21 August 2014

Attack and Counterattack

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

In my series of blog posts on the matches between Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840), we have reached the eighteenth game of the first match. The match was scheduled for twenty-one games, draws not counting. La Bourdonnais has won the match with eleven wins. McDonnell has two wins and there have been four draws. Nonetheless, they continue the match until completing twenty-one decisive games.

I am going through the games without benefit of engine analysis. There are likely appaling errors in some of my analysis. The series begins with "Three Fighting Draws" (June 2014) and I discuss game seventeen in "Mating Attack".

In game eighteen, McDonnell again adopts the King's Bishop's Gambit as he had in game eleven (see "Losing Takes a Toll"). This opening would develop a strong reputation over the next several decades, although it is rarely played today. Adolf Anderssen's "Immortal Game" began as a King's Bishop's Gambit.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [C33]
London m1 London (18), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1 g5 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.d4 Nc6

An unusual move. More common is6...Ne7. One notable game continued 7.g3 fxg3 8.Kg2 d6 9.hxg3 Qg4 10.Qxg4 Bxg4 11.Bxg5 Capablanca,J--Allies, Philadelphia 1910. It ended as a draw in 29 moves.
La Bourdonnais played 6...d6 in three other games in these matches.

White to move


McDonnell's move is unique in the ChessBase database. It removes f6 from the undeveloped Black knight, but opens f5 for the same. This move also has the consequence that Black's d-pawn cannot be captured on d5. This move opens e4 for a White knight, which McDonnell will use soon.

The immediate  7.Nf3 is probably a better move. Play might continue 7...Qh5 8.Nd5 Kd8 9.Be2 Qg6 10.Nxg5 Qxg5 11.Bxf4 Qg6 12.Bxc7+ Ke8 13.Bh5 Qe6 14.Bg3 Nagibin,G (2392)--Logashov,S (2325) Moscow 2009. White won in 43 moves.

7...Nge7 8.Nf3 Qh5 9.Ne4 h6

White to move


McDonnell might have prepared his attack with 10.Qe2 Nf5

Here I looked at two ways to proceed:
a) 11.Nf6+ Bxf6 12.exf6+ Kd8 13.c3

b) 11.Nd6+ Nxd6 12.exd6+ Kd8 13.d5 (13.dxc7+ Kxc7 14.c3) 13...Ne5 14.Nxe5 Qxe2+ 15.Bxe2 Bxe5 16.dxc7+

He also might have tried 10.c3 Nf5 11.Kf2.

I am not certain if any of these lines are better than McDonnell's play in the game.

10...Bxf6 11.exf6 d5 12.Bd3 Nf5 13.Qe1+

13.c3 is an interesting alternative, which La Bourdonnais could meet with the simple 13... 0–0 or the double-edged 13...Ng3+!? 14.Kg1 Nxh1 15.Qe2+ Be6 16.Bf5 0–0 17.Bxe6 fxe6 18.Qxe6+ Kh7 19.Qf5+ Kh8 20.Bxf4! Here White appears to have compensation for the sacrificed material.

Analysis diagram after 20.Bxf4
13...Kd8 14.Ne5

14.c3 Ng3+


14...Ng3+ 15.Kg1 Nxh1 16.Nxc6+ bxc6? 17.Qe7#.

15.c3 Nxe5 16.Qxe5 Nc6 17.Qxd5+ Ke8

White to move



McDonnell missed a simple pin, or he rejected it for the gain of material in the game.

18...Be6 19.Re1.

18...Be6 19.Bxc6+ Kf8 20.Qc5+ Kg8 21.Bf3 Qg6

White has more material on the board, but how will the rooks come into play? How will the dark-squared bishop participate in the battle?


The effort to defend the f-pawn proves costly. This move seems to me to be McDonnell's critical error.

22.Bd2 seems better to me with at least three ways for Black to proceed:

a) 22...Qxf6 23.Re1.

b) 22...b6 23.Qf2 Rd8 24.Rd1 g4 25.Bc6 Qxf6.

c) 22...Qd3+ 23.Ke1 Rd8 24.Qf2 g4 25.Bxb7.

White's chances seem to me better in each of these lines than they were in the game, although Black has seized the initiative in each case. White retains material superiority and may be able to defend against Black's counterattack.

22...c5 23.Qe5 Re8

White to move


Perhaps 24.Kf2 was necessary. Black's response might have been 24...Bd7 25.Qd5 Bc6 26.Qd2.

24...f3! 25.Kf2

25.Bxf3 Bc4+ 26.Kf2 Rxe5 and Black wins.

25...fxe2 26.Be3 b6 27.h4

27.Rhe1 Bd7 28.Qc7 Qf5+ 29.Kg1 Rxe3 and Black wins.

27...Bd7 28.Qd5 Qxf6+ 29.Kxe2 Bg4+ 30.Kd2 Rd8 0–1

White's attack fell short, although he recovered the pawn sacrificed in the opening. McDonnell showed that he could achieve material superiority through tactics, but he then faltered.

McDonnell's long sequences of losses, interrupted only by a single draw, would end with the next game. The contestants would alternate wins--always with the Black pieces--until La Bourdonnais would win with White in the final game of the first match.


  1. McDonnell is Mr. "perfect attack" and didn't have the flexibility that Labourdannais had. Louis could handle defense, switching back and forth, making you beat him with perfect play (which didn't happen so much). Alexander should have taken on f4, Bf4 like you said and then should be much better or +-, but instead tries to be too fine and take a piece. He has that perfectionist streak and then has simple defensive lapses in his game because his game is sort of like perfect and he should win, or it's nothing and he can't manage to just "hang around" like Louis could. "Perfection is the enemy of the good" would sum up Alexander's play. Unfortunately, I suffer from this same sort of thing, and then if you can't be perfect, then you may as well just blunder up on a simple winning defense. It's like not being able to live up to your own style.

    Louis was great at technical play, so if they are just trading non-best moves with one another, Louis wins on ability and a fuller character at the board, IMHO.

  2. I also get the feeling that Alexander was probably used to whooping on weaker players with his perfect style of play. The problem with this is that you run into another stronger player, and then flexibility is what wins games. You have to "re-win" a game many times against another strong player. You can be totally winning, but they don't go down, they just hang around, wear on you, and take advantages of mistakes. This is what Louis did a lot against Alexander and Louis could defend marvelously often, and Alexander sort of sucked at defense compared to his attacking strength. I was going to reply to your rebuttal on the other post, a further continuation from what you gave, to show that my defense was still more promising than Alexander's walk-about on defense.

    1. The problem of too often facing weak players makes a lot of sense. Indeed, William G. Walker noted in his collection of the games, "I have heard our first players agree," McDonnell relied too much, "and persisted in a system he had found to answer, giving odds, though it proved ineffecient against the well-analyzed combinations of the great French player." Walker was specifically referring to McDonnell's failures against the French Defense (most of these games transposed from a Sicilian to a French Advance), but the diagnosis may carry over to other situations.

    2. I feel like McDonnel's "second" as I spent around 2 hrs analyzing this postion on move 22. The drawing plan is 22.h3! Qxf6, 23.Qd4 Qg6 24.Bxf4 gxf4, 25.Qxf4, and White should at least be better here. Note that 22...h5, 23.Kf2! Qc2?? 24.Be2 and f4 and g5 hang.

      BUT, since this is OTB postal chess on Alexander's part (okay, so he played 22.Qd4, which is the "move" which holds it all together, but definitely not the plan. Incidentally, I believe that the "move" worked here as ...c5, 23.Qxc5 (which he should have played, was only helping White out). 22...Kh7 looks to me what Black should have played, immediately connecting rooks and getting Rh8 off that diagonal.

      So, going for the win, White should play 22.b3 (Morphy stated that White should play 22.b3 or 22.Qf2, but I am helping him out by choosing the order). Then if 22...Rd8, then 23.Qf2 (notice that this is a different plan; in this one, White needs to regroup and thrreaten the long diagonal before being able to play a consolidating move such as h3).

      Going for the win is risky, and OTB nowdays any player as White would probably happy to be shown a drawing line.

      I didn't like 22.Bd2 so much because of the ..Qd3+.

      I think because of these "postal-chess" time controls they had that the attacker felt like he could play all his/her hearts desires, and then if it doesn't all work out, you've got hours to find the right defensive reply. hehe. Also, at longer time-controls I've noticed that defensive plans were often super-elaborate and most players nowadays know that they don't have that much "time" OTB, and thus come up with shorter plans.