A 9-Year-Old Refugee Wins NY Chess Championship That Changed His Life

Tanitoluwa Adewumi learned chess about 1 year ago in the homeless shelter, now he is living in an apartment given by others
BY Shiwen Rong TIMEOctober 16, 2019 PRINT

NEW YORK—In a nearly new apartment in Midtown Manhattan, in the corner of a fully decorated room, there is an old-fashioned chessboard.

In March, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi was known as the homeless chess boy, but his life changed after winning his first New York State Scholastic Championships tournament for his age group.

Tani’s father, Kayode J. Adewumi, had owned a printing press in Nigeria with 13 employees and had a good life. However, he feared for his family’s safety when Christians were attacked by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

In 2017, Tani and his family escaped from Nigeria and fled to the United States to search for a new life.

From a business owner to a refugee, starting a new life in a foreign country wasn’t easy for his family of four.

While living in a homeless shelter, Tani’s brother decided to teach Tani chess with a self-made chessboard.

“We have this chessboard, but not really a chessboard, its another type of game called Latter,” Tani said. “So he made Play-Dough pieces that he learned. We put it there and started playing.”

That was the moment when Tani discovered his love for chess. He then joined his school chess club, where he began to take the game seriously.


One day, Tani told his mom, Oluwatoyin K. Adewumi, that he would take home a trophy. But it wasn’t his time yet.

In 2018, after two months of training, he had his first competition. But the process of winning wasn’t without failures.

“Physically I lost, but technically it’s just learning, because its a process of learning,” said Tani.

A year later, Tani won first place in the K through 3rd-grade section at the New York State Scholastic Championships tournament and took home several trophies.

Tani’s next goal is to become a grandmaster at age 11 or 12, the youngest in the world.

Since his big win, Tani has received nationwide attention and has changed the life of his whole family. They received an apartment, which has been filled, piece by piece, by kind-hearted strangers, with love.

“Honestly, what America did, I never have seen it,” said Kayode. “Because they show love to us, to the immigrants, it’s wonderful. I really thank God.”

“I’m just going to thank God, that’s what I’m going to do,” said Tani.

For everything he and his family have received, they want to give back.

Kayode started a foundation in Tani’s name, to share with those who are in need just like they once were.

Shiwen Rong
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