An 8-year-old Nigerian refugee is taking the chess world by storm, and the budding prodigy says he has no plans of stopping.
“I want to be the youngest grandmaster in the world,” said Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi.
The third-grade student is riding high after winning first place in his category at the New York State Scholastics Chess Championship over the weekend. Adewumi, who attends P.S. 116 in Manhattan, overcame 73 of the most skilled chess players in his age group to win the primary school championship n the state competition.
The road to becoming New York’s primary school chess champ began for Adewumi almost a year ago when Russell Makofsky, his coach and overseer of the chess program at P.S. 116, helped him practice the board game for hours after school. Makofsky said it was only a matter of time before Adewumi shot to the top of the class.
“His intellect, his aptitude, his capacity to learn chess is off the charts,” Makofsky told USA Today. “From not playing to beating the best of the best in one year is unheard of, all while living in a homeless shelter.
That’s right, Adewumi and his family are homeless. As reported by BBC News, the family fled northern Nigeria in 2017 to escape attacks on Christians by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. Seeking religious asylum, the family settled in New York close to a year ago and are now living at a local shelter.
Although they still don’t have a permanent place to call home, the little boy’s parents said they’re willing to do whatever it takes to support their son. For now, Adewumi is stuck practicing the board game on the floor when he’s not at school.
“We are grateful to God for giving us the opportunity to put him in a school that he can see his goal and get his career,” mother Oluwatoyin Adewumi said.
School chess coach Shawn Martinez reach out to Adewumi about joining the chess club after seeing him excel in the game just weeks after learning it, USA TODAY reported. With the membership, however, came costly fees the 8-year-old’s family simply could not afford. So, Martinez decided to waive all Adewumi’s club costs, which for players who become heavily involved can easily exceed thousands of dollars for things like travel and chess camp admissions.
“He smiled every time he did anything on the board or learned something new,” Martinez said of the young prodigy who learned to play chess at school last year. “I could just tell this game was for him.”
A fellow student even gifted Adewumi with a chess clock to use for practice, according to the new site. His mother also helped foster his success by taking him to free three-hour practice sessions in Harlem while his dad let him play online chess on his laptop.
“It’s deep thinking, you have to like understand a lot of stuff,” Adewumi said of the brain-blasting board game.
Since his state championship win, a GoFundMe page launched on Adewumi’s family’s behalf has raised more than $160,000 as of Tuesday. The online campaign, created by Makofsky, was launched with the goal of helping “Tani’s family secure a home where he can continue on his journey.” Maksofsky said the family has even received offers for a car, legal services, and even housing.
“My hope is that he’ll be in a home tonight,” the chess coach told USA TODAY.
With a state win under his belt, Adewumi is now prepping for the elementary national championship in May.