top of page

10-year-old boy who once lived in a homeless shelter becomes America's newest Chess Master

[Oct 4, 2021: Christine Fernando]

Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi became America's newest chess master on May 1 at the age of 10 years, seven months and 28 days (CREDIT: Russ Makofsky)

A 10-year-old who once lived in a New York City homeless shelter has achieved a remarkable title for someone his age: chess master.

Tanitoluwa "Tani" Adewumi became America's newest chess master on May 1 at the age of 10 years, seven months and 28 days, making him the 28th youngest person to achieve the status, according to the U.S. Chess Federation.

"I was very happy that I won and that I got the title," Tani, a Nigerian refugee, told NPR. "I really love that I finally got it."


On his road to master status, Tani had to defeat two experts, a master and an international master, the Chess Federation said.

He told NPR he practiced chess for 10 or 11 hours every day after school to get to that level.

Tani made national headlines in 2019 when he was living in a homeless shelter and won the New York state chess championship for his age group.

Tani's family left northern Nigeria in 2017 as refugees and moved to New York City, the New York Times reported. While his family lived in a homeless shelter, Tani learned to play chess at school.


When his family was unable to pay membership costs for the school's chess program, chess teacher Russell Makofsky waived the fees. Tani went on to win the state championship for kindergarten through third grade in 2019.

Tani went on to win the state championship for kindergarten through third grade. (CREDIT: Kayode Adewumii)

"It’s unheard of for any kid, let alone one in a homeless shelter," Makofsky told USA TODAY at the time.

Others offered to help as well, the New York Times reported. A student gave Tani a chess clock. His mother took him to free practice sessions in Harlem, and his dad offered his laptop for Tani to play chess online.

Since then, a GoFundMe set up by his father, Kayode, has raised almost $255,000 for housing, legal and educational resources for Tani.


Now, a grandmaster coach teaches Tani two or three times a week, according to a May 10 update on the GoFundMe page. But travel costs are still a challenge, and when Tani is invited to tournaments abroad, he often can't go "while his immigration case is pending for fear he might not be allowed back into the United States."

But his love of chess is "as strong as ever," the page said.

"Tani's talent has continued to blossom through hard work," the U.S. Chess Federation said.

Tani has also since become an author.

His book, "My Name Is Tani ... and I Believe in Miracles: The Amazing True Story of One Boy's Journey from Refugee to Chess Champion," tells the story of his family fleeing Boko Haram and coming to the U.S., where his father became a dishwasher and Uber driver and his mother cleaned buildings, according to the book's summary.

"Eight-year-old Tani jumped into his new life with courage and perseverance – and an unusual mind for chess," the book says. "After joining the chess club in his public school, Tani practiced his game for hours in the evenings at the shelter. And less than a year after he learned to play, Tani won the New York state chess championship."


But Tani isn't done yet. He's set his sights on becoming the youngest grandmaster.

According to International Chess Federation, he has two years to accomplish this: Sergey Karjakin, the current record-holder, achieved that status at 12 years and seven months.

On his GoFundMe page, people have left messages thanking Tani for inspiring them and encouraging him to continue to rise in the chess world.

"Tani's story has touched so many, inspired us to be better, to love more, to try harder, and has tapped into the good that exists in all of us," the GoFundMe page said.

For more good news stories check out our Good News section at The Brighter Side of News.


Like these kind of feel good stories? Get the Brighter Side of News' newsletter.


Most Recent Stories

bottom of page