“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.”
An 8-year-old Nigerian refugee was recently crowned the chess champion in New York’s statewide competition. He fled with his family and is now living in a homeless shelter while his asylum applications are still being processed, reports Daily Mail. From his group (kindergarten to third grade) Tanitoluwa Adewumi won the state tournament last week. Fearing their lives, his family fled from Nigeria in 2017 along with him. Tani (as he's known to his friends and family) plays chess at his elementary school and practices every night at the shelter. His father, Kayode, is an Uber driver, as well as a real estate broker.
They moved to the U.S. to escape Boko Haram, a terrorist group responsible for the ruthless attacks against countless Africans. The Adewumis feared they would be targetted because they are devout Christians. Soon after they arrived, Tani and his siblings were enrolled in an elementary school, and that's how Tani discovered the chess club there. Seeing his interest, Tani's mother, Oluwatoyin, emailed the school to tell them that though they could not afford to pay the fees, Tani was quite eager to participate.
The club waived the fees for Tani and he joined, where he not only plays, but he also goes to attend a free, three-hour practice session in Harlem every Saturday to master his game. At night, he uses his father's laptop to practice some more. He told The New York Times that his wish is to become the youngest grandmaster ever. Russel Makofsy, who runs the chess club in which Tani plays, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help the boy's family.
Makofsky said it was astonishing to see just how much Tani has improved at the game in just a year. "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," he told The Times. A year ago Tani participated in his first tournament with the lowest rating of any participant, 105. His rating is now 1587 and rising fast. (By comparison, the world’s best player, Magnus Carlsen, stands at 2845.)
Tani's style of playing is said to be quite aggressive and his moves are quite calculated, where one move in the earlier step benefits him much later on in the game. “It’s an inspiring example of how life’s challenges do not define a person,” said Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116, which held a pep rally to celebrate Tani’s victory. Hsu noted that while Tani lacks a home, he has enormously supportive parents who are quite dedicated to seeing him succeed.
“Tani is rich beyond measure, in the strength, love and support of his family," said Makofsky. But life for Tani isn't always easy. His parents said that once Tani came back from school in tears because his classmates had all made fun of him for being homeless. The family's asylum request has been dragging on but Tani says he feels American already. But Tani tries to put all of that out of his mind and focus only on chess, as he's now preparing for the elementary national championship in May.
“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.” Tani is a reminder that refugees enrich the nation, and that talent is universal, even if opportunities aren't. His parents claim Tani would never have had the opportunity to hone his skills in chess if he were still to live in Nigeria, under the current troubled conditions that face the country.
“The U.S. is a dream country,” said Kayode. “Thank God I live in the greatest city in the world, which is New York, New York.” A lot of people have come out in support of Tani through the GoFundMe page. One person wrote: I love your story and winning spirit. All who are touched by your story should find pleasure in giving. Another wrote: A boy who has gone through so much hardship, yet still thrives and thrives out of this world and into the sky. The sky is the limit. What an extraordinary and exciting mind. I wish you and your family so much luck.