Labourdonnais Picnic

by Robert Volcansek on January 14, 2022

The Chess Game: A. McDonnell - La Bourdonnais, 1834 London


  • The La Bourdonnais – McDonnell chess matches were a series of chess matches in 1834 between Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais of France and Alexander McDonnell of Ireland. These matches confirmed La Bourdonnais as the leading chess player in the world. They are sometimes seen as having been unofficial World Chess Championship matches, before the title of World Chess Champion existed.

  • It was the first match of importance in the history of chess and is sometimes referred to today as the World Championship of 1834. The games were published widely, and were annotated and discussed by enthusiasts all over Europe. In the course of the mammoth encounter, both players introduced several new innovations, a few of which are still seen today.

Who Was La Bourdonnais?

  • Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1795–December 1840) was a French chess master, possibly the strongest player in the early 19th century.
  • La Bourdonnais was born on the island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean in 1795. He was the grandson of Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais. He learned chess in 1814 and began to take the game seriously in 1818, regularly playing at the Café de la Régence.
  • La Bourdonnais was forced to earn his living as a professional chess player after squandering his fortune on ill-advised land deals. He played in an era before a World Chess Championship was established, but was considered to be perhaps the strongest player in the world from 1821 — when he became able to beat his chess teacher Alexandre Deschapelles — until his death in 1840. The most famous match series in that time was the series against Alexander McDonnell in 1834.
  • These matches of 85 games were analyzed by Kasparov in his book My Great Predecessors.

Who Was McDonnell

  • Alexander McDonnell (1798–1835), sometimes spelled MacDonnell, was an Irish chess master, who contested a series of six matches with the world's leading player Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais in 1834.
  • The son of a surgeon, Alexander McDonnell was born in Belfast in 1798. He was trained as a merchant and worked for some time in the West Indies. In 1820 he settled in London, where he became the secretary of the Committee of West Indian Merchants in which role he advocated strongly on behalf of slave-owning sugar plantation owners.
  • As a chess player his name will always be bound to La Bourdonnais.

  • In 1825 he became a pupil of William Lewis, who was then the leading player in Britain. But soon McDonnell had become so good that Lewis, fearing for his reputation, simply refused to play him anymore.
  • Around 1825–1826, McDonnell played Captain Evans, while the latter was on shore leave in London. McDonnell was beaten with what is now regarded in chess circles as the creation of the Evans Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4).
  • In 1831, along with George Walker, he became a founding member of the Westminster Chess Club and was acclaimed as England's best player.

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