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Nigerian chess champion sets new record with 60-hour marathon

Tunde Onakoya, 29, a Nigerian chess champion and child education advocate, plays a chess game in Times Square
Tunde Onakoya, 29, a Nigerian chess champion and child education advocate, plays a chess game in Times Square Copyright AP/AP
Copyright AP/AP
By Euronews with AP
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Tunde Onakoya made history in New York's Times Square to raise funds for children's education in Africa.

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Chess history has been made by Nigerian master Tunde Onakoya, who has broken the Guinness World Record for the longest chess marathon.

The 29-year-old's epic 60-hour game took place in New York City's iconic Times Square.

Onakoya, who is also an advocate for child education, hopes to raise $1m (€937,000) to support children's education initiatives across Africa. 

He had set out to play the royal game for 58 hours but continued until he reached 60 hours at about 12:40 am on 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.

An event for Nigerian children

Playing alongside American chess champion Shawn Martinez, Onakoya adhered to Guinness World Record guidelines, which stipulate that the record attempt must involve two players engaged in continuous play throughout the 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.

29-year old chess champion plays for 60 hours straight
29-year old chess champion plays for 60 hours straightAP/AP

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 per cent right now because my people are here supporting me with music,” Onakoya said Thursday evening after the players crossed the 24-hour mark.

Playing the long game

Fuelled by plenty of water and servings of jollof rice, a favourite West African dish, Onakoya and his opponent adhered to a rigorous schedule, with only five minutes of break for every hour of play. 

Despite the gruelling challenge, Onakoya's spirits remained high, buoyed by the overwhelming support from Nigerians, global leaders, celebrities, and passersby.

Within the first 20 hours of the attempt, a remarkable $22,000 (€20,000) was raised, reflecting the widespread solidarity behind Onakoya's noble cause. 

Onakoya’s attempt was closely followed in Nigeria, where he regularly organises 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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