For a while, I was into coin collecting, and I spent all of my allowance and lawn mowing money adding to my collection. I even went to the banks, and traded in my dollars for coins in order to search the rolls for rare coins. Once I got really lucky, because someone had rolled up their silver half dollars and their old wheat pennies that probably sat in a jar for 30 years, and I found them. I still have the collection (including about 2,000 wheat pennies worth about $.03 each), but I have only added a few coins to it since my college days.
I took up building model rockets, and did that for several years. I also built several rubber powered model airplanes as a kid, but they never flew right. That was partly my lack of skill in building, and partly because I bought models that were not good flyers even in the best of circumstances. I did get to fly my dad’s radio controlled airplanes sometimes, but I was never allowed to land them. Flying is easy; landing is where the trouble happens.
During much of high school, I was hooked on chess. I competed in a lot of tournaments, and I even placed 4th in the Maryland Junior Championship. (This skill did not help me attract girls.) Once I even beat a fellow named Robert Fischer. He wasn’t THE Bobby Fischer, but I can still brag, right? Unfortunately, chess and marriage are not very compatible, so my days of tournament chess ended in my early twenties.
The thing about addictive hobbies is that, although they may go dormant, they can come back to life again. This is especially true when you have kids.
This Christmas I got a chess clock. I got to introduce Anna and Joshua to speed chess. (Speed chess is where you set the clock really fast. A typical speed is 5 minutes per player per game. I gave myself 3 minutes, and gave them 10.) The nice thing about a chess clock is that it is a great way to handicap a game. If I only have 3 minutes to play the whole game, I can think as hard as possible and it will still be an even match for my kids.
Josh and I are hoping to play in at least one tournament this year. Chess is a great way to activate brain cells, as it rewards planning and punishes mental sloppiness. When you have to choose between thinking and losing, you usually choose to think.
And speaking of chess, you may have a stereotype in your mind of what a typical woman chessplayer looks like. My prejudices are deep-seated: The only female chessplayer I played against in tournaments was a 45-year-old extrememly nerdy-looking chainsmoker. This was back in the days when you could smoke during tournaments. (Yes I’m old.) To break down this stereotype, here are some pictures of Alexandra Kosteniuk, the top rated woman in Russia: