In “Rules of the Game,” an excerpt from her 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan examines an early part in the development of a Chinese-American girl named Waverly Jong and her relationship with her Chinese immigrant mother. Tan presents events in chronological order; nonetheless, she varies the pacing of the action in order to create tension and add meaning to the story.
"Rules of the Game" opens with exposition; six-year-old Waverly is on a typical shopping trip with her mother. Tan describes Waverly’s family, home, and surrounding environment. These rich and quickly-presented details are important for understanding Waverly’s relationship with her mother and her life as an American-born Chinese girl growing up in San Francisco Chinatown.
Tan then slows down the narrative to focus on the object that changed Waverly’s life: her brother’s chess set. The author describes exactly how the chess set came into Waverly’s life: it was a Christmas charity gift from their church. She illustrates the mother’s two-faced reactions to the charity gift and subsequent desire to throw it away as well as Waverly’s (and briefly her brothers’) attempt to understand this magical new game with “elaborate secrets waiting to be untangled.” Tan then narrows the narrative scope even further in order to highlight Waverly’s growing obsession with mastering the game. She compresses or quickly describes Waverly's actions so that by the end of the summer, the girl has devoured library books and absorbed strategies from an elderly chess player, who suggests she play in tournaments.
Waverly wishes to participate in chess tournaments but knows that asking her mother would not work; instead, she uses reverse psychology and tells her mother that she doesn’t want to play in a local tournament. Readers are in suspense to see what her mother will say, which is "Is shame you fall down nobody push you." Waverly’s trick worked, and the story immediately cuts to “During my first tournament, my mother sat with me in the front row."
After focusing in detail on Waverly’s victorious first tournament, Tan just mentions that the girl wins more tournaments and accumulates trophies. The story jumps to three years later, when nine-year-old Waverly is the national chess champion. Tan slows down the narrative again to demonstrate in detail how Waverly and her mother collaborate to manipulate chess opponents. In a match with a middle-aged American man, readers can almost see the players’ mannerisms and wonder how Waverly will fare in the match. She “would pause, suck in my lips, twirl my chosen piece in midair as if undecided, and then firmly plant it in its new threatening place, with a triumphant smile thrown back at my opponent for good measure." The actual playing of the game itself is slowed down for suspense, but then her victory is quick. The narrative pace speeds up again, and Tan describes how Waverly no longer visits the playground but practices and finagles special treatment at home in support of her status, even over her brothers.
In the most climactic part of the story—when on yet another shopping trip, Waverly confronts her mother for using her chess achievements to brag—Tan slows down the pacing. Readers hear the dialogue between the two characters, see their facial expressions, and experience sights and sounds of the outdoor market. Tan describes Waverly’s return home after running away with sharply focused detail as readers enter Waverly’s house and imagination.