01 November 2014

An Opening Disaster

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

In the first and longest of the six matches between Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840), White fared poorly. Game 24 was Black's seventh victory in a row as both players stumbled with the White pieces.

Alexander McDonnell was the victim in the oldest recorded instance of the Evans Gambit. He started this game with Evans's signature 3.b4, but then offered his own innovation. La Bourdonnais found the refutation and White was effectively lost by move ten.

McDonnell fared worse with White than his French adversary, however, winning a single game with the White pieces, the second decisive game of the match. La Bourdonnais had White through the first four games and was in a slightly worse position through each of the three draws that began the match. Nonetheless, he managed to win seven games with the White pieces through the course of 25 games.

My series on this match begins with "Three Fighting Draws" and then continues with a separate post for each game. Each post links to both the preceing and the following one. Game 23 was posted in "Pawn Structure Chess".

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [C23]
London m1 London (24), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.b4 Bxb4 4.f4

Black to move

This shift from the Evans Gambit to something akin to the King's Gambit cannot be good.

4...d5 5.exd5

5.Bxd5 seems worse. 5...Nf6.


This pawn becomes a problem for White. La Bourdonnais seems to have found the essential refutation. I have found this position only in one other game, Mongredien -- Morphy 1859. Morphy, however, managed only a draw.

6.Ne2 Nf6 7.0–0

Mongredien played 7.c3, probably White's only hope for equality.

7...0–0 8.Nbc3



This move threatens Qb6, and also helps Black gain control of d5.

8...Bg4 is less effective 9.Qe1 Black's pins on the White knights offer no prospects of advantage.

9.dxc6 Nxc6

White to move

Black's pieces seem better posted.

10.Kh1 Bg4

Black has a decisive advantage, but there is some work necessary to achieve the victory. McDonnell has proven himself a stubborn opponent who can generate counterplay even in terrible positions.


11.Bb2 might have been a good try. 11...Rc8 White's light-squared bishop is an important defensive piece and is vulnerable to attack. (11...e3? 12.dxe3 and White gains a pawn.) 12.Qe1 Na5 13.Bb5 (13.Bb3 Bxe2 14.Nxe2 Bxd2 15.Qd1 Ng4) 13...a6 14.Ba4 Nc4.




12.a3 may be better 12...Ba5 (12...exd2 13.Bxd2) 13.dxe3 Ne4 14.Bb2 Qb6 15.Rb1 Qxe3.

12...Bxe2 13.Bxe2 Ne4

White to move

White is losing a piece.

14.Bb2 Qa5

Simply piling more pieces on the pinned knight.

15.Bd3 Bxc3 16.Bxc3 Nxc3

16...Qxc3? 17.Bxe4


With a hopelessly lost position, White can at least threaten checkmate.

17...f5 18.Rf3 Ne4 19.Rh3

Black to move

There is no checkmate threat here, but perhaps White can draw if Black becomes careless.


19...Rad8? 20.Qxh7+ Kf7 21.Bc4+ Kf6 22.Qh4+ Kg6 23.Qh7+ Kf6 24.Qh4+=.

20.Rf1 Qc5 21.Qh5

Threatening the knight on e4.

21...Qd6 22.g4 Rae8 23.Bc4+ Kh7

White to move


24.gxf5!? Nd2 (24...Nf6?? 25.Qg6+ Kh8 26.Rxh6+ gxh6 27.Rg1 Rg8 28.Qxh6+ Nh7 29.Rxg8+ Rxg8 30.Qxd6).

24...Na5 25.gxh6 g6

Putting an end to White's threats.

26.Qe2 Nxc4 27.Qxc4 Nd2 28.Qc3

Yet another checkmate threat.

Black to move


And White's little games are finished.

28...Nxf1 29.Qg7#.

29.Qxc6 bxc6 30.Rd1 Rd8 0–1

McDonnell would lose with Black in the final game of the first match. See "A Powerful Pawn".

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