On a chess board, Rafael Almeida is swift and deadly.
Within 15 minutes, the Bridgewater Middle School sixth-grader can corner his opponent into checkmate.
Recently, Almeida competed in a chess competition against other middle-schoolers in Orange County and came out on top, beating out his sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade competition.
“I was happy, but I expected to win,” Almeida said about the competition.
Originally from Brazil, Almeida began playing chess as a 7-year-old, playing the game at least once a week.
After moving to Central Florida nine months ago, Almeida joined the chess club at Bridgewater Middle School and has since been besting his peers.
“He’s brilliant,” said Matthew Czarnecki, a sixth-grade math teacher and advisor to the school’s chess club. “He can see five moves ahead. He has a knack for understanding next moves.”
While chess is all about strategy, Almeida said he has one particular strategy involving the bishops and queen that almost always ends in checkmate. And when a match isn’t going the direction he wants, he can easily manipulate his opponent’s moves to change the outcome in his favor, he said.
“I like that it’s a strategy game,” Almeida said.
Although the chess club at Bridgewater Middle School is fairly new, it’s gained a regular following, with nearly 50 students meeting every Thursday morning to compete against each other.
“We really just took it on here and made it cool,” Czarnecki said. “And they’re learning techniques and problem-solving skills that is translating to their school work.”
But few students in the club can match Almeida’s skill at the game.
“He teaches everyone else,” Czarnecki said. “He gives them insight about what they’re doing to help them become better.”
To give Almeida a challenge, Czarnecki makes time to play against him. So far the two are tied with three wins each. But Czarnecki acknowledged that Almeida’s talents even surpass his own.
“He’s taught me,” Czarnecki said. “Even I’m not as good as him.”
In May, Almeida will compete in another tournament. To prepare for tougher competition, he regularly competes online.
“I play on my phone online against other people who are good,” he said.
Having Almeida in the chess club is a huge asset said Czarnecki.
“He’s a really good kid,” Czarnecki said. “He represents Bridgewater very well. And it’s fun to have a kid here who gets it.”
Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].