Winner of the club championship in 1952 and 1954.

Michael Davis

By Brian Denman

According to reports in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer he was born in the spring of 1935 (N.B. probably not in Sussex ). As early as October 1947 his name appeared in the chess column of the newspaper as the joint solver of a problem with B Davis (perhaps his father). He was soon to make his mark on the local chess scene as a pupil at Bexhill Grammar School and a member of the Bexhill Chess Club. In April 1949 he played for a Hastings boys’ team in a match against Brighton boys and in the same month he entered the Hastings Boys’ Congress. In 1950 R G Wade gave a 20 board simul to the Hastings Junior Chess League and lost against Davis (he won the other 19 games!). Davis was part of the Bexhill Chess Club team which won the McArthur Cup in 1950 and 1951. He himself won the Sussex Junior Championship in 1952 and 1953, and in 1951 and 1952 he represented England juniors in the Glorney Cup competition.

In 1952 he made a major breakthrough in the world of adult chess by becoming the youngest person ever to win the Hastings CC Championship. He tied first with J C Waterman in the final section, but then defeated the veteran in a play-off. In the 1953-54 Hastings Congress he came 1st = in the Premier Reserves ‘A’ event. He followed this by drawing a three game match against a former British champion, William Winter, in the spring of 1954. Later that year he became the youngest ever winner of the county championship (age 19). On his way to the title he defeated the strong Brighton players, Dave Springgay, Roy Buckland and 14 year old John McLeod. He also won the Hastings CC Championship a second time.

In 1953 he had been awarded a State Scholarship in Natural Sciences, but he had not immediately taken up his university place. This was the time when National Service was still compulsory and he went into the R.A.F., probably towards the end of 1954. For a while he was still able to make occasional appearances in the local chess scene, but by April 1955 he had been drafted to Singapore . Once there he found time to play chess and in 1956 he became champion of Malaya .

The Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 6.10.1956 reported that he was a surprise visitor to the club and that he was shortly to take up a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. He soon made his mark on chess in Cambridge and became a member of the university’s very strong National Club Championship team. In 1957 he represented the university in the annual match against Oxford and he also played in the matches from 1958-60.

He competed in the 1956-57 Hastings Congress and again won the Premier Reserves ‘A’ event, though this time he was the outright winner.

In April 1957 there was a surprising Brighton interlude in his chess career. He came to play for the Shoreham chess club called Downsway in a couple of matches against the Brighton and Brighton YMCA chess clubs. The Shoreham club emanated from the house of Miss Anne Gammans and Miss Pat Renwick in a local street called Downsway, and they invited friends of theirs to represent their club. According to the Worthing Herald of 28.3.1958 Michael Davis was resident in Worthing and had a sister, Rosalind, who was a local table tennis champion. Perhaps his parents had moved to Worthing and he was living there during the vacation. In this period he also played for West Sussex in the Sexton Cup and defeated his former Hastings CC colleague, Gerald Sinden.

Further national honours fell to Michael, when he represented the England students’ team at Reykjavik in 1957, at Leningrad in 1960 and Helsinki in 1961. He also played for a combined Oxford/Cambridge universities’ team in a tournament in Yugoslavia in 1957. Early in 1958 his grading was 2b, which was the equivalent of 217-224 under the present day method of working out grades. In 1962 he became the joint Cambridge University champion.

It appears that he now began to play little chess. The Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 2.1.1965 reported that he had been unable to compete in the latest Congress because of pressure of university work. He did, however, play for Berkshire in a match against Sussex in October 1965, drawing against Professor D B Scott on board one.

I am not sure when it was that he emigrated to Australia to become a university lecturer. In the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 12.12.1970 the columnist, Frank Rhoden, commented that Davis seemed to have deserted chess completely for mathematics. Rhoden also returned to the same subject in the Hastings newspaper of 6.3.1971 maintaining that Davis seemed to prefer the square root of minus one, or some such mathematical ‘mumbo-jumbo’ to chess. The columnist added that he always thought that Davis had it in him to win the British Championship.

There was, however, to be a brief return to chess about two years later. The Brighton and Hove Gazette of 10.2.1973 reported that Davis had returned for a short time to this country to further academic pursuits at Sussex University . He played in the Enfield Chess Congress at Pickett’s Lock as well as the Sussex Congress at Falmer and showed that he was still a very strong player. He also played some games for Sussex .

It was not very long before he was back in Australia and in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer of 1.3.1975 he is reported as telling Frank Rhoden that he did not have much time for chess nowadays. Instead swimming, camping, and bush-walking took up a lot of his leisure. He also received a mention in the Hastings newspaper for 8.4.1978, where Rhoden stated that he was a professor at an Australian university.

This extremely talented player seems to have been lost to chess at a relatively young age. There is a good chance that he is still alive and living in Australia . If so, he would probably have just had his 70th birthday. Perhaps in some distant town he will use the World Wide Web to locate the Hastings CC web site and point out any errors that I have made in writing about him!

I just came across your online article (June 2005) about Mike Davis, one of your
former champions.

The author was not, I think, aware that Mike died in the mid 1990s in Melbourne
Australia where he was professor of Chemistry at LaTrobe University and a very
distinguished organic chemist who did much important work on synthetic
antibiotics. Mike died after a long battle with a brain tumor.

I was a friend of his at Bexhill Grammar School and Trinity College Cambridge
(but never got into chess!)

For your records

Peter Bowers

Est. 1882