An 11-year-old Black boy on his way to becoming chess’ youngest grandmaster

·3 min read

Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi has battled a challenging immigrant experience on his way to becoming one of chess’ best young players.

Black people eventually come for every sport in which we’re not traditionally known to engage. Now you can add chess to that list.

At just 11-years-old, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi is on deck to become the youngest-ever chess grandmaster, the highest title a player can attain after becoming a national master earlier this year. There are currently just over 1,700 grandmasters in the world. After turning 11 in September, Adewumi, has just under a year to break the record of 12-year-old grandmaster Abhimanyu Mishra.

In order to earn the title of grandmaster, Adewumi will have to achieve three grandmaster norms in a chess tournament and earn a FIDE (Federation Internationale des Echecs) rating of 2,500.

National Chess Master Tanitoluwa Adewumi, 10, is shown on the cover of his April 2020 book, “My Name Is Tani … and I Believe in Miracles.”
National Chess Master Tanitoluwa Adewumi, 10, is shown on the cover of his April 2020 book, “My Name Is Tani … and I Believe in Miracles.”

“I’m aggressive, I like to attack,” Adewumi told CNN of his style of play. “It’s just the way I think in general: I want to checkmate my opponent as fast as I can.”

Adewumi’s fortunes are a sharp reversal for he and his family, who fled northern Nigeria for New York City in 2017 due to fear of extremist group Boko Haram. They were living in a homeless shelter when Adewumi joined a chess club at his local public school, something he wouldn’t have been able to afford had the registration fee not been waived.

When he’s done with school, he’s home practicing for seven hours. On his off days, he pores over chess for up to 10 hours. His parents do what they can to cultivate Temi’s chess skills, including driving him to tournaments and providing him whatever resources they can to help him sharpen his skills.

Adewumi’s wins are racking up, but it’s the New York State Scholastic Primary Championship he won in 2019 at age eight that provoked a New York Times column that brought attention to Adewumi and motivated people to donate to his struggling family.

Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi (Go Fund Me)
Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi (Go Fund Me)

“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,” Adewumi’s father, real estate agent Kayode Adewumi, told CNN Sport. “A lot of people really helped us, a lot of people gave us financial (support) and money … they donated money for us to get out from the shelter.”

Kayode started a GoFundMe page for his son in April 2019 following his championship win to help the family get on their feet. The page is still live and now collects money for the Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation, which helps support underprivileged children the world over.

The page has garnered more than $256K, thousands more than his original $50K goal, with donations still trickling in.

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