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.

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".

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.

*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.