This 8-Year-Old New York Refugee Checkmates the Competition

This 8-Year-Old New York Refugee Checkmates the Competition


With the soul of Kasparov, Karpov, Fisher, Botvinnik, and the other immortals in the world of chess, 8-year-old Tanitoluwa (“Tani”) Adewumi is gradually becoming the embodiment of all the virtues that the game teaches: ingenuity, resilience, tenacity, and ambition.

Tani was born in 2010 in northern Nigeria, which is a war-prone region. His family fled to New York in 2017 because they feared attacks from Boko Haram terrorists. Tani began attending the local elementary school, P.S. 116, in Manhattan's Kips Bay/Murray Hill neighborhood.

While living in asylum in Manhattan, Tani enrolled in his school’s chess club, where he learned to play the game. When Tani's mother, Oluwatoyin, wrote to the school that her son was interested in joining the club, she had to add that she couldn't contribute much financially. However, the school’s chess mentor, Shawn Martinez, saw Tani's potential, and he decided to waive the club’s fees, including thousands of dollars’ worth of travel and admissions for a chess camp.

Tani's mom began taking him to free, 3-hour-long practice sessions in Harlem. His father, who is an Uber driver and a broker, also let Tani use his laptop to play chess online. Before long, Tani had won seven chess trophies, making him one of the best players in the nation for his age group. Tani even won the state chess title for his age group, placing first in the New York State Scholastic Championships tournament for kindergarten through third grade. This is a remarkable win for anyone—much less a refugee living in a new country.

In an interview with the New York Times, Tani said, “I want to be the youngest grandmaster.” He has until age 12 to achieve this great feat. Is that impossible? Only time will tell! For now, he already has much to be proud of, as he has become a beacon for the many children who have little hope for the future. Tani’s experiences show that chess can provide a great opportunity to overcome problems and achieve new goals.

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