Indian Defence

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about John Cochrane’s games against Moheschunder Bannerjee from the 1850s. Bannerjee had learnt chess using the rules prevalent in India at the time, in which, amongst other differences, pawns were not allowed to move two squares on their first move.

In many of the games in which Bannerjee had black, he experimented with what would now be called the King’s Indian Defence, with Cochrane usually choosing the Four Pawns Attack. If you believe ChessBase (not a 100% reliable source but I don’t have immediate access to the contemporary records) some of the games started with the Pirc move order: 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6, with Cochrane, not wanting to block his c-pawn, preferring 3. Bd3 to the usual 3. Nc3. They investigated the further moves 3.. g6 4. c4 Bg7 5. Nc3 O-O 6. f4 e5 7. fxe5 dxe5 8. d5.

If you’re interested in what King’s Indian Defences from the 1850s looked like, here are a couple of examples.

In this game Black miscalculated the tactics on move 24, missing the force of Cochrane’s queen sacrifice

Here, Bannerjee brought off a neat finish.

Although the King’s Indian Defence was Bannerjee’s usual choice when Cochrane opened 1. d4, he also tried other ideas.

Here’s a Grünfeld Defence, in which Cochrane brings off a familiar smothered mate:

Finally, a Nimzo-Indian Defence where Bannerjee blundered a piece in a difficult position on move 25.

The name ‘Indian Opening’ was first used by Löwenthal in his book on the London 1862 Congress (published in 1864), annotating a game between Valentine Green, another player who spent time in India, and Louis Paulsen, which started 1. e4 e5 2. d3. ‘Indian Defence’ was first used in the Chess Player’s Chronicle in 1884, referring to one of the Cochrane-Bannerjee games which started 1. e4 d6 2. d4 g6. The current opening nomenclature was only developed in the period between the two world wars, when what we now call the Indian Defences (starting 1. d4 Nf6) were being investigated by the Hypermodern School and their immediate successors.

If more notice had been taken of Bannerjee’s games against Cochrane, chess openings might have developed in a very different way.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.