Slow Chess

When my Danish friend, Thomas, was working in Bristol in the early seventies we often played a game of chess on Sunday evenings. The games were so enjoyable that after he moved away we decided to keep in contact via postal chess. In the succeeding four decades we’ve exchanged roughly a thousand postcards – yet without drawing a single game.

In 1973 Thomas’s older brother, Steffen, published a massive study of the Modern Benoni and he kindly gave me a copy. Although I’ve used that defence on countless occasions in over-the-board play it’s a curious fact that it is one of the few openings Thomas and I haven’t negotiated.

In the early days we both had young children and demanding jobs. This led to a founding agreement : no obligation to reply within a certain time! However we have always played two games simultaneously (alternating colours) and when the silicon monsters appeared we agreed to ignore them. Alongside the latest moves our cards have included a mixture of family news, jokes, political comment, book recommendations etc. Occasionally the cards have morphed into a kind of sub-competition in which we have vied with pictures of old film goddesses or striven for the card in most execrable taste.

Slow chess is a good way to try out different openings but at the same time it’s a much more relaxed distraction than ‘live’ play. I keep current positions on a pair of cardboard ‘tuck-in’ sets (bequeathed to me by Jim Draisey) and most days I pick them up and toy with a new idea or run over previous analysis. In the tempo of this century such leisurely enjoyments feel in danger of being forgotten.

Thomas and I are well-matched opponents. He is more imaginative than me whereas my fair share of wins appears to come from more accurate analysis. Here is a sample game from 2015/16 : probably the most demanding and lengthy defensive test I have endured. The queen-less phase (after move 30) was especially captivating and felt like wrestling at a cliff edge – even in an armchair.

Thomas Zeuthen – Howard Millbank [Chigorin’s Defence]

1. d4,d5; 2. c4, Nc6 ; 3. Nc3, Nf6 ; 4. cd5, Nd5 ; 5. e4, Nc3 ; 6. bc3 , e5 ; 7. d5, Nb8 ; 8. Nf3, Bd6 ; 9. Bb5+, Nd7 ; 10. Rb1

With at least b7 in mind.

hm1

10…0-0 ; 11. Bd7, Qd7 ; 12. 0-0, f5

Black wants to play actively and chooses the obvious move – not dreaming of its implications.

13. Rb3

Characteristically inventive.

13…f4

Suddenly, opening up the kingside doesn’t look so smart.

 14. c4, Qe7 ; 15. Bb2, b6 ; 16. c5, bc5 ; 17. Qe2

Eyeing both flanks.

 a5 ; 18. Nd2, a4 ; 19. Rc3, g5

Draughty, but what else?

hm2

20. Nc4, g4 ; 21. f3

After less than a year at last some sign of anxiety from White.

 h5 ; 22. fg , hg; 23. g3, f3 ; 24. Qe3, Rb8

Anticipating an assault on c5.

 25. Ba3 , Rb5 ; 26. Rc2 , Bd7

Black completes his development!

 27. Rfc1 , Rc8

With c7-c6 in mind. This turns White’s attention back to the beckoning highways on the kingside.

 28. Rf1 , Kg7 ; 29.Bc1 , Rh8 ; 30. Qg5!

A surprise, but logical enough. White will continue to be dominant on the tarmac.

hm3 Qg5 ; 31. Lg5, Kg6

Expecting Be3 and resumed queenside pressure. But instead…

 32. Be7!?

A horrible surprise which under clock conditions would certainly have knocked me over.

 hm4

Be7 ; 33. Ne5+, Kh5 ; 34. Nd7, a3 ; 35. e5 , Rd8 ; 36. e6 , Ra8 ; 37. Rfc1 , Bg5 ; 38. Re1 , Rb2 ; 39. Rf2 , c4 ; 40. e7 , Re8 ; 41. h4

Re5 was a better try but Black can still come out on top. Try it!

Re7; 42. Re7 , Be7 ; 43. Rf1 , Rg2+ ; 44. Kh1, Ra2. 0-1.

hm5

Thomas Zeuthen vs. Howard Milbank, 2015 / 16 – Play through the game


Howard Milbank

A Horfield & Redland Chess Club stalwart, Howard loves a good bit of chess history as well as introducing new members to some of the more dubious opening choices of past masters!

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