10-Year-Old Chess Champ Continues Making Moves


Being a 10-year-old chess champ is impressive. And it might bring to mind words like “prodigy,” or “innate talent.” But phrases like that diminish what Tani Adewumi had to overcome to get here.

Tani and his family are refugees. In 2017, his parents made the decision to flee their native Nigeria and seek asylum in the United States. They were living in a homeless shelter in Manhattan when Tani first learned to play chess.

His school had a part-time chess teacher, and Tani took to the game quickly. He discovered that the school had a chess club, and he was excited about the prospect of playing more. There was one problem: living in a shelter, his family couldn’t afford the fees that were necessary to join the club. Tani’s mom sent an email to the school that explained the family’s situation, and in a triumph of common sense the school agreed to waive the fees and let Tani join the chess club.



It’s tempting to say something like “And the rest is history,” but more accurately: the rest is a story of determination and focus. His school’s chess teacher, Shawn Martinez — the one who introduced the game to Tani — told Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, “He is so driven. He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better.”

And that drive extends beyond the chess club at school. When Tani was 8, his mom would drive him to Harlem every Saturday for a free three-hour practice session. And his dad would give up his laptop in the evenings so that Tani could practice online.

The hours and hours of practice paid off. A little over a year after first learning the game, Tani went to the New State chess championship and came out on top of his age bracket. And a couple of weeks ago, Tani won another championship in Fairfield, Connecticut; a tournament that raised his chess rating to that of a Chess National Master. A reminder: Tani is 10-years-old.

It’s a feel-good story for a lot of reasons. But what’s especially impressive is Tani’s focus. He told the New York Times that he wants to be the youngest Grandmaster (the youngest currently is American Samuel Sevian, who earned the title at 13). And while lots of kids want to be the next home run king, or the next G.O.A.T. of their favourite sport, Tani sounds like he could be the real deal; not because of what he’s accomplished, but because of how hard he’s worked to get here.

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