BBC's Across the Board: Steve Davis

by Albert Silver
5/6/2015 – Fans of the BBC Radio programme "Across the Board" can rub their hands in glee, since the broadcaster has decided not to wait until October for the next season, and has started Season three now, with a new series of personalities. The first on the list is the English snooker legend, Steve Davis, six-time winner of the world title, and co-author of two chess books.

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As a reminder to the readers and listeners, the format of the show is this: On the radio they play a quick rapid game during which Lawson interviews his guest on both chess and other matters. In the first season only one of the personalities was actually a chess player, Hou Yifan, while the others were all noted figures in their fields and all are chess aficionados. The shows are edited, and also bring in GM Daniel King to the commentary booth as he provides a little insight on the flow of the game and his feel for the position.

Steve Davis
Born in England, Steve Davis is one of the greatest snooker champions of all time, winning the World Championship six times, and was a key player in making it the global success it is today. He is also a keen chess player and co-author of two chess books. (photo by BBC and Phil Coomes)

Many, if not most countries have billiards games of some sort, whether it be the American game of pool, the pocketless three-cushion billiards, or the international game of snooker among others. Snooker is by far the hardest pocket billiards game of them all, played on giant twelve-feet tables (3m60 in length) with tight pockets and requiring no fewer than 36 shots to clear the table.

The game struggled to become what global success it is today, and in its darkest hours, literally saw years without even a world title defense due to outright lack of interest. The players were masters of defensive play, rarely scoring high sequences, and for the most part it was quite dull to watch barring a few rare high breaks.

The rules of snooker
The rules of the game are that there are 15 red balls all in a triangle, and six balls of other colors. A player must always start with a red ball, then sink a colored ball, which returns to the table, then a red, and so on until all the reds are sunk, at which point the colored balls go, and that is that. Contrary to pool where the smaller tables and giant pockets allow one to smash into the balls in the hopes of sinking one, in snooker this is almost never successful, so advanced strategy involves working the red cluster so there is always a ball to sink. In many ways, like chess, it is easy to learn and hard to master.

Although Steve Davis won the world title no fewer than six times, a record shared with Ray
Reardon, and surpassed only by Stepehn Hendry, his successor with seven titles, his longevity
in the game is unmatched in the modern era. Despite last winning a world title in 1989, he has
qualified for the cycle well into his fifties.

Steve Davis was a whole new type of player, attacking a lot more, and so good that high scoring breaks were far from rare. His arrival on the competitive scene coincided with the introduction of snooker on color TV, and it was a match made in heaven. BBC wanted something that made the most of the new color broadcasts, and snooker was that perfect rainbow combination that highlighted the new technology.

Steve Davis across from Dominic Lawson, ready for their game and chat. (A warm thanks
to BBC and Phil Coomes for the interview photos)

The young fiery haired Englishman who compiled break after break in breathtaking style led to a historic moment in British TV, when in the massive final of the 1985 World Championship, in a best of 35 games (the first to win 18), it all came down to the last game and the last ball. It finished well past midnight, yet an estimated 18.5 million people watched it. Though Steve Davis lost that match, he went on to win others, but above all it signaled an unexpected boom. Snooker became the no.1 televised sport in Great Britain.

 

Steve Davis was the first player to record an official 147 (AKA one-four-seven or maximum break) in
competition. Although the aspect ratio (image dimensions) of the recording above is off, it is one of the
only complete ones.

Dominic Lawson - I wonder, has something gone wrong with the game?

Steve Davis - No, nothing’s gone wrong with the game, it’s just a different environment we live in. You know, so many more entertainment outlets. There was only three television channels then, and certainly no Sunday shopping, no Playstations, no videos, no computers of any note, so therefore we had a trapped audience. I don’t think you could ever reach those heights again, however, worldwide snooker is far more popular than it was in the 80s. Ding Junhui plays a match live in the World Championship…

Dominic Lawson - He’s Chinese, right?

Steve Davis - Yes…. And 60 million people will be watching.

 

Much like the Genesis, Steve Davis inspired others to take his attacking skills to the next level, thus Steve
Davis begat Stephen Hendry, and Stephen Hendry begat Ronnie O'Sullivan. Ronnie the Rocket, as he is also
known, is the author of the fastest 147 ever, in just five minutes and twenty seconds. Even if you have no
interest in snooker, and are to see only one break in your lifetime, this is the one to watch. If Fred Astaire
played snooker, this is what it would look like: swift, graceful, and made to look incredibly easy.

As a historical aside, our senior editor, Frederic Friedel, sent us this picture he took on an Asia
tour some time in the early 90s. An English lad, hardly 16, was whipping the competition. Fred
spoke with him. It was Ronnie at the start of his career. At age 17, he became the youngest
winner of a ranking event when he won the 1993 UK Championship.

Dominic Lawson - But Steve, in general, you’ve been a chess player for a long time. Where does it start?

Steve Davis - My father loved the game. He used to play at work and then used to take the position back and at night time we would try to study it, so basically in his corner.

Dominic Lawson - How old were you then?

Steve Davis - Oh, from a very young age. Five? Six?

Dominic Lawson - Five??

Steve Davis - He taught me to play very young, yes. It was great to have the father and son end of the game.

Steve Davis is more than a passing fan, and learned at a young age with his father, as he
explains to BBC Radio host, Dominic Lawson (photo by BBC and Phil Coomes)

Steve Davis also co-authored two chess books with GM David Norwood

Asked about physical and mental preparation, Steve Davis notes that it wasn’t always taken quite as seriously in his heyday.

"Back in the day, in the 80s, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Bill Werbeniuk would down many pints of beer while he was playing. Alex Higgins (Ed: World Champion in 1972 and 1982) was making his vodka and tonics look like they were just water, and then he went through a health kick and he had a Double Diamond but he was eating honey, and he was putting the honey in the Double Diamond to make it healthy, stirring it up and it looked like a lava lamp.”

Dominic Lawson vs Steve Davis

[Event "Across the Board"] [Site "London"] [Date "2015.03.31"] [Round "?"] [White "Lawson, D."] [Black "Davis, S."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B06"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "ENG"] 1. Nf3 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. d4 d6 4. c3 Bd7 5. Bd3 c6 6. O-O Nf6 7. Re1 O-O 8. Nbd2 Na6 9. Nf1 Nc7 10. Ng3 Re8 11. e5 dxe5 12. dxe5 Ng4 13. h3 Nh6 14. Qc2 Ne6 15. Ne4 Qc7 16. g4 f6 17. Bc4 Kh8 18. exf6 exf6 19. Bxh6 Bxh6 20. Nxf6 Rf8 21. Nxd7 Qxd7 22. Bxe6 Qd6 23. Qe4 Rf4 24. Qe5+ Qxe5 25. Nxe5 Raf8 26. Re2 Bg7 27. Rd1 Bxe5 28. Rxe5 Rxf2 29. b4 R8f6 30. Bc4 Rf8 31. Re2 Rxe2 32. Bxe2 Rf7 33. Kg2 Kg7 34. Bc4 Rf6 35. Rd7+ Kf8 36. Rxb7 Rd6 37. Rxa7 Rd3 38. Bxd3 1-0

The shows can be listened to live, or later at the website

To listen to the full broadcast, visit the BBC Radio 4 website where all episodes are archived.



Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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pathikd pathikd 5/6/2015 09:52
Steve Davis has an uncanny resemblance to IM Andrew Martin.
RJS RJS 5/6/2015 08:06
Since this programme is not likely to interest many people other than chess players, it's a pity the moves are not announced as they are played. As it is, Daniel King's commentary is pointless.
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