Tanitoluwa Adewumi from Nigeria lay on the floor of the homeless shelter in New York for hours on end, practising his chess game. After just one year of learning the game, he won the kindergarten-to-third-grade division at the New York State Championship. Tani, as he is known, told Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, “I want to be the youngest grandmaster.”

Tani’s family left the northern part of Nigeria, where Boko Haram has devastated lives, and fled to the US, where they are currently seeking asylum. However, his father, who works as an Uber driver, and his mother, who just passed a course to become a home health aide, face housing difficulties. A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money for housing for the family. In four days, US$183 907 was raised.

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Tanitoluwa with his family in New York. The 8-year-old seeks to be the youngest grandmaster in the world. Photo: GoFundMe Page

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In an interview with the BBC, Tani said he plays chess for three hours after supper and would like to break the world champion record. His mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, got a note from Tani’s class teacher, stating that Tani would like to join the chess club. His mother sent a mail to the school’s chess coach, requesting for Tani to be a member of the chess club. She got a fee waiver and Tani was signed up for a scholarship by Russell Makofsky, who oversees the chess programme. Tani’s brother, Austin, who used to take him to chess classes, is older than Tani by seven years.

Tani’s style of play has been described as aggressive. He alarmed coaches watching from the side lines when he sacrificed a bishop for a pawn in the state tournament. When the coaches fed the move into the computer, it confirmed that it was the correct move and would benefit Tani later in the game. His chess teacher at school, Shawn Martinez, described Tani as “self-driven”. Makofsky told The New York Times, “One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources – I have never seen anything like it.”