Nigerian chess champion breaks record after playing nonstop for 58 hours

<span>Tunde Onakoya’s record-breaking feat took place in Times Square, New York.</span><span>Photograph: Yuki Iwamura/AP</span>
Tunde Onakoya’s record-breaking feat took place in Times Square, New York.Photograph: Yuki Iwamura/AP

A Nigerian chess champion has broken the record for the longest chess marathon after playing the game nonstop for 58 hours.

Tunde Onakoya, 29, began the marathon session in Times Square in New York on Wednesday. He hit 58 hours in the early hours of Saturday, beating the current chess marathon record of 56 hours, 9 minutes and 37 seconds, which was achieved in 2018 by Hallvard Haug Flatebø and Sjur Ferkingstad, both from Norway.

“I can’t process a lot of the emotions I feel right now. I don’t have the right words for them. But I know we did something truly remarkable,” he told Agence France-Presse.

“Three AM last night, that was the moment I was ready to just give it all up ... but Nigerians travelled from all over the world. And they were with me overnight.

“We were singing together and they were dancing together and I couldn’t just give up on them.”

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He hopes to raise $1m for children’s education across Africa from the world record attempt.

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

Guinness World Records has yet to publicly comment on Onakoya’s attempt. It sometimes takes weeks for the organisation to confirm a new record.

Onakoya, who in 2018 founded Chess in Slums Africa, said the record attempt was “for the dreams of millions of children across Africa without access to education”. His organisation 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 on Thursday evening after the players had crossed the 24-hour mark.

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 being closely followed in Nigeria, where he regularly organises chess competitions for young people living on the streets to boost his cause. More than 10 million children are out of school in the west African country – one of the world’s highest rates.

Among those who have publicly supported him are Nigeria’s former vice-president Yemi Osinbajo, who wrote to Onakoya on X: “Remember your own powerful words: ’It is possible to do great things from a small place.’”

Onakoya and his opponent got five minutes’ break for every hour of game played.

Onakoya used the breaks to catch up with Nigerians and New Yorkers cheering him on, where a blend of African music kept onlookers and supporters entertained – even joining in with the dancing sometimes.

On Onakoya’s menu: lots of water and jollof rice, one of west Africa’s best known dishes.