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Meet Tani Adewumi, the 11-year-old chess prodigy who fled Nigeria and transformed his life

The young boy is the 28th youngest national master of chess. He now has his eyes set on becoming the game's youngest-ever grandmaster.

Meet Tani Adewumi, the 11-year-old chess prodigy who fled Nigeria and transformed his life
Image Source: NickKristof / Twitter

Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi is one of the youngest people to become a national master of chess. An aggressive chess player, the young boy, who turned 11 this September, now has his eyes on becoming the game's youngest-ever grandmaster. While that achievement currently belongs to 12-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra, Tani is putting in the hours to get there. On a regular day, he attends school in New York, then practices chess for at least seven hours. So far, his success has yielded him a growing collection of trophies, but it has not been easy. The chess master fled Nigeria in order to escape violence and build a better life for himself and his family, CNN reports. This is his story.


"I'm aggressive, I like to attack," he said in an interview with the news outlet. "It's just the way I think in general: I want to checkmate my opponent as fast as I can." This is currently the same approach he is taking when it comes to his career in chess. On days he does not have school, Tani trains for up to eight, nine, or ten hours. It is this commitment and drive that won him the New York State chess championship in 2019, one of his most prized victories. This is because it was the win that transformed his family's life forever. He shared, "That's the one that really boosted us up to become where we are today, and also me and my chess."


Two years prior to the win, Tani and his family fled northern Nigeria because they were worried about attacks by the extremist group Boko Haram. In June 2017, they arrived in New York City and lived in a homeless shelter in Manhattan. Shortly afterward, the young child joined the chess club at his school, P.S. 116 in New York, as long as the registration fee was waived. However, when word spread of his New York State chess championship win, he and his family received an outpouring of financial and emotional support. Tani's father Kayode Adewumi, who works as a real estate agent, explained, "One family, they paid for a year's rent in Manhattan, one family gave us in 2019 a brand-new Honda, and the Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri invited the family and the coaches to come and pay a visit. A lot of people really helped us, a lot of people gave us financial [support] and money... They donated money for us to get out from the shelter."


Tani's family set up a GoFundMe page where they could receive funds to get on their feet in the United States. At present, additional funds are being transferred through the Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation, which supports underprivileged children around the world. "We need to give back to the needy, because we know what it takes," his father affirmed. "We've tasted everything. When we were in the shelter, some people are still there. We need to help the needy, especially the chess community and the people that need help. That's why we put the money into the foundation, to help people."


The young boy and his family feel, in many ways, indebted to the sport of chess. Tani stated, "Chess is everything to me, it's my life. That's how we came to where we are today." Although, it was not easy for the 11-year-old at first. He lost all of his games during his first chess tournament. "It did take me time, of course," he said. "I believe it takes everybody time." Now, he has got the hang of things. Most of his training these days consists of watching other legends, such as world champion Magnus Carlsen and grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, and Ian Nepomniachtchi, play. To Tani, it is also about a fierce love of the game.


"It's been about putting in the time," the 11-year-old shared. "For me, I don't think I could have ever gotten far in chess without a great love of the game, that's what's been driving it for me all of these years. What I do remember from my childhood is that I would go to school; after school, I would play soccer with my friends, and when I got home, I would sit down at my own little board where had my chessboard and chess books. I would usually eat there. If I didn't have to, I preferred not to eat with my family because then I could not study chess... It must have been a lot of hours, but it was always because I loved it."


While this seems like a grueling daily routine for a young child, he has his family's complete support. His dad said, "When I'm watching him playing, it's just like your chest wants to burst out until it can be free. When he comes out... We just grab him and are celebrating with him. When he's lost the game, I embrace him, I encourage him. He has a philosophy that when you lose, you try again to work out what made you lose and encourage yourself to get better." Now, to reach grandmaster status like his idol Carlsen, Tani must achieve three grandmaster norms and earn an FIDE (Federation Internationale des Echecs) rating of 2,500. In the meantime, the Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation supports other people taking an interest in the game by contributing money to a chess organization in Africa.


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