The story of 8-year-old Nigerian chess prodigy Tanitoluwa Adewumi, pouplarly known as Tani, is quite a remarkable one. Taking him a little over a year to learn to play chess, he went ahead to deservedly become the New York State Primary Chess Champion (Top Players K – 3rd Grade) after debuting at the New York State chess championship in March.
This incredible feat brought him to the spotlight and became a blessing in disguise for him and his family who are currently battling to stay in the United States.
Tani, as he is affectionately called, and his older brother and parents arrived in the United States after they escaped Boko Haram in northern Nigeria in 2017, and have never looked back as they show resilience in their new life as refugees and through their immigration hearings to stay in the country legally.
After New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof highlighted Tani and his family’s story after visiting them in a homeless shelter in Manhattan, scores of readers stepped in him to help in whatever way that they could including setting up a GoFundMe to support his family. The campaign managed to raise $254,626, exceeding the $50,000 goal by the time it ended.
Thanks to the support, Tani and his family have moved out of the homeless shelter to a new 2-bedroom house in Manhattan which Kristof shared on Twitter on Tuesday.
The Adewumi family couldn’t help but share their excitement about their new home. Take look at their new home and the party they held for the people who helped them below. Wishing Tani the best of luck as he prepares for the nationals!
Tani, the formerly homeless chess champion, is showing his new home! Join us! https://t.co/k2mMjdbWEM
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) April 16, 2019
More about Tani’s journey
Tani, who has set his sights on becoming the youngest chess grand master has won over half a dozen trophies in the few months he started playing chess with the help of a part-time chess teacher at his local elementary school, P.S. 116, who taught his class how to play.
Tani’s interest in joining the chess club forced his mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, who is preparing to become a home health aide, to get him enrolled after explaining to the programme’s patron, Russell Makofsky, about their financial woes. Tani’s fees were waived by Makofsky and he won in his first tournament last year with the lowest rating of 105.
With a current rating of 1587 nearing that of the world’s best player, Magnus Carlsen who stands at 2845, Tami is touted to succeed despite the three-hour free practice sessions he attends in Harlem every Saturday and regular practice on his father’s laptop every evening.
“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,” said Makofsky. His chess teacher Shawn Martinez also said, “He is so driven. He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better.”
“Tani has an aggressive style of play, and in the state tournament the coaches, watching from the sidelines, were shocked when he sacrificed a bishop for a lowly pawn. Alarmed, they fed the move into a computer and it agreed with Tani, recognizing that the gambit would improve his position several moves later,” writes Nicholas Kristof in his NYT column.
The principal of Tani’s school Jane Hsu said the whiz kid is “an inspiring example of how life’s challenges do not define a person.” His parents are supportive despite being new to the game.
Tani’s father, Kayode Adewumi, works two jobs as a licensed real estate salesman and drives an Uber by renting cars. Mr Adewumi is awaiting the family’s asylum request as their next immigration hearing is scheduled for August.
“The U.S. is a dream country. Thank God I live in the greatest city in the world, which is New York, New York,” he told Kristof after acknowledging that his son’s talents would have died in Nigeria if they had stayed.
Tani’s parents said he has faced his fair share of discrimination including his classmates teasing him for being poor. However, he continues to practice chess as he prepares for the elementary national championship in May.