11 July 2014

McDonnell Takes the Lead

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

Two weeks ago, I started going through all of the games of Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835). His games offer a glimpse into the state of chess practice before Adolf Anderssen (1818-1879) and Paul Morphy (1837-1884). In fact, his series of matches with Louis-Charles Mahe De La Bourdonnais became primary study materials for these champions.

The first match has become the subject of a series of blog posts: "Three Fighting Draws," "McDonnell Blunders," and "McDonnell Strikes Back." Today's post is the fourth and concerns game 6. In these, I offer light annotations without computer assistance.

Match play is often characterized by repetition of a small number of openings game after game. The contestants refine their lines in these openings, looking for advantage. In the sixth game, La Bourdonnais repeats the line that led to his win in game four. McDonnell shows that he found an improvement. The game that developed was a tactical melee with attack and counterattack. McDonnell's king had to scramble to avoid the rush of White's pieces, but in the end La Bourdonnais's king proved to be more vulnerable.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [C53]
London m1 London (6), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 d6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb6 7.d5 Nce7

An improvement over game four.

8.e5 Bg4 9.Bb5+ Kf8

9...c6 seems playable.

10.e6 fxe6 11.dxe6 Nf6 12.h3

Black to move


I would have played 12...Bxe6.

13.Qxf3 c6 14.Bd3 Qc8 15.Bf5 Ke8

I do not like Black's position. It seems cramped. His pieces lack mobility. His king seems vulnerable.

16.0–0 Rf8 17.Qd3 Nxf5 18.Qxf5 Ke7

White to move


Perhaps the simple 19.Re1 merits attention (see Paul Morphy's comments at chessgames.com).

19...Qxe6 20.Qxh7 Qf7

While it seems that Black has been defending against White's threats, his pieces have nearly all lined up against f2.

21.Nc3 Kd7

At what point did McDonnell foresee this position? From a position that struck me as cramped and difficult, he has marshaled pressure against f2 and has a passed central pawn. Now, he threatens the White queen. Perhaps White's moves were less than optimal.

22.Qf5+ Kc7 23.Bf4 Rad8 24.Qc2

Black to move

White threatens Nb5+, winning the d-pawn and more.

24...Kb8 25.a4 Nh5

Black strikes at f4 and thus also f2, the principle target the whole game.

26.Bg5 Rde8 27.a5 Bc5 28.Na4 Bd4

Black maintains the pin on f2.

29.Qd2 Ng3

White to move


I find Black's task more difficult if White sacrifices the exchange: 30.Nc3 Nxf1 31.Rxf1. Black has a clear material advantage and good piece coordination. But, some finesse is necessary to achieve the final breakthrough.

After the game's move and the ensuing operation, White's position is hopeless.

30...Bxf2+ 31.Kh2 Ne4 32.Qc1 Bg3+ 33.Kg1 Qf2+ 34.Kh1 Be5! 35.Rd3 Ng3+ 36.Rxg3 Qxg3 37.Qg1 Qxg5

White to move

The game is effectively over.

38.a6 Qg3 39.axb7 Rf7 40.Ra3 Qf4 41.Nb6 Rff8 42.Nd7+ Kc7 43.b8Q+ Rxb8 44.Nxb8 Bd4 0–1

At this point in the match, McDonnell led with two wins to one. Alas, he would lose the next six straight games. See "De La Bourdonnais Evens the Score" for the next game.

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