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.
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.
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?
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.
Qg5 ; 31. Lg5, Kg6
Expecting Be3 and resumed queenside pressure. But instead…
A horrible surprise which under clock conditions would certainly have knocked me over.
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.
Thomas Zeuthen vs. Howard Milbank, 2015 / 16 – Play through the game
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!