19 July 2014

Weakened King

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

I have been working through all of the games of Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835). Most of his available games are from his series of matches with Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840). Bourdonnais won twice as many as McDonnell. In the first match, McDonnell led after game six. He then lost eleven of the next twelve games.

Chess Skills is following this match through a series of posts that began with "Three Fighting Draws" (30 June 2014).* We are now at game twelve. See "Losing Takes a Toll" for game eleven.

In game after game, it seems that McDonnell makes a small inaccuracy and then finds himself in a much worse position. Such is the case in game twelve.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [D20]
London m1 London (12), 1834

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Nf3 Bd6 7.0–0 0–0 8.Bg5 h6

Testing the resolve of the bishop.

8...Bg4 was possible here as well.


Black to move


Weakening the king's position.

9...Bg4 appears in many games today 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 g5 12.Bg3 Bxg3 13.Qxg3 Qxd4 14.Qb3 Nc6 15.Rd1 Qc5 16.Qc2 Kg7 and Black won in 63 moves Sergeev,V (2436)--Navara,D (2715) Pardubice 2013

10.Bg3 Bg4

10...Bxg3 is worse 11.fxg3 and White will have pressure along the f-file.

11.Nc3 Nc6

11...Nbd7 might have been sensible.

12.Qd3 Kg7

White's queen threatened to come in to g6, taking advantage of the pin on f7.

13.Ne5 Bxe5 14.dxe5 Nh5

14...Qxd3 is worse 15.exf6+ Kxf6 16.Bxd3+-


Black to move

White's forces are well-coordinated for attack on the somewhat vulnerable Black king.

15...Nxg3 16.Qxg3 Bh5 17.f4

Black to move


17...Nd4 may have been the last chance to fight on the kingside, although it leads to elimination of the king's pawn shield.

18.Nf6 Bg6 19.fxg5 Nf5 20.gxh6+ Nxh6 21.Nh5+ Kh8

(21...Kg8 loses quickly 22.Qxg6+ Kh8 23.Qg7#).

18.b3 Nxc4 19.bxc4 c6 20.Nf6 Qd4+ 21.Kh1 Bg6 22.Rad1 Qxc4

White to move

Instead of being down a pawn, McDonnell has a one pawn advantage. However, now all White's pieces are coming after his king. La Bourdonnais demonstrates skill in bringing home the point.

23.f5 Bh7 24.Nd7 Rfd8 25.e6!

Beginners, and even sixteenth century masters, would have played 25.f6+. La Bourdonnais, however, perceives that the battle will conclude when he gains full control of the seventh rank.

In the previous century, François-André Danican Philidor extolled the power of pawns. He advocated arranging the pieces behind them so they are well-supported and then thrusting them forward with decisive results. For Philidor, the pawns were of such importance that he frequently sacrificed the exchange in order to create a pair of pawns with a chance to advance.

Philidor's ideas were not widely accepted by the chess masters of his day. Indeed, it is commonplace among chess historians to assert that Philidor's ideas were largely neglected until the development of modern theory by Wilhelm Steinitz and his contemporaries. If so, it may be fair to say that La Bourdonnais was decades ahead of his time.

La Bourdonnais demonstrates effective pawn play in many of the games in this series of matches. In this game, he shows that a strong pawn on the sixth rank may advance with decisive results when it is supported from the side, rather than the rear as Philidor advocated.

25...f6 26.Qc7

The queen penetrates to the seventh rank

26...Rdc8 27.Qxb7

....and grabs a pawn.

Black to move


McDonnell will eliminate the pesky queen.


A rook will replace the queen.

28...Qxb7 29.Rxb7 Kh8

McDonnell's king flees the dangerous seventh rank.


Another pawn falls, and Bourdonnas threatens checkmate in one.


The only move.


The other rook prepares to occupy the seventh rank


McDonnell would like to trade rooks.

32.Rdd7 Rxd7 33.Rxd7 g4

33...Rb8 34.Kg1

34.Kg1 a5

White to move

35.e7 1–0

McDonnell's expertise using the bishop pair to overcome a one pawn deficit will put an end to the losing streak in the next game (see "Morning Coffee").

*I am using databases and occasional reference to articles on these games, such as Paul Morphy's series in the New York Ledger (1859). However, I am leaving my chess engines off during my analysis. Consequently, I almost certainly will miss some tactics.

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