Checkmate: The Unlikely Tale of a Girl and Her Chessboard

Waverly Place, San Francisco, California

How many nine-year-old chess prodigies are there in the world? Not many, but one just casually happens to reside in Waverly Place of San Francisco. Amy Tan’s short story “Rules of the Game” introduces readers to a unique protagonist through the means of characterization, who possesses some traits that I can relate to.

Waverly Jong, a child of the age of nine, may be small, but she has the mind of an experienced strategist. She tends to be very observant: “Having watched the older children opening their gifts, I already knew that the big gifts were not necessarily the nice ones” (Tan 3). She also notices other’s actions and is able to describe them very clearly, saying, “[My mother] scanned the pages quickly, not reading the foreign English symbols, seeming to search for nothing in particular” (5). The skill of observation is crucial in the game of chess and even in war, as only by watching others you will be able to react accordingly and predict what is next. Waverly seemed to already have this characteristic before she started playing chess, along with the sense of curiousness. Although she knows nothing about the game at first, she still has the irresistible urge to find a reason for the rules. Her brother does not take Waverly’s inquisitiveness so lightly and is annoyed by her questions. “‘Why must you always ask stupid questions?’ … ‘These are the rules. I didn’t make them up’” (pages 4 and 5). Learning from this, Waverly now understands the importance of curiosity, as it may lead to even greater things. Despite the silent opinions that others may have of her, she is unhindered and continues to discover more fascinating secrets of the game. Lau Po did not think of much of the girl when the two first meet, almost mocking her: “Little girl, been a long time since I play with dolls.” To prove her capabilities, Waverly willingly gives up many long weeks and countless Life Savers to learn all of Lau Po’s secrets. Although appearing to be shy and submissive, Waverly shows a large amount of confidence and perseverance throughout her story, a true sign of a potential leader.

Some of Waverly’s characteristics are aligned to those of mine. Like her, I tend to observe the world around me and notice things that might be overlooked by others. Although I am not a chess grandmaster, my thinking process is similar to the protagonist’s; I come up with solutions to little problems one by one, slowly simplifying the situation until there are only a few possibilities left. This, coincidentally, is the process of a regular chess game. Although the topic of Waverly’s story is based upon chess, the characteristics of both her and me do not only apply to chess and prove to be useful in a wide array of circumstances.


Image Citation: Mondy, Russell. “Waverly Place, San Francisco.” Flickr, Yahoo!, 13 Nov. 2016,

Dropping the Bass, Literally

The found poem above represents page three of “The Bass, The River, and Sheila Mant” by W. D. Wetherell shows the Man vs. Nature conflict between the narrator, the protagonist, and the bass. An unfortunate turn of events becomes worse when a bass is hooked onto the narrator’s fishing rod. This bass is the biggest bass that the narrator has ever caught, and he must decide on whether to catch the bass and give up on Sheila, or to hide his love of fishing from Sheila and give up the bass. The secondary conflict between the narrator and the bass is not the main conflict of the story, but it plays a significant part in both propelling the story forward and forcing the protagonist to make a decision. “I had managed to keep the bass in the middle of the river away from the rocks, but it had plenty of room there, and for the first time a chance to exert its full strength.” The bass is in control of the boat, and the narrator is fighting against it, while attempting to not alert Sheila.  The narrator is divided, as his desire of fishing is equal to his desire of Sheila, but choosing one will give up the other.”…the extra strain on the line, the frantic way [the bass] cut back and forth in the water.” Tension builds as more action happens between the narrator and the bass. The addition of the bass in the rising action is crucial to the subsequent events that happen in the plot; the bass represents the narrator’s passion, and Sheila represents his desire beyond reach. The rest of the action leading up to the climax is based entirely on the struggle between the narrator and the bass.