31 July 2014

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

First Match, Game Fourteen

The ChessBase database contains 110 games of Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835). He was described shortly after his death as "the best English player," although he was born in Belfast (see image). Of these games, 85 were played against a single opponent, Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840). Their match, or rather series of six matches, was the first match between two masters in which the games were recorded and published.

Title Page from Walker (click on image to emlarge)
William Greenwood Walker, secretary to the Westminster Chess Club, recorded the games and published them in A Selection of Games at Chess (London: 1836), a book now widely available free through Google Books. Walker's text includes many games played at odds which are absent from the ChessBase database.

As near as I have verified so far, the games in the ChessBase database are sequenced in the same order as this book. However, game 14 is not in Walker's text. Rather, he offers, "The Fourteenth game is not preserved, it was not a good game" (155).

Chess Skills blog is following this historic match that took place 180 years ago. I am studying the games with some reference to databases, limited reference to the comments of other players, and no reference to engine evaluations. My analysis certainly contains errors. My principle goal is personal training in tactics, strategy, and analytic skill. This personal study journal, however, may be of interest to other chess enthusiasts. Indeed, comments posted on some of my previous posts confirms that it is.

There is a very good book on this historic match: Cary Utterberg, De la Bourdonnais versus McDonnell, 1834 (2005). Utterberg offers a narrative of the historical milieu, a compendium of comments on the games by other chess writers, and his own analysis. Of particular interest, perhaps, is Utterberg's summation of the state of opening theory when the match took place. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of Utterberg's book, but base my understanding of its contents and merits upon Utterberg's website and reviews o which it links. Utterberg's own critique of certain errors in the text, which was published as a ChessCafe article ("Errata and Punishment") serves to convince me of his skills as an historian.

My post, "Morning Coffee," contains my analysis of game 13. My series on the match begins with "Three Fighting Draws." Each post on this match contains a link to the next in the series. At my current pace, it will require many months longer than I anticipated when I determined to work through all of McDonnell's game. I may well own a copy of Utterberg's book before I finish.

According to Walker, the first match consisted of 21 games. Draws did not count towards this total. There were four draws in the first match.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [B21]*
London m1 London (14), 1834

1.e4 c5 2.f4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.e5 Nc6 5.c3 f6 6.Na3 Nh6 7.Nc2 Qb6 8.d4 Bd7

Bourdonnais makes small refinements to his opening play.

White to move


McDonnell continues to repeat errors that brought pain in previous games. This move weakens d4.

9.Bd3 0–0–0 10.0–0 Be8 11.Qe1 c4 12.Be2 Bg6 13.Ne3 Nf5 14.b3 cxb3 15.axb3 Qxb3 16.Bd1 Qb6 17.exf6 gxf6 18.Ng4 Bg7 19.Qxe6+ Kb8 20.Nxf6 Ncxd4 21.Nxd4 Bxf6 22.Qxb6 axb6 ½–½ Prosviriakov,V (2307)--Rozanov,P (2304) Moscow 2013

9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Bb4+ 11.Kf2

I commented on this king hike in "De La Bourdonnais Evens the Score."

11.Bd2 also leads to the loss of a pawn. 11...Nxd4 12.Nxd4 Qxd4 13.Bxb4 Qxb4+ 14.Qd2 Qxd2+ 15.Kxd2 0–0

11...0–0 12.Kg3 fxe5 13.fxe5

To McDonnell's credit, however, he is not yet down a pawn. Perhaps, he considered his own refinements an improvement.


The bishop aims at h5 and thence f3. Black increases the pressure on d4.

White to move


14.b3 seems worse 14...Bc3 15.Rb1 and d4 will fall.
14.a3 offers prospects of securing White's center 14...Be7 15.b4 Bh5 16.Bb2 Bxf3 17.gxf3

14...Bh5 15.g4 Bg6 16.Bg2 Be4

When the knight on f3 disappears, the d-pawn will fall.

17.g5 Nf5 18.Nxf5 Rxf5 19.Be3

The d4 pawn gains another protector.

19...Bxf3 20.Bxf3

Black to move


The knight was also protecting e5.


21.dxe5 Qxe3 22.Rf1 Raf8 23.Kg2 Rxg5+ 24.Kh1 Black's advantage seems clear.

21...Nxg4 22.Qxg4 Raf8 23.Rhg1 Bd6

White to move


24.Raf1 is worse 24...Rxf1 25.Qxe6+ Kh8 26.Rxf1 Rxf1
24.Rg3 seems to be Whiute's most stubborn reply 24...Bxg3 25.hxg3 Qxb2 26.Rg1

24...Rf3+ 25.Kh4 

25.Rg3 Bxg3 26.hxg3 Rf1

25...R8f4 0–1

McDonnell went on to lose the next four games before finally winning a long battle. See "That Pin of f7" for game 15.

*In "Two Losses" I noted that C00 should be the ECO code. In fact, one of the games with this opening appears in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings at that code. The B21 that appears is preserved as I find it in the ChessBase database.

27 July 2014

Faltering Against the Dutch

My game against Jeremy Krasin did not go as planned. I did not win. In the Spokane Contenders Tournament, I had White against Jeremy. I also had White in 2012, winning that game and the event. At the end of the 2012 Spokane Contenders, I reached my highest ever USCF rating of 1982.

Stripes,James (1917) -- Krasin,Jeremy (1882) [A90]
Spokane Contenders Spokane, 24.07.2014

1.d4 e6!

Krasin offers me the White side of the French. As everyone in Spokane knows, the French is my main Black weapon against 1.e4. It might be expected that I prefer to avoid playing the White side. In fact, I play the White side with some frequency as I play 1.e4 as often as I play 1.d4.

If Krasin intends to play the Dutch Defense, this move has the virtue of preventing me from Playing the Raphael Dutch and the Staunton Gambit. My experience with the Raphael is well known by those who have observed the Spokane scene the past few years, and Krasin has played against it in several blitz games. He also lost to the Staunton Gambit in the 2012 Spokane Contenders.

2.g3 f5

Indeed, the Dutch was his plan.

3.c4 Nf6 4.Nc3

4.Bg2 is more accurate.


White to move

Can White play 5.d5? I thought about it, and we looked at it after the game. I thought that 5...Bb4 would be Black's best response.


5.d5  was played by a master against an expert. That game continued 5...Bb4 6.Bg2 0–0 7.Bd2 e5 8.Nf3 Qe7 9.0–0 b6 10.a3 Bd6 11.e4 cxd5 12.exd5 e4 13.Nd4 Ne8 14.Qe2 Na6 15.b4 Be5 16.Be3 Qf6 17.Rad1 Bb7 18.Ncb5 Nd6 19.f4 exf3 20.Nxf3 1–0 Neubauer,M (2433)--Maia,J (2128) Rio de Janeiro 2011

5...d5 6.cxd5?!

My move scores poorly in the database. I played it to avoid the loss of the c-pawn--a beginner's error. If I'm unwilling to suffer the temporary loss of that pawn, I should not be playing the Queen's Gambit.

6.Nh3 appears to be most popular among strong players.
6.Nf3 is the most popular move in the database overall It has been played by Etienne Bacrot and Mihai Suba.
6.Bf4 has been played by Ivan Sokolov on more than one occasion.

6...exd5 7.Bg5

I would like to trade my dark-squared bishop for Black's knight or dark-squared bishop. But, I have some ambivalence concerning the trade for the knight.


I was feeling here that Black already had a slight advantage.

8.Nf3 0–0 9.Qc2

Black to move

9...Na6 10.a3

Preventing Nb4 is an exercise in chasing phantoms. But if a3 is a necessary part of my planned minority attack, then perhaps it is not a wasted move.

10...Nc7 11.0–0 Ne6 12.Bd2 Ne4

It is clear that Black has the iniative.

13.b4 Bf6 14.e3 g5

White to move

I spent a lot of time on this position and was not happy with any of my plans. I decided that I needed to secure f4 as a possible knight outpost, while also protecting my d-pawn.

I did consider 15.Nxe4 fxe4 16.Ne5 but thought that I would end up with a pawn on e5 that was hard to protect. As it turned out, I had such a pawn in any case, and I underestimated its dynamic potential.

15.Ne2 Bd7 16.a4 b6 17.Ne5 Bxe5 18.dxe5 Rc8 19.Bc1!

In retrospect, from the end of the game, this bishop proved to be valuable.

19...g4 20.a5

20.Rd1 should have been considered.

20...Qe8 21.Nf4 N6g5

White to move


22.axb6! axb6 23.Bb2 and White may gain the iniative. The pawn on e5 sticks in the middle of Black's forces, preventing many arrangements of his pieces that might be useful for exploiting the apparent weaknesses around the White king. My fears about Nf3+ and a Black pawn taking up residence on f3 in preparation for Black's queen penetrating along the h-file appear unfounded.

22...gxf3 23.Bxf3 Nxf3+ 24.Rxf3 Ng5 25.Rf2 Qxe5 26.Qb2

Black to move


During the game, I thought 26...Qe4 might continue to cause me grief. Krasin and I looked at a few lines following this move during the post-mortem.

27.Bxb2 b5 28.Kg2 Rce8 29.Bd4 a6 30.Rc1 Ne6 31.Nxe6

31.Nd3 is a move preferred by Stockfish.

31...Rxe6 32.Rf4 Re4 33.Rcf1 Kf7 

White to move

34.Rxe4 dxe4 35.Rd1 Ke8 36.Bc5 Rf6 37.Kf2 Rg6 38.Rd6 Rxd6 ½–½

It is clear that I need more weapons against the classical Dutch. The Raphael is insufficient.

After this game, my only chance to play in the City Championship was to win my last two games and also get help from David Dussome, who would need at least a draw against Michael Cambareri. Alas, I lost to Cambareri the next day, giving him clear first in the Contenders Tournament. Had he then beaten Dussome, his chances of going over 2000 with his rating was quite good. He lost to Dussome. Dussome thus beat the top two rated players in this event.

I have one game remaining in the event.

23 July 2014

Find the Blow

There is a nice miniature won by Viktor Kortchnoi that I sometimes attempt to imitate with rare success.

Tatai,Stefano (2455) - Kortschnoj,Viktor (2665) [C01]
Beersheba, 1978

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 c5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Qe2+ Be7 7.dxc5 Nf6 8.h3 0–0 9.0–0 Bxc5 10.c3 Re8 11.Qc2 Qd6 12.Nbd2 Qg3 13.Bf5 Re2 14.Nd4 Nxd4 0–1

The pin of f2 and the advance of White's h-pawn allows the queen to occupy g3. In a recent online blitz game, I found myself in a nice position, but could not find the knockout blow.

Black to move

22 July 2014

Morning Coffee

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

When I get up in the morning, I prepare coffee with fresh ground beans and turn on my computer. During the past month, coffee time has been occupied with study of games from the first match between Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840).

McDonnell's sixth consecutive loss was the subject of "Weakened King," posted Saturday. I have been going through game thirteen repeatedly for the past three mornings. It was a long endgame with a minor piece imbalance and an extra pawn for La Bourdonnais. McDonnell managed to hold the position and drew.

The players opened with their Sicilian/French hybrid. La Bourdonnais quickly gained an advantage employing moves that have become one of the main lines in the advance variation of the French. He won the d4 pawn, and most of the pieces were swapped off fairly quickly.

Spotting McDonnell's errors in the opening is not too difficult. But, I was not able to find a clear route to victory for La Bourdonnais. I am confident that his position would be winning in the hands of Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, or Vladimir Kramnik.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [B21]
London m1 London (13), 1834

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

7.exf6 gxf6 would please me as Black.
7.Bb5 might have been worth considering. 7...Bd7 8.d4


Continuing to improve, La Bourdonnais brings the queen here earlier than in game nine. Black has significant pressure on d4 before the pawn steps there.

8.d4 cxd4

White to move


White's best option is probably 9.Ncxd4 fxe5 10.fxe5 Nf7 11.Bb5 Bc5 12.b4 Bxd4 13.Bxc6+ Qxc6 14.Qxd4 0–0 Komliakov,V (2463)--Yagupov,I (2482) Moscow 2000 and Black won in 41 moves.

I would have played 14.cxd4.

9...Bb4+ 10.Nxb4

10.Bd2 also loses a pawn 10...Bxd2+ 11.Qxd2 Qxb2 12.Bd3.

10...Qxb4+ 11.Kf2

11.Bd2 was an interesting alternative with some danger for Black 11...Qxb2 12.Bd3 Bd7

(White wins material after 12...Nxd4 13.Qa4+ Bd7 14.Qxd4 Qxd4 15.Nxd4 fxe5 16.fxe5 Nf7 17.Bf4)

11.Qd2 seems best 11...Qxd2+ 12.Bxd2 fxe5 13.fxe5 0–0 14.Bc3 with material equality.

11...0–0 12.a3 Qb6 13.Kg3

The king is not safe on g1.

13...Nxd4 14.Nxd4 Qxd4 15.Qxd4 Nf5+ 16.Kh3 Nxd4 17.b4 fxe5 18.fxe5 Nc6 19.Bb2

Black to move

Black is clearly better, but how can Black convert the win?

If White would willingly swap all of the pieces, then Black easily wins pawn wars. As the game developed, however, we see that McDonnell was happy to eliminate the rooks, but then hung on to his two bishops. Black's king was not able to join the battle until most of the remining pawns had been swapped.

19...Rf7 20.Rb1 Bd7 21.Bd3 Raf8

We are told to seize the open file, but trading rooks may not be the best road to victory.

I looked at 21...a5 22.b5 Ne7 23.Rhf1and Black faces a choice that is no more clear than the game.

I also examined 21...Ne7 22.Rhf1 Nf5 23.g4 Ne3 24.Rxf7 Kxf7 25.Re1 Nc4 when it is not clear that the knight is any more effective.

22.Rhf1 a6 23.Kg3

Black to move


23...Ne7 was an alternative 24.Rxf7 Rxf7 25.Rf1 Nf5+ 26.Kf3 Nh4+ 27.Kg4 Rxf1 28.Bxf1 Nf5

24.Rxf1 Rxf1 25.Bxf1 Ne7 26.Bd3 Be8 

I still want to play 26...Nf5+

27.Kf4 Bg6 28.Be2 Be4 29.g3 Kf7 30.Bd1 h6 31.h4 Nf5 32.h5 Ne7 33.g4

Black to move

Black's king is unable to join the fight

33...Ke8 34.Bd4 g6

La Bourdonnais opens the board a little through the exchange of pawns. Although White's bishops like open positions, the Black king, too, must join the fight if the extra pawn is to have any significance.

35.hxg6 Nxg6+ 36.Kg3 Bd3 37.Ba4+ Ke7 38.Bd1 Kf7 39.Ba4 Ne7 40.Kh4

Black to move

In order for Black's king to break through on the kingside, it needs g6. However, the knight must occupy that square to threaten e5 (keeping White's bishop from controlling g5) and to drive White's king back from h4. Black must seek another plan.

40...b5 41.Bd1 Nc6

Black seeks to create an opening on the queenside.

42.Bb2 Kg6 43.Kg3 a5

43...Kg5 is parried with 44.Bc1+

44.bxa5 Nxa5 45.Kf4 Nc4 46.Bc1 Bb1 47.Bb3 Bd3 48.Bd1 Kf7 49.Bb3

Black to move

49...d4 50.a4 bxa4 51.Bxa4 Ke7 

Black's king heads for the queenside.

52.Bb3 Na5

52...Kd7 53.Bxc4 Bxc4 54.Ke4 should be a dead draw.

53.Bd1 Bg6 54.Bd2 Nc4 55.Bb4+ Kf7

The king changes his course. His anticipated prospects of breaking through on the queenside seem less promising. McDonnell's bishops compensate for the one pawn deficit.


Black to move

56...d3 57.Bc3 d2 58.Bd1 Kg7 59.Kf3 h5

La Bourdonnais sets a trap.

59...Bh7 does not lead to progress. 60.Ke2 Kg6 61.Bc2+ Kg7


60.gxf5?? Bxh5+


The point of the trap: the threatened skewer allows the pawn to advance. Black has created a second passed pawn.

61.Bd4 Bb1 62.Kf3 Kg6 63.Ke2 Be4 64.Bf2 h3 65.Bg3

Black to move


After twenty-five moves of maneuvers and pawn exchanges, Black's king is finally able to occupy g5.

66.Bh2 Kxg4

With three pawns to one, and two of the pawns passed. How does Black fail to win this position.

67.Kf2+ Kf5 68.Ke2 Bd5 69.Kd3

Black to move


Exchanging pawns appears to be Black's only move here. The king cannot penetrate further, and nothing else can move.

70.Kxd2 Nc6

70...Nf3+ 71.Bxf3 Bxf3 72.Ke3 Kg4 73.Be5 and Black cannot prevent the bishop from shuffling between h2 and e5.

71.Ke3 e5 72.Kf2 Bg2 73.Kg3 Ke4 74.Bg4 Ke3

White to move

75.Bxh3 Bxh3 76.Kxh3 e4 77.Kg2 Ke2 

77...Kd2 78.Bf4+ Kd1 79.Be3 is still a draw.

78.Bf4 Ne7 79.Bg5 Nf5 80.Bf4 ½–½

As Magnus Carlsen might say, White's resources were adequate. McDonnell would lose the next game, his second consecutive White, in a mere twenty-five moves. He would then lose four more. Then Black would win six straight games as the adversaries traded wins.

19 July 2014

Weakened King

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

I have been working through all of the games of Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835). Most of his available games are from his series of matches with Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840). Bourdonnais won twice as many as McDonnell. In the first match, McDonnell led after game six. He then lost eleven of the next twelve games.

Chess Skills is following this match through a series of posts that began with "Three Fighting Draws" (30 June 2014).* We are now at game twelve. See "Losing Takes a Toll" for game eleven.

In game after game, it seems that McDonnell makes a small inaccuracy and then finds himself in a much worse position. Such is the case in game twelve.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [D20]
London m1 London (12), 1834

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Nf3 Bd6 7.0–0 0–0 8.Bg5 h6

Testing the resolve of the bishop.

8...Bg4 was possible here as well.


Black to move


Weakening the king's position.

9...Bg4 appears in many games today 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 g5 12.Bg3 Bxg3 13.Qxg3 Qxd4 14.Qb3 Nc6 15.Rd1 Qc5 16.Qc2 Kg7 and Black won in 63 moves Sergeev,V (2436)--Navara,D (2715) Pardubice 2013

10.Bg3 Bg4

10...Bxg3 is worse 11.fxg3 and White will have pressure along the f-file.

11.Nc3 Nc6

11...Nbd7 might have been sensible.

12.Qd3 Kg7

White's queen threatened to come in to g6, taking advantage of the pin on f7.

13.Ne5 Bxe5 14.dxe5 Nh5

14...Qxd3 is worse 15.exf6+ Kxf6 16.Bxd3+-


Black to move

White's forces are well-coordinated for attack on the somewhat vulnerable Black king.

15...Nxg3 16.Qxg3 Bh5 17.f4

Black to move


17...Nd4 may have been the last chance to fight on the kingside, although it leads to elimination of the king's pawn shield.

18.Nf6 Bg6 19.fxg5 Nf5 20.gxh6+ Nxh6 21.Nh5+ Kh8

(21...Kg8 loses quickly 22.Qxg6+ Kh8 23.Qg7#).

18.b3 Nxc4 19.bxc4 c6 20.Nf6 Qd4+ 21.Kh1 Bg6 22.Rad1 Qxc4

White to move

Instead of being down a pawn, McDonnell has a one pawn advantage. However, now all White's pieces are coming after his king. La Bourdonnais demonstrates skill in bringing home the point.

23.f5 Bh7 24.Nd7 Rfd8 25.e6!

Beginners, and even sixteenth century masters, would have played 25.f6+. La Bourdonnais, however, perceives that the battle will conclude when he gains full control of the seventh rank.

In the previous century, François-André Danican Philidor extolled the power of pawns. He advocated arranging the pieces behind them so they are well-supported and then thrusting them forward with decisive results. For Philidor, the pawns were of such importance that he frequently sacrificed the exchange in order to create a pair of pawns with a chance to advance.

Philidor's ideas were not widely accepted by the chess masters of his day. Indeed, it is commonplace among chess historians to assert that Philidor's ideas were largely neglected until the development of modern theory by Wilhelm Steinitz and his contemporaries. If so, it may be fair to say that La Bourdonnais was decades ahead of his time.

La Bourdonnais demonstrates effective pawn play in many of the games in this series of matches. In this game, he shows that a strong pawn on the sixth rank may advance with decisive results when it is supported from the side, rather than the rear as Philidor advocated.

25...f6 26.Qc7

The queen penetrates to the seventh rank

26...Rdc8 27.Qxb7

....and grabs a pawn.

Black to move


McDonnell will eliminate the pesky queen.


A rook will replace the queen.

28...Qxb7 29.Rxb7 Kh8

McDonnell's king flees the dangerous seventh rank.


Another pawn falls, and Bourdonnas threatens checkmate in one.


The only move.


The other rook prepares to occupy the seventh rank


McDonnell would like to trade rooks.

32.Rdd7 Rxd7 33.Rxd7 g4

33...Rb8 34.Kg1

34.Kg1 a5

White to move

35.e7 1–0

McDonnell's expertise using the bishop pair to overcome a one pawn deficit will put an end to the losing streak in the next game (see "Morning Coffee").

*I am using databases and occasional reference to articles on these games, such as Paul Morphy's series in the New York Ledger (1859). However, I am leaving my chess engines off during my analysis. Consequently, I almost certainly will miss some tactics.

18 July 2014

Losing takes a Toll

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

Alexander McDonnell won his first game with the White pieces in his first match with Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais. After that success, however, he lost nine and had one draw with the White pieces. All the rest of his wins were from the Black side. Game ten can be found in the post, "Small Errors".

In game eleven, White was already worse after ten moves.

White to move
After 10...Rb8
Black's forces are better mobilized and his king is more secure. How did White get himself into such a position?

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [C33]
London m1 London (11), 1834

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

6.Nf3 is playable, but McDonnell's move seems more popular and is sound.

6...d6 7.Be2?!

This retreat or redeployment of the bishop seems out of character for the King's Gambit. It appears to be unique to this game. Perhaps McDonnell experienced a moment of panic as a consequence of losing a string of games. Perhaps this panic put him in a defensive mood. If he did, he bounced back two moves later, but not in a way that was helpful to his cause.

7.Nf3 would be played by Anderssen and others. Anderssen's score from this position, however, is less than enviable. Black's set-up appears to have neutralized the King's Gambit.

7...Nc6 8.e5 Nge7 9.Nb5?

This move strikes me as a premature attack. Black's queen and pawns are capable of doing damage on the kingside. White should drive the queen back and bring the rest of his pieces into a battle for the center.

9...0–0 10.Nxc7 Rb8

We reach the diagram position above. White has gained back the sacrificed pawn. But Black's forces are better mobilized and his king is more secure.


11.exd6? Bxd4

11...Qh6 12.exd6 Nf5

White to move


I might have tried 13.Kg1. However, Black is clearly better after 13...Ncxd4 14.c3 Nxe2+ 15.Qxe2 Qxd6 16.Nb5 Qb6+ 17.Nbd4 Nxd4 18.cxd4 Bxd4+ 19.Nxd4 Qxd4+.

13...Ng3+ 14.hxg3 Qxh1+ 15.Kf2 fxg3+ 16.Kxg3

It is beginning to appear that g3 is McDonnell's favorite square for the White king. Perhaps he needs an opening where he gets a chance to castle.

16...Qxd1 17.Bxd1 h6

White to move


McDonnell eems to have the idea to secure the pawn on d6. However, I think that this is another weakening move.

I might have tried 18.d5 Na5 19.Ba4 a6 or 18.Be3 f5 19.Bb3+ Kh7 20.Kh2 f4 21.Bd2.

18...b5 19.Be3

19.Ba3 b4 20.cxb4 Nxd4

19...f5 20.d5?!

Perhaps 20.Bd2 was best.

20...f4+ 21.Kh2 fxe3 22.dxc6 g4

White to move


At first glance, 23.d7 looks strong. However, after 23...gxf3 24.Bxf3 Bxd7 25.cxd7 Bxc3 26.Rc1 Black's material advantage is greater than it was in the game.

23...Be5+ 24.Kg1 Bxd6 25.Ncxb5 Bc5 26.b4 Bb6 27.Nd6 Bxd4 28.cxd4 Rxb4 29.Nxc8 Rxc8 30.d5 Kf7 31.Bb3 Ke7 32.Kf1 Re4 33.Ke2 Rf8

White to move


Black also should win easily after 34.Rf1 Rxf1 35.Kxf1 Kd6 36.Ke2 h5 37.g3

34...Re5 35.Re1 Kd6 36.Rxe3 Rxe3+ 37.Kxe3 h5 38.Ke4 h4 39.Bd1 h3 40.gxh3 gxh3 41.Bf3

Black to move

41...h2 42.Bg2 Rf1! 0–1

La Bourdonnais illustrates how to convert an advantage gained through anemic opening play by one's opponent. Continue reading about the next game of the match in "Weakened King".

16 July 2014

Small Errors

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

Down 4-2 plus three draws (not counted), Alexander McDonnell continued his losing streak in the tenth game (see "Two Losses" for games eight and nine). His response to the Queen's Gambit gave him a difficult position, but one where he might have held. Alas, Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais continued to give him small problems to solve and he eventually found himself a pawn down in a knight ending.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [D20]
London m1 London (10), 1834

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3

Modern databases contain very few games with this position that precede the McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais matches. 3...b5 appears as early as Greco, and likely precedes him. 3...e5 appears in two games between George Atwood and Philidor. Although the Queen's Gambit had been long known, it was essentially a slightly unorthodox opening in the 1830s.


McDonnell offers a line where the queens come off quickly and both sides get pawn majorities.

4.dxe5 Qxd1+ 5.Kxd1

La Bourdonnais accepts the offer of a queenless middlegame, and then outplays McDonnell. It is our task to identify where McDonnell might have improved his play.

5...Nc6 6.f4 Be6 7.Bd2

This game is the only one in ChessBase Online that contains this move. The other thirteen games with the position after Black's sixth move are between class players. Black has done well. But play has been far from optimal in this small sample of games between relatively weak players.

7...Bc5 8.Nf3

Black to move


Preventing the knight's move to g5 is part of the effort to maintain the pawn on c4.

He might have tried 8...Rd8 9.Ng5 Bg4+ 10.Kc1 (10.Be2 Bxe2+ 11.Kxe2 Black's queenside majority balances White's central/kingside majority) 10...b5.

9.Nc3 Rd8

Threatening e3 by pinning its defender

10.Ke1 Nge7?

10...a6 merits consideration, as it may have been the last chance to avoid a one pawn deficit.


Black to move

White increases the pressure on c4.


11...a6 no longer saves the pawn. 12.Ne4 Bb4 13.Bxc4.


Both of Black's c-pawns are under attack.

12...Bxd2+ 13.Nxd2 Rd7 14.Bxc4 Bxc4 15.Rxc4

Black to move

White has a clear advantage

15...0–0 16.Nf3 Rfd8 17.Ke2 Nd5 18.Nbd4 Nxd4+

18...Na5 does not seem to help. 19.Rcc1.

19.Rxd4 c5

This move drives the rook back this moment, but it also creates a permanent weakness on d6.


Black to move


White's central pawns are stronger after 20...b5 21.Rhd1 Kf8 22.e4 Nb6 23.Rxd7 Rxd7 24.Rxd7 Nxd7 25.Kd3 Ke7.

21.a3 Rxd2+ 22.Nxd2 Nc6 23.Nc4

This knight prepares to occupy d6, athough the usefulness of this square is not entirely clear.


23...Kf8 24.Rd1 Ke7 25.Rxd8 Nxd8 26.g4 or Kd3 as in the game, and White still has the upper hand.

24.Rd1 Rxd1 25.Kxd1 Kf8 26.Ke2 Ke7 27.Kd3 Ke6 28.Ke4 Ne7 29.g4

Black to move

White's pawns now dominate the center of the board

29...g6 30.a4 f5+ 31.exf6 Kxf6 32.Ne5

The knight is placed even better on e5 than upon d6.


White to move

33.Nxg6! Nc8

33...Nxg6 34.f5+ Kf6 35.fxg6 Kxg6 36.h4 with an easy win for White.

34.f5+ Kd6 35.h4 Kc7 36.Ke5 Nd6 37.f6 a6 38.Ke6 b5 39.axb5 axb5 40.f7 Nxf7 41.Kxf7 Kd6 42.Nf4 c4 43.g5 hxg5 44.hxg5 b4 45.Ne2 1–0

It seems to me that McDonnell was strategically lost before move fifteen when he lost a pawn. The eleventh game is discussed in "Losing Takes its Toll".

15 July 2014

Two Losses

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

The first match between Alexander McDonnell and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais started well enough for the Irish player. He had a slight edge with Black through the first three games, then faltered in game four. Game five was his first effort with White. He managed to outplay his French adversary and even the score. In game six, McDonnell took the lead. Bourdonnais found an improvement to his defensive set-up in from game five in the seventh game, and evened the score.

This loss in game seven was the beginning of a six-game slump for McDonnell. In this post, I present the next two games. In the first, game eight, McDonnell's opening error creates weaknesses that La Bourdonnais exploits with vigor.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [D20]
London m1 London (8), 1834

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nc3

Many thousands of games have reached this position even though 3.Nc3 is White's fourth most popular choice.


White to move

In the five games in the ChessBase online database with this position, Black has managed a single draw.

4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c6

I think that 5...Nf6 is more in keeping with the needs of the position.

6.Nf3 Bd6

I still prefer 6...Nf6 7.Ne5 Bd6

7.e4 b5 8.Bb3 a5

8...Nf6 now fails: 9.e5


I might have played 9.0–0

9...exf5 10.0–0 a4

Again, there was an opportunity to play 10...Nf6

White to move

11.Bxg8! Rxg8

Black's king will remain stuck in the center.

12.Bg5 Qc7 13.Qe2+ Kf8 14.Rfe1 Kf7 15.Rac1

Black to move

White threatens 16.Nxb5

15...Qb7 16.d5 h6

16...cxd5 17.Nxb5

17.dxc6 Qa6 18.Nxb5 hxg5 19.Nxd6+

Black's game has become hopeless.

19...Kg6 20.Ne5+ Kf6 21.Qh5

Black to move


21...Be6 22.Qg6+ Ke7 23.Nef7 Qc8 24.Nxc8+ Ke8 25.Qxe6+ Kf8 26.Qe7#.
21...Rf8 22.Qg6+ Ke7 23.Qxg7+ Kd8 24.c7#.

22.Qh7 Be6 23.Nxg6 Nxc6 24.Rxc6 Qd3 25.Qe7+ Kxg6 26.Rxe6+ Kh5 27.Qh7+ Kg4 28.Rc4+ f4

28...Qxc4 29.f3+ Kf4 30.Qxf5#

29.h3+ Qxh3 30.Qxh3# 1–0

McDonnell was never in the game. Rather, this game almost resembles the sort of master vs. amateur games that one finds in Max Euwe's classic work of that name, the early chapters of Irving Chernev, Logical Chess, and many other instructional texts. La Bourdonnais did a good job of exploiting McDonnell's positional errors.

The next game continues the players's exploration of a French/Sicilian hybrid. La Bourdonnais's improvement from game seven leaves McDonnell searching for the correct response. He does not find it in this game.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [B21]*
London m1 London (9), 1834

1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.c3 f6 6.Na3 Nh6 7.Nc2 Nf7 8.d4 Qb6

White to move


I think that the knight is well placed on c2.

One other game in the ChessBase database reached the diagram position: 9.Bd3! McDonnell would eventually find this move in a similar position. 9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Nb4 11.Nxb4 Bxb4+ 12.Bd2 Bd7 13.Bxb4 Qxb4+ 14.Qd2 Qxd2+ 15.Kxd2 0–0 16.Rac1 Rac8 17.Rxc8 Rxc8 18.Rc1 Rxc1 19.Kxc1=  Glek,I (2460) -- Schenderowitsch,M (2300) Gladenbach 2013

Glek went on to win after a long endgame (94 moves).

9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Bb4+ 11.Kf2

11.Bd2 would have been possible had the knight maintained his post on c2.

11...fxe5 12.fxe5 0–0

Black's king does not need the security anytime soon, but this move applies pressure down the f-file.


Black to move


La Bourdonnais prepares a sacrifice in order to expose the vulnerable White king.His position is better, but is his plan the best manner for converting a good position into a win?


This move, often made in aggression, here serves principally as a defensive maneuver. The king needs a light square.


This sacrifice, however, shows that Black is able to play on the light squares as well as the dark.

15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.Kh3

For the cost of a knight, Black has two central, passed pawns.

16.Nxe5? Qxe5+ 17.Kh3 Bd6 and Black's attack looks decisive.


One passed pawn is enough for La Bourdonnais, especially as it leaves White's kingside pawns isolated. The White king's vulnerability is strong compensation for the sacrificed material.

16...Ng6 looks at least as good to my eyes. Perhaps there are other ways that Black can build up the pressure.

17.gxf3 d4

White to move


18.Ng2 seems worse 18...e5+ 19.Kh2 e4+.

18...h5 19.Nf2 Qe5

As Black, I might have preferred 19...e5+ 20.Kg2.

20.Bd3 Bd6

Threatening checkmate.

21.Ne4 Bc7

21...Qf5+ 22.Kg2 Qg6+ 23.Kf2.

22.Kg2 Bd7 23.f4 

Black to move

Is White's last move fatal? Black's attack seems to be running out of steam, but this move weakens g4.

23...Qf5 24.Ng5 Bc6+ 25.Kg1 Qg4+

Black provokes an exchange of queens. It is not clear that he is winning after his sacrifice, however.

26.Qxg4 hxg4 27.Rh2 Bd5

White to move


This move weakens g5. I prefer 28.Re2.


Another sacrifice of material. If La Bourdonnais's sacrifices are sound, this game is on par with some of those of Adolf Anderssen two decades later. Maybe it is on par even if they are unsound. Many of Anderssen's attacks would have faltered with proper defense.

29.Bxf4 Bxf4 30.Ne4

Black has three pawns for a rook, but again that includes two central passed pawns. If these are able to advance down the chessboard, they could prove decisive.

30...Be3+ 31.Kg2 Rf8

White to move


Was 32.Re1 a better try?

a) 32...Rf4 33.Rxe3 returning the sacrificed material to weaken the passed pawns. Perhaps White can hold. 33...dxe3.
b) 32...Rf2+ 33.Kg3.

32...Rf5! 33.Rhh1 Re5

Black now seems to have a clear advantage, as he will regain the sacrificed material while hanging on to his passed central pawns.

34.Kg3 Bxe4 35.Bxe4 Rxe4

White to move

Black has won back the sacrificed material. White can resign with no additional loss of dignity.

36.Rh4 e5 37.Rxg4 Bf4+ 38.Kf3 Re3+ 39.Kf2 d3

The pawns start to roll.


40.Re1 d2 41.Rd1 Rh3! 42.Rxf4 exf4 43.Rxd2 Rh2+ 44.Ke1 Rxd2 45.Kxd2 Kh7.

40...Re2+ 41.Kf3 Bh6 42.Re4 Rxb2 43.Rxe5 Rxa2 44.Kg4 d2 45.Rd5 Rc2 46.Rg3 b5

White to move


47.Rxb5 d1Q+

47...Rc1 48.Kf5 Kh7

48...d1Q 49.Rxd1;
48...a5 49.Kg6 Rc8 50.Rd8+ Rxd8 51.Rxd8#.

49.Rxd2 Bxd2 50.Rxd2 a5 0–1

After nine games, McDonnell has two wins and four losses. Most telling, however, is that La Bourdonnais is beginning to dominate the opening phase of the game. "Small Errors" hones in on game ten.

*In my opinion, C00 is the correct ECO code for this game. Indeed, a later game from their matches is given as a comment in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings: C00/01.