Since being introduced to chess at the tender age of six, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi has had one goal. He wants to become the world’s youngest-ever Grandmaster — the highest title a chess player can achieve. The record is currently held by Russian chess player Sergey Alexandrovich Karjakin, who qualified for the title in 2002 at the age of 12 years and seven months.
On May 1, 2021, the now 10-year-old Tani came one step closer to achieving his dream by becoming the United State’s newest national chess master. The title, awarded by the United States Chess Federation (USCF), requires players to obtain a rating of between 2200 to 2400. Tani achieved a rating of 2223 by defeating two chess experts, a master, and an international master, at the Fairfield County Chess Club Championship tournament held in Connecticut. The chess prodigy, who practices for up to 11 hours every day after school, says the secret to his success is thinking of his plays ahead of time. Tani told NPR, “On a normal position, I can do up to 20 moves [in advance].”
The now fifth-grader fell in love with chess in 2017 after being exposed to the basics by a part-time teacher at his elementary school in Manhattan, New York. However, his mother, Oluwatoyin, was reluctant to allow him to join the school’s chess club due to the travel and chess competition costs. The family of four, who had fled Nigeria to avoid persecution from the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, were living in a homeless shelter and did not have extra funds to spare.
When Oluwatoyin explained the family’s situation to the chess club’s instructor, Russell Makofsky, he instantly waived all costs for the young boy. Tani did not disappoint. Less than a year after joining the club, he had garnered seven trophies and was ranked # 27 in his age category. In 2019, the then eight-year-old, who was still living in a homeless shelter, made national headlines when he defeated 73 competitors to win the New York State Scholastic Chess K-3 Championship. His incredible story went viral and a GoFundMe campaign, set up by Makofsky, helped raise enough funds for Tani and his family to move into a permanent home.
Tani’s astounding path from refugee to chess champion was documented in a 2020 autobiography entitled My Name Is Tani . . . And I Believe In Miracles. The book is currently being adapted for the big screen by American author and comedian Trevor Noah. We wonder if Tani will get to play himself in the movie!