Born in Buffalo, New York, U.S. Chess Master Barry Davis had honed his skills in the chess Mecca for decades and is part of a cadre of Black players who trail-blazed the chess circuit in the 70s. Having just celebrated his 53rd birthday, Davis remembers what it was like in the heyday of the “Fischer Boom” and played in his first tournament in 1970.
He got his first taste of success in the Western High School Chess Championship beating out 115 other players with a 6-0 blitz. In subsequent years, he would earn the U.S. ranking of Expert (1974) and National Master (1976) and won the Mississippi State Championship (1977). Davis joined the Air Force and participated in the Armed Forces Championship in 1977 and was able to win the tournament once before discharging in 1981. One Air Force colleague would become the focus of an interesting story:
While stationed at Andrews Air Force Base Washington DC, I met a young man at the Your Move Chess Club in downtown DC. I believe Vincent Moore was the manager at the time. This youngster was amazed at how well I played chess and he asked me what I attributed my success to. My response was I have been blessed, but if you are looking for something to take with you, here is my “12 Question Checklist”… this is how I play chess! The young man’s name was Emory Tate and you know the rest of the story!!!
Of course Emory Tate would become the material of legends and would help spawn a boom of the “Black Chess Master” in the 1980s. The type of example that players like Davis provided was crucial in a tim when not many players of African descent were playing chess. Apart from Walter Harris, Frank Street, Kenneth Clayton, Leroy (Jackson) Muhammad and Charles Covington, there were few Masters to look to as role models. Of course the Fischer euphoria was still raging in the mid-70s and the men mentioned above paved the way for many of the Black players on the east coast.
Many times there are those in chess who do are not always known as the strongest players, but who have the greatest impact. Davis counts meeting two-time Buffalo City Champion Johnny Swanson as a defining moment. Swanson was the second Black player to win the Buffalo City Championship, doing so twice in 1960s!
Davis held a position of prestige winning the Buffalo City title three times and 2nd in a NY State Championship. He has played some of the legendary figures in chess including Dr. Kenneth Rogoff, the distinguished economist at Harvard University and IM William Lombardy. He also had memorable game with the IM Maurice Ashley, a game that he Ashley “executed beautifully.” Despite these tough losses, he was able to record a win over Canadian GM Peter Biyiasis and had many other exciting encounters.
Davis has worked with many local players helping to spawn a cadre of strong players.
I have been blessed to work with some of the following students/colleagues include: Ahmoad Ware, James Ware, Vance Williams (2009 Buffalo Champion), James Lampkin, Joseph Lentini, Douglas W. Dubose, Lionel Davis, Bem Tyhemiba (born Timothy Daniels), Negash Bezaleel (born Damon Baldwin), Scott Reister and James Davis.
Davis is passing on the tradition and currently works with youngsters Sam Santora and Bob Simpson. He hopes to pass on his knowledge to help a new generation of chess players rise to higher heights. Stay tuned!