By Samantha Pearson / Photographs by Maria Magdalena Arréllaga
Cibele Florêncio was just 24 when she was crowned vice-champion at a national chess tournament in Brazil last year, no mean feat given she was spending up to 12 hours a day cleaning houses.
A maid and single mother from Brazil's poor northeastern scrublands, Ms.Florêncio is competing at the highest level at what is considered an elitist game in one of the world's most unequal countries.
"People look at me and wonder what the hell I'm doing there," she said of the other contenders at tournaments--players she described as mostly nerdy.
"But I use it to my advantage," said Ms. Florêncio. "They let their guard down." Ms. Florêncio's arms are covered in tattoos of a lion and the initials of her 5-year-old son Nicollas. She said her friends have likened her to the prodigy from the award-winning Netflix series, "The Queens Gambit"--a young woman who defies the odds to rise to the top of the chess world in 1950s America. Ms. Florêncio watched it three times, she said, but can no longer afford the streaming fee.
She was 9 when she started playing. (....)
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