Alexander McDonnell

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Alexander McDonnell
CountryIreland / United Kingdom
Belfast, Ireland
Died15 September 1835 (aged 37)
London, United Kingdom
World Champion1835 (unofficial)

Alexander McDonnell (1798–1835) 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 the summer of 1834.

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 for the continuation of slavery.[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]

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).[3]

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 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.


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.[4]

Notable games[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.
  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.
  3. ^ Tim Harding, ‘Evans, William Davies (1790–1872)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2012
  4. ^ Philip W. Sergeant, A Century of British Chess, David McKay, 1934, p. 39.


External links[edit]