Nigerian chess pro sets new global record with 60-hour marathon

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NEW YORK, April 20, (AP): A Nigerian chess champion and child education advocate played chess nonstop for 60 hours in New York City’s Times Square to break the Guinness World Record for the longest chess marathon.

Tunde Onakoya, 29, hopes to raise $1 million for children’s education across Africa through the record attempt that began on Wednesday.

He had set out to play the royal game for 58 hours but continued until he reached 60 hours at about 12:40 a.m. Saturday, surpassing the current chess marathon record of 56 hours, 9 minutes, and 37 seconds, achieved in 2018 by Norwegians Hallvard Haug Flatebø and Sjur Ferkingstad.

The Guinness World Record organization has yet to publicly comment about Onakoya’s attempt. It sometimes takes weeks for the organization to confirm any new record.

Onakoya played against Shawn Martinez, an American chess champion, in line with Guinness World Record guidelines that any attempt to break the record must be made by two players who would play continuously for the entire duration.

Support had been growing online and at the scene, where a blend of African music kept onlookers and supporters entertained amid cheers and applause. Among the dozens who cheered Onakoya on at the scene was Nigerian music star Davido.

The record attempt is “for the dreams of millions of children across Africa without access to education,” said Onakoya, who founded Chess in Slums Africa in 2018. The organization wants to support the education of at least 1 million children in slums across the continent.

“My energy is at 100% right now because my people are here supporting me with music,” Onakoya said Thursday evening after the players crossed the 24-hour mark.

On Onakoya’s menu: Lots of water and jollof rice, one of West Africa’s best-known dishes.

For every hour of game played, Onakoya and his opponent got only five minutes’ break. The breaks were sometimes grouped together, and Onakoya used them to catch up with Nigerians and New Yorkers cheering him on. He even joined in with their dancing sometimes.

A total of $22,000 was raised within the first 20 hours of the attempt, said Taiwo Adeyemi, Onakoya’s manager.

“The support has been overwhelming from Nigerians in the US, global leaders, celebrities and hundreds of passersby,” he said.

Onakoya’s attempt was closely followed in Nigeria, where he regularly organizes chess competitions for young people living on the streets.

More than 10 million school-age children are not in school in the West African country — one of the world’s highest rates.

Among those who have publicly supported him are celebrities and public office holders, including Nigeria’s former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who wrote to Onakoya on the social media platform X, “Remember your own powerful words: ‘It is possible to do great things from a small place.’”

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