22 July 2014

Morning Coffee

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

When I get up in the morning, I prepare coffee with fresh ground beans and turn on my computer. During the past month, coffee time has been occupied with study of games from the first match between Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840).

McDonnell's sixth consecutive loss was the subject of "Weakened King," posted Saturday. I have been going through game thirteen repeatedly for the past three mornings. It was a long endgame with a minor piece imbalance and an extra pawn for La Bourdonnais. McDonnell managed to hold the position and drew.

The players opened with their Sicilian/French hybrid. La Bourdonnais quickly gained an advantage employing moves that have become one of the main lines in the advance variation of the French. He won the d4 pawn, and most of the pieces were swapped off fairly quickly.

Spotting McDonnell's errors in the opening is not too difficult. But, I was not able to find a clear route to victory for La Bourdonnais. I am confident that his position would be winning in the hands of Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, or Vladimir Kramnik.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [B21]
London m1 London (13), 1834

1.e4 c5 2.f4 e6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.c3 d5 5.e5 f6 6.Na3 Nh6 7.Nc2

7.exf6 gxf6 would please me as Black.
7.Bb5 might have been worth considering. 7...Bd7 8.d4


Continuing to improve, La Bourdonnais brings the queen here earlier than in game nine. Black has significant pressure on d4 before the pawn steps there.

8.d4 cxd4

White to move


White's best option is probably 9.Ncxd4 fxe5 10.fxe5 Nf7 11.Bb5 Bc5 12.b4 Bxd4 13.Bxc6+ Qxc6 14.Qxd4 0–0 Komliakov,V (2463)--Yagupov,I (2482) Moscow 2000 and Black won in 41 moves.

I would have played 14.cxd4.

9...Bb4+ 10.Nxb4

10.Bd2 also loses a pawn 10...Bxd2+ 11.Qxd2 Qxb2 12.Bd3.

10...Qxb4+ 11.Kf2

11.Bd2 was an interesting alternative with some danger for Black 11...Qxb2 12.Bd3 Bd7

(White wins material after 12...Nxd4 13.Qa4+ Bd7 14.Qxd4 Qxd4 15.Nxd4 fxe5 16.fxe5 Nf7 17.Bf4)

11.Qd2 seems best 11...Qxd2+ 12.Bxd2 fxe5 13.fxe5 0–0 14.Bc3 with material equality.

11...0–0 12.a3 Qb6 13.Kg3

The king is not safe on g1.

13...Nxd4 14.Nxd4 Qxd4 15.Qxd4 Nf5+ 16.Kh3 Nxd4 17.b4 fxe5 18.fxe5 Nc6 19.Bb2

Black to move

Black is clearly better, but how can Black convert the win?

If White would willingly swap all of the pieces, then Black easily wins pawn wars. As the game developed, however, we see that McDonnell was happy to eliminate the rooks, but then hung on to his two bishops. Black's king was not able to join the battle until most of the remining pawns had been swapped.

19...Rf7 20.Rb1 Bd7 21.Bd3 Raf8

We are told to seize the open file, but trading rooks may not be the best road to victory.

I looked at 21...a5 22.b5 Ne7 23.Rhf1and Black faces a choice that is no more clear than the game.

I also examined 21...Ne7 22.Rhf1 Nf5 23.g4 Ne3 24.Rxf7 Kxf7 25.Re1 Nc4 when it is not clear that the knight is any more effective.

22.Rhf1 a6 23.Kg3

Black to move


23...Ne7 was an alternative 24.Rxf7 Rxf7 25.Rf1 Nf5+ 26.Kf3 Nh4+ 27.Kg4 Rxf1 28.Bxf1 Nf5

24.Rxf1 Rxf1 25.Bxf1 Ne7 26.Bd3 Be8 

I still want to play 26...Nf5+

27.Kf4 Bg6 28.Be2 Be4 29.g3 Kf7 30.Bd1 h6 31.h4 Nf5 32.h5 Ne7 33.g4

Black to move

Black's king is unable to join the fight

33...Ke8 34.Bd4 g6

La Bourdonnais opens the board a little through the exchange of pawns. Although White's bishops like open positions, the Black king, too, must join the fight if the extra pawn is to have any significance.

35.hxg6 Nxg6+ 36.Kg3 Bd3 37.Ba4+ Ke7 38.Bd1 Kf7 39.Ba4 Ne7 40.Kh4

Black to move

In order for Black's king to break through on the kingside, it needs g6. However, the knight must occupy that square to threaten e5 (keeping White's bishop from controlling g5) and to drive White's king back from h4. Black must seek another plan.

40...b5 41.Bd1 Nc6

Black seeks to create an opening on the queenside.

42.Bb2 Kg6 43.Kg3 a5

43...Kg5 is parried with 44.Bc1+

44.bxa5 Nxa5 45.Kf4 Nc4 46.Bc1 Bb1 47.Bb3 Bd3 48.Bd1 Kf7 49.Bb3

Black to move

49...d4 50.a4 bxa4 51.Bxa4 Ke7 

Black's king heads for the queenside.

52.Bb3 Na5

52...Kd7 53.Bxc4 Bxc4 54.Ke4 should be a dead draw.

53.Bd1 Bg6 54.Bd2 Nc4 55.Bb4+ Kf7

The king changes his course. His anticipated prospects of breaking through on the queenside seem less promising. McDonnell's bishops compensate for the one pawn deficit.


Black to move

56...d3 57.Bc3 d2 58.Bd1 Kg7 59.Kf3 h5

La Bourdonnais sets a trap.

59...Bh7 does not lead to progress. 60.Ke2 Kg6 61.Bc2+ Kg7


60.gxf5?? Bxh5+


The point of the trap: the threatened skewer allows the pawn to advance. Black has created a second passed pawn.

61.Bd4 Bb1 62.Kf3 Kg6 63.Ke2 Be4 64.Bf2 h3 65.Bg3

Black to move


After twenty-five moves of maneuvers and pawn exchanges, Black's king is finally able to occupy g5.

66.Bh2 Kxg4

With three pawns to one, and two of the pawns passed. How does Black fail to win this position.

67.Kf2+ Kf5 68.Ke2 Bd5 69.Kd3

Black to move


Exchanging pawns appears to be Black's only move here. The king cannot penetrate further, and nothing else can move.

70.Kxd2 Nc6

70...Nf3+ 71.Bxf3 Bxf3 72.Ke3 Kg4 73.Be5 and Black cannot prevent the bishop from shuffling between h2 and e5.

71.Ke3 e5 72.Kf2 Bg2 73.Kg3 Ke4 74.Bg4 Ke3

White to move

75.Bxh3 Bxh3 76.Kxh3 e4 77.Kg2 Ke2 

77...Kd2 78.Bf4+ Kd1 79.Be3 is still a draw.

78.Bf4 Ne7 79.Bg5 Nf5 80.Bf4 ½–½

As Magnus Carlsen might say, White's resources were adequate. McDonnell would lose the next game, his second consecutive White, in a mere twenty-five moves. He would then lose four more. Then Black would win six straight games as the adversaries traded wins.


  1. Hi James! I don't think Black wants to play 26...Nf5+ because White will play 27. Bxf5 and get a dead-drawn opposite color bishop ending.

    1. Thanks Dave. That's an appaling oversight on my part, although I was watching for such drawing ideas at other stages of the game.

  2. The book on this match is $36 on Amazon, and it's not even the hardback version. Did you purchase the book or do you just go through the games yourself? If you have the book, let us know how it is.

    1. I don't have any books on these matches. A few books in my library, such as Kasparov's My Great Predecessors, deal with a handful of games.

      I am working through all the games with minimal reference to what others have written, and without engine assistance.

  3. Dear readers,
    I have a copy of the book on the Match:De la Bourdonnais versus McDonnell, 1834 by Cary Utterberg.
    It is very good.
    Currently I am preparing an article on the same for TheChessWorld.com.
    There is also a detailed review by Taylor Kingston http://www.chesscafe.com/text/skittles304.pdf
    The right way is study the games independently as our host has done here
    and then follow up comparing our analysis with the annotations in the book.

    1. Thanks for the comment, book lover! Please let me know when your article is published so that I don't miss it. I read Kingston's review a couple of days ago. Utterberg links to it from his website.