The Power of Self Recognition in “202 Checkmates”

At the end of “202 Checkmates” by Rion Amilcar Scott, the main character of the story–a 12 year old girl–lets her father win a chess game that she could’ve beaten him at, even though he has won and gloated about it the other 201 times they’ve played. Throughout the story, she has been getting better and better at chess by learning from expert players at the park and studying the flaws in her father’s strategy. Her goal has always been to eventually beat him. At the same time, she’s been watching him struggle with unemployment, drinking, and marital issues, while using chess with her as an outlet/distraction from her problem. So, when she is finally poised to beat him at his own game–one move from winning–she decides to throw the game. She realized that he needs that win more than she does. He uses chess to maintain their power dynamic of FATHER/child, in order to comfort his own insecurities about his life and marriage. She is is growing out of that power dynamic, as she seeing her father’s issues and finds her own autonomy. But for her, finding agency and confidence doesn’t have to mean winning. Knowing that she can win is enough, because she is giving herself the recognition she needs, not waiting to get it from her. She outgrew his childish demeanor around chess, and she is willing to let him win the game in order to affirm to herself that she doesn’t need the that recognition to know that she won in the long-term.

3 thoughts on “The Power of Self Recognition in “202 Checkmates”

  1. Ben Koritz

    I really love this analysis of the story. Your connection to the concept of “recognition” and her seeming ability to feel that recognition all on her own is perfect. I think that the question of whether or not her father is, in turn, giving her that recognition is hard to say, because it seems to depend on the person. Some may see the outcome of their support to be recognition enough and some may need that verbal or physical appreciation. I agree, however, that it doesn’t seem like she needs any of that recognition from her father, or mother for that matter.

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  2. TRE B

    Cool examination of the story. I liked how you connected the moment at which she was going to beat her dad at chess to her realizing that he needed it more which is something the dad wanted her to get out of playing rather than just being good.

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  3. HANK S

    I like how you described the growth of the narrator. It’s interesting to me how she ends up overtaking her father in a way, but does so by acting on his wisdom from earlier on how chess isn’t about beating some one else. She embraces something she learned from him that he doesn’t follow himself.

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