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Charles Riordan is ranked among the top 100 chess players in the country. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Law Student and Chessmaster

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By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff
Published: January 21, 2010
Charles Riordan was in seventh grade, a self-described “class nerd,” when he answered a challenge from a classmate to play a game of chess.

“I got checkmated in four moves, much to the delight of everyone watching,” said Riordan. “At that point, I realized I needed to learn how to play and get a little revenge.”

During the past year, the United States Chess Federation ranked the second-year Boston College Law School student among the top 100 chess players in the country. Riordan, who is an editorial assistant to Monan Professor of Law Dan Coquillette, regularly participates in top tournament play in the region and throughout the country.

“I like the fact that it’s a problem solving exercise. I like that it’s unexplored in a lot ways. There is a whole theoretical discussion about the best way to get a good position out of the opening for both colors,” says Riordan, pausing to laugh. “I guess that’s very dull to anyone who doesn’t play. But I enjoy that you get to make new discoveries for yourself, your own subset of knowledge.”

A Cambridge native, Riordan credits a parent on his high school chess club for getting him interested in competing on the national level.

“There’s a lot of people who equate children playing chess to kids doing well in school, but I think there’s less cause and effect there. You have people who are interested in studying chess, there are people who are interested in studying a whole variety of other things,” said Riordan. “On it’s own, it’s very esoteric, but it’s very fun. And that’s why I play.”

Riordan said rare is the occasion that he sits across from someone he hasn’t already competed against before – a group of 10 high-level chess players in the Boston area often compete against one another repeatedly for the best matches. He describes his style as focused; he prefers to not to look at his opponent at all, simply focusing his attention on the technical points of the game.

Riordan said little has changed since he became a top-rated player, other than he has taken to traveling with a chessboard in the trunk of his car, just in case a good match-up presents itself.

“I’ve been fortunate to meet some really amazing people through this,” he said. And what advice would Riordan give to nerdy seventh graders who may get checkmated during a first attempt at chess?

“Don’t quit...unless you hate it. In that case, do quit and play sports,” said Riordan. “And I’d tell them not to worry, most chess players are very nice and not all that geeky once we grow up."