8-Year-Old Boy Wins New York Chess Championship
“I want to be the youngest grandmaster,” Tanitoluwa Adewumi–a Nigerian refugee who goes by Tani– told The New York Times. Tanitoluwa placed first in the New York State Scholastic Championships tournament for kindergarten through third grade. “It’s unheard of for any kid, let alone one in a homeless shelter,” said Russell Makofsky, who oversees Manhattan’s P.S. 116 chess program, in a statement to USA TODAY.
Saying that Tanitoluwa hasn’t had an easy life would be an understatement. His family left northern Nigeria in 2017 fearing attacks on Christians and moved to New York City over a year ago, which is where the young boy learned how to play chess at school. He and his family currently live in a homeless shelter.
School chess coach Shawn Martinez saw Tanitoluwa’s potential after observing him excel in the game a few weeks after first learning it early last year. He ended up reaching out to Tanitoluwa’s family about joining the school’s chess program, and learned they were unable to pay costs associated with membership. Makofsky decided to waive his fees, which can easily exceed thousands with things like travel and chess camp admissions.
A fellow student gifted Tanitoluwa a chess clock, Tani’s mother took him to free regular three-hour practice sessions in Harlem, and his dad lets him use a laptop to play chess online–so it’s safe to say this child’s dedication to the game is all the way real. Russel Makofsky also started a GoFundMe campaign to help Tanitoluwa’s family prepare for his chess-related competitions, which reached over $100,000 in donations.
Seven trophies later, 89-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi is one of the top players in the country for his age group.