The Young Chess Masters

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The Young Chess Masters

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The Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” may have ushered in renewed interest in the game, but these young players were destined for greatness anyway…

“She didn’t blunder her queen, but she blundered her king instead!” 

10-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi — known as “Tani” — is trash-talking female chess champion Alexandra Botez during a chess match online. Along with her younger sister Andrea, the Botez girls are currently two of the most followed and Instagrammable chess players online today. But that doesn’t matter to Tani, who eventually defeats the overconfident Botez with a shocking series of moves that seem to unnerve her. This past May, Tani became the United States’ newest national chess master. He did this by achieving a rating of 2223 after beating two chess experts during a tournament in Connecticut.

Tani vs Botez

It’s quite an ascent for Tani, who has already experienced so much just to get to this point.

At the age of six, his family fled Nigeria to avoid potential persecution from the terrorist organization Boko Haram. The family of four moved to New York where they lived in a homeless shelter. While attending elementary school in the city, the six-year-old fell in love with chess after being taught the game by a part-time teacher at his school.

Noticing his potential, his teacher, Russell Makofsky, waived his chess club fees and created a GoFundMe campaign so that Tani could compete in tournaments. By the age of eight, Tani had won the New York State chess championship in his category. That achievement prompted former US President Bill Clinton to tweet “Refugees enrich our nation and talent is universal, even if opportunity is not. Tanitoluwa, you exemplify a winning spirit — in chess — and in life.”

Last year, Tani even wrote an autobiography called My Name Is Tani…And I Believe in Miracles, which has reportedly been optioned for a film. While he practices 11 hours a day and thinks 20 moves ahead, he has yet another goal ahead of him. To become the youngest chess Grandmaster (gained by achieving a ranking of 2500) in the world. 

Chess is currently experiencing a huge surge in interest thanks to the recent Netflix mini-series “The Queen’s Gambit”. The seven-episode series was based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis in which a young female US chess prodigy named Beth rises through the ranks during the 1950s, a time when Soviet chess players were among the best in the world. Acclaimed by chess pros and casual watchers alike, the series went on to become the most viewed Netflix program in over 60 countries and has subsequently received 18 Emmy nominations. 

As a result, interest in chess is booming. To cite a few examples, the website chess.com reports that they have had 30,000 new signups per day after the series aired. This month, 10 of the best young female players in the US will vie to become the U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion in St. Louis, Missouri — the first in-person female championship since the pandemic began.

And the upcoming US$2 million 2021 world championship match between Magnus Carlsen, one of the best players in the world, and Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi, will now benefit from daily highlights on the major US television network NBC. That 14-day match is scheduled to begin in late November in Dubai.

It also means that more attention is being paid to young players like Abhimanyu Mishra, a 12-year-old boy from New Jersey, who accomplished what Tani dreams of — becoming the youngest grandmaster in chess history. Mishra accomplished the feat on June 30th by defeating several grandmasters and securing a 2,500 rating as issued by the chess organization FIDE.

In a celebratory tweet, Mishra claimed the only thing that had stopped him from achieving his goal sooner was the ongoing pandemic. The next stop for him? This month’s 16-player invite-only Chessable Masters in Sochi, Russia, featuring some of the best men and women players in the world. 

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