When Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi first learned about chess, he was in a very difficult time of life. At just 8 years old, he and his family were forced to flee Nigeria for fear of religious persecution.
They ended up in New York in a homeless shelter. It was when Tani started attending school that someone noticed he had a penchant for chess.
Just weeks after having learned the game, Tani was doing very well. So well that Shawn Martinez, the school’s chess coach, approached Tani’s family to see if he could join the chess program.
They had no extra money for the extracurricular — but the fees were waived, according to USA Today. The way forward was opened up to the young boy, and he was able to get free lessons, was gifted a chess clock and used his dad’s computer to play online.
Tani started to compete, and he started to win.
Realizing their son had potential but that they didn’t have the means to foster that potential, Tani’s parents started a GoFundMe for their son, and the public responded very positively, donating a total of over $250,000.
“Tani’s life was changed in 24 hours,” an update on the fundraiser read. “Generous donors and supporters came together outside of GoFundMe and provided us with the housing, legal, and educational resources we needed.”
As of May 1, at 10 years and 8 months old, Tani’s achieved the rank of national chess master just three years after learning to play.
“I was very happy that I won and that I got the title,” he said, according to NPR. “I really love that I finally got it.”
He’s far from the youngest chess master — he comes in at number 28 — but he’s set his sights on a new goal: to become the world’s youngest grandmaster.
And he just might do it.
At the moment, the bearer of that title is Sergey Karjakin, who became a grandmaster at 12 years and 7 months old — so Tani has a little bit of time to make that goal.
The boy says he practices “every day” for about 10 hours a day after school, and he’s both “aggressive” and “calm” in his style. According to updates on the GoFundMe page, Tani has lessons with a grandmaster coach several times a week.
“On a normal position, I can do up to 20 moves [in advance],” he said to NPR. “I guess Hikaru Nakamura is my favorite person I’ve ever played. He’s a grandmaster, a very strong one. He’s on the top of the rankings.”
Tani has a positive way at looking at the games he doesn’t win, focusing instead on what he’s learned than the mere fact that he’s lost.
“I say to myself that I never lose, that I only learn,” he said. “Because when you lose, you have to make a mistake to lose that game. So you learn from that mistake, and so you learn [overall]. So losing is the way of winning for yourself.”
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