Chess was played regularly in the late 1800’s and the style of chess that was played was a combination of solid positional chess and mad gambits. The move e4 was the opening of choice and the opening battle was fought in the centre. In the 1920’s we see a shift in this approach when ‘Indian Defences’ were championed by advocates for ‘Hypermodern’ chess in which the defender seeks to fianchetto their bishop and strike the centre from afar. In the 1940’s this approach, which was a bit of a peculiarity, gained credence when Russian players showed that it was sound for black. Since then Indian Defenses have been the most popular response to the move 1.d4. The Indian system has had a huge impact and it seems unfair that Moheschunder Bannerjee – the Indian in the Indian Defenses is not more well known.
In the 1840’s Moheschunder Bannerjee lived in a village near Calcutta called Mofussil where he played Indian Chess, a game similar to chess but, along with other minor changes, it didn’t have the option to move pawns two squares. This meant that Indian chess was more cramped initially and fianchettoing a bishop was an effective way to form an attack. Castleing was also not part of the game so a precious line of 3 pawns on the edge of the board on the 2nd or 7th rank would be less important.
While he was playing chess in the village an amiable Scottish barrister called John Cochrane would have been playing chess at the Calcutta chess club. Cochrane was a great chess player, among the best in the world, and he may have been dissappointed by the level of chess he faced at the club. In 1848 another member of the calcutta chess club heard about an undefeated chess player in a nearby village, found a way to meet him and brought him to the Calcutta Chess Club where he met and played against Cochrane. Cochrane was impressed and appointed Bannerjee as a paid attachee of the chess club. Moheschunder Bannerjee took up international chess and flourished to become one of Cochrane’s longstanding chess opponent.
Cochrane sent information about his games to his friend Howard Staunton who then published these games in his articles and books. In doing so he brought attention to this Indian style of play and showed that it could be played at a very high level. In the 1880’s the word ‘Indian’ was used to describe these types of games and the name has rightly stuck.
Below are a few games between Bannerjee and Cochrane.
This one in 1851 using the Zuckertort Opening: Old Indian Attack.
And this one, which he lost, shows him using the ‘Gruenfeld Defense’ 67 years before Alekhine and Gruenfeld made it famous in 1922. It has a great finish by Cochrane.
On the weekend a chess shop was having a clearance of all it’s older stock. This included chess books. I went along and bought five for $25. They were: ‘Chess, The History of a game’, ‘Bobby Fischer goes to war’, ‘The Best of Chess Life’, ‘Kings Gambit’ and ‘Wining With The Scandinavian’. I also bought a chess clock (that I need to return because only one side works) and was given free photocopied work sheets; one on the Grunfeld defence and one on the Marshall attack.
I have almost finished the chess history book and it’s been interesting so far. It starts by looking back to the earliest origins of chess which can be proven back to around 600AD and intimated at around 450AD. The history starts in India then moves to Persia (Iran) before spreading first to Sicilly and Spain via Islam and then spreading through Europe especially to Paris and London. Later it moves to Russia but I haven’t read that far. I’m glad I also read the Chess Queen by Yalom (see earlier post) because this fills in what I consider to be an omission – the changing value of the pieces, particularly the queen, and the changing rules of the game.
I have also been reading ‘Fundamental Chess Openings’ (see earlier post). This is a great book in that it runs through all the well known openings and gives a bit of history and background to openings. It talks about the shift from 1.e4 to 1.d4 in history and then continues to discuss modern flank openings. One opening paragraph inspired me to buy the ‘Kings Gambit’ book by Korchnoi at this sale but I’ll go into that more in my next post.
A correspondence chess game was thought to be played between the Emperor Nicephorus and the Caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid (763-809), in the 9th century but it wasn’t until the late 1700 that we really see it starting. In the early 1820’s a number of national clubs challenged each other, the most well known being the games between London and Edinburgh. Naturally Edinburgh won. Half a century later correspondence chess was played ubiquitously by all sorts of people (In 1883 Cambridge University played a postal match with some of the chess players at the Bedlam insane asylum. Naturally Bedlam won). In 1949 FIDE formed the International Correspondence Chess Association with the motto ‘Amici Sumus’ or ‘We are Friends’ in English.
The idea with correspondence chess was that you could take whatever time you needed, within reason, to make a move. You could look up past games, review opening theory, analyse by moving pieces and carry out research with a view to playing the best possible game. But this all changed when computers reared their clever heads. It changed for three reasons.
Firstly email could be used. This would seem like a tool for making correspondence chess easier but with ease come a loss of preciousness. I believe that this made games less important for some people. And while older correspondence players may have continued their deep analysis methodology I believe some players would have shifted their thinking towards viewing the games as more disposable. Emails, and now webservers, are cheap and efficient but I wonder if they inspire the same concentration as sending a postcard via the mail.
Secondly the speed of email transfers and the size of the chess population meant that there was an abundance of players ready to play instantly so why would you choose the slow, plodding path of correspondence chess over the gratification of a live game. This has meant that fewer people are taking up correspondence chess and many that did enjoy it have left.
Thirdly and most problematically is the fact that computers can now make better moves than humans. This has led to the spectre of cheating shadowing correspondence chess. It is impossible to be certain that people won’t cheat. It is so impossible that FIDE now permits computer engine analysis in most of the rated games – it therefore becomes a battle of machines guided by software engineers and gigabytes. I see the role of the chess player becoming less and less important in this form of correspondence chess. Again I see this as a reason for it’s decline.
I do, however, believe that there is still scope for correspondence chess to help me improve my chess providing I take a more historical approach to it.