off every big prize amount on the board. This is a common fallacy in people that believe if they already gone this far, they might as well keep going to the end and try to get the big prize no matter how much they have lost. Once in a while, you will see players that wise up and cut their losses by taking the money that is offered instead of pushing their luck.

Professional Wrestling

  • Most heels, when faced with a situation they can't overcome, will try and employ some method of escape such as intentionally getting themselves counted out or disqualified.


  • A possible Aesop in the classic play, Death of a Salesman, where Willy Loman is told in so many words that he should give up his misguided dream of being a popular salesman and find a better life. This is further reinforced by the fact that the play makes it obvious he would have been far more happy and successful as a construction tradesman.
  • In Electra, the main character is told by every character but Orestes to give up her mourning, to behave meekly and submit to the will of stronger people because she is only digging a deeper grave for herself. Instead, by the end of the play she becomes determined to kill her step-father herself rather than accept death with no hope of salvation.

Video Games

  • In many ways the Fatal Flaw of the villain of Tales of Symphonia, being a Deconstruction of The Determinator.
  • The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess: Lord Bulbin eventually realizes that he can't beat Link. He explains he always fights for the strongest side (with the implication that Link is now that strongest side), before he hands Link a key and leaves. Particularly surprising, as Bulbin had been the definition of a Recurring Boss up until that point.
  • Portal 2: GLaDOS decides that she is so sick of Chell that she doesn't want to kill her anymore, just get her out of her life. So she grants Chell her freedom in the hope that she never comes back.
  • Parodied in Poker Night At the Inventory. When The Heavy is knocked out of the tournament, he will occasionally reference a well-known song from his homeland: "You must know when to hold on to your cards, and you must know when to burn them in fire. Because if you lose, you bring insufferable shame to Republic, and are sent to a work camp in forest."
  • Knowing when to retreat is a valuable skill in Drifting Lands since retreating from a mission manually lets you keep everything you've looted so far, while being taken down makes you lose all of it. Getting especially cocky and replacing the Automatic Retreat passive ability with something else can get your ship permanently destroyed.

Web Comics

  • The Order of the Stick - Hinjo gets the Aesop - delivered using this exact phrase. His city has fallen, and he'd rather stand and go down fighting, but, as the leader of the city, he could better serve his people by surviving and retaking the city later.
    • The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the one that binds Redcloak. He refuses to give up, however many times he suffers personal losses and enables far more evil villains to prosper. If he did it would all be for nothing.
    • Redcloak's younger brother Right-Eye figured this out too. He went so far as to renounce the goblins' god the Dark One, believing that the god's plans for revenge and blackmail aren't worth the deaths of so many of their people.
    • Xykon has also learned this. When he is killed by Roy, he orders Redcloak and the Monster in the Darkness to retreat with his Soul Jar, rather than try to recapture Dorukan's dungeon. The reason is that there are other gates he can find that presumably don't require a person with a good alignment to activate them
  • Goblins - When facing down Mr. Fingers, Dies Horribly is perhaps better equipped to make a strategic determination than Grem.

Web Original

  • Phase, of the Whateley Universe, handles power mimic Counterpoint by avoiding fighting him, so the power mimic doesn't get Phase's powers. It turns out in another book that Phase does have a way of fighting a power mimic, but it's lethal.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender does this a lot:
    • The Gaang convince La Résistance after Omashu fell that living to fight another day would be better, and they help get the civilians out of the town.
    • When the invasion during the eclipse fails, the troops decide that Aang and his friends should flee with Appa, while the rest of them surrender instead of fighting a battle that has become impossible to win.
    • Same goes for the Firelord himself, who knows that an invasion is planned and that he and his guards will be severly weakened during the eclipse. So he decides to not be in his throne room. And not in his secret bunker either. Instead he hides in a second secret bunker and sit the whole thing out.
    • Also, when Aang comes to the conclusion that he won't be able to fully master his abilities before the day of the comet, he decides to let the enemies use their trump card and sit it out. But it turns out he doesn't have the luxury.
  • Used occasionally in the Jumanji animated series. In one instance, the main characters met a man who was trapped in the game and couldn't escape until he accepted the fact that he was stuck there forever ("Try as you might to escape your fate/You'll never pass through the gateless gate"). Once he gave up on getting free, he was freed. The kids once got a similar clue ("There's one way out, the price you know/Save yourselves and let it go"), which they solved when they chose not to obey it.
  • Winx Club has a textbook example of the dissonance between going down fighting and Knowing When To Fold Them: Timmy is threatening the Trix (pillaging a Codex from Red Fountain) with his weapon... until he realizes that the Trix are much more powerful than he is, and decides that he's better off figuring out a way to defeat them later. Tecna sees this and calls him a coward for not fighting. However, 4K simply discards this issue and replaces it with an anti-violence spell. Video.
    • Another episode sort of touches on it, by which we mean, we literally get one line that only kinda hints at it:

Tressa (daughter of said queen): I failed as a warrior and as a daughter. My friends were fighting to protect the queen. And I froze with fear!
Layla: Well, fear is a part of courage.

Again, 4K removes this (Layla's line now becomes "No one blames you"), and actually plays up the "Tressa is a coward, and it hurts her more since she's the queen's daughter" angle. Thankfully (maybe), this summary calls this version of the story out on it.
  • Hey Arnold! plays this card a few times:
    • "Phoebe Takes the Fall" has Helga making Phoebe throw the qualifier for a citywide academic bowl so she can get a chance to one-up her much-accomplished sister for once. After long and hard studying, mostly with Phoebe, she has a nightmare where Arnold confronts her during the quiz to ask her why she's competing instead of Phoebe. She lampshades the dream before dismissing it... but ends up feeling guilty for nipping Phoebe's chances in the bud and has Phoebe compete anyway. Despite being training-free, Phoebe wins, and on the very same question Helga's sister had missed, too.
    • "Harold vs. Patty" has Harold training with Patty, who had humiliated him in arm-wrestling, twice, in preparation for an arm-wrestling tournament. Guess who meets who in the finals? Patty beats Harold yet again, but this time, Harold stands up to the classmates who'd heckled him for his earlier two losses. Did we mention that Patty is a girl?
    • When in a non-stop contest against his wife. Coach Jack states he first got to date his now wife by forfeiting the game and letting her win. He later does this at the end of the episode and they get back together.
  • Transformers Prime gives us Silas, head of the terrorist organization M.E.C.H. He's made no secret his desire to obtain Cybertronian tech for his own ends. However, if it looks as if the tide of battle is turning against him, he has no problem ordering a strategic withdrawal, happy to use what information he's gleaned for the next encounter. It's notable that Optimus Prime compares him to Megatron.
  • One Looney Tunes cartoon with Sylvester and Tweety ends with Sylvester deciding to quit chasing the bird and go to a restaurant for spaghetti.
  • In the Series Finale of the Netflix reboot of Carmen Sandiego: when Acme finally raids V.I.L.E.'s headquarters, most of their leaders try to fight back or flee, only to be nabbed quickly. Countess Cleo, however, doesn't bother making a fool of herself, waiting in her quarters and lifting her hands in surrender when they break down the door.
  • Batman: The Animated Series gives us the smartest mook in Gotham.

Real Life

  • The Soviet Union implemented the Sinatra Doctrine when the Eastern Bloc nations began showing greater independence in the 1980s. The politburo was dealing with economic problems and could not risk an internal uprising.
  • A story told to John Cleese during his school days: Two Roman wrestlers had been fighting for such a substantial length of time that the match had degraded to the two combatants doing little more than leaning into one another. When one wrestler finally tapped-out and pulled away from his opponent, it was only then that he and the crowd realized the other man was, in fact, dead and had effectively won the match posthumously. The moral of the tale, according to Cleese's teacher, was that, "If you never give up, you can't possibly lose" — a statement that, Cleese reflected, always struck him as being "philosophically unsound".
    • The funny thing is, this was actually historically true at the Ancient Greek Olympics in boxing, wrestling and pankration (a hybrid sport, similar to modern Mixed Martial Arts). The match went on until one fighter surrendered, unless one of the fighters actually died, in which case the dead one won—after all, you can't surrender if you're dead.[3] It's the same philosophy that informed the old warning of Spartan wives to their husbands: "Return with your shield, or on it!"—in other words, win (carrying your shield) or die (your body returned to Sparta atop your shield), but in no case surrender (throwing your shield away to beat a hastier retreat).
  • Regarding the Trope Namer in Poker, to "fold" is to pitch in your cards, conceding defeat and avoiding any further rounds of betting. If you don't know when to fold, you will lose all your chips/money betting on bad hands. It is sometimes best to fold even when you literally have an ace in the hole (i.e., in the hidden part of your hand).
  • Blend an inability to do this with You Fail Logic Forever and you get the Sunk Cost Fallacy. "I can't give up now, I've already invested far too much in this!" The fallacy is not realizing that while winning it back is one possible outcome, losing just as much again, or even more, is another. You need to work out the relative probabilities, which is why poker is such a good analogy.
  • Invoked by Sarah Palin during her speech explaining why she was resigning as governor of Alaska.
  • Tragically averted by both sides in World War I, especially in the first three calendar years (1914–16), when NOBODY knew how to quit. It nearly broke the French, reduced the Germans from the finest army on Earth to a mass of conscripts, and scratched the British Empire's can-do spirit of optimism raw. Subverted in 1918, as both sides were well aware that Germany had one more good throw of the dice — but one only — and that whoever won (or, in the Allies' case, didn't lose), the battles of the March Offensive would wreck the opposing side and win the war.
    • Germany finally decided to fold and sued for an armistice while still occupying almost all of Belgium and a good chunk of northeastern France. They had the good sense to quit before their own territory was invaded. Too bad they learned exactly the wrong lesson from this.
    • On the note of World War II, there was the British retreat across the Channel at Dunkirk, and large portions of the German military folded in the last weeks of the European campaign.
  • During the Persian Gulf War, much of the Iraqi military invoked this trope as soon as they could find someone to surrender to. Justified because most of their troops were under-equipped and untrained conscripts, who wouldn't have wanted to fight even if they hadn't been overwhelmingly outgunned by Coalition forces.
    • At that point as well, most of them had been left in the desert with dwindling ammo and supplies and ordered to fight to the death. They weighed their options and decided being a POW was a far better choice than starving to death in the desert or getting shot for a cause that was already lost. American soldiers reported them jumping over their defensive walls, waving white flags and thanking them while kissing their boots.
  • This trope is the reason The Thirty-Six Stratagems even exists. Some dude in Ancient China was not doing well in battle, so his strategist tells him: "Of the thirty six (i.e. various) strategies out there, a tactical retreat would be the wisest course of action", appealing to a (then not really existent) list. Later generations would go on to speculate what the other thirty five might be.
  • The abhorrence of this trope was actually one of the reasons why Imperial Japan lost faster in WWII. Since the Imperial Japanese military defined honor as "do not surrender, ever," they wasted entire armies in suicidal headlong rushes at American positions. Yes, it made life Hell for the American forces, but it depleted the Japanese forces far faster than it would have had they opted for hit-and-run tactics and allowed their men to retreat and regroup. But after two cities of the homeland being destroyed by a single bomb each, even the Emperor had to admit that the war "has turned out not necessarily in our favor". And even then, elements in the military attempted a coup d'etat to force the Japanese government into continuing to the death.
  1. The card he drew prior to surrendering was Soul Release, which can banish 5 cards from either player's Graveyard - Shadow Ghoul gains 100 ATK for each monster in the controller's Graveyard, and this would have lowered its ATK enough for Dark Magician to attack and destroy it.
  2. though he pretty much invited the others to kill him because he also knew deep down that revealing the plan would do more harm than good, his absolute system of morals meant he would have to do it anyway
  3. Moreover, since bouts could be really brutal and had very few rules, especially pankration, this gave the combatants an incentive to show some restraint.