Eye of the Tiger: An Interview with Nigel Davies

by Alexey Root
7/26/2016 – Currently, Grandmaster Nigel Davies, author of 40 DVDs and 17 books, does not play in tournaments. But he attends them, as parental support for his 14-year-old son Sam. In this interview, Nigel discusses chess improvement, the concept of being fully engaged, martial arts and fighting, chess parenting, and why he and Sam are in different chess federations.

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Alexey Root (AR): Tell us about your two chess Web sites, The Chess Improver and Tiger Chess.

Nigel Davies (ND): The Chess Improver is a blog I started some years ago which has now become a team effort in which I’m mainly the editor and administrator. We’ve been lucky to attract some great writers and chess teachers.

Tiger Chess is where I base my work as a chess teacher together with videos, articles, clinics, links, and book recommendations for those who join. There’s also an online booking system for those who want to take lessons with me, not many chess teachers have one of these…

AR: Tiger Chess made me think of these lyrics from Eye of the Tiger: “It’s the thrill of the fight; Rising up to the challenge of our rival,” especially since you also pursue martial arts. Tell about “the thrill of the fight” in chess and martial arts.

ND: Chess can be tremendously exciting when someone fully engages with the experience of playing, in which case victory or defeat become akin to life or death. Of course, people engage to different degrees. Those who engage more fully tend to become stronger simply because they’re more motivated to fight at the board and study at home.

The martial arts are very different, and especially the internal martial arts practices (such as tai chi) that I’m interested in. These days, internal martial arts are used mainly for personal development rather than learning to fight, with the main goals being to calm the mind, engage the spine, and direct movement through the waist. There seem to be quite a few benefits in terms of health and well being.

During my years of practice I’ve found these arts to be a very good complement to chess because they are so different. And I was very happy when I was recently given permission to teach tai chi, see http://westlancstaichi.co.uk for details.

Prolific presenter: ChessBase author Nigel Davies

AR: You are the author of 40 DVDs and 17 books. How would you compare chess books to chess DVDs?

ND: Books and DVDs are quite different animals. As an author, you can put more detail into a book. But many people find DVDs easier to study from and for learning general concepts. In the case of using opening books vs. opening DVDs the key to really understanding what’s going on is to start doing your own personal research and generating your own views and ideas. Neither a book nor a DVD can be more than a starting point for this.

In the case of my recent Pirc book versus the older DVD, both provide explanations of strategic ideas and sets of lines that I think are playable. Since the DVD was published, there have been some developments which would apply if you want to use the repertoire presented in international tournaments. But the DVD still provides a good starting point for those who learn better from videos and for those who are playing the Pirc at the club level.

Nigel Davies: The Pirc Defence

AR: Tell me about your son Sam and chess.

ND: When Sam was almost eight years old, we started a “chess project.” I offered to teach him the game and take him to tournaments but only if we did it seriously and put some time and work into it. He agreed, and we’ve both honoured the agreement. He is now around 1850 strength and moving up strongly.

We do things a bit differently to what many people might expect, for example he only plays in adult tournaments, which has been the case since he was first able to hold his own in them. We also focus more on strategy and endgames than most other kids, at least those in the UK.

Nigel and Sam Davies

AR: Is it more stressful being a chess parent or a chess player?

ND: I think this might depend on whether the chess parent is also a player and understands the true horror of what might be happening! In this case the stress is incomparably worse, especially if the child takes it very seriously.

I’ve had bad days as a player but none of them are remotely comparable with bad days as a chess parent. On the other hand I suspect that the very worst days offer the most benefit in terms of personal development, both for Sam and me.

Sam Davies (Photo: Brendan O'Gorman)

AR: What was your best moment as a chess player?

ND: My most joyous moment as a player was probably my first GM norm in which I needed to win the last round against Heikki Westerinen. My thanks go to Heikki for choosing to play fighting chess.


AR: In July of 2015, you switched your federation from England to Wales. What have been the outcomes of that change?

ND: Not much has changed, perhaps mainly because I’ve been inactive as a player for some time. There was a lot of publicity when the press and TV got hold of the story a few months after it happened, but only because they linked my leaving for Wales with an article I wrote that was critical of the English Chess Federation. Actually, these two things were largely independent. I moved federations because of my association with Wales (I lived there for many years and briefly represented them when I was an International Master) and because I felt it would offer some benefits all round. For example, if I become an active player their World ranking will improve.

AR: How many miles is it from the home you and Sam share in England to Wales? Any chance the two of you will move to Wales so that you become eligible to play for Wales?

ND: We live about 25 miles away but we don’t have plans to move there. Wales has its own rules for those who want to play for a team which wouldn’t allow either of us to play for them right now. If circumstances change then I guess it might be possible, though Sam would still need to make up his own mind if and when a choice was presented to him.

AR: What would you like to accomplish in chess in the next five years?

ND: I always enjoy seeing my students’ progress, both Sam’s and the adults that I coach. I also have a few ideas for books I’d like to write. But circumstances often change so as to open up some possibilities and close off others, so I try to head in a “general direction” and avoid making big or overly detailed plans.

Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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