The average 8-year-old is riding their bicycle down the street or playing with their dolls. But Barbara Goodkind, UC Davis 2011 graduate and human development major, had another hobby.
Barbara and her twin sister, Lauren, a communication major and 2011 graduate of Notre Dame in Belmont, started playing chess in 1999 and began to enter tournaments five years later at the age of 13.
“I play chess because it’s a very good game and you get to travel and meet a lot of interesting people,” Barbara said.
In February, Barbara traveled to Santa Clara, Calif. and won the 2012 U.S. Amateur Team West Chess Tournament. Barbara played six games over three days with five wins and one draw, giving her a winning score of 5.5.
“I believe I am the first person from UC Davis to win a national tournament and I am very happy about that,” Barbara said. “I enjoy UC Davis a lot and I get to represent [it]. That’s very important [to me].”
Currently, Barbara is ranked #86 among U.S. females of all ages. She has played in over 130 tournaments and is in the 90th percentile for chess players in the U.S. and the 98th percentile for women in the U.S. Barbara’s secret to all of this success is what she calls “unconventional lesson.”
“To improve my chess, I do coordination and balance activities. I unicycle and juggle at the same time and do some yoga positions,” she said. “It actually increases [my] concentration and focus, which translates to my chess. It’s all spatial activities so it’s actually very similar. Most chess players would just look at chess books but for me I just do [these] activities.”
Her mother, Marion Goodkind, taught her chess as a child for no reason other than introducing a simple pastime, but said that these additional activities to improve concentration were all Barbara’s idea.
“One day she told me she could unicycle, forwards and backwards,” Marion said.
While Barbara’s sister, Lauren, has her own methods of improving her game, Lauren said that she sees how these activities have helped Barbara’s skill.
“I think that it has helped her to concentrate because when you play chess you have to concentrate a lot and when you unicycle and juggle you have to really be focused too,” Lauren said.
The sisters say that they spend more time together because of the hobby that they share.
“We have chess in common and it’s a good bonding activity,” Lauren said. “If we are bored and have nothing to do, we can play and it’s fun.”
However, in tournaments, both Lauren and Barbara said they do not like to play each other. Because they play each other so much away from the competition, playing each other is like playing the same game over and over.
“We play each other all the time and it tends to be that it’s just not a game when I play my sister because we are too close to each other,” Barbara said.
Lauren said that the repetition of playing each other takes away the challenge of a new opponent’s playing style.
“The reason why I don’t like to play against my sister is because we play each other at home and I already know her playing style, so it’s not really exciting,” Lauren said. “When we play chess, it’s fun to play different people because they each have their own playing style.”
Another way that the girls bond over the hobby is through the TV show that they created in order to promote female involvement. Because chess is male-dominated, Barbara and Lauren aim to invite more females to partake in the hobby and come to appreciate it as they have.
“I believe that women should play in more chess tournaments because there are so many opportunities in chess,” she said. “It’s also good for the brain; it’s deep thinking.”
Since 2007, they have produced nine live episodes, each including tips on chess playing and interviews of chess icons.
“We wanted to promote more females [to play] chess because chess is such a good game,” Barbara said.
Unlike many sports, men have no advantage in chess, for succeeding relies solely on brain power rather than physical attributes. This is one of the reasons that Barbara wants to encourage more females to play.
“It’s an equal playing field because there’s no advantage,” Barbara said.
While Barbara and Lauren were playing mostly men in the various clubs they joined throughout the years, Marion said that the skewed ratio never affected their interest or their playing.
“It never bothered them,” she said. “They were out there to have a good time and for the love of the game.”
Not only has Barbara used chess as a pastime, but she has also used it to raise money. When Haiti was hit by an earthquake in 2010, Lauren and Barbara wanted to help so they held a series of 5-minute games, or “blitz” games, over two days in which people could play them and donate to the cause. Their efforts raised $400.
“They had a lot of fun,” Marion said. “I thought that was wonderful.”
DEVON BOHART can be reached at email@example.com.