In almost all cases, the fencer who wins a particular bout will have more reasons to feel satisfied with the result than the fencer who lost that bout. However, there is at least one special case where that is not true, and the weaker fencer can – if he knows that he is about to start a match that could conceivably end that way – use that knowledge to his advantage. Note that the following is much more likely to happen in epee than in the priority weapons.
Consider this scenario: one of the last bouts in a poule, to be fought between fencer A and B. Fencer A is considerably better than B, and his goals for his poule matches are higher. Fencer A has the goal to be ranked at least top-8 after poules, so that he will be a favorite until the quarterfinals, and have much inferior fencers in his first DE matches. In contrast, fencer B would be quite pleased to make top-80% and make the cut to first round of DE.
However, the first bouts in the poule have not gone to plan. Fencer A has conceded too many points in his winning matches, and even lost 4-5 against the fencer who was expected to be second best in the poule. So, his results are so far not sufficient to make the top-8. He could – provided that match results in the other poules go his way – make top-8, but to do so he must win, conceding at most 1 point in his last match. Fencer B, on the other hand, has outperformed what has been expected of him – he has already won one bout, and scored a respectable number of points in his losses. He is therefore well within reach of his goal, and he only needs to avoid a 0-5 loss to seal the deal.
So, how shall B use this knowledge to his advantage?
First of all: Realize that he need not win his last poule match – a 0-4 loss is actually good enough. Apart from that, there are two possibilities that B must consider: either A is aware of his precarious position, or he is not. In the second case, B can expect an opponent who is expecting a win, and might continue his sloppy streak of conceding unnecessary points. B can then just wait for a less-than-perfect offensive action, and capitalize on it. If A is aware of what he needs to do, he will instead do his best to set up positions from which he can score a single light. He will be aware of his previous mistakes in that regard, and that will mean that he will take more time than usual to set up those positions.
In both cases, fencer B can start the bout the same way – by focusing on his own defence. This will give good opportunities for a double light if A is sloppy. If A is aware, meticulous defence by B will probably lead to a longer-than-usual time until the first point is scored. B should then not try to regain point equality, since more offensive fencing on his part is more likely to lead to a 0-2 score than a 1-1 equalizer. By doing his best to keep down the fencing tempo, B can force A to start worrying whether he will score 5-0 in time, and than might lead to brash decisions on the part of A. That is exactly what B should want. B should not, however, focus totally on defence – an offensive action that comes seemingly without preparation can force A backwards, since A cannot afford to lose a single point.
So: it is possible that fencer B has the strategic advantage over A, despite B trailing 0-4 in points with seconds left, if B has fulfilled his poule result expectations better than A has. If you are one of the weaker fencers in your poule and you have fenced well enough to fulfill your poule result expectations before the last match – check if this applies to you and modify your match strategy accordingly.