8-Year-Old Homeless Nigerian Refugee Wins New York State Chess Championship

Jason Duaine Hahn
8-Year-Old Chess Champion Living in Shelter Is No Longer Homeless

After winning the New York State chess championship, 8-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi, a Nigerian refugee, returned to the homeless shelter where he lives with his family.

Earlier this month, Tanitoluwa, who goes by Tani, earned first place at the 52nd New York State Scholastic Championships tournament for kindergarten to third-grade players, according to the New York Times. The elementary school student went undefeated throughout the tournament, which featured players from elite private schools with private chess tutors, the newspaper reported.

Even more impressive? Tani only learned to play chess a little more than a year ago.

“I want to be the youngest grandmaster,” he told Nick Kristof of the Times.

Tani practices the game during three-hour sessions in Harlem every Saturday, and squeezes in time during the week to play online on his father’s laptop. Shawn Martinez, Tani’s chess teacher, believes the young boy could fulfill his dream of becoming a grandmaster in as little as two years.

“He is so driven,” Martinez said.“He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better.”

According to the Times, Tani and his family left Nigeria in 2017 when they feared they would become the target of Boko Haram terrorists, who were persecuting Christians. Tani, his older brother and his parents obtained asylum in New York City, where they have lived in a shelter ever since.

A GoFundMe page was recently started to help the family find more permanent living arrangements and has raised more than $192,000 from 3,698 donors in just four days. In a recent update, the campaign’s organizers announced they were starting a foundation in Tani’s name.

“Tani is rich beyond measure,” Russell Makofsky, who supervises the chess program at Tani’s elementary school, told the Times. “One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources…I’ve never seen it.”

Tani’s story even got the attention of former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who invited the boy and his family to his offices in Harlem.

“This story made me smile,” Clinton wrote on Twitter. “Tanitoluwa, you exemplify a winning spirit – in chess and in life. And kudos to your hardworking parents. You all should stop by my office in Harlem; I’d love to meet you.”

RELATED: Heath Ledger’s Passion for Chess

Tani’s family, meanwhile, is relishing in the incredible opportunities he has experienced since they fled for their lives two years ago.

“The U.S. is a dream country,” Tani’s father told the newspaper. “Thank God I live in the greatest city in the world, which is New York, New York.”