Reverse psychology is a hell of a trip. The Empty Fort Strategy is a Chinese military tactic that uses trickery to outwit its opponents. Undermanned and ill-defended? No problem! Make it look like you’re staging an ambush and freak your attackers out.

Cao Cao and the wide-open gate

In 195 AD, the warlord Lu Bu was attacking his rival Cao Cao. Lu Bu approached Cao Cao’s fort with 10,000 troops. Cao Cao had less than 1,000 men to defend the fort. He had sent most of his troops out to collect grain. Cao Cao ordered all available soldiers and women to defend the fort’s walls.

He left the gate open as if he was staging an ambush. Lu Bu noticed a forest to the west of the fort. He assumed that the rest of Cao Cao’s men were hiding in the trees waiting to strike. Lu Bu abandoned the attack.

Lu Bu’s a sucker times two

When Lu Bu returned the next day, the fort appeared normal. Lu Bu assumed that the troops had returned to guard the fort. He decided it was safe to attack.

This time, Cao Cao had the time to set up an ambush. His troops lurked in the shadows of the nearby forest. Lu Bu’s 10,000-man army fell into the trap and was defeated. The Empty Fort Strategy was born!

Cao Cao gets a taste of his own medicine

In 219, Cao Cao attacked rival warlord Zhao Yun’s caravan. Zhao Yun was outnumbered and retreated to his camp with Cao Cao’s men in pursuit. When Zhao Yun’s forces reached the gate, he ordered it to be left open and for the war drums to be silenced.

When Cao Cao reached the camp, he assumed that an ambush had been staged. As Cao Cao retreated, Zhao Yun launched a counterattack. Cao Cao’s men scattered in panic and were defeated. The master trickster was outmaneuvered by his own strategy.