08 September 2014

McDonnell's Cavalry

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

In the twenty-first game of their first match, Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais castled queenside and launched a kingside assault with pawns and heavy pieces. Alexander McDonnell responded with a thrust of his a-pawn and fine piece play in the center. La Bourdonnais, playing White, genereated clear checkmate threats, but McDonnell parried these. His a-pawn and knights proved stronger than the French player's heavy pieces.

I am annotating all of the games of this match without reference to engine evaluations. My series on this match began with "Three Fighting Draws". Game 20 is discussed in "Materialism".

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [C24]
London m1 London (21), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Qe2 Nf6 4.d3 Nc6 5.c3

This move is an improvement over game 19 (see "After a Long Drought ...").

5...Ne7 6.f4

LaBourdonnais opts for some sort of deferred King's Gambit. As there are no other games in the database with this position, the statistics are 100% in favor of Black.

6...exf4 7.d4 Bb6 8.Bxf4

Black to move

White has a strong center, and yet I'm tempted to recall a rule that Emanuel Lasker would lay down sixty years after this game: "bring out your knights before developing the bishops" (see "Lasker's Rules").

8...d6 9.Bd3

Is the e4 pawn threatened somehow?

I like 9.Nf3.

9...Ng6 10.Be3

White occupies more space on the chessboard. On the other hand, Black's pieces do not lack mobility. The knights are well placed on the kingside. White's central pawns are somewhat offset by the half-open f-file. White's king could prove to be vulnerable on g1.

10.Bg5 is quickly refuted. 10...h6 11.Be3.

10...0–0 11.h3 

Black had control of g4. White challenges this domination. However, contesting this square has the consequence of creating vulnerabilities on the dark squares.

11.Nf3 might have been better. 11...Bg4 12.0–0.

11...Re8 12.Nd2 Qe7 

White to move

Now Black has three attackers on e4, which outnumber the two defenders. But, with the Black queen in front of the rook, the pawn remains safe for now. Minor pieces defend a pawn attacked by heavy pieces. Nf6-d5-f4 could be a threat.

13.0–0–0 c5

McDonnell disrupts White's center.

13...Nd5 does not seem as good. 14.exd5 Qxe3 15.Qxe3 Rxe3 16.Bxg6 hxg6 and the game seems equal.

14.Kb1 cxd4 15.cxd4 a5! 

Both players thrust their pawns at the the enemy monarch, but Black's piece play in the center will prevail.

16.Ngf3 Bd7 17.g4 h6 18.Rdg1

White's plan is clear.


White to move


19.a3 would prevent the Black pawn occupying this square.
19.Nc4 also guards a3 as well as attacking the dark-squared bishop. 19...Ba5.

Perhaps La Bourdonnais underestmated the power of a Black pawn ensconced on a3. Or, perhaps, he underestimated Black's tatical resources for bringing other pieces to bear on the White king. With Black's knights in front of their king, it is not obvious that they will play a decisive role in the attack on the White king.

19...hxg5 20.Bxg5 a3 21.b3

21.Nc4 may have been worth considering.

21...Bc6 22.Rg4 Ba5 23.h4 Bxd2 24.Nxd2

Black to move 

24...Ra5! 25.h5 Rxg5

Black seeks to eliminate both White bishops, after which the White king will be defenseless. McDonnell's play in this game merits study.

26.Rxg5 Nf4 27.Qf3 Nxd3

White to move


28.Qxd3 merits attention 28...Nxe4 and 29.Rgg1 seems best.
   If 29.d5, then 29...Nxd2+ 30.Qxd2 Qe4+ with a decisive gain of material for Black.
   If 29.Rg4, then 29...Nf2 is unpleasant.
Play might continue 29...Nf2 30.Qg3 Be4+ 31.Ka1
   (31.Nxe4 loses quickly 31...Qxe4+ 32.Ka1 Qxd4+ 33.Kb1 Qb2#)
31...Qf6 and Black seems better.


This move appears decisive.


29.exd5 fails smply to 29...Qxg5.
29.Rxd5 looked good to me at first, but Black seems to have a decisive attack after 29...Bxd5 30.exd5 Qe5 31.Nc4 Qd4 32.Rf1 f6.

29...Nc3+ 30.Ka1

30.Kc2 is an interesting effort 30...Nxe4 31.Rxg7+ Kh8 32.Qf5 Nb4+ 33.Kc1 Nf6 and the threat of Qe1+ with checkmate to follow.

30...Bxe4 31.Rxg7+ Kh8 32.Qg3

White threatens checkmate.

Black to move


But Black's checkmate threat appears more serious.


Can White save the game? 33.Rxg6 Qe1+ 34.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 35.Qxe1 Nxe1 ends as in the game.

33...Qe1+ 34.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 35.Qxe1 Nxe1 36.Rh7+ Kg8 37.gxf7+ Kxh7 38.f8N+ Kh6 39.Nb1 Nc2# 0–1

This game belongs on the list of best games from the first match. I think that it is McDonnell's best game so far. Although La Bourdonnais made a few errors, his play was not substandard.

See "La Bourdonnais's Infantry" for the next game.


  1. The exchange sac looks brilliant.


    Better would appear to be 27.Qe3 Nfd5, 28.Qg3 Nc3+, 29.Kh1 Ncxe4, 30.NxN BxN where both 31.BxNf6 BxB 32.RxB and 31.NxBe4 NxNe4, 32.BxQe7 NxQg3, 33.RxN (forced, else 34.NxRh1) RxBe7 and Black is winning with the extra pawn. Although, gradually losing, I believe that this is White's most positional continuation (I don't computer-check my suggestions, same as you).

  2. That first line should read 31....QxBf6 obviously, 32.BxBe4 RxBe4. That's what I meant.