chess board with black and white pieces

8-year-old living in homeless shelter won New York chess championship: ‘I want to be the youngest grandmaster’

There are very few indoor sports that exercise the mind as much as Chess. The sport has featured some of the most brilliant minds in human history. In 2019, an 8-year-old hoped to add his name to the list of legends in the sports’ history.


However, even if that may seem like a child’s dream, this child had a special story. He was a refugee from Nigeria and his future was anything but certain. But even then he dreamt of being one of the best at Chess, the game he so dearly loved.


Tanitoluwa Adewumi – From Nigeria To USA

Tanitoluwa Adewumi, also known as Tani, had begun to learn chess in 2018. In 2017, his family had fled from Northern Nigeria. They were afraid of the terrorist group Boko Haram attacking them since they were Christians. Kayode Adewumi, in an interview with a New York Times Columnist[1], said that he simply did not want to lose anyone he loved.

Tanitoluwa Adewumi in 2019.
Image Credits: Christopher Lee | New York Times

As a result, they ended up in New York City in 2018. The Adewumis comprised of the parents and their two sons. Tani is their younger son. A pastor showed them the way to a shelter for the homeless. Tani got enrolled at the elementary school in the locality. The school had a part-time school teacher. This is where Tani’s journey in chess began.


Tani enjoyed chess and begged his mother, Oluwatoyin, to let him be a member of the school’s chess club. Mrs. Adewumi notified the club via e-mail about her son’s interest. However, she also informed them that she had no means to pay the program’s fees.


Russell Makofsky, the overseer of the school’s chess program, generously waived Tani’s fees. One year later, Tani participated in his first tournament. However, his rating was the lowest there – 105. His aggressive playing style alarmed the trainers present at the tournament. They later analyzed his moves, and to their surprise, Tani’s moves were correct according to the computer.


The Start Of Tani’s Chess Career Was Tough

Tani’s father works 2 jobs. One of them is as an Uber driver, the other as a licensed salesman for real estate. Tani’s mother got the certification required for being a home health aide. However, Tani’s family still had barely enough to scrounge by, let alone move out of the homeless shelter.


His parents talked about how Tani would sometimes come home in tears because his classmates would tease him for his poor financial circumstances. Nevertheless, Tani soldiers on. He used to lie down on the shelter’s floor and continued practicing chess for as long as he could.


To that end, Tani became the chess champion for the age group of kindergarten to third grade in 2019. In one of the tournaments, he was undefeated. His rating climbed to 1587 by the time of his first championship. Mofosky would go on to exclaim how such a rise is unprecedented.

Tani(middle), his brother, and his mother with his New York State Chess Championship trophy in 2019.
Image Credits: Christopher Lee | New York Times

Tani’s rise is particularly special because he did all this without the usual family resources. Tani has raw talent and a whole heap of determination. Tani’s parents said that if Tani had stayed back in Nigeria, then this talent for chess would not have ever flowered.

As such, the New York Times column on Tani spread like wildfire. A GoFundMe page was set up for the kid.

Read: Heart-Melting Moment When A Man Gave His Shirt To A Homeless, Shivering Man


The Chess Prodigy’s Story Does Not End There

In 2021, Tani, now a fifth-grader, attained a rating of 2223. Magnus Carlsen’s rating is 2865, just a point of reference. He is now one of the national masters in the United States. Tani is also the 28th-youngest person to attain the title of a chess master in the US.

Also, he is no longer homeless! The GoFundMe funds helped the Oduwemi family move out of the homeless shelter and get their own apartment.

Tani after winning a chess championship in 2021.
Image Credits: The Adewumi Family

Tani, though, is aiming higher. He said, in a more recent New York Times[2] article: “I want to be the youngest grandmaster.” Presently, Sergey Karkajin holds that record at 12 years and 7 months.

Even Gary Kasparov, one of the legends of Chess, heaped praise on Tani and his rapid progress. Tani claims that “the Queen’s Gambit”, a series on Netflix, has become a large inspiration for him. Tani, however, may get a film adaptation of its own after Paramount Pictures has optioned the Oduwemi’s family story.

Tani remained in the public school where his Chess journey had begun, even though the Oduwemis received offers from much more prestigious schools. Furthermore, the Oduwemis also used a part of the funds to set up a foundation for helping other refugees and the homeless.

Today, Tani and his family live on Long Island, and they have enough financial means to sustain themselves. However, Tani’s chess career involves a few monetary challenges, such as hiring a personal chess coach. Moreover, Tani’s immigration case is still pending so he cannot participate in any foreign competitions.

For now, though, Tani’s eyes are set on conquering all he can within the country.

All the best to the aspiring chess grandmaster!

Keep Reading: At Only 9-Years-Old She Built Tiny Homes for The Homeless


  1. This 8-Year-Old Chess Champion Will Make You Smile.” NY Times. March 16, 2019.
  2. Remember the Homeless Chess Champion? The Boy Is Now a Chess Master.NY Times. Nicholas Kristof. May, 2021