Oladapo Adu Transcript
[00:00:00] Elizabeth: Welcome to Creativists in Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.
[00:00:20] Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.
[00:00:21] Elizabeth: Our guest today is our old friend, Oladapo Adu, international chess master, educator, man of deep Christian faith, parent, Nigerian immigrant, et cetera, et cetera. Adu, welcome to Creativists in Dialogue.
Adu: Thank you very much.
[00:00:38] Elizabeth: This interview will cover the role creativity plays in various aspects of your life. So, Adu, of course, we will ask you about chess and the role creativity plays in that field, but we’ll also explore your life in education, in community, in spirituality, in family life, and ultimately in shaping yourself as a person.
[00:01:00] Michael: So, we like to start off our interviews with a couple of questions. And the first is this: In what aspects of your life does creativity play the most significant role?
[00:01:09] Adu: In what aspect? Every aspect, pretty much, because when you talk about creativity, you are talking about a situation whereby you have to make some things happen and you can only make this happen based on your knowledge and the experience that you’ve had over the years.
And when you talk about creativity for me, it happens in every stage. Unconsciously. You, I don’t even have to think about it. Just because of the way I’ve been. I’ve trained myself to think. So whenever I’m faced with any kind of situation, I unconsciously start to look for ways to make things happen. And in doing that, you have to create some things and look at the pluses, the minuses, and then give yourself different choices.
[00:01:51] Michael: So you’ve in a sense, developed your—
Adu: Thinking. Approach.
Michael: –approach to life and your thinking approach and creative manner so that you access creativity.
Adu: Right, right.
[00:01:58] Elizabeth: So [00:02:00] we have—another question that we wanna ask folks is how you understand creativity itself? You’ve started to answer that. One of the people we’ve read is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, I think I’ve said that—it’s a Hungarian, long name, that begins with a “c”—his books on creativity, for example, Flow and Creativity are two of them. And the focus in those books is on acts that advance a particular field of endeavor—engineering or chess. Another book we reference is Human Motivation by Robert Franken, who focuses on creativity in relationship to problem solving and communication. So, can you speak some more about how you personally view creativity or the creative act in terms of furthering a field of endeavor or problem solving and communication?
[00:02:51] Adu: Yeah, like I said earlier, creativity, when you talk about creativity, is an opportunity for you to take whatever it is you’re doing to the next level. And the only way you can make that happen is, number one, having a knowledge of what’s been done before or said. And, number two, based on the experiences that you’ve had in the past. So based on those two, you can actually put them together and look for ways to make some new things happen.
And another thing you could also do when you talk about creativity is, when you deal with someone. People actually can push you to a situation whereby you have to get creative. Because when you are trying to get through and you’re not, you have to find a way somehow because you have a goal. And before you can actually make that happen, you have to look for ways to get creative, because if you don’t, then you cannot get past the opponent yet.
[00:03:41] Elizabeth: Yeah, that reminds me of something a friend of ours references, the i+1 theory, so that all of your experiences yourself is what is the “I” and then you learn something new and that becomes the plus one.
Elizabeth: So it sounds like it’s a cumulative process.
Adu: Absolutely, yes.
Elizabeth: Which, you have obviously accumulated—
[00:03:59] Adu: For years, yes.
Elizabeth: –quite a bit.
Adu: [00:04:00] For years.
[00:03:59] Elizabeth: There are a lot of pluses to your “I”.
Adu: Absolutely. Yeah.
Elizabeth: We’d also like to talk with you a bit about your life and your work as an educator. I know you personally through your early work as a chess instructor—we were just talking about our now 30-year-old son who was your student way back in the day—and you’ve taught chess to both children as well as young people and I’m assuming you’ve taught chess to adults as well. Clearly learning to play chess has been a life altering skill for many children and young people and adults. Can you speak a bit about how you use creativity in those kinds of educational settings?
[00:04:34] Adu: Yes. I’ve taught a lot of kids and adults. Actually a student was a 51-year-old lady from Florida and she’s responding so well. For me, I use a feedback method whenever I’m teaching. And when I teach for you to understand, not just for you to know this is right, this is wrong. You have to know why. Because when you know why, you can actually become somebody else’s teacher. So that way you can actually [00:05:00] pass the knowledge to another person. When I teach, I work along with that feedback because everybody have their different ways of approaching anything—it is maybe sports or game or whatever—so, beyond the things you, beyond the method you know how to teach, you also have to teach based on the personality that is in front of you. And you have to take your time to understand the way they learn, their learning process because—and that, through that way you can actually—that becomes another additional way of teaching different kind of people that has the same characteristics with the new person. So that way it makes me bring about more opportunities, the way I teach and all that. And like I said, I believe a lot in this feedback thing. I don’t just give you information, I wanna know what you feel. Even sometimes I have to ask you to tell me what we’ve talked about.
[00:05:50] Elizabeth: At the emotional level, I would imagine children and adults—sometimes we’re even worse than children—can be very competitive. If they’re playing a game, either in a [00:06:00] classroom setting or certainly in a competitive environment, there’s a lot of ego involved and kids who don’t win or who make a mistake or who just become disappointed learners or discouraged learners. And I’m wondering how you, the instructor and you, the kind of chess mentor, can help a student get past that sort of emotional block?
[00:06:21] Adu: I actually like the fact that they go through that. It means they, they really want to get results, but there’s a roadblock somewhere, alright? And one thing I always tell the kids—and even the adults—is you start winning until you lose. You really have to lose because the losing is the experience you gather. The reason why I can be better than you is because I’ve lost so many games and I’ve learned from these games. That way, there is nothing you’re gonna bring that I haven’t seen, like, I’m at—the high percentage I’ve seen them. But if you are new to it, you have to go through that process. And if you feel hurt, that means you want to learn. Because if you don’t have those emotions, then you don’t care about it. Then it doesn’t [00:07:00] matter if you lose or you win. But when you go through the emotions of, oh, I’m having a bad game, I—because I remember years ago I tried to quit chess so many times. I lost count. Like I—after each bad tournament I’m like, this is it. I’m no longer playing this.
Elizabeth: Oh, wow.
Adu: But the next thing I find myself playing there. Then after another bad tournament, I’m like, you know what? This is it. Several times. But nobody fought me. But I pretty much fought myself. The bad experiences of losing, it’s now looking back that I saw that all those losses actually were experiences for me.
[00:07:30] So, recently, one of my friends said he just cannot play, he’s tired of losing. I say, it’s a process. Nobody just got dropped into the world a master in anything. There is a process you have to go through. And one thing with creativity is when you get to the process, when you learn the basics, the fundamentals, you unconsciously bring your own addition to it. Because, like we have a fingerprint, everybody has something to offer. So I might even learn from you, even you being my student, because the way you do it might be a [00:08:00] little different from the way I do it, which I might actually, like—the emotional aspect of it, you just have to let them know it’s a process. You have to give them examples: this person went through it, I went through it, so it’s good you’re going through it now. And this is what’s gonna happen after this emotional stuff going on: you’re gonna feel bad losing, and when you learn from your games, when you learn from your losses, you’re gonna start seeing the effects of learning. The worst thing is not to learn from your losses, because then you’re bound to repeat them again.
Recently, I got a new surge back. Because for the past two years, I think, I lost a lot of rating points and people were like, what’s wrong? I said just playing people that were playing better than I was. So I was still relying on my old experience and all that, but it’s no longer working because all the information is online. People have access to all these things. So if you want to get your game to the next level, you have to work on your game. So sometimes last year I started working on my game, but I really wasn’t seeing any improvement per se, in the game, but I knew I was getting better. [00:09:00] So in the last month, I’ve won three tournaments. I can’t remember the last time I won a chess tournament. Actually, I won four tournaments, first position. But prior to that I really couldn’t remember. So I had to actually encourage myself and tell myself, no matter how much I go for these games and I lose games, I’m gonna keep coming because I know that I have the potential to get to as high as I want to.
[00:09:24] Elizabeth: So it sounds like the creative process in chess is in some ways profound humility. That there is a process—
Adu: There is.
Elizabeth: —and that you have to trust the process—
Adu: You have to.
Elizabeth: —and you have to hold your own hand.
[00:09:36] Adu: You have to, at some point, no matter if you are three year old or five year old, it doesn’t matter. That’s one thing I like about the game. It teaches you to be responsible. You stay responsible or quit.
[00:09:49] Elizabeth: Tell me more about that. Because one of the things that I’ve seen chess do to young children or to learners is to really build their resilience, build [00:10:00] their, kind of, endurance, to really be able to move past obstacles and to just soldier on, if you will. Do you have any particular examples you could pull up from your vast memory of a student, a child, or an adult getting past their stuck-ness using that, kind of, natural consequence, if you will, of either not being attentive enough or not doing their best or just blowing it off or whatever?
[00:10:25] Adu: Yeah. I have a student that I teach—I started teaching him when he was six years old, when he was still living in DC but now he’s moved back to China with his parents.
Elizabeth: Oh, wow.
Adu: So I teach him online. He’s Chinese, he’s eight years old right now, and he really believes he knows a lot of things. And sometime when I play him, I just take it easier on him, which I really don’t normally do, just encourage him. But when he starts to feel, oh, he knows everything, then I don’t let him win any games. Yeah, I don’t like—yes, and that really pushes him. He doesn’t like to lose. It pushes him. It makes him wanna fight. It’s surprising [00:11:00] seeing him come at me like that, but I like it because when you do that, you definitely gonna improve, you definitely—and the thing about that process is the things you learn, you don’t forget those things. No, you don’t. It stays with you because such experience—there are some, I can read a book and all that, and then forget some parts of it, but when I experience it, when I go through it—I could tell you 1,001 times, like, line by line how it went. Yeah.
So with him, I tell his daddy—that dad, he say, the dad always tells me whatever I’m doing, it is really working. Because he also affects him in other parts of the things he does. He’s like a genius, he says, but for him, chess, he’s so passionate about the game. He does well in so many other things. He shows me the things he build, like, it’s mind blowing.
Adu: He’s an eight-year-old boy. There are some things you don’t even understand—I don’t even know what the word GDP is it, he told me what it means. He told me the countries that has the iGDP, the low, he’s an eight—so that’s one thing I like about the game chess. If you’re [00:12:00] passionate about the game and you’re really into it, it actually affects other things you do unconsciously. You don’t even have to—because you need a whole lot to, to stay afloat to, to get some results. So if you can, you consciously put the same effort in the other things you do.
[00:12:14] Elizabeth: So have you noticed, ‘cause you have many students from many different parts of the world and many different age groups and ethnicities and different genders. Are there substantial differences in your creative approach depending on the sort of demographics of the world?
[00:12:28] Adu: There are, like when I work with people from back home, it’s a little different because you have to actually show them things they can relate with it. It’s totally, you see, kids, from different demographics and all that, it is totally different. The black kid in the US is different from a black kid in Nigeria, the way they see things. So you, I can’t just give them all the, you can’t just give them all the information based on, well, this is it. You have to look at their background, to look at what they can relate to, that way [00:13:00] helps their learning process even faster.
Yes, definitely, I—different the way you go through that. And that’s why before I teach any student, I always ask questions like, okay, what do you want? What do you wanna achieve? What’s your level? What are your goals? For how long? I don’t, it doesn’t matter if you are five, six, just let ’em know. So I don’t want to situation whereby, oh, my dad wants me to do it, or my mom wants me to do it. Why do you want to do it? So, it’s very important. That way, I can always come back to the question if I have some roadblock trying to get through to them, because I can just come back and tell them, these are the things we want to do, so if you really want to do, this is how we have to go about it.
[00:13:36] Michael: Chess really does depend on your ability to understand how the other person is doing the game. So, understanding their perspectives helps you shape—
Michael: —your approach to the game. And then you talked about in this, in your previous discussion here, that this sort of way of thinking, this way of interacting with the game also affects other aspects of your life. Can you speak a little bit about how it affects your relationships or a [00:14:00] person’s relationships or a person—a humanistic approach to life?
[00:14:03] Adu: Most chess players are very considerate, like, most of them. Of course, there are always some that are not. They’re considerate in the sense that they look at things from your own point of view. So they just—they don’t just get at you just because you are someone and all that, so, considerate in the way they deal with people. And sometimes they can be very withdrawn. Yeah, they can be very withdrawn. Because one thing about chess is when you’re really into it, it gets a lot of your time and you could just forget yourself, especially when you are passionate about it and then you really want to achieve some things from it. But most chess players are, they’re very considerate. They tend to—because they’re always thinking even if they don’t want to, that’s the thing—
Elizabeth: Can’t turn it off.
Adu: -—even if they don’t want to, constantly analyzing situations and looking for the best scenario. So, by the time they’re actually talking about something, they’ve thought about several options. So, they’re not just giving you the first thing. That’s one thing chess [00:15:00] teaches you. You don’t just jump on the first idea. You look at the first, the second, think about all the ideas and then pick the one.
And this is what chess also does: When you play chess, there’s a timer you use. When you start playing, you might not be as quick in your decision making, in your analysis, but the more you get into it, the faster it gets. So, for me, I could think about, yeah, I could go through a line, several analyses line, it might take me about 10, 15 minutes, but it can take the world champion like two minutes because he’s seen so many. That’s one thing when it comes to human relation.
[00:15:37] Michael: Alright, so when you get all these options, if you get three or four options in a chess game—
Michael: And then I guess you’re like, which one would this person—what are they gonna choose? Based upon your psychological understanding of that person. And then I guess you would strategize in relationship.
[00:15:51] Adu: Exactly. Sometimes it’s not always about the best option, but the best option that fits your opponent. So [00:16:00] if I have three options and I know that the first is a very aggressive one, the second one is a little calm one, then the third one is so calm. So now, if I’m playing a very aggressive player, even though this is the best move, when you play someone that’s very aggressive, and get into to that line, the person is at home. Even though you know everything, you have to try not to make a mistake because the person knows exactly what’s going on. But when you go to the third option, that is not so cool, but it’s calm, but it’s not into what he really likes too, that’s where it can go wrong. So you have to do, yeah, that happens a lot. That happens a lot.
[00:16:36] Elizabeth: It’s a real psychological thing as well.
Adu: It is, yeah.
Elizabeth: So, to hover on this issue of seeing the game from your opponent’s point of view—and this is such a huge skill in life, to be able to step out of your own subjective understanding and actually imagine what the other person or the other persons are—
Adu: Thinking about.
Elizabeth: —what’s going on, what is, and to see a transaction, some kind of traffic [00:17:00] situation, some work situation or a school situation or interpersonal situation from the other perspective—is an extraordinary skill and we as humans rarely excel in this particular skill. But doubtless, you have seen students and, and colleagues expand their ability to apply this objectivity, if you will, or the ability to see from another perspective to other parts of their lives. And I wondered if you had any stories you could tell about a particular student or two.
[00:17:30] Adu: Yeah. Like you said, it’s a big deal for human beings to be able to see. And this is another ex—topic in chess where it’s so important. Chess, like, for you to actually be able to grow into, to be able to do that, you have to be disciplined, you have to go beyond what you would do normally. You see, all of us have an affinity to certain things. Without thinking we just wanna do it. That, you cannot do that in chess. Life, pretty much—you can’t because you’re not gonna get a lot of good results. There are some things we just love to do, [00:18:00] this is what I would like to do, regardless of the consequences.
So with that said, you have to have the discipline to be able to always think about the opponent’s choices. A few days ago, I was teaching one of my students, Grace. Grace is nine years old. Nine, 10 years old and I get really hard on them sometimes. I really do. Unconsciously, because I’m like, you really want to get results. You know the same things I tell you, the same things I do. So, I don’t do something different.
So, the thing is, you always have to give yourself choices. Always. At least three. At least three. You have to—nothing comes easy. You’re trying to become a master in something. Everybody’s trying to become a master in something. So, what are you gonna do differently that’s gonna help you out? What are you gonna do differently that’s going to make you different from the next person? You can’t just do the normal stuff. So, there are some things you have to put in place. There’s a number of things that has to work in your, on your behalf. You have to be really disciplined. And sometimes I mess up myself. You cannot help it with [00:19:00] human beings, but I have to always come back and see what I did wrong, and then—it’s important for you to develop the habit of being disciplined to look at your opponents. And when you’re looking at your opponent’s choices, you’re not looking at, you’re looking at their best choices. So, no matter how well the play, or no matter how well the move, you’re prepared. So, you can’t be looking at the bad moves. Then you’re setting yourself up for failure, right?
I have a number of story—I might not be able to, but when it comes, I’m gonna mention them and I think there’s another kid that I have. Sometimes you say kids are kids, they just wanna move. When you teach them, they will learn. They will know. And this is where when they get—don’t get the results they want, they have to do the right thing. I know it’s not so easy for them because they just want to do some things certain ways. But when you are playing a game, when you’re performing an art, when make—playing a role and there are some things you’re required to, you have to just do those things if you want to get a result. If you don’t, this is what’s gonna happen. [00:20:00] So once they know that, and sometimes some kids are just amazing, you don’t know how they make it happen, but they really lock into it and then you start seeing results. And one, one more thing. The result is so crucial. Because the result actually encourages them to do more.
[00:20:17] Elizabeth: This sounds a lot like, quote, “metacognition.” Where you’re learning how you learn. So, you not only learn the game, but you also learn how the learner are learning the game. This must—
Michael: Oh, go ahead.
Elizabeth: —have a tremendous effect on during the self-regulation, on their attention spans.
Adu: On their confidence as well.
[00:20:34] Elizabeth: On their confidence.
[00:20:35] Adu: Yeah, because I’ve, so, I have, I’ve had some kids that are not doing so well in school and they really picked up chess well, and they get results, and people look up to them, and then they start doing well in school.
Adu: Yeah, because it’s a good feeling when people see you that, oh, he’s good, or she is good. It sends you a lot of messages. No one needs to tell you, oh, you need to do more, you unconsciously want [00:21:00] to do more, does—if to impress them, to let ’em know, yes, I’m the boss in my own little way.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Nothing succeeds like success.
[00:21:07] Michael: So you’ve developed this sort of way of approaching chess and you, your mind and your creativity. So how does that translate into community settings or into your role as a parent? Sometimes my kids go, dad, this is—you’re not my teacher! ‘Cause I’m an educator, right? So sometimes they, they go—Do you make adjustments to your creative approaches. When you’re approaching a community problem or a community issue or parental issue.
[00:21:30] Adu: There, that will always be adjustment, but I don’t think it’s much. The same—the thing about it is the same process, but in the different field entirely. When it comes to the chess, you’re talking about the different moves and all that. But if it’s in the community, like there’s some kind of problems, you, you, there’s the same process you take into it.
Like, okay, this is the problem, what are the possible things we can do to get out of this? Or how can we approach this? So, while you thinking about how to approach it, then you’re thinking about, okay, even if we do this and that, what [00:22:00] are the things that can go wrong? What can we do about it? So unconsciously, you’re thinking about all these things, even without—by standing still your mind is thinking about all the possible things—and then when you now narrow it, them down, maybe you narrow the answers down to maybe two or three, now—let’s say two. So, you now go deep into those two, and then at the end of it, sometimes you actually share them with people so that you see what others think about it. So that way you’ve actually, you probably have five, cut it down to two or three. Then share with the people. You definitely—you do two, you talk about how this is not gonna work because of this and that. And if you bring all the five, you might really waste a lot of time trying to come up with best solution. So, when you can check out the five, take the two out because you know this is not gonna work and you’re not trying to get people to start arguing that this is because you already have an idea why. Then the three, you can just put it out there and when people talk about it, you have an idea what’s gonna be the best. And based on what people say about it, you can now [00:23:00] say, okay, this is what we’re gonna do about it.
[00:23:02] Michael: So, the process remains the same, and you’re just adding in this where you have to discuss it with—
[00:23:07] Michael: —all these other people.
Michael: So, it, it complicates yes, the decision-making process, but the process itself remains.
[00:23:14] Adu: But before you do that, you must have—you can’t wait for them to decide. You must have an idea of what exactly you think should be. So, it’s not gonna be their decision. There’s gonna be, like, you must have an idea. So even when they go back and forth—let’s say among 10 people, five, four might say, oh, the idea you chose is not so good. And six might say the idea is, it’s just perfect, and that’s kind of close six to four. And then you actually have an idea that this is actually gonna be the best one. And of course, you ask whatever reasons they are giving for whatever ideas they try to push out there. Yeah. Because sometimes people just do things without really thinking deep about the consequence and all that.
[00:23:58] Elizabeth: So, in a community [00:24:00] setting—I’m really interested in this—
Elizabeth: —because I’ve been on lots of committees and PTAs—
Elizabeth: —and subgroups and all of these things, and a big part of that process is the interpersonal communication, kind of, power dynamics. I’m thinking of different kinds of committee work where maybe the best idea or the most strategic idea is either this one or that one. And as a deep and masterful strategic thinker, you might be able to present those. But there’s all this other static, if you will, or confusion or complication in terms of other people’s dynamics—
Adu: What they think.
Elizabeth: —and what they think, and just people’s feelings and desires to be acknowledged and all of those. And so it takes a different skillset, say, to take the interpersonal aspects of that.
[00:24:46] Adu: Because you, you have to—some people just wanna be heard. It doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong, they just want to. Yeah. That’s why you have to like, you have to narrow it down before you actually put it out there. Cause if you do—don’t, you gonna, there’s gonna be so many contrasts in [00:25:00] what they think. And the smaller the case on ground that the easier it is to deal with. If you give them more choices, then there’s gonna be way more, they might even add more to it. Just to save time. And, of course, you have to commend every idea. Even if you’re gonna say no, you have to commend every idea. You have to say why it’s a good idea, but there might be something you have to—but people just wanna be heard. They just wanna know that, okay, my idea is not a bad one, it’s a good one, but there’s just some things that, that might not make it work as we really expect it to do.
[00:25:32] Michael: Let me steer right back to focus specifically on chess, ‘cause I, I’ve looked at those chess books where you have your, what, King’s—
[00:25:38] Adu: King’s gambit, Queen’s gambit and all that.
[00:25:41] Michael: —Sicilian defense. It lays out, the opening few moves and you just follow the pattern. Then obviously at some point, there are no more books to follow and that’s when your creative energies as a chess player begin to really come into play. Can you just talk about those moments when you [00:26:00] realize that you have to start being creative. Maybe some of your more creative moments as a chess player, if you could describe some of those.
[00:26:07] Adu: Yeah. Even with the presence of the books, you have to remember the books were written by someone, right? The books could be an experience of one, one person or experience of a number of persons. And the book is really to aid you, to open you up to possibilities, right? Based on what you read in the book, you actually can write a book which is better than that, because now you don’t just have their experiences, you have your experiences to add to that, so you can actually take your step further to talk about what the book doesn’t even know about, because this is something you experienced. And, yes, you have to read the book to know what the book is about, but also you have the ability to also create from the things that you’ve seen.
I know Magnus Carlsen says this a lot. For me, I think he’s the greatest chess player ever because he takes the style of [00:27:00] almost every of the past world champions. No one in the history of chess has ever done that. Having a little bit of each and every one, nobody in the history—why, people always play based on what works for them. People always do things in their comfort zone. But he could become like any of them at any point in time. And that’s why he’s so different. And by far, too, he’s so different.
The—even with the presence of books, you have the possibility of bringing in something new because there’s always been updates on different kind of books. The King’s Indian Defense—I remember reading the book in the early nineties, it’s called The King’s Indian Defense, the classical variation, by John Nunn. John Nunn is a doctor, he’s a professor in the UK—that book is not gonna work for this period. Because, when the book came out, it was a great book, but not at this age. You know why? Because people have played games, they’ve bring in so many more ideas that the book never even talked about. [00:28:00] So when you write a book, can already write a book based on what you know and your experience, all right? Somebody else can read the same book and then bring in some more things that you never even had an idea was there. And when John Nunn wrote his book, we rarely have all these chess engines then, but now there are chess engines everywhere. Yeah. So that’s the way it works. You could actually come up, write something way superior than what you read.
[00:28:28] Michael: Oh, see, I’ve never really thought of a history of chess and strategies and how it’s evolved over time.
[00:28:33] Adu: It has somewhat. Carlsen is just an unbelievable human being. Forget about chess. His memory is amazing. He could come into this room, look at your shelf and go back and tell you exactly how everything was. Yeah! He could tell you how everything—what’s next to this, the size of—he could tell you that. He’s been tried. He’s been tested so.
[00:28:57] Michael: So is his gene—It sounds like his genius is rooted [00:29:00] in the ability to combine all the—he knows all of these chess masters in their moves, and he can combine them in ways that completely flummox his opponent.
[00:29:08] Adu: And he makes them look so easy. And he’s also a very normal human being. A lot of chess players are not like, yeah, a lot of Grandmasters are not. For you to get to a certain level, at some kind of—whatever game it is, you—there’s gotta be some craziness, some little thing out of place about you. People have been said in the past, Michael —- used to be like a snob. Like, when you’re great at something, there’s definitely some things that, you know—but with Magnus it’s not like that. He’s such a normal human being. Like, he doesn’t—all the normal—plays tennis, plays soccer—but the others are so into the game. The others are so into the game, are, like, just get carried away by the game—him is different.
[00:29:52] Michael: A number of books on creativity that I’ve read, they talk about, the person’s studies and studies, they’re trying to figure out the problem and then they go [00:30:00] to bed and they forget about it, but then they wake up the next morning and go, that’s the answer. No, but in a chess game, it’s like you don’t have that option of how can I counter that move, unless the game goes on pause for the night.
Adu: Oh, Right. Right.
Michael: Then you can wake up the next morning and go, right now I know what to.
[00:30:16] Adu: Right, right. In, in, in the past years, there used to be situations whereby games are drawn so you necessarily don’t have to finish a game, but now you don’t have that. You don’t have that. Now he game has to, there’s gotta be an end to the game.
[00:30:30] Michael: So the creativity then has to happen in the moment of stress.
[00:30:32] Adu: You’re, you have to, yeah. And that’s one thing you also have to get used to, because a lot of times you come up with the best moves when you’re really under the most pressure. Some people have that capability. I don’t, can’t, I can’t do that. But some people—there’s a Grandmaster from Russia, his name is Alexander Grischuk. He plays the best moves on the, the most tense situation. He, yeah. You don’t want to get into that situation with him.
[00:30:58] Elizabeth: So, you also have the [00:31:00] ability to play multiple, multiple games at once. And this just beggars my imagination. I can’t remember why I went into the living room one moment to the next. And I assume you have an extraordinary, quote, “working memory” as well as spatial memory. And I’m wondering if you use visualization of patterns? Do—it, it seems like another language, this extraordinary spatial capacity, and I’m just wondering, I—
Adu: I remember—
Elizabeth: —what’s going on in your mind?
[00:31:26] Adu: All right. I remember the first time I played multiple games was like back in college in Nigeria. There was it was like, I, it was like some kind of celebration and a friend of mine wanted me to play several guys at the same time. And anyone that wins the game gets something. And I remember playing from maybe 7:00 PM till maybe around 11:00 PM. Of course, I won all the games. But the thing is, I’ve done the work before. I’m not just—I’ve done a whole lot. Even, back home in Nigeria I rose very quickly because I didn’t really [00:32:00] have anyone teaching me. So I never gave myself a chance if I was talented or not. I just read books and I read a lot. And the more I read, the more I played, the more experience I got. So, I remember the first time I did that, of course I was so tired afterwards. But yes, when you play, you use patterns. I might be on another board having the picture of the first board in my mind. I might be on a board right now and I’m thinking about, okay, this was the last move he made. Okay, what am I going to do when I get there? While I’m on another board.
And, actually, most recently I was at the library pretty close to, Fort Totten Station. I can’t remember the name of the library. It’s a new library. It was this program connecting countries through chess. So there was a woman, international master. She came from Florida. She actually won a gold medal in the 1994 Chess Olympiad, which was my first Olympiad as well. That was in Moscow. So, she was there this weekend. We played several people at the same time. I won all my games and she had to leave. [00:33:00] So I finished that games. I won the games. Then there was another master, David Bennett. So, he won some of his games and he had two draws. So, when you playing multiple games at the same time, you always have to have the picture of the board in your mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re there in person or not. It’s like you’ve developed yourself over the years that you cannot help it, you can’t even take it out of your mind. Because when you’re thinking about, you could actually see the position. Like right now, I can play over some of the games that I played on Saturday. I can show you from the beginning to the end. I don’t have to try to remember. I don’t have to because, the thing is, I remember what I moved and I remember what the person moved. The reason I remember is because I know the ideas. When you have the ideas, when you know why moves are made, you’re not gonna forget. But if you can’t remember the reason why those moves are made, you probably might forget. Yes.
[00:33:51] Elizabeth: So, it’s sort of, if you’re learning another language, a romance language—
Elizabeth: —in Latin. You can figure it out because you have this foundation.
To switch [00:34:00] gears, Adu. I—you and I have known each other for a long time, and I remember following you on Facebook and in the BBC and other international press, when you were stuck in Côte d’Ivoire in, the Ivory Coast during the pandemic for months. And we don’t want to stress you out again—
Adu: Oh, it doesn’t matter.
Elizabeth: Could you tell us a little bit about that situation?
[00:34:23] Adu: It was—okay, this is how it started. I just left the US. I think I left the US to Nigeria and the next day I had, I had to fly to Freetown. Freetown, Sierra Leone, where there’s a tournament going. It was a zonal championship and I actually happened to be two-time champion. I won the tournament 2015, 2016. And when I won the tournament in 2016, I was actually, I qualified to play the World Cup where I played the former world champion Veselin Topalov from Bulgaria. I was in Azerbaijan for, for that tournament.
So I got to Sierra Leon and we started the tournament. [00:35:00] We were like about three more days to the end of the tournament when the shutdown happened all over the world. That was about March 2020. So, I remember the first team that left was the Alice team. They left real quickly, so I was supposed to leave on Sunday. My flight was supposed to leave on Sunday and the lockdown started on Saturday. Of course, there was a huge rush to change the flight to any time before, but even though—a lot of foreigners got stuck, so they couldn’t, unfortunately I couldn’t change my flight. I, no matter what I did. And so the only choice—and everybody already, they live in Sierra Leone and the president of the Chess Federation went to his, went home and I knew no one that I could—and it was a really sit—it was a really difficult situation in the world because they were so m—so much uncertain, nobody knew what was going on.
So, myself, and there were two other guys. One was from Abidjan, [00:36:00] his name is Mario Pan. The other one was John Solaris, he’s a Ghanaian, but they decided to go to their countries by road, which was a nightmare.
I still really want to maybe write a book. I really want, because I really—people really need to know what happened. It was really tough. Actually, I have some pictures, I have some videos that I took along the lines.
So we started from Sierra Leonne. from, yeah, Freetown by road. Now we are heading—I’m going to Nigeria, one of the other ones going to Ghana, the other one is going to call the Côte d’Ivoire Abidjan. Of course, you’re gonna get to Côte d’Ivoire first, then Ghana, then Nigeria. So when we all left in the high spirit, because okay, we gonna go by road, we don’t know what’s going on, where we just enjoying ourself. But we still don’t know the gravity of what was going on in the world.
So, we got on the road and we left Sierra Leone and took us long hours. We go to Liberia. Okay, so when we go to Liberia, one of the guys, the guy from Côte d’Ivoire, Mario, has friends in Liberia. [00:37:00] So he said he’s gonna spend some time in Liberia before he continues. I didn’t like that because I really wanted us all to go, but I had no choice. The next day, the Liberians, they made a huge meal for us, a very big plate. We all ate together. They were so happy to have us.
So, the next day, my, myself and the other guy, John Solaris, we headed, keep going. We’re trying to get—he’s trying to get to Ghana, I’m trying to get to Nigeria. Went all the way and we’re trying to get from Liberia to Côte d’Ivoire. If I—before you could get from the Liberian border to the other border, we had to take two bike rides in the middle of the forest. Like, these guys were speeding so much that—we were talking about patterns, now, this guy knew, they knew that there’s a right turn. They knew there’s a left turn. They knew there’s a bump—they knew everything. So, I was like—they were just going. I was like, I hope these guys know what they’re doing, but they didn’t make no mistakes. One [00:38:00] of the bike rides took about 2 and a half hours. Yeah.
Elizabeth: Two and a half or 20 and a half?
Adu: Two and a half hours. Okay. A bike ride. The other one took about three hours plus just to get to the border. But even before he got to the border, there are so many things happening in between. People were going crazy, people were losing their mind. People were acting very strange.
Adu: So, we got to the border of Côte d’Ivoire. We had to spend the night there, myself and John. So, then the next day—it took us about three days–so the next day we headed from the border into Côte d’Ivoire, into to Abidjan. Still trying to get to Ghana and Nigeria. So, we were able to get to the city and Abidjan, and now we have to space—stay for some time. There were no vehicles moving. Now, they said, you know what? The borders are closed.
So, you really can’t even proceed. You really can’t proceed. But we just wanted to keep going and somebody told us we have to pay more. They’re gonna do something. So somehow, they were able to get us from Abidjan into [00:39:00] Ghana. Into Ghana.
Elizabeth: Oh, into Ghana. Okay.
Adu: So, we’re going to Ghana. The unfortunate thing is we have to take—actually go through a boat. That’s my first time going in a boat. I don’t, I’m very, when it comes to water, I have a phobia for that. So ,we—
Elizabeth: No chess tournaments on the water for you.
Adu: No.So, we crossed into Ghana, right. As we crossed into Ghana, we were accosted. Cops, Ghanaian cops. Oh my God. It was bad. It was bad because they drew their guns. So, at that point I was speaking in this spirit. I’m a believer. I was speaking in tongues, and praying. So I go to the point, I pray to the point where I couldn’t even utter any word any longer. I was just tired. So they took us in, myself and the other guy, and—oh, sorry, I forgot to add this. While we were in Abidjan, there was another Nigerian that just came from India that’s trying to meet up with his wife in Nigeria.
Elizabeth: Oh, wow.
Adu: So, it was now myself, the Nigerian, [00:40:00] and the Ghanaian. So, we crossed into Ghana, they took us to a place, the immigration, they were beating up on the old men, the Ghanaian guy and the Nigerian, but they didn’t touch me throughout. Why, I don’t know. They would just say stuff, but they never really did anything to me. They were beating the other guys. So, at the end of the day, they allowed the Ghanaian to go into Ghana, and myself and the Nigerian, we just met, were sent back into Abi—Côte d’Ivoire. Then the next day we were sent back into Abidjan. So that was how I started my four months, and—
Michael: Four months?
Adu: And two weeks.
Adu: In Abidjan. So, I had to learn how to speak French. Which was one of the pluses for me there. Yeah. I had to learn how to speak because—but it was a lot.
[00:40:50] Michael: So, you’re thinking or maybe writing a book about it?
[00:40:51] Adu: Yeah. I really have—keep thinking about it, but I’m just, I get lazy sometimes. I really feel people should—it’s, there’s a whole lot that happen in between. [00:41:00]
Adu: I remember crying so hard that, please just let me get into Ghana. And they said, Nope, you have to go back. And I lost my luggage. Still, now, my luggage is still in Ghana. Luckily—yeah, still in Ghana—luckily, I was able to track it down because while we we’re crossing they couldn’t put in the boats. It was a small boat. So. we have to go for and then a luggage come afterwards, but when we got there, we go the cops, so the luggage couldn’t come. One of the guys that also were going was able to get the, get into Ghana. Myself and the other guy was just unnlucky. The other guys were able to get into Ghana and they kept going. But although they had to stay in Ghana, because Ghana is a very strict country, they wouldn’t let you move around. It was a lot. It was a lot. I, yeah.
[00:41:45] Michael: Because that was, that, I guess that was two and a half years ago now.
Adu: Yeah, yeah, that was March.
Michael: So, you’ve had time to process it. As you say, the, you learn French and that’s a positive. Are there other—and a lot of times, creativity—with those kinds of traumatic events, creativity [00:42:00] is necessary to do the processing then to try to make something positive out of a traumatic event. Are there any other positives that you arrived at?
[00:42:08] Adu: Yeah, the positive, what some of the positives was like, okay, I got, I met some people and because of the way, my nature, I was able to make friends and a lot of people really liked me there, and they didn’t even want me to leave when it was time. So, they just wanted me to be around.
But I like to talk to people. I greet people, like, I do it all the time. It doesn’t matter if I know you from anywhere, although I don’t do that in the US because things are different here. But back home, yeah, because you don’t know. You might be talking to someone that really just wants someone to talk to you, you don’t know. So, I do that a lot. And I did some work with the chess family in Abidjan, I did some training for them. I played some games, and there was a family that I met through the church I used to go to in Nigeria. The family actually accommodated me from having nowhere to stay. I was staying in a mansion. I was being taken care of a king. Really. The first [00:43:00] two, three weeks of the trip was hell. But, after that, it really was, it got to the point where I was like, it’s really good here. It’s really much better. Yeah. I was like, sometimes when you think of a family, there’s this, you get so overwhelmed, sometimes I just don’t wanna get out of my room. You get so overwhelmed, like, you don’t, nobody even knows what’s gonna happen. The whole world was shut—it’s a scary situation. You don’t even know what’s gonna happen.
And then the US, I was actually told to get to the US Embassy to see if I can get back to the US. I said no. I said, I want to come, go to Nigeria, not US, because I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the world. Like, I’ve never experienced this in my lifetime. That the whole world been shut down over COVID.
So it was, it had his highs and lows there. There were more highs to be honest, but when the lows came, they were really literally, because, just don’t know. And yeah, I made some very good friends and when it was time—actually, the way I was able to leave Côte d’Ivoire, [00:44:00] somebody, I don’t know, somebody told somebody in the Nigerian government that there’s a Nigerian, he’s a national player, he’s stuck there. So, it’s—and this is the sad thing—I have a video I’ll make sure to, I should send it to you—the first time I went to the embassy, I told them about the situation, nobody did anything. I told them everything. Nobody did anything until someone from the Nigerian government now told the ambassador that you gotta get this guy out of here as soon as possible. Then he was looking for me, but the first time going to the embassy, nobody did anything. I’m a Nigerian, I have to ask some extra stuff to get out. So, he started making a lot of moves. So fortunately for me, there were these group of people that, that they work with some oil company. So, they were trying to move from Côte d’Ivoire to Nigeria. So, the private jet was sent to come pick them. So that was how I was put on the jet, and that’s how I go back to Nigeria.
[00:44:55] Michael: Fascinating. Yeah, that’s, that definitely sounds like a good book. There you are living in the mansion [00:45:00] going, do I really want to leave?
[00:45:00] Adu: Yeah. And while I was there, I remember there was a heavy flood.
Elizabeth: Oh, dear.
Adu: Yeah. I still have pictures and videos of all this. There was a heavy flood that happened. 2020. It destroyed a lot of places in Abidjan. A lot of people drowned. Even the mansion I was in, you couldn’t get out because you could see the flood like right out there. So many experiences, so many things happened within that period. Yeah.
[00:45:27] Elizabeth: So, tell us some more. This is so fascinating. Sounds more like a film.
[00:45:31] Adu: I’m telling you. It’s—
Elizabeth: Very visual description.
[00:45:33] Elizabeth: But you are from Nigeria. You are Nigerian. Nigerian American at this point. Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from in Nigeria? From Lagos or?
[00:45:42] Adu: I actually lived in Lagos, but originally I’m from Ekiti state. One of the states in Nigeria. All right. Although that’s where my dad and my mom are from, although I was born in Lagos and I lived in Lagos and, yeah, Ekiti is one of the states and, I don’t know you, you must, probably must have heard of [00:46:00] this lady. She’s a singer. Sade.
Elizabeth: Oh yeah,
Adu: Sade Adu. Yeah, she’s my, we’re actually first cousins.
Elizabeth: Is that right?
Adu: Yeah, we’re first, yeah. And yeah, I don’t know whole lot about where I’m from originally, but—because I never really grew up there, I grew up in Lagos. Lagos is a very crazy place. An interesting place, was a very crazy place.
Elizabeth: Crazy place. It’s a big city.
Adu: It’s a big city. Yeah.
Elizabeth: Many millions.
Adu: Oh yeah. Over 20. Millions.
Elizabeth: Oh, geez.
Adu: One thing about Lagos is you’re gonna find the best people in the earth and the worst people. Easily. Yeah. You’re gonna find some people that are gonna treat you like you’ve never been treated. And then there are some very dubious people. Because in Lagos, you have to survive. You have to find a way to survive. Yeah. I could say I’m from Lagos. I schooled in Lagos. I did all my—although my university was in another state. I went to university in another state in Nigeria.
When you talk about Nigeria, Nigeria really has a lot of pluses. But our leaders make things so difficult. Not just our leaders, but there are some citizens that are just terrible. It’s unbelievable. We [00:47:00] blame the leaders a lot, but the citizens are worse. Unfortunately. I know what I’m talking about. You could be trying to correct someone, like, that stuff you’re doing is bad. It’s the citizens that’s gonna come jump at you and say it doesn’t matter. It does matter because you’re setting the precedent, people are gonna start doing the wrong thing. So, if you don’t nip it on the bud now—and our leaders have left things to, to deteriorate so badly.
I tell people Nigeria should be the best country. We have everything. We have the human resources, we have the mineral, we have everything. We have everything. Music, entertainment, movies. We really do have everything. The management of the country has been so compromised for years and so it just keeps getting worse. And we just hoping by the grace of God something happens. Even if you look in the US, there’s so many Nigerians in top places. So many of them. It says a lot about the people.
[00:47:48] Elizabeth: Yeah. Speaking of Nigerians in the us, can you tell us just a little bit about your journey from Nigeria to the US and how your innate creativity was a player in that process?
[00:48:01] Adu: Okay. I left Nigeria in ‘99 for the US. I actually left frustrated because what happened was, I remember that year somebody released a huge amount of money for myself and one of the other chess players for us to play tournament in Europe. I really had never really had any plans of coming to the US. But somehow somebody in the ministry just took the money.
And I kept going, I was the one going back and forth trying to–spend so much money–took the money and when I found out there was nothing. I tried to move to the UK, I remember, in ‘99 and I was refused the visa. So then one of—I have a friend in the US, his name is Yasser Seirawan, we met during the Olympiad in ‘94 Moscow and we started talking there. So, while I was in school, I just sent him an email that I’d really like to come to the US. So, he sent me an invitation and that was how I was able to get to the US in ‘99. And yeah, so actually had to start in new life [00:49:00] in the US. And of course, things are much different here than back home. Anybody coming to the US is, they’re coming for greener pastures, more opportunity. Things actually work here. You have the laws and everything. Compared to with the way it was back home. That’s how I moved into US. I think I remember this was in June 1999.
Elizabeth: Wow. That’s a long time ago.
Adu: Yeah. And I remember when it was time for me to come back to Nigeria, even though I really didn’t want to come back, but a lot of the schools, some schools and some other people gave me a reason not to because I did some teaching and all that, and they really wanted me to stay back. So they tried to make things happen so that I could stay back and that was how I was able to stay back in the US.
[00:49:45] Elizabeth: Certainly, anyone who comes here or anyone who leaves their home, homeland, their home base and goes to some new place. Be you an immigrant or a migrant, or just a transplant. [00:50:00] our sense is that it’s a profoundly creative process of reinventing yourself.
[00:50:04] Adu: Yes. Yes, you have to because things are different here. Yeah. And there are laws here. You have to—the, because the good thing about here is there are opportunities for you to actually use whatever you have to—Back home it’s actually hard to think, to create things, because you’re thinking to survive, not to create, you understand? You’re thinking about, oh, the—because even when you start to think about what to do and all that, it’s almost impossible to make it happen. So, at the end of the day, you’re gonna do all this thinking, but then nothing comes out of it. So what you do in that instance is, how do you just get by? Yeah. With here it’s a different, it’s a little different—
Michael: All your creative energy goes into the survival,
Adu: Which is not, it’s not the best. But right here, you actually can sit back and think about all kind of things to do.
[00:50:53] Michael: You mentioned earlier about, on the boat, you were, praying and then you started speaking in tongues.
And Elizabeth has said, you have some [00:51:00] deep Christian faith. So let me, I would love to explore the relationship between faith and creativity. This woman I’ve read a little bit of says that “Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control.” And so if you could just talk briefly about how you see that relationship between creativity and faith.
[00:51:22] Adu: You can be very creative and bring a lot of things, but for me, where my faith helps in, I believe that whatever—I believe a lot of things come into my mind that I can make happen. Not because I’m so smart, but because I believe that there is a God that, when you do certain things, he said, the Bible says when you’re diligent with your work, when you do what you’re supposed to do, so many more ideas come to you.
And if you’re not gonna use these ideas, then they’re not gonna keep coming to you. Faith and creativity, I think they, they have a lot of things in common because faith pretty [00:52:00] much means believing without really seeing. But when you believe that, if I make these things happen, this is the result I’m gonna get, and you start on it, when you start on that pattern, even more things are gonna come into you that you never even knew was there.
[00:52:17] Michael: Okay, so you believe that it is, if you have a creative impulse or an idea, it’s very important to start the process of bringing that idea into—
[00:52:24] Adu: You have to, because if you don’t, you’re going to lose it. And the only time you’re gonna remember is when you see somebody carrying out the things you already thought about. And that’s happened to me before.
Elizabeth: Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Yeah.
Adu: Yeah. And there are some people that really don’t—it’s not about, like, some people believe, they might not be Christians or Muslims, but, so they believe–faith. Faith is faith. It’s not about being–if you believe in these things, it’s really gonna work for you.
I’m a Christian, but faith is faith. Faith means you believe, if you believe you’re gonna get results, you don’t have to be a Christian. Yeah. You don’t have to [00:53:00] belong to a certain—there are some things that go on in the earth. There are some things that are in place. You don’t even have to pray about it, they just happen. If you really be—there are a lot of people that create things that are not even Christians or Muslim or belong to any kind of religion, but for whatever reason they are so—they are not just zero. They are certain things they believe and those things they work on and it works for them. It’s almost like it’s a law that if you do this, what’s gonna happen. Yeah.
[00:53:25] Michael: And it’s a beautiful idea that faith allows you to believe that something will happen. Even though you can’t see it—
Adu: You can’t see it. Yeah.
Michael: It doesn’t occur. And thus, creativity is that—in, in a sense that is creativity. But then it’s important to actually begin the process of bringing that thing
Adu: To happen.
Michael: –thing into reality in order to foster more creative ideas.
[00:53:46] Adu: Because if you don’t bring it into reality, you are gonna lose— you, you’re not gonna see things as much as you do. But when you start, then it is gonna lead to so many other things you never even had an [00:54:00] inclination or thought about.
[00:54:02] Elizabeth: There’s a wonderful quote you’ve probably heard, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.” Which is sort of what you’re talking about.
[00:54:09] Adu: Exactly. Just that you don’t see what you believe.
Elizabeth: And speaking of believing, you are also a dad. Which is a leap of faith to become a parent. It’s a huge leap of faith. You have, as I understand, you have two 15-year-old fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. As well as a 14-year-old son. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about your, you have capacity as a parent, which I have gone through and I know it’s a huge improvisational journey, so.
[00:54:38] Adu: It is. My kids are awesome. And I actually started them, since when they were one year old, like, letting them know this is right, this is wrong. And first it was a little hard for their mom. Don’t be too hard on them. I said, kids learn. I said, babies learn. They know the right, they know the wrong. I said, how do you know? Like how do they relate to you?
If your baby keeps going, getting in the way [00:55:00] of something and you don’t do something about it, they’re gonna do it the more because they know nothing’s gonna happen. So, I try to let them know right from like when they’re one, two years old, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that. And it got to a point where you don’t even have to communicate with them. You just look at them and they know, okay, I’m not supposed to do this. I’m not supposed to do that, but I’m not gonna give myself all the credit. I pray for them.
Elizabeth: Oh good.
Adu: I do pray. I say, God, just make them great kids. Let me say something, there are pastors that have terrible kids. Like, pastors. They have the worst kids. Really, they do. Your profession doesn’t determine your kids are gonna be great. You have—after training them, you still have to—this is my belief, you have to pray for them. Because when you pray for them, God really does something. And like I said, my kids are, they’re awesome. They’ve never given myself or the mom any kind of problem whatsoever.
And they’re very brilliant. They’re open. They’re, there’s always As and B. And they are, and they don’t, even, [00:56:00] when you interact with them, you just know they’re different. They are really different. Yeah. They are not your typical American kids, where—No, they’re not. Yeah. And I like that it’s a blessing because when you put them in certain ways, when they grow up, they really appreciate the way things have been with them. And I used to tell them they’re different from their classmates. Don’t ever see yourself as—when somebody does something, you don’t have to, you’re not the same person. People should look up to you, not the other way around.
And I like my daughter. My daughter made this bracelet.
Elizabeth: Oh, beautiful.
Adu: She’s very creative. That’s the one I meant. She’s very creative. She, they do what they’re told, and they just live a very peaceful life. Yeah.
[00:56:39] Elizabeth: Wow. Congratulations on that.
Adu: Thank you.
Elizabeth: I can’t say I’ve shared your parental—
Michael: We have great kids.
Elizabeth: We do have great kids. They’re well into their adulthood, they’re marvelous. Wonderful. So we would just, it was a Michael and I as theater people from our earlier lives. So parenting at least for me was quite the improvisational experience. Let me, speaking of the theatrical, there are a whole bunch [00:57:00] of representations recently about chess and I wondered if you could comment. I’m thinking of The Queen’s Gambit and also chasing Bobby Fischer—
[00:57:07] Adu: Searching for Bobby Fischer.
[00:57:09] Elizabeth: So what do you think of these representations of chess or the chess playing?
[00:57:12] Adu: Pretty, pretty, very close. It’s not, like—Searching for Bobby Fischer was actually a movie that was, came out was pretty much talking about the life and story of Josh Waitzkin, who was a child prodigy, although he doesn’t play chess any longer, but, yeah. He actually went through all that. Everything that happened was a real-life story. And the idea was, he thought it was gonna be the next Bobby Fischer, because—we knew who Bobby Fischer was, he was a one-time world champion, a US citizen, and he was actually the only one that was able to break into the ranks of the Russian, he was able to—and before he could do that, he actually had to learn how to speak Russia so he could read their books. And then he was able to really get into them and took the whole Russian team down just on his own. But it’s a lot of dedication. It’s a lot of work he put into it. [00:58:00]
So, Josh Waitzkin was somebody they felt was gonna be the next, was gonna be as great as Fischer, but Fischer was just Fischer. Fischer was like an eccentric, pretty much. He really was. He was just weird. He was really weird. And he was someone that really did so well in whatever he chose to do. Fortunately, unfortunately, that it was chess that he wanted to do, and it really predict—
Now the movie The Queen’s Gambit was another very nice movie, but I’m not sure if it was a real-life story, but I’m sure there was, there was a lady that actually set a pattern after the way she did in that—she’s a, she’s a real lady. And I think The Queen’s Gambit is actually one of the best movies, one of the best chess movies, because it really showed everything about what the life of a chess player is. A number of them are like that. They’re just the way, the lady was, the kind of addiction she had. And then when it was time for her to play the game, she had to go take some training from some other people just to get some more knowledge.
[00:58:59] Michael: [00:59:00] And then it also had those stuck, those scenes where she would envision the board
Adu: Oh, right.
Michael: And it’s similar to how you were describing—
[00:59:06] Adu: That happens a lot. I remember years ago when I fell, whenever I fall sick, when I just started playing, I’d see chessboards, just running all over my brain. I’d just be praying, God, let me just get well so I can go and play chess. Yeah. So The Queen’s Gambit was a very good movie.
And then there was another movie, it’s called the Queen of Katwe. That’s another real-life story because Phiona Mutesi, that’s the name of the lady, that came up from the slums in Uganda. Just because she could play chess, she was able to get opportunities and before you know it, she’s a graduate. She graduated in the US about last year, I think, from a college. And she’s—Never knew a con—a city called Katweexisted in Uganda until she came up with the movie. Yeah. She came up with, so chess brought up from zero to a celebrity, pretty much.
[00:59:53] Elizabeth: Speaking of celebrity, and how do you and other chess masters, how do you handle the, quote, “celebrity”?
[00:59:59] Adu: The one [01:00:00] time I really felt like a celebrity in chess was in the 1998 Olympiad, was in the Kalmykia Republic in Elista. And I think it was because they were just—I don’t think in that part of the world, they’ve seen a lot of black people. So instead of going after the Grandmasters and all that, they were coming after us and signing autographs and all that.
But yeah, with the celebrity thing, I really don’t think it’s such a big deal for chess players. You have to still stay humble and just let people know it’s not nothing serious about it. If you’re not a world champion or some of the big guys in the, in, in the top 10 in the world. So it’s not thing you should flaunt, or if they see us as one, that’s fine, but you don’t act like there’s a whole lot about it.Yeah.
[01:00:45] Elizabeth: What do you do to recharge and renew after a tournament, after a competition?
[01:00:48] Adu: Nothing. Nothing. I just do nothing. Yeah.
Elizabeth: You do nothing or—
Adu: I just do nothing, just sit. Walk around, watch a movie or just do nothing really. Nothing. Nothing [01:01:00] really. Yeah, Yeah. You don’t, yeah, I don’t look to do anything. Just, it’s nothing.
[01:01:07] Michael: Okay. We like to end—It’s been great and, but we like to end our interviews with our question, so looking at the sort of creativity and the role it plays in the shaping of an identity. Now you’ve touched on many different aspects of your life. This question was actually inspired by a person I met recently and she had spent most of her life in the corporate world, but then several years ago, she said that she just had, she had to leave, she had to quit corporate America ‘cause she felt like her whole identity had been taken over to the corporate mindset. And so, she had spent the last few years recreating herself, exploring new possibilities, new options that she’d mentioned, options. And so it just made me think about how important creativity is as a shaper of who we are as people and how we’re known to both, to [01:02:00] ourselves and to others.
So if you could maybe just talk briefly about the role that creativity has played in the shaping of yourself and your long, you have a very interesting journey that you’ve been on and if you could talk about that briefly, that’d be wonderful
[01:02:12] Adu: Like for her, I don’t know how she tends to go about it because it’s a good idea. She’s getting out of the work and she’s really right about that. You really could become somebody totally different just because of the kind of work you do. And people have no idea of who the real you is. And imagine you could be doing this for years and years. Yeah. For her, all of a sudden, she realizes, you know what? I need to be me, but it’s gonna be a little bit hard for her because now how do, you’ve been this person all this, all of a sudden, you’re trying to be somebody you don’t even know who it is.
For me, over the years, I just let my experiences like teach me how to go about things. And if I, you, I don’t know. Any human being has to be creative in some kind of way. You can because if you don’t, you, it’s [01:03:00] almost like ceases to exist. You have to, because the world is moving, the world is changing. There’s so many things that are changing. The internet like 20, 30 years ago is not like the way it is now. So you always have to change, not just because you want to, but because of your surrounding.
And you have to get ahead. It’s not just changing just to change. Because you also have to get ahead. A lot of people are trying to get the same thing you want, so what qualifies you more than the other person?
So you unconsciously have no choice but to look for ways to get creative in the things you do, in the way you do those things. And sometimes you come up with some ideas that you wonder, is this is gonna work? But the mere fact that you’re coming up with something is a big deal. Now if it’s gonna work or not, that is still left to you. You have to see. If it’s worked before, it’s happened before, or something similar. And then try to build something out of it.
I don’t think anybody has a choice not to be—you really have to, maybe in different levels—I think we all have to be creative in [01:04:00] some kind of way. It is very important for survival. It is.
Years ago, the way you strike a match was different so many years ago, right? So you have to, because the world is changing. You can’t say, oh, I’m just gonna stay here. No. Even if you have a, if you run a certain business and you have all those people supporting the same kind of business, and you just want to do things the way you want to. Now it’s not just about the way you want to, there has to be because if you keep on that and people are doing other things, people are gonna go to the other people instead of coming to you. So you have no choice but to find a way to make something. You have to, yeah.
[01:04:39] Michael: So, I guess chess doesn’t have corporate level, does it? Has anyone ever tried to manage, do they manage chess players?
[01:04:44] Adu: Yes, they do a lot.
Michael: Oh, they do?
Adu: They do. They have managers.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Adu: Yeah, they have managers and pretty much the manager is about getting chess events, getting invitations, getting very good deals.
As a player, yeah, as a player, you might not [01:05:00] really know how to go about it, but a manager will tell you, this is how much you want. This is—as a player, I might wanna get like maybe $20,000. Your manager might say, no, you, you want $50,000 and give the reason why to the person that—so, you need the manager. A number of the top players have managers apart from having coaches or trainers and all that. Yeah. So you need managers. Chess players just want to play chess, right? Yeah.
[01:05:28] Elizabeth: One of the—I think you’ve answered this in many ways—as we said earlier, one of the main reasons we’re doing this podcast is because we truly believe creativity is, as we said, a vital force life. And it’s just a necessary ingredient to a healthy emotional life.
Elizabeth: We humans, particularly in this country, but in other places as well, we are in desperate need of some emotional health. So do you have any really compressed advice you would give to our listeners on how to sustain the creative [01:06:00] impulse, how to maintain it and nurture it and develop it? You’ve spoken at length about its effect on your life, and I wonder if there’s some practice or a ritual or anything.
[01:06:10] Adu: What I really want, what I really say is pray about it.
Elizabeth: Pray about it.
Adu: It looks simple but it is that simple. Because if you look at the whole world, the world was created by, whatever, I believe is God. People believe some kind of power, everything in place. It has to be from a great mind. And the Bible says, we are created in the image of God. So that means that even if you look at the world, if you look at what some human beings do, it is mind blowing. To watch a lot of free diving when—yeah, I don’t know why I like it, but I really watch—the things human beings do. It’s mind blowing if you. Either intellectually or physically, just for me, it’s just pray.
This is what I want. Even the Bible says, if you want knowledge, ask for it and then you’re gonna get it. For me, just pray about it and then just, when you pray about it, you don’t have to just [01:07:00] stay still and expect something to happen. And while you’re still, a lot of things are gonna come to your mind.
And two, another thing that, that I really advise is beyond praying, you need to meditate a lot. Meditation is very critical. The things you meditate on is very important because it takes you to where, like, you don’t even have an idea. And the more meditation you do, the more a lot of things come to your mind. But then you have to always make sure that you have the opportunity of writing these things down. What you can create is infinite. There is no stop to it. It stops when you decide you’ve had enough. Yeah. Because you could go as much as you want. Just keep going. You, it’s endless really.
[01:07:46] Elizabeth: Maya Angelou, I thin,k is quoted with saying something to the effect of creativity—you cannot use creativity.
Adu: It’s impossible. The more you create, yeah.
Elizabeth: The more you create,
Adu: The more—
Elizabeth: —some words to that effect.
[01:07:54] Adu: It stops when you stop. When you stop doing. Yeah. [01:08:00]
[01:08:00] Elizabeth: Right. So, this has been fabulous. Thank you so much, Adu, for joining us. This has been—
Adu: Thanks, thanks for having me.
Elizabeth: This been a wonderful interview with Oladapo Adu. International chess master educator, man of deep Christian faith, parent, Nigerian immigrant, and more. Is, are there any projects or websites or is there anything you’d like to tell our listeners about.
Michael: Any chess tournaments coming up?
Elizabeth: Tournaments coming up?
Adu: Yeah, I actually have a tournament coming up this month.
Elizabeth: This month.
[01:08:20] Adu: I think the Thanksgiving weekend. It’s in North Carolina. Charlotte. It’s called the US Masters.
[01:08:30] Elizabeth: US Masters. Charlotte, North Carolina. This is November 2022.
[01:08:33] Adu: November 23rd to 27th.
Elizabeth: 23rd to 27th. Okay.
Adu: And I’m participating in that. And, now, if you go to my Facebook page, there’s a, I don’t know if you can see, there’s a writing that I pinned down. Pretty much what it says is you could become the best in whatever you do, whatever you, but you don’t become the best by just praying. It’s good to pray [01:09:00] but you have to do things.
I told you I’ve been doing a lot of studying since last year and I wasn’t getting the results right away. I wasn’t, but I wasn’t discouraged because I knew I was learning. I knew, there are so many new things I was getting into myself and I was excited even though I, my tournament result was not excited, it wasn’t nothing to be excited about, I was still doing some game, but I was excited because I knew that’s a lot of change that is going on. And like I told you in the last maybe a month and a half I’ve won four tournaments.
[01:09:38] Adu: Like I said, I cannot remember the last time that I won four tournaments.
Beyond—I pray, I meditate—beyond all that, I have to do the work. You can’t just pray and say, oh, something, God, there’s gotta be something you do. You understand? Yeah. Yeah. My advice is you pray about it, commit it to God and I’m telling you, you are going to be surprised. And you, the moment you say [01:10:00] you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough, God is never gonna push you beyond what you don’t want. And if you keep wanting it, you’re gonna keep getting it. So I’m not surprised that my performance lately, in fact they’re, the interesting, there are still some things I’ve learned that I’ve not even used, but I’m still learning. I sleep late every night. Just to study for about two, three hours. I try to do that. When I was much younger, I was, I could go for six, seven, eight hours.
Adu: Oh yeah. I was doing that easily. But now it’s, because I believe that there’s still a whole lot I need to give to people, so many, so much knowledge I need to impact. So, you can only give the things you have. So I decide to get as much and I’m—it’s a quest for me because I have an idea where I’m going. So it’s a quest. So I have this tournament that I’m looking forward to. And apart from that, I also have a number of students that I teach on the side. Yeah.
[01:10:52] Elizabeth: Excellent. Thank you again. This has been delightful.
[01:10:55] Elizabeth: Thank you all for listening to this edition of Creativists in [01:11:00] Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. We’ll see you soon.
For more information about Creativists in Dialogue or our other projects, please visit elizabethbrucedc.com or obh.c6d.myftpupload.com. This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
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