The American Harvest of Talent

Garry Kasparov on Tanitoluwa Adewumi, an eight-year old Nigerian refugee living in a family shelter in New York, who just won the NY State K-3 Chess Championship this month:

The United States is where the world’s talent comes to flourish. Since its inception, one of America’s greatest strengths has been its ability to attract and channel the energy of wave after wave of striving immigrants. It’s a machine that turns that vigor and diversity into economic growth. It may mean opening a dry-cleaners or a start-up that becomes Google. It could mean studying medicine, law or physics, or — as Tani says he would like to do — becoming the world’s youngest chess champion.

Many of the questions I received as world champion centered on why the Soviet Union produced so many great chess players. After the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., these questions were asked again along new national borders. Why did Russia, or Armenia, or my native Azerbaijan have so many grandmasters? Was there something in the water, the genes or the schools? And why weren’t there more chess prodigies from the United States (or wherever the questioner was from)?

My answer was always the same: Talent is universal, but opportunity is not, and talent cannot thrive in a vacuum.

The heart-warming tale of the 8-year-old chess champion is quintessentially American

One version of America’s exceptionalism is its ability to harvest raw talent in the world, wherever it arises. How long will that last?