8-Year-Old Refugee Wins New York State Championship
The story of Tanitoluwa Adewumi as covered by the New York Times and El País. | Images by David Llada.

8-Year-Old Refugee Wins New York State Championship

| 108 | Chess Event Coverage

Although he is living in a homeless shelter and only learned to play chess a year ago, Tanitoluwa Adewumi, an eight-year-old Nigerian refugee, won the New York State Championship earlier this month.

The story has been covered by major news outlets all over the world.

Update March 25, 2019: a new column in the New York Times reveals that Tanitoluwa Adewumi and his family now have a home, scholarship offers from three elite private schools and a six-figure bank account that they have decided to dedicate to the church which helped them, and to other struggling African immigrants like themselves.

Tanitoluwa was seven years old when he, his parents and his older brother reportedly fled from Nigeria in search for a safer place. Threatened by terrorist group Boko Haram, which is attacking Christians like his family, they left the country and ended up in New York in 2017.

Tani, as he is called by his friends, began attending the local elementary school, P.S. 116 located in Manhattan's Kips Bay/Murray Hill neighborhood. There, a part-time chess teacher at the school taught him to play. 

Tanitoluwa Adewumi with his New York State Championship trophy
Tanitoluwa Adewumi with his New York State Championship trophy. | Photo courtesy Russell Makofsky.

When Tani's mother Oluwatoyin Adewumi wrote the school that her son was interested in joining the chess club, she had to add that she couldn't contribute much. The family was living in a homeless shelter.

Russell Makofsky, owner of the program at Tani's school, decided to waive the fees. A year later, the boy has a USCF rating of 1473 and is #27 in America for eight-year-olds. (Full disclosure: is used by all P.S. 116 chess club students.)

On March 9 and 10, Tani participated in the New York State Championship. He won the category for children of his age, kindergarten to third grade, with five wins and one draw. 

"I want to be the youngest grandmaster," he told the New York Times.

Primary NY State Championship Final Standings

Tanitoluwa Adewumi Final Standings New York State Championship
Full final standings here.

Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116, told the New York Times: "It’s an inspiring example of how life's challenges do not define a person."

Credit should first go to the New York Times, and its two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof for reporting this remarkable story. Meanwhile, it has been picked up by e.g. El País, The Telegraph, NBC, CBSInsider and Yahoo, and has close to 600 comments on Reddit.

Tani Adewumi hosted a booth at the New York State Scholastic Chess Championships this year. Photo: Mike Klein/

Makofsky set up a GoFundMe account to help Tani and his family. At the time of writing, the account has received $187,760, almost four times the goal of $50.000. Update: Makofsky said that the money already raised has been enough for the family to move into an apartment.)

Meanwhile, former U.S. president Bill Clinton reportedly invited Tani and his parents to his office in Harlem, saying: "Tanitoluwa, you exemplify a winning spirit – in chess and in life. And kudos to your hardworking parents. You all should stop by my office in Harlem; I’d love to meet you."

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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