26 August 2014

After a Long Drought ...

McDonnell Wins!

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

Down eleven wins to two, Alexander McDonnell scored his third win in the match in game 19. McDonnell (1798-1835) agreed to play a match of twenty-one games, draws not counting, against Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840), the undisputed champion of France (and presumably of Europe). The match, the first of six between these two contestants, was played at the Westminister Chess Club in London. William Greenwood Walker, the club secretary, recorded the games as they were played.

I am going through all of the games in this match, annotating them for this blog. I am not checking my analysis with a chess engine, so errors should be expected. It is my belief that the games between these two players are a rich source of instructive positions for my teaching of youth players, and also offer plenty of material of value to an A Class player seeking to improve his skill. My peak USCF rating of 1982 was achieved two years ago, and is currently slightly more than 100 below that. I will rise again. When I do, I will credit my teachers McDonnell and La Bourdonnais.

My series on this match begins with "Three Fighting Draws". I discuss game 18 in "Attack and Counterattack".

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [C23]
London m1 London (19), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Qe2 d6 4.d3 Nf6 5.h3

5.Nf3 seems better 5...Bg4?! 6.h3

5...Nc6 6.c3

Black to move


The knight heads to g6, where it asserts influence over f4. This move also prepares c7-c6 and d6-d5.

6...Be6 was played in the two other games that reached this position. Those games were among players whose rating place them in the weak expert category (or Candidate Master). Which move is best? The respective rating of the players does not answer this question. But, it does raise a question: If McDonnell and La Bourdonnais had chess ratings, how would these compare to today's players?

They were the best in their day, but they did not benefit from the established theory that is now the common possession even of most average club players. Rather, their match became one of the important foundations of that theory. Edo Historical Chess Ratings puts McDonnell at a little over 2500 and La Bourdonnais in the mid-2600s.


A prophylactic retreat.

7...Ng6 8.g3

I don't like this move, and prefer 8.Nf3. Play might continue8...Nf4 9.Bxf4 exf4 10.d4 Bb6 with equal chances for both sides.

8...c6 9.f4?! exf4 10.gxf4

10.d4 Bb6 11.Bxf4


McDonnell gets a clear adavantage for the first time in many games.

11.Rxg1 Bxh3 12.f5 Ne5

White to move


13.Rxg7 seems more active 13...Bg4 14.Qe3 Nf3+ 15.Kf2 Bh5
(15...Rf8 16.Nd2)
16.Nd2 Nxd2
(16...Ng4+ 17.Rxg4 Bxg4 18.Nxf3 Bxf3 19.Qxf3 White is better)
17.Bxd2 Ng4+ 18.Rxg4 Bxg4.

13.d4 is not an improvement 13...Bg4
(13...Neg4 14.Rh1)
14.Qe3 Nf3+ 15.Kf2 Nxg1 16.Kxg1 Qe7 with clear superiority for Black.

13...Bg4 14.Qg2 h5 15.d4 Ned7 16.Bg5 Qb6 17.Nd2 0–0 18.Bf4

18.Nc4 Qc7 19.Ne3

18...d5 19.e5 Rfe8 20.Be3 [20.Nf3 Bxf3 21.Qxf3 Ne4 22.Rh3] 20...h4 21.Rxg4 Nxg4 22.Qxg4

Black to move

22...Nxe5! 23.dxe5 Qxe3+ 24.Kd1 Rxe5

Black has a technical win.

25.Kc2 Qg3

25...Qh6 26.Rg1 Rae8 White's minor pieces seem tied down.


Black to move


26...Rxf5 seems possible. 27.Rg1 Qe5 28.Qxh4 Rh5

27.Qxh4 Qh6 28.Qxh6 gxh6 29.Rf1 f6 30.c4

Perhaps White can play on with 30.Kd1 Rae8 31.Bc2 Kg7 32.Nf3 Re3 33.Nd4 h5 34.Ne6+ Kf7

30...Kf7 31.cxd5 cxd5

Black has two passed pawns.

32.Kd3 Rg8 

White to move

The rook occupies an open file, but there are dangers along the diagonal.


With the idea to play 34.Ne4


Stepping out of danger.


34.Ne4?? dxe4+

34...Rg3 35.Kd4 Kd6 36.Bd1

36.Nxe5?? fxe5#

36...b5 37.b4 a6 38.a4 h5 39.axb5 axb5

White to move

White is nearly in zugzwang. The bishop is the only piece that can move. When was this concept first articulated by chess writers?


40.Nh4 Ree3 41.Bc2 (41.Bxh5 Rd3#) 41...Re2 42.Bb1 Rd2+ 43.Bd3 Rdxd3#.

40...Re2 41.Bd3 Rb2 42.Ke3 Rg4

Black forces White's rook off the board, rendering the b-pawn vulnerable.

43.Nd4 Rxf4 44.Kxf4 Rxb4 45.Ke3 Kc5 46.Ne6+ Kb6 47.Nf4

Black to move


McDonnell demonstrates his mastery of endgame principles. The bishop cannot stop three passed pawns.

48.Kxf4 Kc5 49.Be2 h4 50.Kg4 b4 51.Kxh4 Kd4 52.Kg3 b3 53.Bd1 b2 54.Bc2 Ke3 0–1

McDonnell's technique converting the advantage is worthy of emulation.

In game 20, McDonnell would lose quickly after chasing a material advantage (see "Materialism").


  1. Linuxguyonfics here. Now it's asking for more identity info to post this. You'd probably get more responses not putting up so many roadblocks. It would be nice to have a chessgames.com link. It just wiped out my last response.
    13.Bg5 and if h6 then Bxf7 followed by BxNf6, Qh5+ and QxBh3

    1. Those roadblocks are not in my settings. Google has been throwing them up without asking what I want.

  2. My tactic earlier doesn't work because the Ne7 is covering f7, although 13.Bg5 does seem best.

    After 13.Rxg7, I would play 13...Nf6-g4 with ideas of 14...Qh4+ followed by ...Qh6 (possibly with check), and then QxRg7, or White gives up the exchange as d4 will be too slow.

    Earlier, after 6...Nc6-e7?!, simple chess should lead to an advantage with 7.Nf3 and 8.d4. 7.Bb3 was a weak move, and then White came up with a hideous defense of g3 and f4 to hide his non-standard play.

    I don't know how strong these two players should be rated, and they should be judged in the context of their time, but many of today's 1500 rated players know not to make some of these crazy or indifferent moves. At times they could play on a strong Master or possibly GM level, but they would quickly realize how not to play openings if you brought them back today.

  3. After 13.Rxg7 Nfg4 14.Bg5 f6 15.Bh6 and White may have a strong attack.