Nigerian chess whiz stays up more than 50 hours playing in Times Square to break world record

Nigerian chess whiz stays up more than 50 hours playing in Times Square to break world record
Nigerian chess whiz stays up more than 50 hours playing in Times Square to break world record

He’s the chess king!

A Nigerian chess whiz has been playing the game for more than 58 consecutive hours in Times Square to smash a world record — defeating a lineup of skilled players despite a royal lack of sleep.

Tunde Onakoya, 29, of Lagos, beat the Guinness record for “longest chess marathon” after soaring past the 56 hours and 9-minute mark around 7:45 p.m. Friday in front of hundreds of supporters.

But the chess master didn’t stop there and continued to cushion the new record late into Friday night, with his sights set on the 60-hour mark.

Chessmaster Tunde Onakoya took on a line-up of local players. James Keivom
Chessmaster Tunde Onakoya took on a line-up of local players. James Keivom

“It’s the greatest event in New York City history, period,” chess coach Russell Makofsky told The Post.

“The world showed up. The story is a global sensation,” said Majofsky, who helped plan the record-setting streak “overnight” as a fundraiser for his organization The Gift of Chess, which donates chess sets around the world.

“It’s like playing against Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, you’re starstruck,” said Bernard Chong, 43, a Filipino angel investor who lost a match to the chess master. “I made a small mistake and he pounced.”

Earlier Friday, Onakoya said he’s been guzzling coffee and refraining from eating to stay alert enough to play more than 197 matches of the mentally taxing game.

“I’m exhausted,” he told The Post. “My mind is sharp but my body is tired.”

Onakoya — who wiped the floor with a New York Post reporter in just 12 minutes — said the predawn hours were the most difficult, he said.

“Around 4 a.m. this morning was the hardest struggle, just to stay awake. But I’ve pushed past that hurdle and the rest is just a matter of tenacity,” he said. “I think I can see it through to the very end from here.”

Onakoya broke the Guinness world record for continuously playing chess for 60 hours in the Times Square section of New York, NY, on April 19, 2024. Christopher Sadowski
Onakoya broke the Guinness world record for continuously playing chess for 60 hours in the Times Square section of New York, NY, on April 19, 2024. Christopher Sadowski
Tunde yawns in hour 39. Christopher Sadowski
Tunde yawns in hour 39. Christopher Sadowski
Onakoya is raising money to help chess players in Africa. He even played against Post reporter Jack Morphet (right) James Keivom
Onakoya is raising money to help chess players in Africa. He even played against Post reporter Jack Morphet (right) James Keivom

Onakoya said he got off to a rocky start Thursday by accidentally drinking a coffee with milk despite his lactose intolerance, which made him sick.

The player kept himself busy throughout the 58 hours thanks to a sign-up sheet he set up for challengers.

They have included a local pro, a financial industry worker and a chess teacher.

Tyler Schwartz, 39, of Sunset Park, who is ranked among the top 10% of chess players internationally, said Onkoya is mentally tough.

“You can tell he’s definitely tired but he’s still playing great,” said Schwartz, whose ranking comes via  lichess.com

“He’s not playing physically as fast, he’s moving the pieces slowly because he’s exhausted, but mentally he’s incredibly tough and with it.”

Onakoya set up a sign-up sheet for challengers, which included Post reporter Jack Morphet (sitting with baseball cap). James Keivom
Onakoya set up a sign-up sheet for challengers, which included Post reporter Jack Morphet (sitting with baseball cap). James Keivom
Onakoya said he got off to a rocky start Thursday by accidentally drinking a coffee with milk despite his lactose intolerance, which made him sick. Christopher Sadowski
Onakoya said he got off to a rocky start Thursday by accidentally drinking a coffee with milk despite his lactose intolerance, which made him sick. Christopher Sadowski
Tunde felt the cold NYC temperatures during his chess marathon. James Keivom
Tunde felt the cold NYC temperatures during his chess marathon. James Keivom

Onakoya spent most of the time playing Shawn Martinez, 34, of East Harlem though the pair didn’t keep track of wins and losses.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know how I’m doing this. I’m running on fumes — energy drinks, coffees, teas,” Martinez said. “I haven’t had a complete meal in the last three days. I don’t want to get sleepy like after a big Thanksgiving dinner.”

The previous chess marathon record was set in 2018 at 56 hours, 9 minutes and 37 seconds by Hallvard Haug Flatebø and Sjur Ferkingstad of Norway.

Onakoya had played chess for more than 50 straight hours as of Friday. James Keivom
Onakoya had played chess for more than 50 straight hours as of Friday. James Keivom

When Onakoya eclipsed that mark Friday night, he was surrounded by an exuberant crowd of several hundred who erupted into an “Olé, Olé, Olé” chant.

Many of the spectators hailed from Nigeria and empathized how excited they were to watch him make history.

“It’s just the thrill, the excitement, seeing someone from your country is the one breaking the record, and the fact that it’s actually for a cause, not just doing it for fun or just to get recognition, he’s doing it for a cause, which is very important,” Seun Adeyeye, a 28-year-old business student, told The Post.

The player kept himself busy throughout the 58 hours thanks to a sign-up sheet he set up for challengers. Christopher Sadowski
The player kept himself busy throughout the 58 hours thanks to a sign-up sheet he set up for challengers. Christopher Sadowski
One opponent likened Onakoya to NBA greats Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. James Keivom
One opponent likened Onakoya to NBA greats Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. James Keivom

Adeyeye, who said he’s witnessed other world records be broken, said hundreds of people from across and even outside the country came to watch Onakoya.

“I think it’s quite electrifying. People are happy to be here, people are excited…just to see this guy winning this game and beat the record,” he said.

Moses Tiamiyu, 43, said he had been following Onakoya online and started watching the record-breaking streak over live stream before making his way to Times Square to see him in action.

“I think the beauty that this brings tells us that sport is one language. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, if you’re black, if you’re African or not. When it comes to sports, it’s one whole language,” said Tiamiyu.

“And we can use sport to preach love — and I think that is what he’s done. And I think the expression of what you have here is people expressing love to that mission and to as well to the beauty of the game of chess.”