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From homeless refugee to national chess master: Meet 10-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi

A Nigerian refugee, Tanitoluwa ‘Tani’ Adewumi just became one of the youngest national chess masters and has set even bigger goals

Honoree Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi at the Stella Artois Theater on Friday, May 3, 2019, in New York.
Honoree Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi attends the 10th annual Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards at the Stella Artois Theater on Friday, May 3, 2019, in New York.
Associated Press

Recently, 10-year-old Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi became the 28th youngest national chess master, according to the U.S. Chess Federation. On May 1, Tani won the Fairfield County Chess Club Championship Tournament, winning four games in a row, NPR reports. The wins raised his chess ranking to 2223, surpassing the 2200 ranking needed for becoming a national chess master.

On his way to winning the tournament, Tani beat two chess experts, a master and an international master.

Becoming a national chess master

Nigerian-born, Tani, his parents and his older brother fled the country in 2017 due to religious persecution by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram. The family came to live in a homeless shelter in New York City, NPR reports. About three years ago while still homeless, Tani learned to play chess at school, playing for hours at the shelter.

In 2019, Tani gained national attention for winning the New York State chess championship for his age group, the first person to win the competition on the first try. Tani’s story made it to The New York Times.

  • Following the achievement, Tani’s father set up a GoFundMe that raised over $250,000 to support housing, educational and legal resources for Tani.

Now, Tani and his family have moved out of the shelter, NPR reports. The GoFundMe has also provided funds for Tani to take lessons two to three times a week with a chess grandmaster, AZCentral and a May 10 update to the GoFundMe page said.

  • To keep building his skills, Tani practices chess over eight hours a day after school, he told ABC and NPR.

In addition to being a national chess master, Tani is also a published author. Published last year, his book, “My Name Is Tani ... and I Believe in Miracles: The Amazing True Story of One Boy’s Journey from Refugee to Chess Champion,” is an autobiography. The book now has multiple versions, one for adults published last April, another for young readers and even a picture book for kids published last November.

What’s next for Tani

Tani has set his sights on becoming the world’s youngest grandmaster, he told NPR. The current record holder, Sergey Karjakin, earned the title of grandmaster at 12 years and seven months old. At age 10 years and eight months, Tani has just less than two years to break the record.

Still, according to the U.S. Chess Federation, so far Tani has blossomed through hard work.