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A 10-Year-Old Nigerian Immigrant Who Was Once Homeless Becomes One of America’s Youngest National Chess Masters

A 10-year-old Nigerian refugee living in New York recently became one of America’s youngest chess masters.

Tanitoluwa Adewumi competed at the Fairfield County Chess Club Championship tournament in Connecticut on May 1, and bumped his chess rating up to 2223, the United States Chess Federation reported this month. A rating of 2200 is required to gain the chess master title.

“I was very happy that I won and that I got the title,”Adewumi said. “I really love that I finally got it.”

Adewumi first garnered national attention more than two years ago when he won his category at the New York State chess championship in 2019. A the time, Adewumi, then 8 years old, was living at homeless shelter in Manhattan.

His family was staying in the shelter after fleeing Nigeria in 2017 over fears of religious persecution by the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram. At the time, Adewumi’s mother cleaned buildings while his father worked as an Uber driver and a dishwasher.

Tanitoluwa Adewumi competed at the Fairfield County Chess Club Championship tournament in Connecticut on May 1. (Photo: mynameisTani_/ Instagram)

He went undefeated at the competition, beating out kids from elite schools who had access to private chess tutors, to win the kindergarten through third grade cateogory.

Adewumi has been playing chess for about three years, and is the 28th-youngest person in the United States to become a chess master. He first learned to play chess when his teacher at the New York City elementary school he attended taught his class how to play.

Adewumi told his mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, he wanted to join the chess club and after she explained to the instructor that she could not afford the fees, they were waived and Adewumi began to compete.

“He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better,” his school chess teacher, Shawn Martinez told The New York Times in 2019.

Now, Adewumi spends about 10 or 11 hours a day practicing chess. He describes his style as calm, yet aggressive when necessary, and said he is always thinking ahead.

“On a normal position, I can do up to 20 moves[in advance].” he said.

Adewumi is now striving to become the world’s youngest grandmaster. In order to do so, he will have to beat out the current record holder, Russian Sergey Karjakin, who was 12 years old when he became a grandmaster in 2003.

“By God’s grace, he wants to be the youngest grandmaster in the world,” said the boy’s father, Kayode Adewumi.

Adewumi’s positive outlook in regards to loss is apparent. “I say to myself that I never lose, that I only learn,” he said. “Because when you lose, you have to make a mistake to lose that game. So you learn from that mistake, and so you learn [overall]. So losing is the way of winning for yourself.”

Adewumi’s family has moved out of the shelter and now resides in Port Jefferson, New York, after a GoFundMe raised raised $254,448 in 2019. In 2020, Adewumi also published a book called “My Name Is Tani . . . and I Believe in Miracles.” The book has been greenlit for a Paramount film adaptation with Trevor Noah as producer.

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