Tani Adewumi, an 11-year-old chess prodigy who “rallied the youth of Lagos” in 2018 to lead Nigeria to a historic triumph at the Pan-African Chess Championship, talks about growing up in a multicultural household, his relationship with his parents, and learning from his elders and his teammates.
Your father was also a prodigy — in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was a powerful, influential player in Nigeria, and also a role model for your brother and sister. How much influence did you and your family have on your passion for chess?
My father was my inspiration. A friend of my parents wanted him to apply to a scholarship in England, but my dad refused. He had ambition to win a national competition in Nigeria and bring home the gold medal. This encouraged my siblings to follow in his footsteps.
You and your father are all friends. How have you maintained that relationship?
Our relationship is good because he is a dynamic man. I get a lot of support from him, but I also help him out, too. He knows that I think things the way he does. His love for chess continues to motivate me.
Your mother has been an inspiration to you since childhood, and you know your dad. What’s the best piece of advice she’s given you?
From my brother, I got one piece of advice: “Do what you love, and do it well.” My mother always tells me to strive to be a very good person. She encourages me and my younger brother and sister to spread love.
What kind of positive self-motivation do you draw from playing in the World Youth Chess Championship, held in Zhuhai, China?
When I take lessons, I study the master chess books. I apply a lot of lessons learned from these books. Winning at these championships gave me a lot of confidence. I am happy that my family was part of that.
You were told by journalists and chess fans alike that chess was destined to be the sport to have its own high-profile news cycle. And you won. What did it mean to you to be talked about in that light, and what did you take away from this, too?
Chess was not in any way intended to be a mainstream sport, but it is. I think it’s really great that this is an option for young children. Chess motivates me to continue training and looking to conquer even more goals. I also look to inspire kids, especially in Africa.
You’ve achieved so much — and you’re only 11 years old. What is the one advice you’d give to young children who wish to pursue a successful career in chess?
Pace yourself. It can get stressful very quickly, so make sure to look after yourself in order to get the best out of yourself. This is so important, especially if you want to become a world champion.
Helping your teammates as they compete against other nations on the other side of the table is very hard work, too. How did you go about knowing what to do?
I was raised with this philosophy that everything was about teamwork. My team had to have confidence in me and in our talents. So we all worked together on many topics that would help us win — and that was so important. On the other hand, I am a very happy person, so I needed to remain myself. I would just go for what I love and that’s to be able to move better than everyone else. I am not competitive in anything I do, except for chess.