Family & Pets
King in the making: Child chess prodigy plays his way off the streets
11-year-old Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi has big dreams for his chess career, and has already made some big steps towards making them come true.
After he became a national chess master earlier this year - making him the 28th youngest person to claim the title - Tani now hopes to become the youngest ever grandmaster.
“I’m aggressive, I like to attack,” he told CNN Sport. “It’s just the way I think in general: I want to checkmate my opponent as fast as I can.”
He would have to outperform the current record-holder, 12-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra, but Tani is working hard to get there.
As well as attending school in New York, Tani practices his chess moves for seven hours a day.
When he isn’t at school, the chess prodigy can put in between eight and 10 hours of practice a day.
Though he has collected a suite of trophies, Tani considers one to be particularly special - the 2019 New York State chess championship title - because of the life-changing effect it had on his family.
“That’s the one that really boosted us up to become where we are today, and also me and my chess,” Tani said.
Nearly two years prior to the win, Tani and his family fled Northern Nigeria amidst fears of attacks by extremist group Boko Haram.
After arriving in the US, the family lived in a homeless shelter, while Tani joined the chess club at his school.
When the news came of his win, his family received a flood of financial support.
“One family, they paid for a year’s rent in Manhattan, one family gave us in 2019 a brand-new Honda, and the Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri invited the family and the coaches to come and pay a visit,” Tani’s father, Kayode Adewumi, told CNN Sport.
“A lot of people helped us, a lot of people gave us financial [support] and money … they donated money for us to get out from the shelter.”
The family initially started a GoFundMe page to help them cover housing, legal, and educational costs.
Additional donations are being funnelled towards the Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation, which supports underprivileged children.
“We need to give back to the needy, because we know what it takes - we’ve tasted everything,” Mr Adewumi said.
“When we were in the shelter, some people are still there. We need to help the needy, especially the chess community and the people that need help. That’s why we put the money into the foundation, to help people.”
Through the foundation, the family has also contributed money to a chess organisation in Africa with the hopes of encouraging more people to take up the game.
Tani’s life has some common traits to that of the protagonist in the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. Tani said he has watched the series and that he “definitely did” see himself in it.
“Chess is everything to me, it’s my life,” he said. “That’s how we came to where we are today.”