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Preliminaries, 1834 La Bourdonnais-McDonnell Matches
Researched by Nick Pope

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Louis Charles Mah (de la Bourdonnais), 1797-1840

A French gentleman, name Mah de la Bourdonnais, has lately arrived in London from France, on purpose to be the umpire in questions arising out of a game at chess. This gentleman is grandson to the celebrated La Bourdonnais, so well known in history of our East Indian possessions. [...]

The grandson resided till lately, at Param, near St. Malo. He is reputed one of the best chess players in Europe. He has edited the memoirs of his illustrious grandfather. Surely some notice should, in historical justice, be taken of this gentheman's [sic] being in England, by the East India Company, and indeed the descendants of Clive and Watson, should hasten to welcome the representative of La Bourdonnais, for the mutual sake of their ancestors. Such interesting meetings occur too rarely, not to grasp the opportunity when it comes within one's reach. M. de la Bourdonnais, the governor, was born at St. Malo. Mah is the family name, and is Breton for Matthew; La Bourdonnais is an appellation, derived from a place in Britanny.
Gloucestershire Chronicle, 1834.09.06, p2

The great French chessplayer, M. de Labourdonnais has at length paid London his long-promised visit, and is now playing daily at the Westminster Chess Club in Bedford-street. The fame of Monsieur L. has spread throughout Europe as the very king of our kingly recreation, the chess-player par excellence. We well recollect witnessing Labourdonnais' skilful contests when he last played in our chess circles some ten years back. On that occasion he vanquished Mercier, Frazer, and players of the same high class in the London Club, giving them the odds of the pawn and move. Since that time he has principally resided in Paris, where he reigns unrivalled, and where he took, we are informed, a leading part in establishing the Paris Club, now playing by correspondence with the Westminster. Nothing can be more delightful to a chessplayer than looking over Labourdonnais when playing. In the most complicated positions he decides on his move in an incredibly short time, and the brilliancy of his coups must be witnessed to be believed. His extraordinary skill can only be equalled by the urbanity with which he condescends to play with the lowest grade of players, and the good-humoured readiness with which he affords explanation of the motives on which some of his most intricate moves are founded. His motto is "Semper paratus," and he turns his back upon no man. Passionately fond of chess, he keeps the field against all comers for ten or twelve hours out of the four and twenty. His openings are about as "bizarre" as can be conceived, their first and only aim being attack, attack, attack; rooks and knights appear to be valued as little better than pawns, at least so it would seem from the dashing recklessness with which they are sacrificed. A friend of ours, a beginner, told us Labourdonnais always appeared to him to play the piece nearest his hand, so rapid is he in his movements. He is the most heartbreaking of chessplayers, for his adversary finds no repose, no rest, for his perturbed spirit. You spend ten minutes racking your brains for a good move, and might then reasonably expect a short interval of quiet while your antagonist planned his counter-move. But no; Labourdonnais plays before your hand has fallen back to its place, and you sigh as you recommence the apparently never-ending task of laboured calculation. The first metropolitan players agree that so decidedly brilliant a performer has not been seen in our time, and it may be assumed that no one since Philidor (excepting, perhaps La Breton des Chapelles) has so closely approached the style of that celebrated player. We have yet to witness a match between the first player of the Westminster Club and Monsieur L., which will certainly afford some of the finest specimens of the art, and cannot fail to excite the deepest excite; while its probably result, notwithstanding the strength of the Frenchman, is still matter of great doubt with the best players. To this slight notice of Labourdonnais it may be added that he is the author of a treatise on chess by no means worthy of him. Such a player should have given us more original matter, and should have named the English authors from which his work is almost entirely taken. However, we hope that at some future time he will yet delight us with a volume by himself. We should gladly see a printed selection of games actually played by him; they would furnish one of the finest studies extant on the noble science of chess.
London Morning Post, 1834.06.28, p6

In answer to E. J., we say that the sceptre of Chess is at present wielded by La Bourdonnais, decidedly the first player in Europe, and resident generally in Paris; where he may be met with, both at the Cafe de la Regence, and the Paris Chess Club, at Alexandre's Cafe de l'Echiquier, the corner of the Rue des Colonnes. After Philidor, Verdoni, Bernard, &c. came the celebrated Le Breton des Chapelles, as first player of the day; and, on the latter being fairly beaten out of the field by La Bourdonnais (the contest comprising above 500 games), the latter has since resigned without a rival.

Louis Charles Mah De La Bourdonnais, descended from an ancient and noble family, was educated in the College of Henri Quatre, and succeeded his father has heir of an old estate. This he lost in a building speculation at St. Maloes, remotely owing to the enormous faculty of "constructiveness," pointed out by Dr. Elliotson in lecturing in the Phrenological Society upon the cast of La Bourdonnais' head, which I had manage to get taken after death; and upon which greatly rested his Chess powers, coupled with enormous "combativeness." Reduced in his means to "zero," with a wife and child to support, the French champion for years had possessed no resources beyond the small gains he made daily, playing Chess for a franc per game, and his salary of 50 or 60 a year as Secretary of the Paris Chess Club.

Alexander McDonnell, 1798-1835

Alexander Macdonnell, the son of a Belfast physician, was unmarried, of simple habits, good health, and trained to figures and calculations as a merchant here and in the West Indies. He was the author of several works on political economy; and after his return from Demerara until his death, held the post of Secretary to the West India Committee of Merchants, with a stipend of twelve hundred a year, and work to do only when the Houses of Parliament were sitting. He resided quietly in a boarding-house in Tavistock-square, and was one of the most temperate men I ever knew. His duties were to watch the progress of bills connected with the West Indies through the two Houses of Parliament, and defend with his pen the interests of those beautiful islands, subsequently plunged into comparative ruin through the strong bray of Exeter Hall, frightening a weak and time-serving ministry into sudden negro emancipation.

Lewis, in his MS. note-book now in v. d. Lasa's library, wrote M'Donnel as a rule, but occasionally Macdonnel.

He was the son of Dr. M'Donnell, of Belfast, and for many years filled the honorable situation, in this metropolis, of Secretary to the Committee of West India Merchants. Mr. Alexander M'Donnell was also the author of various works on political economy, distinguished, as might be expected, for their originality of thought and depth of research.

Location: Westminster Chess Club

Westminster Chess Club, 20, Bedford-street, Covent-garden.—This Club has now been established about two years, and already comprises nearly One Hundred and Fifty Members, including the first Players of the day. It combines all the advantages of an ordinary Club with those to be derived by amateurs, from constant opportunities of practising with Chess Players of every grade. The house is well situated, handsomely furnished, and admirably adapted for its various purpose.

The Chess Room is supplied with all the leading Newspapers, Magazines, and Reviews, together with a well-selected Chess Library.

The Dining Room is spacious, and can accommodate a numerous party. An excellent house dinner is provided daily at five o'clock, every attention being paid to style, comfort, and economy. Refreshments can be had at all other times, a professed cook being constantly in attendance.

The Cigar Room is in every suited for its purpose, being lofty and well ventilated.

The Billiard Room contains one of Thurston's improved Petrosian Tables, and the terms of play are equally moderate with those of other Clubs.

Every proper facility is given to Gentlemen desirous of joining the Club, the annual subscription to which is two guineas, and the entrance fee one guinea, payable in advance. Members have the privilege of introducing a friend occasionally, in conformity to the laws of the Club, which, together with a list of its members, may be had on personal application to Mr. Huttman, at the Club House, any day between the hours of 10 A.M. and 12 P.M.

The scientific game of Polish Draughts has recently been introduced into the Club at the suggestion of several eminent Chess Players.
London Morning Post, 1834.10.04, p1

The Westminster Chess Club.—This club, which is held at No. 20, Bedford-street, Covent-garden, we are glad to hear continues to flourish and increase in numbers. There is no place in London at which rational amusement can be obtained at less expence and with less dangerous excitement.

Chess.—L. S. is informed, that the annual subscription to the Westminster Chess Club is only two guineas; elegant rooms, always open—a dozen Daily Papers—the cheapest feeding in London—and the opportunity of witnessing the play of the first artists going—and all for three-halfpence a day! Why, it costs you a shilling a week to have the loan of a Newspaper for only one hour matudinally. Success, we cry, to the energetic proprietor, Mr. Huttmann!

Dates: 1834

The votaries of this noble and fashionable recreation will thank us for presenting them with a game played at the Westminster Chess Club on Saturday last between one of the first players in Europe and a Gentleman holding no mean rank among the scientific body of amateurs of which the Westminster Chess Club is chiefly composed.
London Morning Post, 1834.06.14, p3

The great French chessplayer, M. de Labouronnais, has at length paid London his long-promised visit, and is now playing daily at the Westminster Chess Club in Bedford-street.
London Morning Post, 1834.06.28, p6

Chess.—M. Labourdonnais, the celebrated Parisian chess player, is at present in London, where his arrival, for a limited period, has, we understand, excited great interest in the chess-playing world.—The metropolis may, therefore, boast of having the three first players in Europe. Labourdonnais, Lewis, and Macdonnald [sic], present together. Some interesting matches, we learn, are on the tapis, at the Westminster Chess Club, of which M. Labourdonnais is an Honorary Member. With respect to the match between Paris and London, which is still pending, it is understood that, from the very earliest moves, M. Labourdonnais declined taking part in the games; and that his name is to be considered as not at all connected with the result, concerning which, from the necessarily tardy pace of the movements on either side, the parties having only yet arrived at about the tenth move, nothing decisive can, at present, be predicted, although the English players seem to consider they have a slight advantage in position.

In a few days will be published, by Simpkin and Marshall, A Selection of Games at Chess played at the Westminster Chess Club, between Monsieur L. C. De la Bourdonnais, the best player in France, and an English Amateur of first-rate skill. With Remarks by W. Lewis, Teacher of Chess.
London Morning Chronicle, 1834.10.09, p1

This day is published, by Simplin and Marshall, price 3s. 6d., A Selection of Games at Chess, played between Monsieur L. C. Dela [sic] Bourdonnais, the best player in France, and an English amateur of first-rate skill. By W. Lewis, Teacher of Chess.
London Morning Chronicle, 1834.10.27, p1

The following Fifty Games were selected from a considerable number played at the Westminster Chess Club, Bedford Street, Covent Garden, during the Summer of 1834, between Monsieur L. C. De La Bourdonnais [...]

The first Match of twenty-one Games began in June 1834.

The first Match, consisting of Twenty-one Games, between these distinguished competitors, was played in June and July, 1834; and of this, the following was the opening Game.

This match commenced in June, and finished during July, 1834. The combatants generally met about 12 or 1 o'clock, and played till 6 or 7, several times adjourning a game till next meeting. They played nearly every day, Sundays excepted.

Time Limit:

At Chess, the time allowed for pondering over a move is unlimited, but very tedious players ought to be shunned as a nuisance.


During the first games played by De la Bourdonnais and M'Donnell, the latter especially suffered from the very inconsiderate crowding around of spectators; to which De la Bourdonnais was comparatively indifferent, from the circumstance of having been more accustomed to the varied accompaniments and forms of sound with Chess.

The fact was, the parties played always on terms of strict equality; and that, although of the 88 games thus played in all, M. La B. won at first in a large proportion, yet of the last 42 our lamented countryman won 22, and of the last eleven won eight.

The move in the first game was cast lots for, and won by De la Bourdonnais.

The White men were invariably played by Monsieur De la Bourdonnais, and of course the Black by the English Amateur.

C and D are playing Chess, it being stipulated that the match is to consist of five games. The two first games are drawn, and they ask whether those two should be included in the five? We reply, No; for drawn games are in Chess sheer nonentities—"Things which be not," unless especially so provided. A match of five games must consist of five won games.

After a drawn game, the move is again taken by the same party—a drawn game reckoning, in every sense of the word, as no game.

A and B make a match of 21 games; and, on playing out the first 14, A has won 10 and B 4. A wins the 15th, and declines playing the remaining 6, on the plea of having gained the match by winning 11.—He is decidedly wrong; the rule being in England, that all the games be played out, whatever may be the result of the first part of them, and of whatever number a match at Chess is stipulated to consist.

After a drawn game, he who had the first move in that game has it again in the next. A drawn game in chess is a thing which has never been—a nonentity.

The drawn game must be played over again. It is a peculiarity in chess that no drawn game counts any more than if it had never been played. Such is the English rule, though in France the case differs.

Stakes: 5 per match and/or 1 to 5 shillings per game.

1 = 20 shillings
5 shillings = 1 crown

pounds ( or l)
shillings (s. or /-)
pennies (d.)

Chess.—We differ from L. E. The low stakes of one shilling, adopted in the Westminster and London Chess Clubs, makes all players observe the laws of the game more rigorously than they would otherwise do; and is so small in amount, that, with the honorable men, it can be no object either way. It makes inferior players receive odds when they would otherwise foolishly persist in playing even. As to winning anything of consequence by staking shillings, this can only be done at the expence of character. True, by keeping up his play, or giving less odds than he ought, a prudent man, if a fine player, may pick up a good many shillings; but he is sure to be keelhauled behind his back, and he must be content to set off similar animadversions against his profits. We could say much more on this subject, and shall not lose sight of it.

T: It is usual to play for a small stake in public rooms, say 5 shillings, merely to enforce strict observance of the rules. High stakes are never played for in chess. Labourdonnais and M'Donnell betted only five pounds on each of their celebrated matches. Those who want to bet high should turn from chess to horse-racing. We have played with Boncourt, Szen, Lewis, St. Amant, Labourdonnais, M'Donnell, and all the first men of the day, but never exceeded half-a-crown per game, and never heard proposed a higher stake by either of the two last named great players [...]

In playing with Macdonnell, the stake was very small; and La Bourdonnais was always eager to finish the game, that he might receive his half-crown customers, who played with him till nearly midnight, after he had finished with our countryman, all receiving large odds.

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