31 August 2014


McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

In game twenty of their first match, Alexander McDonnell sacrificed development for material gain. Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais took advantage of this error to launch a decisive attack against White's vulnerable king. McDonnell (1798-1835) was the top player in England in the 1830s. La Bourdonnais (1795-1840) had been France's strongest player for a decade. They met for the match at the Westminster Chess Club in London.

Chess Skills has an ongoing series featuring all of the games in the first match. The series begins with "Three Fighting Draws". My comments on game 19 are in "After a Long Drought ...". My annotations on these games are an element in my own chess training. I am not using chess engines to check my analysis, and make only very limited reference to the work of other commentators.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [C33]
London m1 London (20), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1 d6 5.d4 Bg4

5...g5 was La Bourdonnais' choice in other games.


I prefer 6.Nf3.


White to move


Employing a tactic that appears in some of the oldest chess books, McDonnell seizes the opportunity to win a pawn or two.

7.Nf3 might still be worth playing.

7...Kxf7 8.Qb3+ Kg6 9.Qxb7 Nxd4!

Offering the rook may have been a surprising move to the British player.

9...Rc8 10.Qxc6 with a one pawn advantage for White.

10.Qxa8 Nf6

White to move

White has won the exchange, but most of Black's pieces are in play.

11.Na3 f3 12.g3

12.Nxf3 Bxf3 13.gxf3 Qh3+.

12...Bh3+ 13.Ke1

13.Nxh3? Qxh3+ 14.Ke1 Qg2.
13.Kf2 Ng4+ 14.Ke1 f2+.

13...Qg4 14.Be3 d5 15.Qxa7

15.Bxd4 loses the queen. 15...Bb4+ 16.c3 Rxa8.

15...Nc6 16.Qxc7 d4

White to move


17.Nxh3 does not seem better 17...dxe3 18.Nf4+ Kh6 19.Qxc6 f2+ 20.Kf1 Qf3.
17.Bf2 may hold 17...Qxe4+ 18.Kd1.

17...Qxe4+ 18.Kd1 f2 19.Nxh3 Qf3+ 20.Kc1 Qxh1+ 0–1

McDonnell will win the next game.

26 August 2014

After a Long Drought ...

McDonnell Wins!

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

Down eleven wins to two, Alexander McDonnell scored his third win in the match in game 19. McDonnell (1798-1835) agreed to play a match of twenty-one games, draws not counting, against Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840), the undisputed champion of France (and presumably of Europe). The match, the first of six between these two contestants, was played at the Westminister Chess Club in London. William Greenwood Walker, the club secretary, recorded the games as they were played.

I am going through all of the games in this match, annotating them for this blog. I am not checking my analysis with a chess engine, so errors should be expected. It is my belief that the games between these two players are a rich source of instructive positions for my teaching of youth players, and also offer plenty of material of value to an A Class player seeking to improve his skill. My peak USCF rating of 1982 was achieved two years ago, and is currently slightly more than 100 below that. I will rise again. When I do, I will credit my teachers McDonnell and La Bourdonnais.

My series on this match begins with "Three Fighting Draws". I discuss game 18 in "Attack and Counterattack".

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [C23]
London m1 London (19), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Qe2 d6 4.d3 Nf6 5.h3

5.Nf3 seems better 5...Bg4?! 6.h3

5...Nc6 6.c3

Black to move


The knight heads to g6, where it asserts influence over f4. This move also prepares c7-c6 and d6-d5.

6...Be6 was played in the two other games that reached this position. Those games were among players whose rating place them in the weak expert category (or Candidate Master). Which move is best? The respective rating of the players does not answer this question. But, it does raise a question: If McDonnell and La Bourdonnais had chess ratings, how would these compare to today's players?

They were the best in their day, but they did not benefit from the established theory that is now the common possession even of most average club players. Rather, their match became one of the important foundations of that theory. Edo Historical Chess Ratings puts McDonnell at a little over 2500 and La Bourdonnais in the mid-2600s.


A prophylactic retreat.

7...Ng6 8.g3

I don't like this move, and prefer 8.Nf3. Play might continue8...Nf4 9.Bxf4 exf4 10.d4 Bb6 with equal chances for both sides.

8...c6 9.f4?! exf4 10.gxf4

10.d4 Bb6 11.Bxf4


McDonnell gets a clear adavantage for the first time in many games.

11.Rxg1 Bxh3 12.f5 Ne5

White to move


13.Rxg7 seems more active 13...Bg4 14.Qe3 Nf3+ 15.Kf2 Bh5
(15...Rf8 16.Nd2)
16.Nd2 Nxd2
(16...Ng4+ 17.Rxg4 Bxg4 18.Nxf3 Bxf3 19.Qxf3 White is better)
17.Bxd2 Ng4+ 18.Rxg4 Bxg4.

13.d4 is not an improvement 13...Bg4
(13...Neg4 14.Rh1)
14.Qe3 Nf3+ 15.Kf2 Nxg1 16.Kxg1 Qe7 with clear superiority for Black.

13...Bg4 14.Qg2 h5 15.d4 Ned7 16.Bg5 Qb6 17.Nd2 0–0 18.Bf4

18.Nc4 Qc7 19.Ne3

18...d5 19.e5 Rfe8 20.Be3 [20.Nf3 Bxf3 21.Qxf3 Ne4 22.Rh3] 20...h4 21.Rxg4 Nxg4 22.Qxg4

Black to move

22...Nxe5! 23.dxe5 Qxe3+ 24.Kd1 Rxe5

Black has a technical win.

25.Kc2 Qg3

25...Qh6 26.Rg1 Rae8 White's minor pieces seem tied down.


Black to move


26...Rxf5 seems possible. 27.Rg1 Qe5 28.Qxh4 Rh5

27.Qxh4 Qh6 28.Qxh6 gxh6 29.Rf1 f6 30.c4

Perhaps White can play on with 30.Kd1 Rae8 31.Bc2 Kg7 32.Nf3 Re3 33.Nd4 h5 34.Ne6+ Kf7

30...Kf7 31.cxd5 cxd5

Black has two passed pawns.

32.Kd3 Rg8 

White to move

The rook occupies an open file, but there are dangers along the diagonal.


With the idea to play 34.Ne4


Stepping out of danger.


34.Ne4?? dxe4+

34...Rg3 35.Kd4 Kd6 36.Bd1

36.Nxe5?? fxe5#

36...b5 37.b4 a6 38.a4 h5 39.axb5 axb5

White to move

White is nearly in zugzwang. The bishop is the only piece that can move. When was this concept first articulated by chess writers?


40.Nh4 Ree3 41.Bc2 (41.Bxh5 Rd3#) 41...Re2 42.Bb1 Rd2+ 43.Bd3 Rdxd3#.

40...Re2 41.Bd3 Rb2 42.Ke3 Rg4

Black forces White's rook off the board, rendering the b-pawn vulnerable.

43.Nd4 Rxf4 44.Kxf4 Rxb4 45.Ke3 Kc5 46.Ne6+ Kb6 47.Nf4

Black to move


McDonnell demonstrates his mastery of endgame principles. The bishop cannot stop three passed pawns.

48.Kxf4 Kc5 49.Be2 h4 50.Kg4 b4 51.Kxh4 Kd4 52.Kg3 b3 53.Bd1 b2 54.Bc2 Ke3 0–1

McDonnell's technique converting the advantage is worthy of emulation.

In game 20, McDonnell would lose quickly after chasing a material advantage (see "Materialism").

22 August 2014

Failure in the French

Looking through my database, I found this abysmal failure in the classical French. I had begun the process of switching from the Sicilian to the French two or three years before this game, which was played in an online USCF rated tournament.

Bennett,Thomas G (1868) -- Stripes,James (1565) [C11]
GCS 10 5 USCF Quick #2 GCS, 19.01.2006

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3

Black to move


On Sunday, I played 7...cxd4. 7...a6 is slightly more popular than 7...cxd4.

8.a3 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxb2??

White to move

A stupid, game losing blunder.

9...Bc5 was the correct move. I have played 9...Nxd4 is a few blitz games, usually exchanging quickly into a hopeless endgame where I have a bad bishop against a strong knight.

10.Na4 Bb4+ 11.Kf2 1–0

21 August 2014

Attack and Counterattack

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

In my series of blog posts on the matches between Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) and Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840), we have reached the eighteenth game of the first match. The match was scheduled for twenty-one games, draws not counting. La Bourdonnais has won the match with eleven wins. McDonnell has two wins and there have been four draws. Nonetheless, they continue the match until completing twenty-one decisive games.

I am going through the games without benefit of engine analysis. There are likely appaling errors in some of my analysis. The series begins with "Three Fighting Draws" (June 2014) and I discuss game seventeen in "Mating Attack".

In game eighteen, McDonnell again adopts the King's Bishop's Gambit as he had in game eleven (see "Losing Takes a Toll"). This opening would develop a strong reputation over the next several decades, although it is rarely played today. Adolf Anderssen's "Immortal Game" began as a King's Bishop's Gambit.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [C33]
London m1 London (18), 1834

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1 g5 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.d4 Nc6

An unusual move. More common is6...Ne7. One notable game continued 7.g3 fxg3 8.Kg2 d6 9.hxg3 Qg4 10.Qxg4 Bxg4 11.Bxg5 Capablanca,J--Allies, Philadelphia 1910. It ended as a draw in 29 moves.
La Bourdonnais played 6...d6 in three other games in these matches.

White to move


McDonnell's move is unique in the ChessBase database. It removes f6 from the undeveloped Black knight, but opens f5 for the same. This move also has the consequence that Black's d-pawn cannot be captured on d5. This move opens e4 for a White knight, which McDonnell will use soon.

The immediate  7.Nf3 is probably a better move. Play might continue 7...Qh5 8.Nd5 Kd8 9.Be2 Qg6 10.Nxg5 Qxg5 11.Bxf4 Qg6 12.Bxc7+ Ke8 13.Bh5 Qe6 14.Bg3 Nagibin,G (2392)--Logashov,S (2325) Moscow 2009. White won in 43 moves.

7...Nge7 8.Nf3 Qh5 9.Ne4 h6

White to move


McDonnell might have prepared his attack with 10.Qe2 Nf5

Here I looked at two ways to proceed:
a) 11.Nf6+ Bxf6 12.exf6+ Kd8 13.c3

b) 11.Nd6+ Nxd6 12.exd6+ Kd8 13.d5 (13.dxc7+ Kxc7 14.c3) 13...Ne5 14.Nxe5 Qxe2+ 15.Bxe2 Bxe5 16.dxc7+

He also might have tried 10.c3 Nf5 11.Kf2.

I am not certain if any of these lines are better than McDonnell's play in the game.

10...Bxf6 11.exf6 d5 12.Bd3 Nf5 13.Qe1+

13.c3 is an interesting alternative, which La Bourdonnais could meet with the simple 13... 0–0 or the double-edged 13...Ng3+!? 14.Kg1 Nxh1 15.Qe2+ Be6 16.Bf5 0–0 17.Bxe6 fxe6 18.Qxe6+ Kh7 19.Qf5+ Kh8 20.Bxf4! Here White appears to have compensation for the sacrificed material.

Analysis diagram after 20.Bxf4
13...Kd8 14.Ne5

14.c3 Ng3+


14...Ng3+ 15.Kg1 Nxh1 16.Nxc6+ bxc6? 17.Qe7#.

15.c3 Nxe5 16.Qxe5 Nc6 17.Qxd5+ Ke8

White to move



McDonnell missed a simple pin, or he rejected it for the gain of material in the game.

18...Be6 19.Re1.

18...Be6 19.Bxc6+ Kf8 20.Qc5+ Kg8 21.Bf3 Qg6

White has more material on the board, but how will the rooks come into play? How will the dark-squared bishop participate in the battle?


The effort to defend the f-pawn proves costly. This move seems to me to be McDonnell's critical error.

22.Bd2 seems better to me with at least three ways for Black to proceed:

a) 22...Qxf6 23.Re1.

b) 22...b6 23.Qf2 Rd8 24.Rd1 g4 25.Bc6 Qxf6.

c) 22...Qd3+ 23.Ke1 Rd8 24.Qf2 g4 25.Bxb7.

White's chances seem to me better in each of these lines than they were in the game, although Black has seized the initiative in each case. White retains material superiority and may be able to defend against Black's counterattack.

22...c5 23.Qe5 Re8

White to move


Perhaps 24.Kf2 was necessary. Black's response might have been 24...Bd7 25.Qd5 Bc6 26.Qd2.

24...f3! 25.Kf2

25.Bxf3 Bc4+ 26.Kf2 Rxe5 and Black wins.

25...fxe2 26.Be3 b6 27.h4

27.Rhe1 Bd7 28.Qc7 Qf5+ 29.Kg1 Rxe3 and Black wins.

27...Bd7 28.Qd5 Qxf6+ 29.Kxe2 Bg4+ 30.Kd2 Rd8 0–1

White's attack fell short, although he recovered the pawn sacrificed in the opening. McDonnell showed that he could achieve material superiority through tactics, but he then faltered.

McDonnell's long sequences of losses, interrupted only by a single draw, would end with the next game. The contestants would alternate wins--always with the Black pieces--until La Bourdonnais would win with White in the final game of the first match.

18 August 2014

Sacrificial Breakthrough?

In the final round of the Spokane Falls Open, I was paired against an underrated child. Alex has been one of the strongest local scholastic players through the past two years, winning or finishing near the top of the K-12 section in nearly every event through third and fourth grade. This summer, he spent two weeks at a premier youth chess camp in California. It had a dramatic effect on his play! Now, he will be finishing near the top of our local open events. His rating going into the weekend's event was mid-1200s. (Edit: now that the event is rated, we know that he gained over 250 Elo, rising to 1515--still grossly underrated.)

I was strategically lost after a few moves, but my young opponent could not find the knockout blow. Rather, we reached a minor piece ending in which my two knights may have offered better chances than his knight and bishop. After I turned down his offer of a draw, he built a fortress.

Black to move

I spent about six minutes in this position contemplating 43...Nxa3. Would a sacrifice of a knight for two pawns destroy my opponent's fortress and give me the edge. I was not certain and opted for 43...Nb2 instead.

I let this knight become trapped in order to liquidate White's kingside pawns. After trading my other knight for his knight and removing his last pawn except for the useless a-pawn (the bishop operates on the wrong color squares), we agreed to a draw.

11 August 2014

Mating Attack

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834

In the seventeenth game of their first match, Alexander McDonnell overlooked the strength of his opponent's sacrificial attack. McDonnell (1798-1835) was born in Belfast, Ireland. He spent some time in the West Indies and then served as Secretary to a London group of merchants engaged in West Indies trade. He played chess in his spare time. By the early 1830s, he achieved recognition as the strongest player in England.

Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840), was the "undisputed champion of France" from 1822, according to David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld (The Oxford Companion to Chess [1996], 56). Hooper and Whyld note that France was the "home of the world's strongest chess players."

Prior to 1851, there were no international tournaments organized. Occasional matches took place between players with reputations as strong players, but most of their games were not recorded. Play at odds was common and most games were played for a stake. When La Bourdonnais crossed the English channel to visit London and contest a series of games against McDonnell, a new era in chess was born. Because their games were recorded and later published by William Greenwood Walker, they were studied by all top players through the next several decades.

Earlier this summer, I began working through all available games of McDonnell. Of his 110 games in the ChessBase database, 85 were against La Bourdonnais. I am slowly working through the games in their six matches, blogging each game. As I go through them, I am employing only minimal research into the opinions of other commentators on the games. I am wholly avoiding use of chess analysis engines to check my own calculations.

Studying these games in this manner should strengthen my positional and tactical skills, may develop my skills as an analyst, and offers my readers glimpses into my growing understanding of an important period in chess history. My series begins with "Three Fighting Draws". Following the links in each post permits the interested reader to go through the whole series in sequence. "Strong Knights," posted yesterday, concerns game 16 in the first match.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [D20]
London m1 London (17), 1834

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Nf3 0–0 8.Be3

La Bourdonnais played this move only in this one game. Few others have tried it since. In other games, he tried 8.h3 and 8.0–0

Black to move


As in game 15, I prefer 8...Nbd7.

9.h3 Nbd7 10.Bb3

10.0–0 Nb6 11.Bb3 Nbd5 12.Bg5 Be6.

10...Nb6 11.0–0 Nfd5

11...Nbd5 seems better to me.

12.a4 a5 13.Ne5 Be6 14.Bc2

Black to move

White is bringing his forces to bear on Black's kingside. How should Black defend? I would pursue a plan centered on fianchettoing the dark-squared bishop.


 This move was made possible by  Black's 11th move, but looks to me like a weakening move. White's knight on e5 can no longer be dislodged except by Black's pieces. The bishops on the e-file could become targets.

McDonnell might have tried 14...Re8 with the idea of following with g6 and Be7-f6-g7. Play might continue 15.Ne4 (15.Qh5!? g6 16.Qf3 Bf6 17.Ne4 Bg7 18.Bg5) 15...g6 (15...Nb4 16.Bb1 N6d5) 16.Bh6 Nf6 17.Nxf6+ Bxf6 18.f4 Bg7 19.f5 Bd5 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.f6+ Kg8 22.Qd2 Qd6 23.Qh6 Qf8.

15.Qe2 f4 16.Bd2 Qe8

Where is the queen headed? All the light squares on Black's kingside are covered by White's pieces.

17.Rae1 Bf7 18.Qe4

Black to move


18...Nf6!? 19.Qf5 g6 20.Qxf4

19.Bxf4 Nxf4 20.Qxf4 Bc4 21.Qh6

All of White's pieces are positioned for an assault on the Black king.

Black to move


21...Nd5 22.Bxg6 hxg6 23.Nxg6 Kf7 24.Qh7+ Kf6 25.Ne4+ Ke6 26.Nc5+ Kd6 27.Re6+ Kc7 28.Nxf8 Qxf8 29.Rfe1 and White has an advantage, but some play remains.

22.Bxg6! hxg6 23.Nxg6 Nc8

23...Nd5 24.Nxd5 cxd5 25.Nxe7+ Qxe7 26.Rxe7 Rf7 27.Qg6+ Kh8 28.Rxf7

24.Qh8+ Kf7 25.Qh7+ Kf6

White to move

26.Nf4! Bd3

26...Qd7 27.Ne4#

27.Re6+ Kg5 28.Qh6+ Kf5 29.g4# 1–0

McDonnell misplayed his knights, which resulted in the necessity to move one or more of the pawns in front of his king. He then moved the wrong one. Finally, he grabbed material and fell to a mating attack.

The next game is discussed in "Attack and Counterattack".

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").

05 August 2014

That Pin of f7

McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834
Match 1, Game 15

Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) lost a long string of games to Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840) during their first match. After fourteen games, La Bourdonnais led 8-2 (draws did not count).

After going through all of McDonnell's games against other opponents that are available in the ChessBase database, I have been working through his games with La Bourdonnais. As I work through these games, blogging them, I am keeping my research light and avoiding analysis engines. I intend to work through all 85 games of their six matches, and then to spend more time comparing my comments to published comments by stronger chess players.

I posted my comments on game 14 in "McDonnell -- La Bourdonnais 1834". My series on this match begins with "Three Fighting Draws". Each post in the series contains links fore and aft.

De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe -- McDonnell,Alexander [D20]
London m1 London (15), 1834

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 e5 4.Bxc4 exd4 5.exd4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Be7

For 6...Bd6 see "Weakened King" (game 12).

7.Nf3 0–0 8.h3

Black to move


I would be inclined to try 8...Nbd7 with the idea of Nd7-b6 then to d5. Blackade the IQP. Posting a knight on d5 also reduces the vulnerability of f7. It was not surprising to find that my idea is given as one of the main lines in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings.

Of course, there was no well-developed theory concerning isolated queen pawns (IQP) in 1834. Rather, as Colin Crouch noted last week, "to far greater an extent than anyone else in modern chess history, they had to think everything by themselves" ("The Extraordinary Summer of 1834"). When McDonnell and La Bourdonnais contested their matches, opening theory was primitive, endgame theory limited, and chess writing concerned with middlegame play almost non-existent. No other matches between masters had been recorded for the edification of those who followed.

The beginnings of modern chess theory are built upon a foundation of the study of the games of these 1834 matches by Paul Morphy, Howard Staunton, and those who followed in their wake.

9.Be3 Bf5

This move invites trouble, as White's pawns come forward with tempo


First hit on the bishop.

10...Bg6 11.Ne5

Second hit on the bishop, taking advantage of the pin on f7. This pin seemed to be the decisive strategic element: continuous tactical pressure on Black's vulnerable king.

11...Nbd7 12.Nxg6

Wrecking Black's kingside pawns.

12...hxg6 13.h4

Another pawn comes forward. White's king sits on an open file, and cannot castle behind an intact pawn shield. Yet, Black's king is the one under attack.

13...Nb6 14.Bb3

Black to move


Black does manage to blockade the d-pawn, but perhaps too late. White seems to have the makings of a strong attack upon Black's castled position.

14...Nbd5 15.g5 Nh5 16.Qf3 and the d5 knight has only two defenders.

15.h5 Nxe3

McDonnell removes an attacker.

16.fxe3 Bh4+

Perhaps Black might have secured the kingside with 16...g5 17.Qf3 (17.h6 g6 18.h7+ Kh8) 17...Re8 (17...Nd5 18.Nxd5 cxd5 19.Bxd5) 18.Ne4.


It is interesting to compare the vulnerability of McDonnell's king on g3 and h3 when he has White, to the vulnerability of La Bourdonnais's king in this position. The difference seems to be better piece coordination for the French player.

17...gxh5 18.Qf3 Bg5 19.Raf1 Qxd4+

White to move

McDonnell recovered a pawn with a pin.


I am reminded of a recent tournament game--a Ponziani--in which my king might have found security here on c2 had I played better.

20...Qf6 21.Rxh5 Qg6+

21...Qxf3 appears to be the major alternative 22.Rxf3

Black to move
Analysis diagram
22...Bf6 (22...Be7 23.Rfh3) 23.g5 g6 24.Rh1 Bg7 (24...Bxg5 25.Rg3) 25.Ne4 and White should win.

22.e4 Nd5 23.Rfh1 Bh6 24.g5

Black to move

24...f5 25.Nxd5 cxd5 26.Bxd5+ Kh7

The pin of the f7 pawn is no longer a factor, but it contributed to White's decisive penetration along the h-file.

27.Rxh6+ gxh6 28.Rxh6+ Qxh6 29.gxh6 1–0

My comments on the next game can be found in "Strong Knights".