Reviving a Fascinating Anti-French
By Michael Goeller
I have always been a big fan of heirloom openings, so when I saw Igor Glek's article in Secrets of Opening Surprises #8 describing "A 19th Century Weapon versus the French," I knew I would have to try it. Not that I was unfamiliar with 1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3, as I had worked through Alexander Bangiev's "White Repertoire 1.e4" CD years ago. But Glek's approach to the line seemed to offer significant improvements on Bangiev's system, especially with his McDonald and LaBourdonnaise inspired 8.Bd3, placing the Bishop in front of the d-pawn. Bangiev had played the opening more as a reversed version of the Lukin Variation of the English (e.g.: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 d6 3.Nf3 f5 4.d4 e4 5.Ng5 Be7 6.Nh3 Nf6 7.e3 c6 8.Nf4 etc.), which has been played at even the most elite level. However, the reversed system as White with an early d3 is actually a tempo behind the Black line (where White's Knight takes four moves instead of two to find its way to f4), and the set up does not take advantage of the fact that White is not yet committed to d3 but can use his Bishop's greater flexibility to improve his chances. That's not to say there is nothing to learn from the Lukin Variation -- especially given the paucity of GM games with the Labourdonnais - McDonnell Attack -- and so I have included some discussion of this fascinating line as well.
Theory calls this line "the Labourdonnais Attack," after the early 19th Century French aristocrat and "world champion." But even a glance at the historical record shows that it really ought to be called after Labourdonnais's rival from the British isles, Alexander McDonnell, who not only played it first but seems practically to have taught it to Labourdonnais in many match games. Hence my calling it the "Labourdonnais - McDonnell Attack." Let's see if that catches on.
Alexander McDonnell - W. Fraser [C00]
London Match/London 1831
It was Alexander McDonnell who developed the 1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5 3.e5 scheme against the Franco-Sicilian, typically arising by transposition after 1.e4 c5 2.f4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.e5. The line is usually attributed to De LaBourdonnais on the strength of a couple games he played with the French move order. But it seems wrong to have the Frenchman take all of the glory for this anti-French line that he clearly received from his long time Irish rival. The following game may be McDonnell's most modern looking game with it, and one of the few where his own King is less in danger than his opponent's.
4... a6 5. c3 Nc6 6. Bd3 Be7 7. Bc2 This was the plan that McDonnell developed, which was also adopted by his contemporaries. However, current players of this system prefer to leave c2 open for the Knight via Nb1-a3-c2, controling the important d4 square. 7... Bd7 8. d4?! This move is playable here since Black has done little to contest the d4 square. But usually White should prefer to delay this move. Here it weakens the light squares, as discussed in my notes below. 8... cxd4 9. cxd4 Nh6?! (9... Nb4! 10.
Interestingly, McDonnell's chief match opponent was among those to adopt his pet line: 5... Qb6 6. Bd3 a6 7. Bc2 Bd7 8. d4?! cxd4 9. cxd4 Bb4+?! (9... Nb4!)
10. Nc3 Nge7 11.
It seems likely that LaBourdonnais picked up the variation from McDonnell after their match. One of their games continued from this position: 7... Qb6 8.
Ken P. Neat - Anthony R. Barnsley [A21]
ENG-chT Correspondence/England 1993
As there are still so few games played with the Labourdonnais - McDonnell Attack against the French, it is useful to look at a rather parallel system played with colors reversed -- and, ironically, typically an extra tempo for Black! Often called the Lukin Variation, it has been played even by the chess elite.
Just as the Labourdonnais - McDonnell Attack can arise via the Sicilian, so the Lukin variation also frequently arises via an English move order: 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 d6 3. Nf3 f5 4. d4 e4 5. Ng5 Be7 6. Nh3 Nf6 7. e3.
This line is often attributed to St. Petersburg IM Andrey Lukin. One of Lukin's games with the line continued 6. h4 Nf6 7. e3
Does this pawn structure look familiar? The only difference between this position and the typical MacDonnell French is that Black has played d6 and so might be said to be "a tempo up" on the typical White lines that follow from 1.e4 e6 2.f4. But there are some benefits from not having moved the d-pawn, as we shall see. In both positions, the advanced e-pawn is the spearhead for a potential kingside attack, and many games with this line eventually end with a mating attack.)
This Knight has taken four moves to get to f4 when his Black counterpart in the Labourdonnais - McDonnell French gains this perch in two. That's how Black ends up a tempo ahead of the parallel White variation.
Julian Hodgson, known for his innovative play with the Trompowski Attack, has also played an attractive attacking game with this line: 8. Be2
This may well be White's best idea, splitting the board in two and permanently stopping Black's own d5 advance. Glek suggests that the parallel d4 advance is also probably Black's best method of handling the French with f4.
This is a good path to the e5 square, if White has not inhibited it with Be2. Otherwise Nd7-e5 is an idea.
Black will now work to target the artificially isolated d-pawn.
All of Black's pieces have found their way to their most effective squares.
Black eliminates an important defender of both the King and of the weakened d-pawn.
Black now shifts his forces where they will be maximally positioned to attack both the kingside and the d-pawn. To this end, the Knight heads to f6.
Black is at liberty to play on both sides of the board. He now threatens to double his Rooks on the c-file, which White cannot oppose without dropping the h-pawn.
and White resigned here without allowing the attractive conclusion:
(hence the need for Rxc3!!)
and Fritz announces mate in 6 at most.0-1
Alexander Bangiev (2395) - Andreas Mende (2220) [C00]
Oberliga Nord W 9697 (8) 1997
I was first introduced to Labourdonnais and McDonnell's anti-French Defense by Alexander Bangiev's interesting "White Repertoire 1.e4" CD from ChessBase. The opening that Bangiev presented was still at the experimental stage. Bangiev usually accepted transposition to the Lukin Variation, though sometimes he tried too hard to get in the d4 advance when Black was fully prepared to attack d4. However, Bangiev ought to be counted among the pioneers of the line, and it is surprising that Glek does not mention his contributions.
4... Qd7 5. c3 b6 6. Na3 Ba6 7. d3! Ne7 8. Be2 h5 9. Nc2 Nbc6 10.
5... Nh6 6. Na3 Nf5 7. Nc2 Bd7 8. d4?! (8. Bd3!)
8... cxd4 9. cxd4 Rc8 (a) 9... Nb4 10. Nxb4 Bxb4+ 11. Kf2!? Qb6 12. g4 Nh6 13. h3 Bb5?! 14. f5)
(b) 9... Qb6! 10. g4)
10. Bd3 Qb6 11. Bxf5 exf5 12.
With this move, White practically transposes to the Lukin Variation considered above.
The simple 10. d4 protects the pawn and seems to give White an edge.
b) 14. Ne3!? with the idea of Ng4-e5 looks strong.
White clearly has a powerful attack with Black's king in the center and his Queen exposed.
There is no reason Black should be allowed to survive into the ending, but likely Bangiev wanted to simplify his task in time pressure.
Igor Vladimirovich Glek (2531) - Etienne Goudriaan (2111) [C00]
Haarlem NOVA (5) 2007
GM Igor Glek has been a brilliant opening innovator for many years, often playing systems that require original thinking from both players. He discusses his own games with the Labourdonnais - McDonnell Attack in Secrets of Opening Surprises #8 in an article appropriately titled "A 19th Century Weapon versus the French."
6... c4 7. Nc2 Bc5 8. b4!? (also possible is 8. d4 cxd3 9. Bxd3)
8... cxb3?! (8... Bb6 9. d3 cxd3 10. Bxd3)
9. axb3 d4 10. b4 (10. Bd3!?)
10... Bb6 11. b5 d3 (11... Ne7 12. Nfxd4
19. Qa4+! Qxa4 20. Rxa4 Be7 21. Rfa1 Bd8 22. b4 Kd7 23. bxa5 Ra6 24. c4 dxc4 25. Rd1+ Ke7 26. Bc5+ Ke8 27. Rb4 Bc7 28. Rb7 Rc6 29. Bb4 f6 30. Ra7 Rh7 31. Ra8+ Kf7 32. Rd7+ Kg6 33. Rg8+ 1-0 Glek,I-Curien,N/Switzerland 2007.
c) 7... Be7 8. Bd3 Nh4 9.
42. Bc4! Rc5 43. Re5! a4 44. Bxd5 exd5 45. f5 axb3 46. axb3 Rb5 47. Re6+ Kd7 48. g4! Rxb3 49. Rg6 Ke7 50. Rxg7+ Kf6 51. Rg6+ Kf7 52. Kxd5 Rb4 53. Ke5 b5 54. f6 Rc4 55. Rg7+ Kf8 56. g5 Rh4 57. g6 Rxh5+ 58. Ke6 1-0 Glek,I-Huss,A/Switzerland 2007.
d) 7... Rb8 8. Bd3 Nh4 9.
This is Glek's innovative plan, using the Bishop to attack the Knight at f5 before advancing the d-pawn.
The Knight sidesteps the exchange at f5 to exchange Knights instead.
This advance is superficially attractive, but it seems ultimately to aid White. In a sense, Black surrenders the d4 square without forcing White to occupy it with a piece or pawn that can become the target of a counter-attack.
This vacillating really sets Black back.
After this Glek notes that "White has an obvious positional advantage." But avoiding the exchange of pawns was no better:
Preparing a possible g4 break.
"Crushing Black's position!" Glek writes.
Black desperately tries to stop e6. According to Glek, Goudriaan resigned without waiting for White's deadly reply.
Igor V. Glek - Dimitrij Bunzmann [C00]
FRA-chT Top16 Gp Basse/France (8) 2007
If Black is not prepared to lay seige to the d4 square, then White may well be justified in an early d4 advance.
3... c5 4. Nf3 f6 5. c3 fxe5 6. fxe5 g6 7. d4 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bg7 9. Nc3 Nh6 10. Bg5 Qa5 11. Qd2 Nf7 12. Bf4 Bd7 13. h4 Nc6 14. h5
Alexander Bangiev - M. Feist [C00]
LPMM 9697 1997
The most difficult line for White, and the one most often recommended for Black, involves pushing the d-pawn forward to d4. As we saw in the Lukin lines above, however, the pawn at d4 is subject to attack. Alternatively, White can play c4 followed by a3 and b4 breaking on the queenside. It's important to note that White's best -- generally not given in the books -- is to meet d4 with Bd3, followed possibly by Be4, and only then Pd3.
Stopping the pawn from advancing further while not yet committing to d3.
Igor V. Glek - Markus Klauser [C00]
SUI-chT/Switzerland (2) 2008
5... Nh6 6. Na3 Nf5 7. Nc2 d4 8. Bd3 Be7 9.
6... Nge7 7.
9. Na3 first may be best, prepared to play Nc4 to hit the Queen at b6 if necessary.
12... Qb6 13. c4 a5 14. b3 Nb4 15. Nce1 a4 16. bxa4 Rxa4 17. Rb1 Qa6 18. a3 Nc6 19. Qb2 Bc8 20. Nc2 Nd8 21. Bd2 Qa7 22. g3 Ra6 23. a4!? Rxa4 24. Ra1 Ra6 25. Rxa6 bxa6 26. Rb1
urusov - anon [C00]
Online Chess/Chess.com (1) 2009 -- 2 min. w/ 2 sec. increment.
My own experiences with the Labourdonnais - McDonnell French, though limited to blitz so far, have generally been quite positive.
This is practically the tabiya of the opening, except that Black more typically goes in for Ne7-f5 or Nh6-f5, when White typically plays Bd3xf5. The Be7 seems misplaced or prematurely committed. Now White typically plays Bd3, but I thought I'd try something a little different.
This does prevent White from establishing his pawn at d4, but that's no problem. Necessary was to go for queenside play with
(And though up a Rook, I was down practically to the increment and so had insufficient time to find the win. I ended up with only a draw when my flag fell after grabbing all of his material. Still, not a bad outing for the opening!)
37... Qd6 38. Rd1 Qf6 39. Qxf6+ Nxf6 40. Bd4 Ne4 41. Kg1 g6 42. fxg6+ hxg6 43. Be5 Ke6 44. Bb8 g5 45. Re1 g4 46. Rxe4+ dxe4 47. Kf2 Kf5 48. Ke3 g3 49. Bxg3 Kg4 50. Kxe4 Kg5 51. h3 Kh5 52. Bf2 Kg5 53. g4 Kg6 54. Kf4 Kh6 55. h4 Kg6 56. Bd4 Kh6 57. Kf5 Kh7 58. g5 Kg8 59. Kg6 Kf8 60. h5 Ke8 61. h6 Kd7 62. h7 Ke6 63. h8=Q Kd5 1/2-1/2
Games in PGN
Alexander Bangiev, White Repertoire 1.e4 (ChessBase)
Nigel Davies, 1.e4 for the Creative Attacker (ChessBase)
Igor Glek, "A 19th Century Weapon versus the French." Secrets of Opening Surprises #8 (New in Chess)
Copyright © 2009 by Michael Goeller