10 August 2014

Strong Knights

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834
Match 1, Game 16

When a knight occupies an impregnable position on a weak square in the centre or in the opponent's camp, it becomes particularly strong.
Peter Romanovsky, Chess Middlegame Planning (1990), 38
In "That Pin of f7," I commented on game 15 of the first match between Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840). There was no world championship in their day, but their matches had qualities that would be shared by those which followed. Throughout the matches, both players refined their opening repertoire while continuing to contest similar positions.

I am working through all of the games of these two players without employing my chess analysis engines. My series of posts on this match begins with "Three Fighting Draws". Each post in the series contains links to the prior and next games..

McDonnell contested many games against La Bourdonnais's French Defense. Although the first Black move was 1...c5, 2...e6 followed. The character of the game quickly developed into an Advance Variation French in which White pursues a faulty approach. Instead of squeezing the Black position, Black's counter-attack on the weak d4 pawn gave him the initiative.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [B21]
London m1 London (16), 1834

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

7...Nf7 was played in game 9, and also in Glek -- Schenderowitsch, Gladenbach 2013. That game continued 8.d4 Qb6 9.Bd3 cxd4 10.cxd4 Nb4 11.Nxb4 Bxb4+ 12.Bd2 Bd7 13.Bxb4 Qxb4+ 14.Qd2 Qxd2+ 15.Kxd2 0–0 and White won in 94 moves.

7...fxe5 appears in four expert/master games since 2009.

8.d4 Bd7

8...cxd4 was played in game 13, and will be played again in the second match. One other game in the database contains this position: 9.Ncxd4 (McDonnell played 9.cxd4 ) 9...fxe5 10.fxe5 Nf7 11.Bb5 Bc5 12.b4 Bxd4 13.Bxc6+ Qxc6 14.Qxd4 0–0 15.0–0 Bd7 and Black won in 41 moves Komliakov,V (2463) -- Yagupov,I (2482) Moscow 2000.


This move was played in game 14 and the present one. It is an error in my opinion.

9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Bb4+ 11.Kf2 0–0 12.Kg3 fxe5 13.fxe5

Black to move


Deviating from game 14 where 13...Be8 was played.


14.b3 might have been worth considering 14...Rxf3+ 15.gxf3 Nxd4 16.Bb2 Ndf5+ 17.Nxf5 Nxf5+ 18.Kh3 (18.Kg2 Ne3+) 18...Qd8. White has some problems.


La Bourdonnais immediately sacrifices the exchange to win the d-pawn, rather than his slower approach in game 14. He could have made this sacrifice the previous move, however. Was he waiting for White's h2-h4?

15.gxf3 Nxd4 16.Bd3 Rf8

Threatening the pawn on f3

17.f4 Bc5

Black improves his piece coordination, preparing a knight outpost on f5

18.Rf1 Bb5

White's light-square bishop is defending f5.

19.Bxb5 Qxb5 20.Kh3 Ne2

The backwards pawn is a target.

White to move


21.Rf2 Nf5 22.Nxf5 Bxf2 23.Ne7+ Kh8 Black has regained the sacrificed material with interest.


In the French defense and some Sicilians, f5 is the knight's happy square. In this position, Black controls 2/3 of the the chessboard and all of his pieces are participating in the assault. White's a1 rook remains a spectator.

22.Kh2 Neg3 23.Rf3 Ne4

Both Black knights have excellent outposts.

24.Qf1 Qe8

The queen redeploys towards the kingside where she will exert enormous pressure.

White to move


McDonnell decides to shore up the third rank for defense.

I could not find an improvement for White. 25.Be3 Bxe3 (25...Nxe3 26.Nxe3 Qh5 27.Ng2) 26.Nxe3 Qh5 (26...Nxe3 27.Rxe3) 27.Nxf5 Rxf5 28.Qh3.


Black's bishop, too, takes up an outpost. Black's minor pieces dominate the position.

26.Rb1 Qh5 27.Rbb3

Bringing his least active piece into action.


Is this rook struggling to find his role in the battle? Has each move made credible threats?

28.Be3 Rc2

The rook penetrates and pins a knight.

White to move


Alternatives do not improve White's prospects.
29.Bxd4 Nxd4
29.Bg1 Nxh4 30.Rh3 Bxg1+ 31.Kxg1 Qg4


The eternal knight exchanges itself for a cleric.


30.Nxe3 Qg4+ 31.Kh1 Qxh4+ 32.Rh3 (32.Kg1 Qh2#) 32...Ng3+ 33.Kg1 Qg4 34.Qd3 (34.Qe1 Qxh3 35.Rd3 Qh2#) 34...Rc1+ 35.Kf2 Rf1+ 36.Kg2 Qf3+ 37.Kh2 Rh1#.

30...Nd2 31.Qd3 Rc1+ 32.Kh2 Nf1+ 33.Kh3

33.Qxf1 Rxf1 34.Red3 Bg1+ (34...Bb6 35.Ne3 Qe2+ 36.Kg3 Rf3+ 37.Kg4 Rxe3+ 38.Kg5 Bd8#) 35.Kh3 Qf5+ 36.Kg3

33...Nxe3 34.Nxe3 Qf3+ 35.Kh2 Rh1# 0–1

In the next game, McDonnell will falter once again with Black against the Queen's Gambit (see "Mating Attack").


  1. I like Black's exchange sac with 14....RxNf3, but White should still not be losing this position. I like how they attack, very creative, but on defense it seemed like White was more just feeling out how to play it.

    There are other variations, but I like what I see so far for White, practical chances, unlike in the game.

    The White king was great on h3, why move it back?

    Why not 21.Bd2 (BTW, I want to give this two exclams compared to how the game went - OTB, it would be a strong move). If 21....Nxf4 then 22.RxNf4 RxR, 23.Nxd5 Rf7, 24.BxN6 gxB. Without analyzing anything, it would be really hard-pressed to find worse than a draw here for White.

  2. Thanks for the comment, linuxguy. In your line, I think 23...Qd3+ is better than Rf7.