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King’s Gambit: Formerly Homeless Nigerian Boy Becomes U.S. Chess Master At Just 10 Years Old

Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi may only be 10 years old, but he will dominate you in a game of chess… or anything else you throw at him. 

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In 2017, Adewumi and his family fled Nigeria to escape violent attacks against Christian families like his own. They ended up residing in a shelter in Manhattan, where the young boy was first exposed to the competitive board game. 

Through the assistance of a local pastor, he started attending elementary school. Teacher Russel Makofsky instructed his class how to play chess, and Adewumi was captivated.

Through the assistance of a local pastor, he started attending elementary school. Teacher Russel Makofsky instructed his class how to play chess, and Adewumi was captivated.

Makofsky also happened to host the school’s chess club. When Adewumi, who was 8 years old at the time, could not afford the program admission fees, his educator waved the costs and welcomed him into the club.

His first chess tournament went poorly, and he got the lowest score of any student. One short year later, Adewumi dominated and took home the state championship trophy, competing against 73 of the New York state’s best players, ranging from grades K-3. 

Now, he’s labeled as a “prodigy,” having claim to being the first competitor EVER to win a state championship on his first try. He’s rated 1,587 and closing, which is roughly half as high as the world’s best player. He’s also the 28th youngest person to have earned the title of Chess Master.

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After Adewumi and his family’s story was shared in the New York Times back in 2019, a fundraising campaign was initiated for the family to help them relocate into permanent housing. Over $250,000 was raised, and the family now happily resides in Connecticut and the children are excelling academically. 

He may be young… but he’s ready to kick your butt in a game of chess.

Written by Abigale Racine