Homeless immigrant family finds a home thanks to chess

by Macauley Peterson
3/26/2019 – Just a week ago, 8-year old Tanitoluwa Adewumi was living in a New York City homeless shelter. But a story in the New York Times about his success at the NY State Scholastic Chess Championship launched the boy to international prominence and prompted a GoFundMe campaign which has raised nearly $250,000 dollars. | Photo: "Just Tani" GoFundMe page

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'Tani' has a home, and a bright future

It all started with a Sunday opinion column in the March 16th edition of the New York Times. A story about an 8-year-old Nigerian refugee who was living with his family in a homeless shelter and just returned from the New York State Scholastic Chess Championship, in Saratoga Springs, NY, with a trophy "almost as big as he is". Tanitoluwa Adewumi ('Tani' for short) is a third grader who won the "Primary Championship" with a score of 5½/6.

What's most remarkable about this result is that he learned to play chess and played his first rated tournament just one year ago. The Adewumi family fled Nigeria fearing attacks on Christians by members of the Boko Haram terrorist group and sought asylum in New York in 2017. While living in the homeless shelger, Tani enrolled in a local public school where a part-time chess teacher taught him how to play. Since then, by playing almost a tournament per week (on average), his USCF rating has climbed from 105 — after his first outing in the "Under 300" section — to 1534 as of last week. That puts him among the top 20 players age 8 or below in the USA.

He told The Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, "I want to be the youngest grandmaster".

Adewumi family

The Adewumi family | Photo: "Just Tani" GoFundMe page

What happened next is truly extraordinary. A GoFundMe campaign was set up for the family by Russel Makofsky, who oversaw the chess program at Tani's elementary school, and it was linked by The Times with an initial goal meeting the family's immediate housing needs. Within two days the campaign's goal was increased to $50,000 following the overwhelming response from the public. Then the story really took off.

It even got the attention of former US President Bill Clinton:

Then came an appearance on the Today Show

1.e4 f5? 2.exf5 g5 3.Qh5# reverse Fool's Mate on NBC's Today Show, March 19th, 2019

One donor who heard his story offered the family a rent-free apartment for a year near Tani's school, reports Kristof in a follow up column for The Times.

Currently the GoFundMe campaign is nearing $250,000 and growing at a steady clip. But the family is not planning to keep the money, according to the paper:

The Adewumis have decided that they will not spend a cent of the $200,000 GoFundMe money on themselves. They will take out a 10 percent tithe and donate it to their church, which helped them while they were homeless, and the rest will be channeled through a new Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation to help African immigrants who are struggling in the United States the way they were a week ago.

Below is one (partial) game from the NY State tournament. At his current rate of progress we should be hearing more about this boy soon!


Final standings (top 10)

# Name ID Rtng Team Grd Tot Prize
1 Tanitoluwa Adewumi 16649696 1473 P116M 3 First Place!
2 Jack Faissal 16250210 1470 NEST 2 5 Second Place
3 Avaan Chamadia 15907570 1711 P11M 3 5 Third Place
4 Colin Dean 15867091 1468 BRUNS 3 5 Fourth Place
5 Oliver Boydell 15727933 1599 SPEYR 3 5 Fifth Place
6 Michael Li 16125800 1425 CANES 3 5 Sixth Place
7 Jasper Ho 16038265 1607 SPEYR 3 Seventh Place
8 Henry Nieuwerburgh 16089188 1171 DALTN 2 Eighth Place
9 Aliana Fausto 16089084 1504 P77M 3 Ninth Place
10 Yunqi Liu 16970580 1350 CIMF 3 4 Tenth Place

New York State Primary Championship Standings

BBC News report, March 20th


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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