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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: No Rush To Get Material Back


2020-05-14 13:11:07
No Rush To Get Material Back

The featured game this time is from circa 1834 and played between Louis Charles Mahe De La Bourdonnais and Alexander McDonnell. This game was in round 50 of the event, London m4 HCL 18, but most chess players simply know this as perhaps one of McDonnell’s best games if not his immortal game. In fact, Ruben Fine considered this game to be the first “Immortal Game” in the history of chess!

McDonnell was an Irish chess master and, in the summer of 1834, La Bourdonnais was considered the strongest chess player in the world. During this summer, McDonnell contested six matches against La Bourdonnais for a total of 85 chess games at the Westminster Chess Club in London. In fact, it was during the first game of the third match that McDonnell successfully created a new opening that is now named after him. 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. Bc4 g4 5. Nc3 is now known as the McDonnell Gambit.

Chess was still being invented in this era before computers. To put in perspective how long ago this game was played: the first recorded use of the term, that has now become known as “Chess World Champion”, was in 1845 when described by Howard Staunton - although a loose concept existed years prior. McDonnell is generally accepted the 1835 (unofficial) world chess champion and he died in September of that year, so an argument could be made that he died undefeated.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 e5 This game begins as one may expect. What other opening would McDonnell choose in the game that became known as his immortal game? Of course, players well-versed in opening theory should know this opening: Queen’s Gambit Accepted: Central Variation, McDonnell Defense.

4. d5 f5 Games from this chess era were more about tactics, gambits and romantic chess. Positional ideas didn’t become well studied until years later. Not only is d5 considered dubious by today’s standards, but even …f5 here is obviously weakening the Kingside unnecessarily. Can we really be too critical though? We have so many more chess resources and study material than they had back then. They were still inventing openings! Naturally, there would be a lot of trial and error.

5. Nc3 Nf6 6. Bxc4 Bc5 7. Nf3 Qe7 Black’s Queen move defends the attacked central pawn on e5. Surprisingly, this pawn didn’t need to be defended; Black can simply castle. If 7. Nf3 O-O then White is probably best ignoring e5 and castling too. If 7. Nf3 O-O 8. Nxe5?! then Bd6 holds the balance on account of 9. Nf3 (or Nd3) …fxe4 winning back the pawn with the initiative.

8. Bg5 Bxf2+ Notice that on move 8, White would have avoided this by simply castling. Black is counting on this f2 sacrifice working due to 9. Kxf2 Qc5+ and getting material via the hanging Bishop on c4.

9. Kf1?? Yet 9. Kxf2 begins the refutation to the f2 sacrifice! I am certain McDonnell thought the f2 sacrifice was working (due to the line just noted) and La Bourdonnais believed him! 9. Kxf2! Qc5+ but we must look deeper 10. Ke1 Qxc4 11. Nxe5!? And White is winning because they got the material back and are also gaining time on Black’s Queen.

Bb6 Of course, none of this happened and McDonnell safely retreats the Bishop from f2.

10. Qe2 f4 11. Rd1 Bg4 12. d6? cxd6 12. d6? Looks like an obvious mistake after cxd6. La Bourdonnais seems to just be giving up a pawn for nothing. My guess into his reasoning was that he was up a pawn, but saw Black able to castle Kingside soon. He probably judged the small material could be given back to prevent Black from getting the King to safety (Bishop on c4 eyes through g8 to prevent castling). Although I think this was too ambitious to give up a full pawn for this: I find this to be the mark of a strong chess player. It highlights that La Bourdonnais isn’t afraid of giving back the material lead for positional considerations.

13. Nd5 Nxd5!! White tries to overload the pinned f6 Knight, but McDonnell refutes this plan with a positional Queen sacrifice! This displays that McDonnell isn’t afraid of giving up material for position either! Even modern chess engines seem to agree with McDonnell because most computers seem to only give the evaluation as slightly better for Black after 13…Nxd5, but then at higher depth it seems to grow interest in this move until it eventually considers 13…Nxd5 the strongest move for Black. From a human perspective, this move looks attractive because something like 13…Qf8 is passive and on the defense. As the game text reveals, McDonnell had great compensation for the Queen.

14. Bxe7 Ne3+ Now McDonnell’s e3 Knight is extremely active on this outpost. Perhaps White should even consider 15. Qxe3 to give material back because Black’s Knight really is that good!

15. Ke1 Kxe7 16. Qd3 Rd8 No rush to get material back. Black is currently down in material, but instead of “winning material” with 16…Nxd1? McDonnell preserves this great Knight and temporarily remains a pawn down. It is much better to get this Rook into play. An old adage credited to Paul Morphy is, “help your pieces so they can help you.”

17. Rd2 Nc6 18. b3?! Pawn advancing to b3 was probably to defend the Bishop, so that it could free other pieces. However, this move is objectively questionable. Lasker commented on this move in Lasker’s Manual of Chess, 1960, p. 246: “The [b3] pawn move only weakens his position. La Bourdonnais had not recognized this clearly. The theory of Steinitz, explaining these points, was not evolved until fifty years later.”

Ba5 19. a3 Rac8 20. Rg1 b5? Black is a pawn down, so why sacrifice a pawn here? Modern analysis would consider this move a mistake, but we must see this from McDonnell’s perspective and this move does accomplish some interesting points - namely opening the c-file for the Rook by deflecting the Bishop.

21. Bxb5 Bxf3 22. gxf3 Nd4? McDonnell is not worried about 23. b4 due to 23…Nxf3+. Again, McDonnell is in no rush to get material back. However, even stronger was the immediate 22…Bxd2+ since 23. Kxd2 is met with 23…Nd4 and the threat of the f3 fork. The threat is stronger than the immediate execution! In this line, 23…Nd4 is positionally crushing and White can probably resign.

23. Bc4?? Nxf3+? White played this Bishop move to close the file and prevent …Rc1+ from infiltrating with the Rook. However, simply 23. b4 was best to prevent the …Bxd2+ motif noted earlier. Black’s chance wasn’t capitalized on though because 23…Nxf3+? follows through with the planned fork that McDonnell had in mind; as we looked at, Black was even better after …Bxd2+ and threatening …Nxf3 after …Nd4.

24. Kf2 Nxd2 25. Rxg7+ Kf6 26. Rf7+ Kg6 27. Rb7 Ndxc4 28. bxc4 Rxc4 29. Qb1 Bb6 30. Kf3 Rc3 31. Qa2 Nc4+ 32. Kg4 Rg8 33. Rxb6 axb6 34. Kh4 Kf6 Not much to say with the endgame simplification other than perhaps White’s agony is tough to watch. If White chose not to resign, then probably the next move was the final nail in the coffin.

35. Qe2? With best play from both sides, Black still has White in a mating net.

Rg6 36. Qh5 Ne3 0-1 Finally, White resigns – realizing that hope is lost. For instance, 37. Qe2 Ng2+ 38. Qxg2 Rxg2 39. a4 Rxh2+ 40. Kg4 h5#

It was really after 13…Nxd5!! (sacrificing the Queen) that Black’s advantage seemed to only grow with time. This game was instructional to the point that strong chess players are not always in a rush to get material back. For instance, 16…Nxd1? would have been getting the material lead, but would have given up the super Knight on e3.

We can all learn from McDonnell here; sometimes it is best to be in no rush to get back material.
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1United  abbyknotChessHere Gold Member2020-05-29 09:49:43
I agree that White could have played 9. Kxf2 Qc+ 10. Be3 Qxc4 but the position is hard to analyze OTB. Does White continue with 11. Nxe5 (?) because both his center pawns are going to fall.