Tani's dreams

by Frederic Friedel
7/17/2020 – His full name is Tanitoluwa Emmanuel Adewumi, Tani for short, and he was a Nigerian refugee living in a homeless shelter in Manhattan, USA. There Tani discovered his affinity for chess, and at the age of nine his goal is to become the world’s youngest grandmaster – something the Covid pandemic is making it very difficult to achieve. Watch this inspiring CBS report.

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Tani Adewumi was born on September 3, 2010, in Nigeria, of devout Christian parents. When the family was threatened with violence by the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram, they left Nigeria for the United States, in 2017, and sought religious asylum. They were given a place to stay in a homeless shelter in Manhattan, and Tani was enrolled in elementary school.

The lad took to chess very naturally. Full details are to be found on his Wikipedia page. On March 2019, Tani competed in the 52nd Annual New York State Scholastic Championships K-3 division (kindergarten to 3rd grade). He was seeded eighth and had an Elo rating of 1473, over 200 behind the top rated players, some of whom were from well-to-do families and had private coaches. Tani won the event with a score of 5.5/6, playing aggressively, sacrificing pieces. We wrote about this at the time in a ChessBase report, and the story was reported by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, and gained national and international attention. Garry Kasparov praised his achievement, and Bill Clinton invited him to visit at his office in Harlem. In March last year he visited the Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri, and played several blitz games against Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Jennifer Yu. He was also interviewed by Maurice Ashley.

[Event "NYS Scholastic Championship"] [White "Kong,Milo"] [Black "Adewumi,Tanitoluwa"] [Site ""] [Round "4"] [Annotator ""] [Result "0-1"] [Date "2019.03.19"] [WhiteElo "1371"] [BlackElo "1473"] [PlyCount "60"] 1. e4 {} b6 2. d4 Bb7 3. Bd3 Nf6 4. f3 e6 5. c4 d5 (5... Nc6 $11 )6. e5 $146 {B00: Queen's Fianchetto Defence, Nimzowitsch Defence } (6. exd5 $14 exd5 7. Nc3 )({Predecessor:} 6. cxd5 exd5 7. e5 Nfd7 8. f4 c5 9. Nf3 Nc6 10. 0-0 cxd4 11. a3 {1/2-1/2 (58) Moiseenko,A (2692)-Mamedyarov,S (2736) Berlin 2015} )dxc4 $15 7. Bxc4 Nd5 8. Nc3 {The position is equal.} Bb4 (8... c5 $11 )9. Bd2 $2 (9. Nge2 $14 {keeps the upper hand.} )Qh4+ $17 { [#] Double Attack} 10. g3 (10. Kf1 $142 )Qxd4 { Double Attack} 11. Nxd5 (11. Bxd5 $17 exd5 12. Nge2 )Qxe5+ ({Much less strong is} 11... Bxd5 12. Bxd5 Bc5 13. Nh3 )(11... Bxd2+ $19 12. Qxd2 Qxc4 )12. Ne3 $2 (12. Ne2 $17 Bxd2+ 13. Qxd2 exd5 14. 0-0-0 )Qxe3+ $19 13. Be2 Qxd2+ 14. Qxd2 Bxd2+ 15. Kxd2 Ke7 16. Rc1 Rd8+ 17. Ke3 Rd7 18. Nh3 h6 19. g4 (19. Nf2 $142 )g5 20. Rhd1 (20. Nf2 {keeps fighting.} )Rxd1 21. Bxd1 c5 22. Nf2 Nc6 23. Nd3 Nd4 (23... Rd8 $142 {Strongly threatening ...f5.} 24. h3 f5 )24. b4 Rd8 25. bxc5 b5 26. Ne5 Rd5 27. c6 Rxe5+ 28. Kxd4 Rd5+ 29. Ke3 Bc8 30. Be2 (30. Bb3 $17 Re5+ 31. Kd4 )Kd6 {and Black eventually won.

Here's a game Tani played at the NYS Scholastic Championship

After the 2019 New York Scholastics a GoFundMe crowdfunding action was started, with the goal of $50,000 for the Adewumi family. It raised $254,000 in ten days, one-tenth of which they donated to the church which had initially helped them, and put the rest into the Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation to help other children in similar circumstances.

Three film companies have competed for the rights to his story (Paramount Pictures won), and an autobiography, My Name Is Tani, was published in April this year.

Tani’s ambition is to become the youngest ever chess grandmaster. Quite a tall task, since the record (by Sergey Karjakin) is 12 years and seven months. And a problem has arisen: the Covid pandemic has shut down all the events Tani had planned to participate in, to move forward towards his goal.

On Thursday in CBS there was a 3½ minute report on Tani and his ambitions. It is inspiring to hear him speak on his hopes and aspirations.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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He is spectacular. I have had some interactions with him recently on chess.com and he is a nice young man too.

Recently, he went from mid 1963 to 2059 at a 4 round event where he beat 3 national masters, one of whom was above 2300. He lost to GM Michael Rohde... a very impressive event for a 9 year old!
Frederic Frederic 7/18/2020 04:29
Gukesh missed breaking Karjakin's record by 17 days.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 7/17/2020 03:28
Especially due to COVID-19, it is still a long-shot that he could even become the youngest GM at the time when he makes it, and I do think that he probably will eventually become a GM, but I think that Karjakin's all-time record is very safe.
NYTed NYTed 7/17/2020 02:26
Thank you Frederic Friedel, I somehow managed to miss the story of this young man.