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Six-time snooker World Champion Steve Davis, pictured in 2012: He is also a skilled chess player (photo: DerHexer)

You wait half a century for a BBC radio chess series and then three come along at once. I wrote here 16 months ago about Across the Board, a series of interviews over chess games  with champions and eminent enthusiasts which I had been asked to present for Radio 4. Then a second series of five programmes was broadcast last October. And early this month, the BBC will be broadcasting a third series — from Monday to Friday in the final week of the general election campaign.

I think the commissioning editors at Radio 4 were keen to broadcast interviews during that week with no political implications whatsoever, something which otherwise causes the BBC more than the usual amount of headaches about “balance” at such a time. The only condition, therefore, was that I couldn’t have any MPs as a guest — but I imagine that most listeners, even to Radio 4, would not see that as a privation after so many weeks of wall-to-wall politics.

On the other hand, I did invite the former world champion, Gary Kasparov, who in retirement from top-flight chess has devoted himself largely to the political struggle against Vladimir Putin. That formed the main theme of our interview. The discussion about his own physical risks if he were to have remained in Moscow were put into the sharpest perspective by the murder of Boris Nemtsov, soon after the programme was recorded.

But during our game the only terror was the one I experienced in trying to fend off Kasparov’s chessboard attack while also holding up my end of the conversation. Over the years, his grandmaster opponents had frequently spoken of the sheer intimidation they felt: and even in a friendly game in retirement against an amateur, I learnt that Kasparov is still terrifying. At one point he smiled wolfishly and declared, “I’m coming for you, don’t you worry”; and he played each move with a physical force that suggested nothing so much as the hammering of nails into a coffin.

Fortunately, as in the other two series, I play only one chess genius (in the first series I encountered the women’s world champion Hou Yifan, and in the second the men’s champion Magnus Carlsen). This time my eminent amateur opponents are the author of Stalingrad, Antony Beevor; the television presenter and former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan (yes, really!); the investment guru and world’s biggest sponsor of chess, Rex Sinquefield; and the six-times world snooker champion, Steve Davis.

In our interview Steve told me that he was taught chess by his father when just five years old, before he ever picked up a snooker cue. And his love for chess has lasted: he still plays regularly online. In a way, the two games have much in common, even though the snooker balls are governed by Newtonian physics (being physical objects) while chess is purely geometric.

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