Last year, at least 62 million households watched The Queen’s Gambit, about a young chess prodigy, on Netflix. Sales of chess boards were up 87 percent afterward. Heck, I’ve started to try to teach my daughter.
But today, I’d like to share with you the story of a young kid who might turn out to be the real-life Beth Harmon.
(That’s the name of the protagonist in The Queen’s Gambit, in case your household wasn’t one of the 62 million.)
Meet Tanitoluwa Adewum, 10, who goes by “Tani,” and who just became the country’s newest national chess master, after winning a series of matches in Connecticut.
Tani’s story isn’t so much about his youth; he’s actually the 28th youngest chess master, which wouldn’t normally rate a column. Instead, it has more to do with where and how he learned to play the game.
At age 7, Tani, a refugee who had fled Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria, was living with his parents and his borther in a crowded, noisy New York City homeless shelter.
He started playing around with a chess board as a distraction. At first, he wasn’t very good, but he quickly improved. His mother convinced his school, nearby P.S. 116, to waive the fee for the chess club, and Tani kept playing.
Then, he got really good, really fast.
He entered and won his category in the New York State chess championship, which caught the attention of NYT columnist Nicholas Kristoff, wrote about Tani in 2019. By then, the young boy’s most prized possessions were the seven large chess trophies that he’d won, all arranged by his bed in the homeless shelter.
Tani’s father was driving for Uber then, and had recently earned his real estate license; his mother was working as a home health aide. But it was only after Kristoff’s story ran, and readers started a GoFundMe that they got out of the shelter.
Actually, that understates it. Here’s Kristof in a follow-up:
After my column about this hard-working family, a GoFundMe drive raised more than $200,000 for Tani, his parents and his brother.
A half-dozen readers offered housing — in a couple of cases, palatial quarters. Immigration lawyers offered pro bono assistance to the Adewumis, who are in the country legally and seeking asylum. Three film companies are vying to make movies about Tani.
The family settled on one of the more modest and practical housing offers: An anonymous donor paid a year’s rent on a two-bedroom apartment near Tani’s current school. The apartment is clean, comfortable and freshly painted, without being luxurious, and the Adewumis gaze adoringly at their new kitchen.
When I first read this, I admit I thought: Wow, I’m very happy for this family, but can you believe how ridiculously inefficient we are we as a society?
I mean, people read about a single family in need, and like little kids playing soccer —ever seen this? all 22 kids chase the ball … nobody tries to get open for a pass … it’s adorable — everyone rushes to swamp the needy family with far more resources than they could have imagined just a week before.
Actually, I still think that. But, I also have respect for Tani’s family, since they decided to accept the apartment for a while and the legal aid, but then donated all of the money: 10 percent to a church that helped them when they first arrived here, and the remainder to help other struggling refugess.
Now, they’re living on Long Island in housing they pay for themselves.
Tani’s biggest problem now, having achieved the level of national master, is that — well, having given up the $200k+, his parents have struggled to stay employed during the pandemic — but also, the fact that many of the tournaments he’s getting invited to at this level are international, and he can’t leave the country until his immigration status is set.
Overall, though, it’s a positive, heartwarming story, and one I’m happy to share just before the weekend. If I had to think of a moral (do I?), I guess it’s this: ‘O.K. everyone! Let’s all spread out and be on the lookout for our own versions of Tami!
Oh, and check out The Queen’s Gambit if you haven’t already. Good show, and a trend-setter to boot. (Now I’m going to have Murray Head in my head all weekend.)
7 other things worth your time
Yay! If you’re fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the CDC says you no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors. "You can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. "We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy." (CNN)
The head of the second-largest U.S. teachers union called Thursday for all American schools to be open, full-time, five days a week, come September. (Politico)
Colonial paid the ransom to be able to reopen the pipeline: $5 million according to reports, and contradicting what I’d been told yesterday (and wrote in yesterday’s newsletter). (Bloomberg)
Love this story: New York City mayoral candidates did the best 21st century version of that thing when politicians don’t know how much a gallon of milk costs: They almost all wildly underestimated the median price of a house in Brooklyn. “In Brooklyn, huh?,” said candidate Shaun Donovan, who was — oh man — the secretary of housing and urban development under President Obama. “I would guess it is around $100,000.” Real answer: $900,000. Only Andrew Yang got it right. (NYT, $)
An active-duty U.S. Marine Corps officer, Major Christopher Warnagiris, was arrested and charged with assaulting police officers during the January 6 insurrection. He’s the first active-duty military officer to be identified and charged. (CNN)
Target says it’s suspending the sale of Pokémon cards and other trading cards in store, as a result of shoppers camping out overnight outside, along with some violent incidents. The reason: The value of some of the collectable cards has soared, and speculators are trying to find the most valuable ones on sale at retail prices. Some of the rarest cards are now selling for more than $300,000, and there are many others selling for hundreds. (Polygon)
This is just wild. And beautiful. A senior research fellow in philosophy at Oxford digitally restored all of the photos of Earth that have been taken from space. I wish I could figure a way to share the photos in this newsletter, but I’ll just have to link to them. (TobyOrd.com)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Wikimedia. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.
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