Games People Play: Steve Davis, 41, Snooker Player

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The Independent Culture
I'VE PLAYED chess almost all my life, since about the age of five or six. I've always been proficient; perhaps a bit better than the average person, but if you're not a grandmaster you may as well be useless.

I played chess as I play snooker, which is one move ahead, more or less. Snooker is a much more relaxed game. Once, I took part in a chess competition, and by the end of the afternoon my brain hurt. A whole day spent trying to work out what was going on in the other player's mind. And the panic of playing against clocks.

I would advise anyone at any level of chess to go along and play competitively against clocks. It totally changes the game from what most people think is a pastime, into a serious competition. When you play with clocks, you start running out of time, and then suddenly you're thinking under pressure. Therein lies the excitement, which can be quite addictive.

I sometimes get myself into a winning position, and then all of a sudden the tables are turned. You are in front in a game of chess until the moment you make the stupid move that loses your queen, then the other guy grows about six inches in his chair, and forgets about all the useless moves he made.

I would imagine that the great chess players might have been great code- crackers in a war situation. There are some people who get a real buzz from thinking under pressure. Personally, if I were ever on Countdown I'd be absolutely useless. At 30-seconds-to-go and a jumble of letters, my brain would turn into treacle. I go into a spin in the minute rounds on A Question of Sport, and that's just for a laugh.

Steve Davis is co-author, with David Norwood, of `Steve Davis Plays Chess' (published by BT Batsford). He is also president of the British Chess Federation.