29 November 2014

A Powerful Pawn

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

Five months ago I began posting analysis of the games of the first match between Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840). My analysis is unaided by computer analysis. The first post was "Three Fighting Draws," and each post contains a link to the next.

Today's post concerns game 25, the final game in the first of six matches between these two players. My analysis of game 24 was posted in "An Opening Disaster".

The match was played in the Westminster Chess Club, London. William Greenwood Walker, club secretary, recorded the games. This match is the earliest between masters for which the games are available. The match marks an early moment in the development of modern chess.

Although the games are uneven in quality and La Bourdonnais dominated the match, they remain instructive. Many are balanced struggles.

In game 25, La Bourdonnais played a version of the Bird Opening (that name would come later) that offers White minimal prospects. Nonetheless, a few small errors by McDonnell put him on the defensive. He then miscalculated the consequences of a series of exchanges. La Bourdonnais was able to grind out the technical win.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [A03]
London m1 London (25), 1834

1.f4 d5 2.d4 c5 3.e3 e6 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.c4

5.c3 is a better move. White's pawn structure would make it difficult for Black's pieces to find activity.

5...cxd4 6.exd4 dxc4 7.Bxc4

Black to move 

White's isolated queen pawn is a potential target, but also gives White temporary control of e5 and threatens the advance d4-d5. It is not easy for Black the exploit the open dark squares leading to White's king. A few checks are possible, but where do they lead?

7...Nf6 8.Nc3 Be7 9.0–0 0–0

Black's position is solid without weaknesses. White has more space. White's dark-squared bishop and Black's light-squared are restricted by their own pawns.

10.Kh1 a6 11.Be3

Overprotecting the weakened isolani.

11...b5 12.Bd3 Bb7

A nice square for the bishop.


Black to move


I'm not sure that I like this move. Was Bxh7+ a credible threat? Was there another reason for the king to step aside?

13...Nd5 seems a reasonable alternative.

a) 14.Bd2 Ncb4

b) 14.Nxd5 Qxd5 15.Qf3 Nxe5 16.Qxd5 Bxd5 17.dxe5=

c) 14.Bxh7+? Kxh7 15.Qh5+ Kg8 16.Nxd5 Qxd5 17.Rf3 f6–+

d) 14.Qe2 Ncb4

14.Bc2 Nb4 15.Bb3 Nbd5 16.Nxd5 Nxd5 17.Qe2

Black to move


Although this move drives the knight off its outpost, it also weakens the e6 square. This move may have been a critical error. McDonnell must defend a difficult position for the rest of the game, although he is able to generate some threats.

17...Bh4 may have been worth considering. 18.Bxd5 Qxd5 19.Qf3 Qxf3 20.Nxf3.

18.Nf3 Qe8 19.Rae1

Building up pressure on e6.

19...Bd6 20.Bd2 Nxf4 21.Bxf4 Bxf4

White to move


Now the isolani is a passed pawn.

22.Qxe6 does not seem as strong. 22...Qh5 23.Qe2 Rae8 24.Qf2 Bxf3 25.gxf3.


Black has threats against h2


23.d5? Bxd5 24.Bxd5 Qxd5 leaves Black a pawn ahead.

23...Qh6 24.d5 Rae8

24...Bd6 25.Nd4 g6.


25.a3 passing loses. 25...Bxd5-+.

25...Re7 26.Nd4 g6

26...Bc8 27.Nf5.

27.Nc6 Rc7 28.Re4

Black to move


I want to blockade the pawn 28...Bd6 29.Qf2

Here 29.g5 seems to offer Black a draw 29...fxg5 30.Rxf8+ Qxf8 31.Qxg5 Qf1+ 32.Qg1 Qf3+ 33.Qg2 Qd1+.

29.Nd4 Rd8

Everything hinges upon the isolated, passed pawn.

30.Nf5 Qf8 31.Rd1 Rc5 32.Red4 Be5 33.R4d2 Rc4 34.Ne3 Rc7 35.Qf3 Bf4 36.Rd3 Qd6

36...Bd6 still looks good to me. 37.Nf5 Rc2 38.R3d2.


Black to move


A miscalculation

37...Qb6 might hold.

38.dxe6 Bxf3+ 39.Kg1

Black is ahead a piece temporarily, which must have been McDonnell's idea, but La Bourdonnais calculated deeper.

39...Rxd3 40.Rxd3 Rc8

Preventing checkmate

41.e7 Re8 42.Rxf3

Black to move

White's isolated pawn now restrains Black's rook.


Material is equal, but cannot remain so.


The a-pawn is a target.

43...Kf7 44.Rxa6 Rc8 45.b3 Be5 46.h3 b4

White to move


White's king must join the action. Black has everything secure and prevents the advance of the e-pawn. But, Black's pieces cannot stray far. The bishop must guard d6, the rook must prevent White's rook from occupying the eighth rank.

47...Bf4 48.Kf3 Be5 49.Ke4 Bf4 50.Ra7

Freeing the knight for action.

50...Be5 51.Ng7!

Black to move


51...Kxg7 52.e8Q+ Kh6 53.Qxc8.
51...Bf4 52.e8Q#.

52.Nxe8 Kxe8 53.Kf5 Kf7 54.Rb7 1-0

The bishop cannot guard b4 and f6.

La Bourdonnais wins the first match with 16 wins, 5 losses, and 4 draws.

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