15 July 2014

Two Losses

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

The first match between Alexander McDonnell and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais started well enough for the Irish player. He had a slight edge with Black through the first three games, then faltered in game four. Game five was his first effort with White. He managed to outplay his French adversary and even the score. In game six, McDonnell took the lead. Bourdonnais found an improvement to his defensive set-up in from game five in the seventh game, and evened the score.

This loss in game seven was the beginning of a six-game slump for McDonnell. In this post, I present the next two games. In the first, game eight, McDonnell's opening error creates weaknesses that La Bourdonnais exploits with vigor.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [D20]
London m1 London (8), 1834

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nc3

Many thousands of games have reached this position even though 3.Nc3 is White's fourth most popular choice.


White to move

In the five games in the ChessBase online database with this position, Black has managed a single draw.

4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c6

I think that 5...Nf6 is more in keeping with the needs of the position.

6.Nf3 Bd6

I still prefer 6...Nf6 7.Ne5 Bd6

7.e4 b5 8.Bb3 a5

8...Nf6 now fails: 9.e5


I might have played 9.0–0

9...exf5 10.0–0 a4

Again, there was an opportunity to play 10...Nf6

White to move

11.Bxg8! Rxg8

Black's king will remain stuck in the center.

12.Bg5 Qc7 13.Qe2+ Kf8 14.Rfe1 Kf7 15.Rac1

Black to move

White threatens 16.Nxb5

15...Qb7 16.d5 h6

16...cxd5 17.Nxb5

17.dxc6 Qa6 18.Nxb5 hxg5 19.Nxd6+

Black's game has become hopeless.

19...Kg6 20.Ne5+ Kf6 21.Qh5

Black to move


21...Be6 22.Qg6+ Ke7 23.Nef7 Qc8 24.Nxc8+ Ke8 25.Qxe6+ Kf8 26.Qe7#.
21...Rf8 22.Qg6+ Ke7 23.Qxg7+ Kd8 24.c7#.

22.Qh7 Be6 23.Nxg6 Nxc6 24.Rxc6 Qd3 25.Qe7+ Kxg6 26.Rxe6+ Kh5 27.Qh7+ Kg4 28.Rc4+ f4

28...Qxc4 29.f3+ Kf4 30.Qxf5#

29.h3+ Qxh3 30.Qxh3# 1–0

McDonnell was never in the game. Rather, this game almost resembles the sort of master vs. amateur games that one finds in Max Euwe's classic work of that name, the early chapters of Irving Chernev, Logical Chess, and many other instructional texts. La Bourdonnais did a good job of exploiting McDonnell's positional errors.

The next game continues the players's exploration of a French/Sicilian hybrid. La Bourdonnais's improvement from game seven leaves McDonnell searching for the correct response. He does not find it in this game.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [B21]*
London m1 London (9), 1834

1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.c3 f6 6.Na3 Nh6 7.Nc2 Nf7 8.d4 Qb6

White to move


I think that the knight is well placed on c2.

One other game in the ChessBase database reached the diagram position: 9.Bd3! McDonnell would eventually find this move in a similar position. 9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Nb4 11.Nxb4 Bxb4+ 12.Bd2 Bd7 13.Bxb4 Qxb4+ 14.Qd2 Qxd2+ 15.Kxd2 0–0 16.Rac1 Rac8 17.Rxc8 Rxc8 18.Rc1 Rxc1 19.Kxc1=  Glek,I (2460) -- Schenderowitsch,M (2300) Gladenbach 2013

Glek went on to win after a long endgame (94 moves).

9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Bb4+ 11.Kf2

11.Bd2 would have been possible had the knight maintained his post on c2.

11...fxe5 12.fxe5 0–0

Black's king does not need the security anytime soon, but this move applies pressure down the f-file.


Black to move


La Bourdonnais prepares a sacrifice in order to expose the vulnerable White king.His position is better, but is his plan the best manner for converting a good position into a win?


This move, often made in aggression, here serves principally as a defensive maneuver. The king needs a light square.


This sacrifice, however, shows that Black is able to play on the light squares as well as the dark.

15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.Kh3

For the cost of a knight, Black has two central, passed pawns.

16.Nxe5? Qxe5+ 17.Kh3 Bd6 and Black's attack looks decisive.


One passed pawn is enough for La Bourdonnais, especially as it leaves White's kingside pawns isolated. The White king's vulnerability is strong compensation for the sacrificed material.

16...Ng6 looks at least as good to my eyes. Perhaps there are other ways that Black can build up the pressure.

17.gxf3 d4

White to move


18.Ng2 seems worse 18...e5+ 19.Kh2 e4+.

18...h5 19.Nf2 Qe5

As Black, I might have preferred 19...e5+ 20.Kg2.

20.Bd3 Bd6

Threatening checkmate.

21.Ne4 Bc7

21...Qf5+ 22.Kg2 Qg6+ 23.Kf2.

22.Kg2 Bd7 23.f4 

Black to move

Is White's last move fatal? Black's attack seems to be running out of steam, but this move weakens g4.

23...Qf5 24.Ng5 Bc6+ 25.Kg1 Qg4+

Black provokes an exchange of queens. It is not clear that he is winning after his sacrifice, however.

26.Qxg4 hxg4 27.Rh2 Bd5

White to move


This move weakens g5. I prefer 28.Re2.


Another sacrifice of material. If La Bourdonnais's sacrifices are sound, this game is on par with some of those of Adolf Anderssen two decades later. Maybe it is on par even if they are unsound. Many of Anderssen's attacks would have faltered with proper defense.

29.Bxf4 Bxf4 30.Ne4

Black has three pawns for a rook, but again that includes two central passed pawns. If these are able to advance down the chessboard, they could prove decisive.

30...Be3+ 31.Kg2 Rf8

White to move


Was 32.Re1 a better try?

a) 32...Rf4 33.Rxe3 returning the sacrificed material to weaken the passed pawns. Perhaps White can hold. 33...dxe3.
b) 32...Rf2+ 33.Kg3.

32...Rf5! 33.Rhh1 Re5

Black now seems to have a clear advantage, as he will regain the sacrificed material while hanging on to his passed central pawns.

34.Kg3 Bxe4 35.Bxe4 Rxe4

White to move

Black has won back the sacrificed material. White can resign with no additional loss of dignity.

36.Rh4 e5 37.Rxg4 Bf4+ 38.Kf3 Re3+ 39.Kf2 d3

The pawns start to roll.


40.Re1 d2 41.Rd1 Rh3! 42.Rxf4 exf4 43.Rxd2 Rh2+ 44.Ke1 Rxd2 45.Kxd2 Kh7.

40...Re2+ 41.Kf3 Bh6 42.Re4 Rxb2 43.Rxe5 Rxa2 44.Kg4 d2 45.Rd5 Rc2 46.Rg3 b5

White to move


47.Rxb5 d1Q+

47...Rc1 48.Kf5 Kh7

48...d1Q 49.Rxd1;
48...a5 49.Kg6 Rc8 50.Rd8+ Rxd8 51.Rxd8#.

49.Rxd2 Bxd2 50.Rxd2 a5 0–1

After nine games, McDonnell has two wins and four losses. Most telling, however, is that La Bourdonnais is beginning to dominate the opening phase of the game. "Small Errors" hones in on game ten.

*In my opinion, C00 is the correct ECO code for this game. Indeed, a later game from their matches is given as a comment in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings: C00/01.

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