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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Moheschunder Bannerjee and John Cochrane

     Reader Takchess called to my attention the virtually unknown Indian player Moheschunder Bannerjee who played many games against John Cochrane between 1848 and 1860. 
      Chessgames.com lists his won/lost record at +127 -283 =39. The Edo Historical Ratings site assigns him a rating of 2371 in 1849 to 2460 in 1857. The site also says that he was also known as The Brahmin and Mahesh Chandra Banerji. 
      For further information on this amazing player I refer the reader to the following sites: 


     The first thing one notices when looking at the list of games played between the two is the openings; Giuoco Piano, Petrov, King's Indian Attack, Reti System, Ruy Lopez, King's Indian, Pirc, Evans, King's Gambit Accepted. All either popular openings of the day or thoroughly modern ones. 
     John Cochrane is little known today. Chessmetrics assigns him ratings only between the years 1843 to 1846 when he was ranked number one in the world with a 2571 rating. 

     Cochrane was born in 1798 and died on March 2, 1878. He was a Scottish chess and lawyer. As a youth Cochrane was a midshipman in the Royal Navy, and is said to have served aboard HMS Bellerophon when the ship transported Napoleon Bonaparte to Britain in 1815. The down-sizing of the Navy after the end of the Napoleonic Wars made promotion prospects poor, and Cochrane switched to a career as a barrister, (lawyer). 
     While studying law, he became a very strong chess player and published a book on the game, which also included some analysis on the King's Gambit. After a long tour in India, Cochrane had accumulated a lot of leave and he spent 1841 to 1843 in the UK. Naturally he spent a lot of time at the top London chess clubs where he beat almost everyone including Pierre de Saint-Amant, who was France's strongest player. 
     However, the rising star of British chess was Howard Staunton. Staunton and Cochrane played at least 120 games on level terms, of which Staunton won about twice as many as Cochrane. Just before Cochrane's return to India, Staunton began to give him the odds of Pawn and move and in these games their scores were equal. Staunton described Cochrane as the "Father of the English Chess School.” 
     Cochrane then returned to India, where he became known as the "Father of the Calcutta Bar" (association of barristers) and a leading member of the Calcutta Chess Club. Cochrane sent games to the UK for publication. His two main opponents were Moheschunder Bannerjee and Saumchurn Guttack. I was unable to locate any information on Guttack except for his mention in an Illustrated London News article which states that he and Moheschunder Bannerjee were both known for their “modern” style of play. 
     When he returned to the UK for good, Cochrane continued to practice law part-time, mainly in important cases that arose in India, and wrote articles and books about the law. By this time he was too old for serious chess competition but played many casual games with strong players. Most of the games were 15-minute affairs and his main opponent was the veteran Johann Lowenthal. 
     By that time Cochrane was going deaf by this time and his comments on the play were often loud enough to be heard by players and amuse bystanders. Cochrane was known for sacrificing pieces and always attacking. 
     When I “anno-Fritzed” the following game the first impression after seeing all the moves where Stockfish suggested improvements was that it wasn't especially well played.  And, then after spending a couple of hours (!) playing over the game and exploring various possibilities I discovered that the game was rife with complications! 
     Bannerjee set some devilish traps and Cochrane was astute enough to sidestep them. In spite of the engine's evaluations in this game, I am not sure that between humans things are so clear cut. Stockfish's opinion aside, this was a fantastic game. 
     It's a pity that Moheschunder Bannerjee did not accompany Cochrane back to Great Britain in 1841. If he had the chess world would not have been forced to wait until 1929 when Sultan Kahn to show up. 

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