Alexander McDonnell (chess player)

Alexander McDonnell (1798–1835), sometimes spelled MacDonnell,[a] was an Irish chess master, who contested a series of six matches with the world's leading chess player Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais in 1834.

Alexander McDonnell
CountryIreland / United Kingdom
Born22 May 1798
Belfast, Ireland
Died15 September 1835 (aged 37)
London, United Kingdom

Early life edit

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.[1] It was a lucrative post that made him a wealthy man and left him with plenty of time to indulge his passion for chess. In his politics, McDonnell was a committed Whig.[2] No confirmed image of McDonnell is known to exist.[3]

Chess career edit

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).[4]

In 1831, along with George Walker, he became a founding member of the Westminster Chess Club and was acclaimed as England's best player.[5]

La Bourdonnais matches edit

At that time, the world's strongest player was the French aristocrat Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais. Between June and October 1834, La Bourdonnais and McDonnell played a series of six matches, a total of eighty-five games, at the Westminster Chess Club in London. McDonnell won the second match, while La Bourdonnais won the first, third, fourth and fifth. The sixth match was unfinished.

In the first game of the third match, McDonnell successfully introduced a new variation in the King's Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 g4 5.Nc3), known today as the McDonnell Gambit.

Death edit

McDonnell was suffering from Bright's disease, a historical classification of nephritis, which affects the kidneys. In the summer of 1835, his condition worsened and he died in London on 15 September 1835 before his match with La Bourdonnais could be resumed.

When La Bourdonnais died penniless in 1840, George Walker arranged to have him buried in London's Kensal Green Cemetery, near where his old rival McDonnell is buried.[6]

Notable games edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ The spelling M'Donnell, found in some old sources, is in fact a typographic variant of McDonnell.

References edit

  1. ^ Taylor, Michael (2014). "Conservative Political Economy and the Problem of Colonial Slavery, 1823–1833". The Historical Journal. 57 (4): 980. doi:10.1017/S0018246X14000089. S2CID 161584587.
  2. ^ Taylor, Michael (2014). "Conservative Political Economy and the Problem of Colonial Slavery, 1823–1833". The Historical Journal. 57 (4): 981. doi:10.1017/S0018246X14000089. S2CID 161584587.
  3. ^ Edward Winter, Alexander McDonnell (2004)
  4. ^ Tim Harding, ‘Evans, William Davies (1790–1872)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2012
  5. ^ Thomas Secombe, Julian Locke, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 35, page 299, ISBN 0198613857
  6. ^ Philip W. Sergeant, A Century of British Chess, David McKay, 1934, p. 39.


External links edit