Person of day - 13 DECEMBER 2023
Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais was born into a noble family- his grandfather Bertrand-Francois was a notable military leader who commanded French squadrons during the Wars of Austrian Succession and struck a heavy blow against the English fleet, forcing Madras to surrender. Not only the date, but the precise year of La Bourdonnais’ birth remain unknown; according to some sources, he was born in 1795, according to others- in 1797.
La Bourdonnais devoted a lot of time to chess in his youth- in the Parisian Café de la Regence he had a personal table, where he often sat until midnight. Louis-Charles was impulsive and his financial affairs soon deteriorated, so he did not shy away from playing for money and even worked as the club secretary.
Originally, La Bourdonnais took lessons from Jacques Mouret, but when he became the Café’s best player, he began to train with Alexandre Deschapelles- the strongest French chess player after Philidor’s death. General Deschapelles, having served in Napoleon’s army and lost an arm in the French Revolution, was a principled man: replicating Philidor’s greatest traditions, he played only after giving an advantage to his opponent (to strong ones, he have pawn b7). Due to that, he lost the first Paris-London match to Lewis (to be precise, the game ended after the third match, since Alexandre kept suffering defeats) and in the “match-tournament of three” (Cochrane was the third participant), he lost to Louis-Charles 0:7. Deschapelles did not attempt to play as equals but he announced La Bourdonnais as his successor.
In 1824, La Bourdonnais went to England for the first time and won in matches between Britain’s strongest player, other than the country’s greatest player, Alexander McDonnell. Their decisive match happened 10 years later, in 1834, and was named “The Westminster Marathon”- the opponents player six matches! Louis-Charles replied to the Englishman’s one victory with four of his own, but the sixth match remained unfinished- La Bourdonnais had to leave for Paris to face his irate creditors. Soon, the finest chess player of his time was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Supposedly, the opponents agreed to finish the sixth match. The score was thought to be equal, but, several years later, in the English magazine “Chess Player’s Chronicle” (edited by Howard Staunton) information emerged that claimed the last match finished with a score of +8-3+1 in McDonnell’s favour. It is practically impossible to confirm or deny this, since the rounds of the last match have been lost.
La Bourdonnais was also a notable chess theorist and propagandist. His “Nouveau Traité du Jeu des Echecs” was translated into many languages, including Russian by maestro Alexander Petrov in 1839. In 1836, the Frenchman began to produce the first monthly chess publication, the magazine “Le Palamede”, which served as an impetus for the development of periodical chess literature in Europe.
In 1840, in poverty, ill and without the means of surviving, La Bourdonnais came to London. The fans and organisers of the Westminster series raised funds, found a temporary residence for the Frenchman and called a physician, but it was too later- on 13th December 1840, La Bourdonnais died and was buried beside his historic opponent.
Until the final days of his life, Louis-Charles retained immense practical strength. In easier matches, he freely gave a pawn and a move to one of the leaders of the new generation, Hungarian maestro Jozsef Szen. La Bourdonnais was the first to use the following for moves in consequences: 1.e4 c5 2. Kf3 Kc6 3.d4 cхd4 4.Kхd4 e5. His line became the predecessor to the Chelyabinsk variant.