Two years ago, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Emmanuel Adewumi was homeless. This spring, he reached a milestone: National Chess Master. “I really love that I finally got it,” he says of his newly minted title. “Finally” . . . at 10 years old.
In 2017, Tani’s family fled religious persecution from an Islamist militant group in Nigeria. Boko Haram terrorists threatened the Christian family because Tani’s father refused to work for them.
Tani started playing chess with his older brother, Austin, before coming to the United States. Austin made paper pieces, and the two “moved illegal moves everywhere,” Tani told an interviewer, waving his hands.
In New York, the Adewumis lived in a Manhattan homeless shelter. Eager for big wins, Tani played chess at school, online, and anywhere he could. But early on, his mother told him success takes “patience and prayer.” Tani didn’t have to wait long.
In 2019, with his bold, risky style, Tani won the New York State Tournament at eight years old. (See Nigerian Chess Strategy.) When asked how he plays, Tani smiles. “Aggressive,” he admits.
Tani practices for hours every day. He believes practice allows him to think ahead—“up to 20 moves [in advance].” He calls such visualization a skill that “when you master, it just keeps coming back.”
Even when he doesn’t win, Tani enjoys chess. “I say to myself that I never lose, that I only learn,” he says, according to an interview at churchleaders.com. “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 May, Tani won an important tournament. That gave him enough points to earn the ranking of National Chess Master.
Tani’s story is now a book called My Name Is Tani . . . and I Believe in Miracles. There are plans for a movie too.
But Tani isn’t finished. He aims to become the world’s youngest Grandmaster. The current record holder earned his rank at 12 years, seven months. That gives Tani about 22 months to reach his goal.
“Chess is a game of opportunity,” Tani says. He understands his unusual talent opens doors. No one knows that better than the Adewumis. Funds from a GoFundMe set up by Tani’s chess coaches helped them find housing, give back to their church, and assist other Africans seeking refuge.
“I thank God for everything that he’s done for our family,” Tani says. Bold, patient, thankful: Tani has made some brilliant opening moves.