10-Year-Old Chess Master Learned to Play While Homeless

I am not a chess player. In fact, I find chess pretty boring. My sons have all played chess, but never on a competitive level. I know it is a very intellectual game and requires a tremendous amount of strategy. Me, I’d rather play a party game like Telestrations or Codenames, where without fail, everyone ends up laughing like maniacs. However, I found a chess story that I found just so inspiring, I thought I would share it.

Tanitoluwa Adewumi, who goes by ‘Tani’ became a Chess Master on May 1, 2001. Becoming a Chess Master is no small thing, it requires a consistently high level of play and requires you to beat another established Chess Master and an International Chess Master. Very few people reach this level, even people who play their whole lives. Tani, however, became a Chess Master at the age of 10, becoming the 28th youngest Chess Master ever. What makes the task even more remarkable is that Tani, who left Nigeria with his family as refugees in 2017, learned the game at school, while being homeless. Tani’s family fled Boko Haram, a violent and militant Islamic group that is attempting to sever its people from all ties to Western Culture. This includes allowing secular education, democracy and voting rights, and rights for women. Boko Haram was the group that in 2014 kidnapped 200 girls to marry off or enslave. Tani’s family lived in a homeless shelter in New York while Tani attended school. Tani was introduced to chess at school, but could not afford to join the chess club. Tani’s father worked as a dishwasher and Uber driver and his mother cleaned buildings. Fortunately, the chess teacher was kind enough to waive the fees. Tani was such a natural at chess, he won the New York chess championship for kindergarten through third-grade division in 2019.

So surprised was everyone that this young refugee boy was a chess prodigy, help started to come in from all directions. A classmate gave him a chess clock, his mother took him to chess practice sessions in Harlem, and his dad obtained a laptop to let Tani practice chess online. A GoFundMe has been set up to help him with education and housing expenses, as well as travel expenses for chess tournaments. Unfortunately for Tani, he has been invited to chess tournaments in other countries, which he has to decline because of his immigration status as a refugee. It would be possible if Tani left the United States, he would not be let back in, and so he has to turn down those invitations to play abroad for now.

Tani works with a Grandmaster chess coach now twice a week and he continues to improve his already prodigious talents. He often pts in He usually puts in 10 to 11 hours of chess practice a day! HE IS 10! He already has plans to become the youngest Chess Grandmaster, which he has to do by the time he reaches 12 years and 7 months old, which is the current record. With all the support Tani is getting and the hard work he is putting into chess, I think he will likely reach this goal. Despite all the obstacles put in his way, Tani isn’t going to stop pursuing his love of chess. As I said, I don’t get chess at all, but I am inspired by this little guy’s positive attitude and determination.

Tani is also the author of a book about his experience- My Name is Tani. . . and I Believe in Miracles: The Amazing True Story of One Boy’s Journey from Refugee to Chess Champion. You can check them out below:

PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Lee, New York Times. Source

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