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10-year-old boy went from being a homeless refugee to America’s newest national chess master

Tanitoluwa Adewumi, formerly a homeless refugee is America’s newest chess master—and he’s only 10 years old.

This boy from New York City was once a homeless refugee who fled Nigeria with his family to escape persecution by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

Tanitoluwa’s family credits God for his success. In a Facebook post, the prodigy’s father, Kayode Adewumi, shared a picture of his son holding two trophies. The photo was from his May 1 win at the Fairfield County Chess Club Championship tournament in Connecticut. Tani won all four of his matches, bringing his chess rating up to 2223.

“Our God has done it again today. Tanitoluwa won Chess Club of Fairfield Connecticut championship,” his dad wrote in the post’s caption.

According to the U.S. Chess Federation, this young homeless refugee is the 28th youngest person to become a national chess master. The boy, who had to defeat another national chess master and international chess master to earn his latest ranking, said that he’s “very happy” about his feat.

“I’m very happy that I won and that I got the title. I’m very happy with myself. I really love that I finally got it,” he told NPR.

Tani has only been playing chess for about three years. He practices every day after school for 10 or 11 hours. Despite his hectic schedule, the boy luckily still manages to get some sleep.

These long hours of practicing have certainly paid off. As a chess player, Tani describes himself as “aggressive” or “calm” when he needs to be. He’s also someone who always thinks ahead.

“On a normal position, I can do up to 20 moves [in advance]”, he said.

Tani competes against chess players of all ages, but his favorite match would have to be with Hikaru Nakamura, whom he described as “a grandmaster, a very strong one.”

Hikaru won the match, but Tani takes every loss as a learning experience.

“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.”

In 2019, Tani was still living with his family in a homeless shelter in Manhattan. That same year, he was featured in an op-ed by The New York Times shortly after becoming the winner of New York state’s primary chess championship after only a little over a year of playing chess.

“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),” The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristoff wrote in a tweet after Tani earned his chess master title.

In 2017, Christians faced deadly terrorist attacks in Nigeria, forcing Tani’s family to leave. But since 2019, life for the Adewumis has improved significantly.

They have moved out of the Manhattan shelter, and a book has also been written about the boy’s life, titled “My Name Is Tani … and I Believe in Miracles: The Amazing True Story of One Boy’s Journey from Refugee to Chess Champion.”

Tani’s journey is far from over. He said that his goal is to be the world’s youngest grandmaster. At 10 years and 8 months, he has less than two years to beat the current record holder, Sergey Karjakin, who earned the title at 12 years and 7 months.

We’re all rooting for you, Tani!

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