Born to a poor Kenyan family, the chess prodigy and his family became subjects of international intrigue when they failed to return to the UK
Tani Adewumi: How chess changed the fortunes of 11-year-old prodigy and his family
When Tani Adewumi was about 10 years old, he began to demonstrate a talent for the game of chess. His stunning rapid build-up to world championships, culminating in January 2018 when he won the world 11-12 under tournament for under-12 (and junior) grandmasters, has captured the imagination of chess fans.
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While most young children play their favourite sport, Adewumi began to play chess in a university chess club he attended, much to the shock of his parents. “He was 12 years old at that point, but despite being at a chess club he never gave up the game,” explains the player’s father, Ochot Yuma. “He never played cricket, but we learned from him that you don’t need a gym, you just have to play your tennis racket on the road, and he was doing it.”
When he finished primary school in 2012, his parents decided it was time to send him off to boarding school. Chess – which he did not know how to play – then became the family’s major focus. Adewumi began to rise up the rankings, by taking up chess academies and touring across the world at the age of 11, which was the age of possibility for him to reach the junior world championships and rise to world number 15 in 2014.
The family’s fame led to a visit to Nairobi, but Adewumi and his family returned to the UK to live in the family home in Surbiton, in Surrey. The walls have been covered with stickers of the family, from refugee children to Einstein, to celebrate his successes.
From his father, Yuma draws the comparison to the words of sport commentator Bobby Bedard, who often cited children as the perfect role models. “That’s the reason he does what he does – just like Bobby Brown – and that’s the best way to do it, is to find a way to be successful, to be a role model to others, because you’re not like the rest of the world.”