After Running Away From Nigeria, Tanitoluwa, 8, Becomes A Chess Star In NY 

Though talent is universal, opportunity is not. Eight-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi who fled Nigeria with his family is fast becoming a star in the US.

Tani, who is now living in a homeless shelter in New York City was crowned the state’s chess champion for his age group. The young champ won the state tournament for his group, from kindergarten through third grade, last weekend.

In a piece, Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times’ columnist, dwelt extensively on the exceptional skills that the boy possesses in the game of chess which he started learning over a year ago.

Tani and his family fled their home in Nigeria in 2017 in fear for their lives and have been living in a homeless shelter ever since while their application for asylum pends. He plays chess at the elementary school he attends and practices every night in the shelter.

The Adewumi family moved to the US to escape Boko Haram, a terrorist group responsible for atrocious attacks against Africans.

As devout Christians, they feared they would be targeted. Tani and his siblings became enrolled in local elementary schools not long after they arrived and he discovered the chess club.

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Having enjoyed the game, the boy prodded his mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, to ask if he could join the chess club. The woman reportedly sent an email to the chess club, explaining the boy’s interest in the programme and her inability to pay the fees for the programme because the family was living in a shelter.

Interestingly, one Russell Makofsky, who oversees the P.S. 116 chess programme, waived the fees to encourage him and a year ago the boy took part in his first tournament with the lowest rating of any participant, 105.

Not only does Tani play with them, but he also attends a free, three-hour practice session in Harlem every Saturday to master his game. At night, he uses his father’s laptop to practice.

Now, the prodigy wants to be the youngest grand master ‘ever’. Mr Kristof said Tani went undefeated at the state tournament last weekend, outwitting children from elite private schools with private chess tutors. Tani now has seven trophies.

”His play has skyrocketed month by month, and he now has seven trophies by his bed in the homeless shelter. The boy is a Nigerian refugee with an uncertain future, but he is beaming. He can’t stop grinning because the awkward load is a huge trophy, almost as big as he is.”

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His rating is now 1587 and rising fast. By comparison, the world’s best player, Magnus Carlsen, stands at 2845.

Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116, which held a pep rally to celebrate the boy’s victory said “It’s an inspiring example of how life’s challenges do not define a person”.

Hsu noted that while Tani lacks a home, he has enormously supportive parents dedicated to seeing him succeed.

Tani’s father, Kayode Adewumi has two jobs: he rents a car that he uses to drive for Uber, and he has also become a licensed real estate salesman. His mother has passed a course to become a home health aide.

It is sometimes tough for the young star, according to the writer who narrated how the boy’s parents shared an experience of him crying after classmates teased him for being homeless. And at an immigration hearing last fall, he burst into tears when he misunderstood the judge to say that the family would be deported.

”I feel American,” he explained. In fact, the family’s asylum request is dragging on, with the next hearing scheduled for August.

”He is so driven,” said his school chess teacher, Shawn Martinez. “He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better.”

Makofsky shook his head wonderingly;

”One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources. I’ve never seen it.”

Photo credit: NYTimes

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