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 Bourdonnais. McDonnell managed to hold the position and drew.

The players opened with their Sicilian/French hybrid. 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 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

7...Qb6

Continuing to improve, 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

9.cxd4

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...Rxf1

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

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.

56.Ba4

Black to move

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

Bourdonnais sets a trap.

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

60.Kf4

60.gxf5?? Bxh5+

60...h4

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

65...Kg5

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

69...Nxe5+

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.

9.Bh4

Black to move

9...g5?!

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+-

15.Nd5

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...Na5 

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. 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+. 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 Bourdonnais was decades ahead of his time.

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

27...Qb5

McDonnell will eliminate the pesky queen.

28.Rb1

A rook will replace the queen.

28...Qxb7 29.Rxb7 Kh8

McDonnell's king flees the dangerous seventh rank.

30.Nxf6

Another pawn falls, and Bourdonnas threatens checkmate in one.

30...Bg8

The only move.

31.Rd1

The other rook prepares to occupy the seventh rank

31...Rd8

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.Nf3

11.exd6? Bxd4

11...Qh6 12.exd6 Nf5

White to move

13.c3

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

18.b3

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

23.Nd4

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

34.Kd3

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

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 -- 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.

3...e5

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

4.dxe5 Qxd1+ 5.Kxd1

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

8...h6

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.

11.Rc1 

Black to move

White increases the pressure on c4.

11...Bb4

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

12.Nb5

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.

20.Rd2

Black to move

20...Nb4

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...b6

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.

32...Ke6

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 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.

3...f5?

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

9.exf5

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...g6

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. Bourdonnais did a good job of exploiting McDonnell's positional errors.

The next game continues the players's exploration of a French/Sicilian hybrid. 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

9.Ne3?!

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.

13.Kg3

Black to move

13...Qc7

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?

14.h4

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

14...Ncxe5!?

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.

16...Nxf3

One passed pawn is enough for 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.Ng4

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

28.h5

This move weakens g5. I prefer 28.Re2.

28...Rxf4

Another sacrifice of material. If 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

32.Rf1

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.Rfg1

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.Rgd3

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 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.

14 July 2014

Checkmate Threats

In order to get at my opponent's king, I opening my own to some suffering.

Black to move

41...Ree2!

This position arose in a game played on the Chess By Post iOS app. We had three days per move, but the last ten moves of the game were played over an eight hour span.

My opponent immediately went after my king who looks quite vulnerable.

42.Rc8+ Kg7 43.Bd4+ Kh6 44.Rc6+ Kh5 45.Rxf7

Black to move

My opponent threatens checkmate in one move, but I have several ways to keep my monarch safe.

45...Rxg2+ 46.Kf1 Kh4 47.Rg7

47.Rxh7+ is not dangerous. 47...Kg3 and my king is well sheltered by my opponent's pawn.

47...h5 48.d6 Ba4 49.d7

Black to move

My opponent decides that he needs a queen. Alas, I can now force checkmate in a few moves. My opponent resigned two moves later.

12 July 2014

De La Bourdonnais Evens the Score

McDonnell -- De La Bourdonnais 1834

Alexander McDonnell took the lead in game six. In the seventh game of the first match between the Irish player, McDonnell, and the French player, Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais, followed game five for five moves (see "McDonnell Strikes Back"). McDonnell was the first to deviate, but Bourdonnais appears to have been the one who found an improvement.

McDonnell,Alexander -- De Labourdonnais,Louis Charles Mahe [B21]
London m1 London (7), 1834

1.e4 c5 2.f4 e6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.c3 d5 5.e5 f6

Bourdonnais played 5...f6 thirteen times. Although the ECO Code and move order makes this game a Sicilian Defense. The character of the game resembles more closely the Advance Variation of the French Defense.

White to move

6.Be2?!

This game was the sole instance with this move. It is not a particularly useful square for the bishop and wastes time.

He had played 6.Na3 in game five and returned to it after this game. Na3 is a common idea in the Advance French. Its purpose is to deploy the knight on c2, where it secures the vulnerability on d4. In the fifth match, he switched to 6.Bd3, which brought him his best results from this opening.

6...Be7 7.Na3 Qb6!

Bourdonnais would deploy his queen to b6 in every subsequent game that began with the five moves that opened this game. Today, Qb6 remains one of the most popular responses to the Advance Variation by players of the French Defense.

This move against the French had been played by François-André Danican Philidor in a blindfold exhibition in 1794. Philidor lost that game to George Atwood, but not because of his plan in the opening.

8.Nc2 Nh6 9.d4 cxd4 10.cxd4 Bd7

White to move

11.Bd3

I would castle here. McDonnell's move gives the impression that already in this game, he has come to realize that 6.Be2 was an error.

11...Nb4

Black seizes the initiative.

12.Nxb4 Bxb4+ 13.Kf2

White's king often finds security on f2 against the French Defense. However, McDonnell's experience against Bourdonnais when his king moved e1-f2 was grim: one win, one draw, seven losses.

13...0–0 14.Rf1

Black to move

14...fxe5

Black's pressure along the f-file and along the dark-squared diagonal renders White's game unpleasant.

15.fxe5 Nf5 16.Bxf5 Rxf5 17.Kg1

In subsequent games, McDonnell's king would seek refuge on g3. Of course, the position in this game is unique. Even so, I wonder if that move was worth considering here.

17...Rc8

White to move

18.g4?

Already weak on the dark squares, White creates a decisive vulnerability on f3. This move is a tactical and positional error.

18.a3 Be7 is at least playable, although Black maintains an advantage.

18...Rf7 19.a4?!

Every chess move weakens something. In this case, it is the b3 square. Bourdonnais will use b3 as a staging point to combine pressure along the f-file with pressure along the third rank.

19...Rcf8 20.Be3 Be7 21.Qe2 Qb3

White to move

How can White secure his position?

22.Bg5!?

McDonnell sets a clever trap.

22...Bb4

22...Bxg5? Nxg5 and White gets activity along the f-file. Exchanging all the rooks gives White a clear advantage with possibilities of checkmate or winning the e6 pawn.

23.Kg2

Perhaps retreating the bishop to d3 was best after Bourdonnais revealed that he could see through the trap. Now, Bourdonnais wins with a tactical blow.

23...Rxf3! 24.Rxf3 Rxf3

White to move

25.Rc1

25.Qxf3 Qxb2+ 26.Qf2 Qxa1-+

25...Rf8 26.Rc7 Bc6 27.Be3 Qc4 28.Qd1 Ba5 29.Re7 Bxa4 0–1

Games eight and nine are discussed in "Two Losses."