In 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic set in and isolated people in their homes, born-and-raised Riverside resident Sean Hennessy felt like he was watching too much television and that his brain was turning into mush. So, he decided to pick up chess as a hobby.
Three years later, Hennessy is a full-time chess instructor with over 39,000 games played on chess.com.
Seeing few opportunities to play face-to-face, Hennessy combined his immense love of the Riverside community and the game of chess to create the Riverside Chess Club.
“There wasn’t a venue to play in person, so I figured why not start one for myself? Just as a way to connect with people and provide a little bit of community,” Hennessy said.
Since its founding in April 2021, the group has been meeting most every Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Riverside Public Library, 1 Burling Road, attracting community members of all ages and skill levels. The weekly crowd typically ranges between 15 and 20 members, primarily regulars.
One of those regular members is Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Jack Baird. He joined the club about a year and a half ago, having only started playing chess in the last two years. By competing against other players of higher skill levels, Baird was able to grow his skills while gaining over-the-board experience.
“I could come here after playing the whole week and match my skills up against people that are pretty consistent. I found it super helpful, and then I went from number 13 at my school last year to number one at state this year,” Baird said.
Players like Baird come to club events to practice and get a leg up on future competitors, while other members come because of their love of the game.
Amando Mendoza, who lives in Berwyn, started playing chess against family members as a teenager and joined a chess club at his local YMCA. He started competing in tournaments, and his love of chess only grew from there.
A newer member of the club, Mendoza loves that the Riverside Chess Club includes children, unlike other venues at which he has played.
“I commend Sean for that, for bringing in children and showing them, ‘Hey, look, there’s more than just other types of sports. You can play chess. Chess is a sport, too,’” Mendoza said.
Though he no longer competes and plays just for fun, Mendoza loves that chess offers the opportunity to play against opponents of all different types and ethnicities. In his mind, there is always more to learn in chess.
“There’s just so much to learn in chess, so much. Once you feel or you think you’ve reached one stage of learning this game, there’s more constant learning,” Mendoza said.
Some in the club are learning advanced maneuvers and strategy, and others are just learning how the pieces move. Hennessy offers lessons to those between the ages of 5 and 105 at all skill levels. He has always loved to teach, especially kids, as no two games are the same — though he pointed out that it is technically possible to play the same game twice.
Outside of the Riverside Chess Club, Hennessy teaches online and group lessons at schools. He will also serve as a tournament director for the Pan-American Youth Chess Festival taking place from Aug. 11-18 in Chicago. Events like this draw players from all over the world and allow people from different backgrounds to play together, one of Hennessy’s favorite parts about chess.
“You meet so many people you never would have met. … You’re never going to hang out with little kids or a 95-year-old guy, but with chess, every type of person of every age,” Hennessy said.
For both casual and obsessive players, the Riverside Chess Club is a welcoming and down-to-earth place for everyone to learn and have fun, Hennessy said.
To learn more about upcoming events, visit the club’s website at riversidechessclub.org.