Nigerian Chess Champ | God's World News

Nigerian Chess Champ

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    Tunde Onakoya is a Nigerian chess champion and child education advocate. He played chess for 60 hours to raise money. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)
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    Onakoya waits while his opponent makes a move in Times Square in New York City, New York. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)
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    Onakoya moves a piece across the board. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)
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    Onakoya played through fatigue and stomach problems. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)
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    Onakoya and Shawn Martinez played in the bustle of Times Square. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)
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Backward pawn. Castling. Desperado. Checkmate. Chess has its own terms. And playing the royal game requires patience, strategy, and keen observation. For one Nigerian man, it also requires running on zero sleep while chasing a world record.

Chess master and education advocate Tunde Onakoya made a Guinness World Record attempt in New York City’s Time Square. His goal wasn’t chess glory. It was better education in Africa.

Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of uneducated children, with more than 10 million school-age children not attending school.

Nigerian Onakoya comes from an impoverished background. His website asserts that “chess came to his rescue.” He regularly organizes chess competitions for young people living on the streets.

In 2018, Onakoya founded Chess in Slums Africa. The group hopes to give every child the prospect of a better life through chess. It aims to provide children “academic, educational, and critical thinking skills that will help them secure a better tomorrow.”

In the spring, Onakoya challenged himself to play chess for 58 hours straight as a fundraiser. He hoped the effort at breaking the world record would raise $1 million to educate Nigerian children.

Guinness World Record guidelines say record attempts must be made by two players. Both must play continuously the entire time. So he recruited Shawn Martinez, an American chess champion, to play with him.

Onakoya and Martinez played over the board (with a chess board and pieces, not online) for 60 hours. Onakoya sometimes played others at the same time—two matches at once. A blend of African music kept onlookers and supporters entertained.

Onakoya drank coffee, energy drinks, and lots of water. He nibbled jollof rice, one of West Africa’s best-known dishes. Both men avoided eating much—because food causes sleepiness.

Early on, Onakoya drank coffee with milk. But he is lactose intolerant, so the milk made him ill. He kept playing.

For every hour played, Onakoya and Martinez got five minutes’ break. Sometimes they combined breaks into longer pauses. Onakoya used those to catch up with those cheering him on. He occasionally joined in with their dancing.

After nearly 200 games over two and a half days, the players stopped in the wee hours of April 20. Their effort bested the previous chess marathon record of 56 hours, nine minutes, and 37 seconds.

Most of the attention regarding the world record went to Onakoya and his goal. But he acknowledged Martinez on X, saying, “There’s no world record without you.”

The attempt, says Onakoya, is “for the dreams of millions of children across Africa without access to education.”

Why? Pursuing challenging goals can be worthwhile, especially when the acclaim helps others.

For more about heroes from Nigeria, see Nearer My Freedom by Monica Edinger (based on abolitionist Olaudah Equiano's memoir) in our Recommended Reading.

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