Tennis Legend Roger Federer Encounters Chess Prodigy Tani

Tennis Legend Roger Federer Encounters Chess Prodigy Tani


Imagine a sun-filled day with an over-the-board game in a picturesque park such as Columbus Park in New York City. It’s a scene we all enjoy watching. Would you be surprised to see tennis great Roger Federer on one side of the chessboard facing an unassuming, young opponent not even yet a teenager? What if the opponent is the famous ChessKid Ambassador himself, FM Tanitoluwa Adewumi, better known by his nickname Tani?

Tani plays with only one rook
As Tani sets up the chessboard for the first game, he announces, “So I’m going to be down a rook.” Image: Meeting of the Masters via YouTube.

Tani and Federer played three games earlier this month. What should you know? Tani played with just one rook, a definite advantage for the tennis star. Here’s what else you should know about Federer, Tani, and their chess games.

The winner congratulates his opponent
The winner congratulates his opponent for a game well played. Image: Meeting of the Masters via YouTube.

Does Roger Federer Play Chess?

Definitely. Federer is an avid chess player, according to Ivan Ljubicic, who coached him in tennis from 2016 to 2022 and is himself a former tennis world number-three. According to Ljubicic, Federer “likes to play bullet to kill time and distract himself….  He also knows the general ideas of what’s happening in the chess world.”

Roger Federer and Ivan Ljubicic
Federer with Ljubicic, his former tennis coach. Source: Tennis World USA.

How Did Federer Get Interested In Chess?

Ljubicic takes credit for Federer’s interest in chess and says the 20-time Grand Slam champion saw “how fanatic I was about it [the game]” and “got hooked” by seeing how absorbed his coach was with chess.

Why Did Federer Play Tani?

The games with Tani were recorded as part of Federer’s new video series in which he visits his favorite cities around the world. The tennis legend’s visit to New York City includes four videos; the video about playing Tani, entitled “Meeting of the Masters,” is clearly the highlight and the most entertaining one.

The series also now includes videos recorded in Tokyo and will be expanded to other cities. Called 24 Hours with Roger, the series follows Federer “as he travels the globe 24 hours at a time” (and promotes clothing of LifeWear, one of his corporate sponsors).

Was Federer Nervous About Playing Tani?

Absolutely. The seven-time Wimbledon champion commented: “I haven’t been nervous in a while since my playing days basically. But I’ve never sat across a chess master, so today, well I may be a little nervous.” On the other hand, Tani told “I wasn’t nervous at all”—by the way, he has also met other famous athletes such as Kayvon Thibodeaux, New York Giants defensive end, and Grant Williams, Boston Celtics forward. Incidentally, Tani has played Williams “blindfolded” and won as the following video shows.

How Well Does Federer Play Chess?

After spending 90 minutes with Federer, Tani told that if he had to give the tennis star a chess rating it would be under 1500. Tani explains: “I think Roger would be around 1300-1500. He can make plans which I think is already at that level; his weakness would be missing opponents’ ideas deeper.”

What Did Tani Think About Playing Federer?

Tani described Federer as “humble.” The young prodigy told “He is very humble, and I can say he loves me because he said he had read so much about me.”

Federer and Tani enjoy a lighter moment
Federer and Tani enjoy a lighter moment after one game ends. Photo: UNIQLO Ambassadors via Twitter.

Did Federer Give Tani Any Advice?

He did. Tani says: “He said that I shouldn’t be too proud of myself and he will keep following me in my career.”

What Should You Know About Tani?

Tani’s story is now well-known by many members and more broadly internationally since his autobiography, My Name Is Tani, was published in 2020. Born in Nigeria, he left his native county for the United States with his family in 2017 to escape violent threats from a terrorist organization. After he joined a chess club at his elementary school in New York City, Tani rapidly learned to play the game, has been gaining trophies ever since, and is projected to climb higher in the chess world after earning his second IM norm last year at the age of 11.

Would you be surprised to learn that Tani is one of five chess prodigies that ChessKid recommends that you watch in 2023?

Tani Federer 2023
As Tani’s friends watch, Federer begs, “Can I quickly call someone to take my place?” Image: Meeting of the Masters via YouTube.

By The Way, Did Tani Beat Federer?

Not only once but three times—even with rook odds. In all games, Tani established a very comfortable advantage early before checkmating his opponent. Did Federer ever stand a chance to win? He says: I don’t even think for a second.” For example, one game ended in checkmate by Tani this way:

Reactions to Federer-Tani Games

The games caught the attention of GM Maurice Ashley who tweeted this reaction:

Similarly, content creator Nemo was equally enthralled with the video.


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