03 July 2014

McDonnell Blunders

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

After three hard fought draws, the Frenchman Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais was able to seize and hold the initiative in the fourth game. While defending a difficult position, Alexander McDonnell blundered. The end came quickly.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [C53]
London m1 London (4), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 d6

4...Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 would have been well-known from Greco. McDonnell's teacher, William Lewis, had arranged a collection of Greco's games. 4...d6 had been played by McDonnell twice in his match with W. Fraser three years earlier, and would be played three more times after this game against La Bourdonnais. Paul Morphy criticized 4...d6 in his New York Ledger column (27 August 1859). Some of these columns have been adapted to modern notation by Hanon Russell and published via Chess Cafe.

5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb6

6...Bb4+ also appears in Greco 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.0–0 Bxc3 9.bxc3 Nxe4 10.Re1 d5 11.Rxe4+ dxe4 12.Ng5 0–0 13.Qh5 h6 14.Nxf7 Qf6 15.Nxh6+ Kh8 16.Nf7+ Kg8 17.Qh8# 1–0 Greco,G -- NN*


Morphy suggests that 7.Nc3 is far stronger.

7...Ne5 8.Nxe5 dxe5 9.Nc3 Nf6 10.Bg5

Black to move


Castling kingside when White can easily force an opening of the g-file should provoke dread. Nonetheless, it remains for White to prove that he can make something of this position. Black seems only slightly worse. On the other hand, Black seemed equal or slightly better in the preceding three games. Psychologically, White's advantage in this position is no trifling matter.

11.Qf3 Qd6 12.Bxf6 Qxf6 13.Qxf6 gxf6

White would seem to have an advantage with a superior pawn structure and better development. Converting this advantage into a win might benefit from a plan.


Of course, McDonnell with leave the pawn alone.


The Irishman proceeds to uncastle.

15.Ne2 Rh8

White to move

16.Rg1 Kf8 17.Rg2 Ke7

It would seem that McDonnell had come to regret castling when he did so.


La Bourdonnais is prepared to double rooks on the g-file and thrust forward his kingside pawns.


McDonnell seeks to disrupt La Bourdonnais's plans. Morphy observes that he should have played 18...Bd7 with the idea of bringing the other rook over to the g-file.

19.g5 f5

19...fxg5 20.Rxg5 f6 21.Rg7+ looks better for White than the game.

20.Nc3 Bc5

Black has made so many moves of the dark-squared bishop, while the light-squared remains at home.

21.g6 Bd6 22.gxf7 Kxf7

White to move


There is something modern in this pawn thrust. Although it increases the scope of Black's dark-squared bishop and offers Black a passed pawn, White's play on the the open g-file offers the flexibility of switching the f-file.

23...exf4 24.Rdg1 Kf8 25.Rg6 f3 26.exf5 Be5 

Simple tactics protect the f5 pawn. 26...Bxf5?? 27.Rf6+. But, what about 26...Bd7 and bringing the rook over? McDonnell's 26...Be5 looks like a critical error, and Morphy states that it loses the game. I thought so, too the first couple of times through this game.

One purpose is clear: by protecting f6, Black threatens Bxf5.


La Bourdonnais takes advantage of McDonnell's error to bring his bishop to bear on g8.

Black to move


27...Bxd6 keeps the struggle alive. 28.Rg8+ Rxg8 29.Rxg8+ Ke7 30.Kd2. White seems to have the advantage, but the game is not yet over.

McDonnell's position has been difficult from the beginning. Here he finally cracks.

28.Rg8+ Rxg8 29.Rxg8+ Ke7 30.Nd5+ Kd7 31.Bb5# 1–0

See "McDonnell Strikes Back" for the next game.

*Greco's games, it seems, are model games, rather than played games. It was not his habit, nor the habit of anyone in his era to record games as they played. The published games from his era mostly are illustrations of common themes designed for instructive value. 

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