12 July 2014

De La Bourdonnais Evens the Score

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

Alexander McDonnell took the lead in game six. In the seventh game of the first match between the Irish player, McDonnell, and the French player, Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais, followed game five for five moves (see "McDonnell Strikes Back"). McDonnell was the first to deviate, but La Bourdonnais appears to have been the one who found an improvement.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [B21]
London m1 London (7), 1834

1.e4 c5 2.f4 e6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.c3 d5 5.e5 f6

La Bourdonnais played 5...f6 thirteen times. Although the ECO Code and move order makes this game a Sicilian Defense. The character of the game resembles more closely the Advance Variation of the French Defense.

White to move


This game was the sole instance with this move. It is not a particularly useful square for the bishop and wastes time.

He had played 6.Na3 in game five and returned to it after this game. Na3 is a common idea in the Advance French. Its purpose is to deploy the knight on c2, where it secures the vulnerability on d4. In the fifth match, he switched to 6.Bd3, which brought him his best results from this opening.

6...Be7 7.Na3 Qb6!

La Bourdonnais would deploy his queen to b6 in every subsequent game that began with the five moves that opened this game. Today, Qb6 remains one of the most popular responses to the Advance Variation by players of the French Defense.

This move against the French had been played by François-André Danican Philidor in a blindfold exhibition in 1794. Philidor lost that game to George Atwood, but not because of his plan in the opening.

8.Nc2 Nh6 9.d4 cxd4 10.cxd4 Bd7

White to move


I would castle here. McDonnell's move gives the impression that already in this game, he has come to realize that 6.Be2 was an error.


Black seizes the initiative.

12.Nxb4 Bxb4+ 13.Kf2

White's king often finds security on f2 against the French Defense. However, McDonnell's experience against La Bourdonnais when his king moved e1-f2 was grim: one win, one draw, seven losses.

13...0–0 14.Rf1

Black to move


Black's pressure along the f-file and along the dark-squared diagonal renders White's game unpleasant.

15.fxe5 Nf5 16.Bxf5 Rxf5 17.Kg1

In subsequent games, McDonnell's king would seek refuge on g3. Of course, the position in this game is unique. Even so, I wonder if that move was worth considering here.


White to move


Already weak on the dark squares, White creates a decisive vulnerability on f3. This move is a tactical and positional error.

18.a3 Be7 is at least playable, although Black maintains an advantage.

18...Rf7 19.a4?!

Every chess move weakens something. In this case, it is the b3 square. La Bourdonnais will use b3 as a staging point to combine pressure along the f-file with pressure along the third rank.

19...Rcf8 20.Be3 Be7 21.Qe2 Qb3

White to move

How can White secure his position?


McDonnell sets a clever trap.


22...Bxg5? Nxg5 and White gets activity along the f-file. Exchanging all the rooks gives White a clear advantage with possibilities of checkmate or winning the e6 pawn.


Perhaps retreating the bishop to d3 was best after La Bourdonnais revealed that he could see through the trap. Now, La Bourdonnais wins with a tactical blow.

23...Rxf3! 24.Rxf3 Rxf3

White to move


25.Qxf3 Qxb2+ 26.Qf2 Qxa1-+

25...Rf8 26.Rc7 Bc6 27.Be3 Qc4 28.Qd1 Ba5 29.Re7 Bxa4 0–1

Games eight and nine are discussed in "Two Losses."

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