11-year-old migrant transforms into chess prodigy after one year in NYC

Jim Dolan Image
Tuesday, December 19, 2023
11-year-old migrant transforms into chess prodigy after one year in NYC
Jim Dolan has the story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A little more than a year ago, Mariangel Vargas, left her native Colombia and with her family made a dangerous walk across Mexico, eventually coming to New York City.

Now, at the age of 11, she has transplanted and transformed herself into a very different person - a budding chess master - one of the best in the country for her age group.

Vargas says there is just something she just loves about chess.

"When I win," she says.

And Vargas wins a lot. She only started about a year ago, right after she and her family came here after a long and perilous journey from Colombia because gang members there threatened to kill her mother.

She spoke no English then - and still feels more comfortable talking in Spanish.

"I was scared. We walked from Mexico. I remember the plants we walked through were filled with thorns," Vargas says.

She and her family now stay in a nearby hotel - just making it to school every day can be a struggle. She worries about the city moving her family out of the area and away from the school she loves.

Chess has become both her refuge and her dominion.

Russ Makovsky runs a group called 'The Gift of Chess' and says many migrant children find a place for themselves in a game that has no language barrier - and now instead of being a migrant, she is a New Yorker.

Vargas is already ranked in the top 50 in the country for girls her age.

Fourteen months ago she couldn't name the pieces on a chess board.

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