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Chain Together the Enemy's Warships


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Chain Together the Enemy's Warships

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 35

This group: Stratagems for Desperate Straits
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Turn the enemy's strengths into weaknesses. Be innovative in finding ways to encumber, distract and neutralize superior forces.

If they have a large and cumbersome army, keep them moving. If they have good communications, take them to places where communicating is difficult. If they have heavy machinery, lead them over boggy ground. Let them take a strategic position that is hard to defend.

Let them become complacent about their strengths before undermining them. In this way they will be left with no alternatives and will become confused and in chaos when you neutralize their strengths.

This strategy can also be about having multiple stratagems yourself. Keep your options open by operating several parallel plans, so that if one fails, others will keep you going.

You can also create confusion by having a chain of different stratagems, so just as they are finding ways to counter one stratagem another is being applied.


This is the thirty-fifth stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Desperate Straits

Alternative names

Chain Stratagems

Interlocking Stratagems

The Tactic of Combining Tactics

Scheme in Continuous Circles

Or even:

Keep Your Options Open

Trip Them Up With Their Own Shoelaces 


Pang Tong advised Cao Cao to help overcome seasickness of his many soldiers as they navigated the Yangtze by chaining boats together, fifty at at time, to form large and more stable fighting platforms. However, Pang Tong had already allied with the smaller army of Zhou Yu who sent fire ships to destroy Cao Cao's greater force.

When the superior Jin cavalry were attacking, the inferior Song troops scattered black beans on the ground which the cavalry horses stopped to eat, making the mounted force a sitting duck.

The Russians retreated before both Napoleon and Hitler, leaving them mired in endless miles of mud as the bitter Russian winter sapped their will. When the enemy was severely weakened, the Russians counter-attacked.


No strength is always a strength in all situations. Even having a surfeit of money can make a company ripe for takeover or they may be tempted into poor and distracting acquisitions.

When things are chained together, the fate of one affects the whole. If you can create linkage, then a small effort can spread far and wide.

Having multiple strategies can be confusing for the enemy who is trying to work out what you are doing now and will be doing next. It can also be very demoralizing for them as you seem to have an endless store of innovative and effective actions to unleash on them. In many ways, innovation can be a fair substitute for resource, and can allow a smaller army defeat a far larger force.

In business, there are many ways to encumber the competition, for example by creating markets that are hard to enter and sponsoring standards with which you already comply yet others will have to work hard to achieve.

Multiple strategies are best used when you are testing markets and where they are relatively inexpensive. A danger with these is where they confuse customers and so lead to a loss in brand value.

See also

Cause-and-Effect Reasoning


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