In 2019, Nigerian refugee Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi rose to national prominence after New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof shared the story of Adewumi’s ascent from homeless youth to winning the New York State K-3 Championship at only eight years old. And now years removed from such a prestigious honor, his light burns brighter than ever before with the announcement that he’s just become America’s newest national chess master.
According to the US Chess Foundation, the now 10-year-old won all four of his matches at the Fairfield County Chess Club Championship tournament in Connecticut on May 1, making him the 28th youngest person to become a chess master after increasing his chess rating to 2223.
“It feels very wonderful,” he told WABC. “It feels very good. I’ve been trying to get it for some time now, since the pandemic, so it feels very relieving to finally get the title.”
Adewumi’s latest accomplishment comes after only playing chess for three years. When he first began, he and his family were living in a homeless shelter in Manhattan “after fleeing religious persecution by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in their home country of Nigeria,” per NPR.
Adewumi, who claims he practices every day for as many as 10 to 11 hours, discussed his future plans with the Saint Louis Chess Club.
“Win the national,” he said. “Then I want to be the youngest grandmaster in history.”
Currently, chess prodigy Sergey Karjakin lays claim to that title after accomplishing this feat in 2014 at the age of 12 years and 7 months. It’s a lofty goal, but Adewumi believes it’s entirely possible.
On Twitter, Kristof sang Adewumi’s praises and congratulated him on his latest accolade.
“Remember Tani Adewumi, the Nigerian refugee kid I wrote about 2 years ago who won the NY State chess championship while in a homeless shelter?” he tweeted. “Now well housed (thanks to you readers!), he just won a championship and is officially a National Chess Master as a 10-yr-old 5th grader!”
Kristof continued in another tweet, “Tani is a reminder: Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. He was lucky that his homeless shelter was near a school with a chess program. It waived the chess club fees for him. He’s also a reminder that refugees enrich our country (I say that as the son of a refugee).”
When I was 10 years old, my proudest accomplishment was walking my sister home from school. So congrats to Adewumi for staying committed to his craft and dominating his opposition along the way.