The Best In - Brazil

by Arne Kaehler
9/12/2020 – Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world size-wise and the sixth biggest by population. It brought us famous football stars like Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Romario and Neymar. Chess-wise, Brazil is a bit more of an underdog. Juliana Terao on the other hand won the Brazilian Woman's Championship five times in a row (2015 to 2020), and sticks out with achieving a rating of over 2300 in 2017, which no other Brazilian woman has ever reached before. In our interview with the FM and WIM, we talk about chess in Brazil, why her middle-name is "Sayumi", and how she and other South-Americans deal with the coronavirus situation.

Trompowsky for the attacking player Trompowsky for the attacking player

Tap into your creative mind and start the game on a fresh note. The Trompowsky (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5) is an opening outside of conventional wisdom. Create challenges and make your opponent solve problems early on.


Chess in Brazil

Brazil is famous for carnival, coffee, and Caipirinha. Chess is another word starting with the letter C, but has only little history in South-Americas biggest country. Octavio Trompowsky had an obvious influence on the Trompowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5), Brazil has currently 14 Grandmasters (as has Iceland), and Henrique Mecking played for Brazil in the Olympiads from 1968 to 2004 and was once ranked in the top three or four of the world.

The beautiful Fernando de Noronha, a small Brazilian Island

Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Paraguay can keep up with Brazil, regarding their chess-strength, although size- and population wise, they are far smaller in comparison.

Ruth Volgl Cardoso was one of Brazil's strongest female players in the 60s and 70s and could win the Brazilian Woman's Championship seven times. But now another chess player went into the spotlight a decade ago who won the championship six times. Juliana Sayumi Terao isn't finished yet and stays strong, being Brazil's best female chess player.

Interview with Juliana Sayumi Terao

Arne Kaehler: You are Brazil’s number one, and have earned yourself the FM title. Where did you get your passion and fascination for chess?

Juliana Terao: It all started with my brother who started participating in tournaments, and the whole family followed him. My parents and I were rooting for him, and then soon he started to stand out and win trophies and medals. I also wanted a trophy for myself, and since he had one, why couldn't I win one too, right? That old competition between siblings...

I also loved the part of the family travelling altogether, always being a very fun ride.

AK: Do you remember how and where you learned to play chess?

JT: It started when I was four to five years old, playing with my father. He already taught chess to my brother, who competed in tournaments. He probably thought that now it was time for me to learn the moves, too. I don't remember the classes very well, but my father said it didn't take me long to learn the basics.

AK: Did you live in a big city or a smaller place?

JT: I lived and continue to live in Suzano, which is a city located in the metropolitan region of São Paulo.

AK: With the middle name Sayumi, can you tell us a bit what your relation is to Japan? 

JT: I was born in Brazil and unfortunately, I still haven't had the opportunity to visit Japan yet. My paternal grandparents were born in Japan. My paternal grandfather arrived in Brazil in 1925 as a child and his wife, my grandmother, arrived 28 years later to get married to my grandfather. At that time, marriages were arranged. Brazil is home to the largest population of descendants and Japanese people outside of Japan. And here it is very common for Japanese descendants to put Japanese names onto their children. My brother Rodrigo, for example, received the name Akira.

AK: How did you get better in chess? Did you read books, did you have a trainer, did you join a club?

JT: Since I started competing in tournaments at the age of six, most of my opponents were adults. This helped me to learn to face many failures (losses/defeats), which I consider an essential lesson in chess early on. Like this, I didn't care much about losing, but more about just playing, having fun, and of course, winning more prizes than my brother, if possible!

Juliana Terao competing with her brother

When my brother and I started playing, there was no club in our town, so my father created a project with the city hall and volunteered for some years in the municipal library, teaching anyone who wanted to learn chess. This attracted new and more experienced players, and then my father could organize friendly tournaments, so my brother and I could train with other players more efficiently.

I also had some coaches during my career, such as GM Everaldo Matsuura, IM Jefferson Pelikian, GM Sandro Mareco, IM Roberto Jr. Brito Molina and GM Andre Diamant.

AK: Did you or do you have any idols or role models, players that impressed you a lot?

JT: Sure, it may sound a little cliché, but I, like thousands of other girls, was inspired by the great and wonderful Judit Polgar! Throughout her history and everything she achieved, she has opened doors for many female players.

AK: Do you have a favourite chess book?

JT: I don't think so, but one that I read a lot was Pachman's Modern Strategy, which today is a reminder of how old and worn it is. Another one that I used, read and re-read several times was the Combinative Motifs by M. Blokh.

AK: I found a game on ChessBase from 2004, where you played against Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous match. You were barely over ten years old back then. Was it a special moment for you?

JT: I was happy that I was going to face the best of all time, who wouldn't be? But I think I was more nervous than anything else. Kasparov has a very imposing and intimidating figure!

AK: What was your first big success? Do you remember how that felt?

JT: I believe it was when I won my first Pan-American tournament, in the girls under twelve, in 2002. For me, it was just another tournament, but as soon as the final classification came out, my father went running out to call home, and I remember that my family and friends were far more excited than usual, so I realized that it was very significant achievement!

AK: When and how did you become a WIM and also FIDE Master? Are there any moments or games in your career that you remember particularly well?

JT: I became a WIM by winning the South American Youth Championship in 2011, and a FIDE Master in 2017 by overcoming the 2300 FIDE rating barrier. A funny moment: in a rapid tournament, I was paired to play against my brother and a friend asked my mother for whom she was rooting for. Her answer was: for my son, of course!

AK: Are you a chess professional or do you have a steady job?

JT: I consider myself a professional, since almost 100% of my income is generated by chess. I play tournaments and give classes. Sometimes I help my father with his events. He is a fruit producer, and he plants exotic fruits like dekopon, kinkan, lychee, atemóias, Thai guavas and apples among others.

Juliana Terao holding some "Kinkans" from her fathers production.

AK: Brazil is one of the largest countries in the world, but falling a little behind with chess. Does Brazil support chess players enough?

JT: No, unfortunately we don't have a lot of support, and it is very difficult to get a sponsorship. Most chess players invest from their own pocket, which is why it is so difficult to make progress. To further develop, you need to play tournaments with the best, and for Brazil, we need to travel a lot, since all the strong tournaments are far from Brazil! And it is also necessary to have a constant coach, which is also costly.

AK: Since Brazil is such a huge country, where do you live now and how is it living in Brazil?

JT: Suzano is the city called I live in. I really like Brazil, and despite its problems, Brazil is a country rich in culture, with many wonderful landscapes. The climate is excellent. Brazil creates a variety of foods and fruits here I haven't found in any another place. As the song País Tropical says: “Moro num país tropical, abençoado por Deus e bonito por natureza…” (I live in a tropical country, blessed by God and beautiful by nature)

Juliana Terao and her husband, enjoying the view of "Chapada dos Guimarães" in Mato Grosso

AK: How does the current chess scene look like in Brazil? How do people play, train and compete? Are there any strong juniors and is there a vibrant chess scene?

JT: With the pandemic, I believe that chess has gained more viewers. Many players started doing live streams, including myself. I don't have a channel of my own, but I know another top player who created a project called "Damas em Ação - Rumo à Maestria" (Queens in Action - towards mastery). One of objectives of this project is to help promote Brazilian women's chess, and once a week we do a live stream on twitch. Before the pandemic, there were already some players who streamed, like GM Krikor Mekhitarian and GM Evandro Barbosa. They give good examples helping a lot to promote the sport.

As for juveniles, they also created a project called JTXBrasil - Jovens Talentos do Xadrez Brasileiro, (Young Talents of Brazilian Chess) a group formed by 20 young players whose objective is to promote actions, helping the evolution of school chess.

Regarding the scenario before the pandemic, there are some cities in Brazil where chess is a subject in school. I observed that school chess has been growing a lot in the country. But chess still needs a lot of support and visibility because it is a sport that most people see only as a good pedagogical support tool. But as for the competitive part of chess, we still need to grow a lot. It is not easy to compete with the importance / prestige that football has in the country.

AK: Very unfortunately Brazil has a tough time with the coronavirus. How does it affect you, your family and chess. Are you playing chess online?

JT: Yes, unfortunately the country has not learned from other countries, and we are going through difficult times. It didn't affect me much, apart from the live tournaments that had to be cancelled, so the difference for me is that I spend more time at home. I never spent so many months in a row without travelling before, which is a little sad because it's one of the things I like in chess! But during the pandemic, tournaments are now online. Of course it is another rhythm, another atmosphere, but it has been a good experience. I still prefer face-to-face tournaments, and the classes I teach continue online. However, for my parents the pandemic has affected a lot their income because of my fathers profession is a fruit producer. On the farm he does excursions for tourists, and he had to cancel many schedules. In addition, the major events (where he sells most of his production) were all cancelled by the end of the year, so they were badly damaged. For chess in general, I believe that the pandemic made the sport gain more notoriety with online tournaments, thus bringing more admirers and players to the sport, so all in all, it had a positive impact on chess.

AK: Let’s go back to your career: when did you become Brazil's Number one and how did you manage to win the Brazilian Championships fantastic five times in a row?

JT: I think it was in 2009 (among active players), in 2010/2011 I alternated between 1st and 2nd on the list with WIM Vanessa Feliciano, then I went back to being 1st in the ranking in June 2015 until today.

Relating to the Brazilian Championships, a little luck maybe?

Terao, playing in the VI Floripa Chess Open this year, where she won against GM Axel Bachmann (Elo:2611) among others

AK: What was your first Olympiad like, and do you still remember how it felt to take part in that big event?

JT: The Olympic tournament is always fantastic! Being among the best in the world, and seeing famous players or my favourites in the game’s room is priceless!

My first Olympics was in 2008 in Dresden, Germany. I was a little nervous, but I managed to stay calm. After all, it's a team tournament. It is an honour to be able to represent my home country in such an important event!

The Brazilian national women team in Dresden 2008, surrounding an unknown chess talent

AK: Three years ago you could reach the great rating of over 2300. Do you have the intention and focus on getting back to this rating, or might this have been the peak of your career?

JT: Yes, improving my understanding of the game and consequently returning to 2300 is within the plans!

AK: If you look back at your career: what was the most remarkable moment?

JT: For me it was my first victory against a master. When I was 9 years old. I beat FM Ricardo Benares, and that taught me, that a child can beat a more experienced player, and for a child, an experience like that makes you more confident.

AK: Besides chess, what are your hobbies and passions?

JT: I love animals, but dogs are my passion for sure! I have three, and two of them I brought them up myself in 2017 because they lost their mother when they were only seven days old. I adopted them and raised them, and in the beginning I literally gave 5ml of milk to them every hour! Those were difficult months, puppies that do not drink their mother's milk grow with a series of problems, and to address these deficiencies, great care is needed! Today they are strong and healthy! I also love to travel, of course! I think most chess players like it, right ?! I also practice Pilates, like to watch movies and series, and love reading books, especially biographies. Ex-Tennis player Andre Agassi impressed me for his naked and raw revelations, and I am currently reading Nelson Mandela's biography. With the pandemic I am having more time to improve my skills in the kitchen and enjoy cooking! I also have a home garden in my backyard, but I'm still trying to get the hang of it!

Juliana's doggies

AK: And of course I have to ask due to the country's history: are you a football fan?

JT: Nope!

AK: Thank you so much for this nice interview Juliana.

JT: Thank you for having me and your support!

Three of Juliana Terao's favourite games


In game three, we discover the Sicilian's Alapin variation. A good tool to defeat players, which have a rating of 2500 or more, it seems.

Sicilian Defense with 2.c3 - Alapin Variation

Sergei Tiviakov started playing the line 1.e4 c5 2.c3 in the Sicilian Defence as White in 1988. Since then, he has employed it in more than 100 games, including a yearlong period when he I managed to win twelve 2.c3-games in a row. White tries to occupy the centre with a second pawn, and Black must know his stuff very well in order to be able to equalize. And this is only possible with 2...Nf6 – all other lines give the first player a small edge everywhere. Especially against stronger opponents, 2.c3 is an excellent weapon.

If you would like to have Juliana Terao as your chess coach, kindly write an email to her at: julianaterao @


Arne Kaehler, a creative mind who is passionate about board games in general, was born in Hamburg and learned to play chess at a young age. By teaching chess to youth teams and creating chess-related videos on YouTube, Arne was able to expand this passion and has even created an online course for anyone who wants to learn how to play chess. Arne writes for the English and German news sites, but focuses mainly on content for the ChessBase media channels.


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