The Hindu Philidor or Chess in India

Dec 12, 2010, 10:06 AM |


Although India might be considered the cradle of chess, during 19th century chess in India took a strange turn.  England, through the British East India Company, which had monopolize trade with India with complete backing from the Crown, introduced the Western version of chess.  There were Indian chess players skilled in their own style of play but who were also willing to learn the Western style.


in 1843 M. Saint-Amant published the article below in le Palamlede -

M. Postans, dans ses Indes Orientales, dit, en parlant de Bombay et de ses environs :
  Le Philidor des Indes Orientales est un Indous appelé Ramdass,   natif de Kattiwar. Cet homme ne joue jamais aussi bien que lorsqu'il   ne voit pas l'échiquier. Tandis qu'il se lient dans un coin obscur de   l'appartement, il est curieux de l'entendre marmoter et raisonner avec lui-même sur les chances du jeu et les conséquences de ses coups. Si une faute est commise par son adversaire, Ramdass s'en aperçoit aussitôt, et énumère avec facilité et dans l'ordre exact de leur successibilité, les coups à venir des deux parties. Lorsqu'il est arrivé à celui  qui lui permet d'appliquer un de ses mats ingénieux, Ramdass attend   patiemment le coup de sou adversaire, puis il se lève, considère un   instant sa pièce et la jette sur la case fatale avec un sourire de triomphe accompagné du monosyllabe : bus (assez), qui frappe le vaincu au cœur.

 Ramdass joue aux Échecs depuis l'âge de neuf ans. Sa contenan ce est triste et ses yeux baissés semblent indiquer la méditation. il  assure qu'un amateur d'Échecs, doué d'une bonne mémoire, après avoir étudié sa méthode scientifique pendant six mois consécutifs, possèderait parfaitement la faculté de jouer sans voir l'échiquier. 

I don't speak but a smattering of French, so I depended on Google to make what I hope is a reasonable translation (- perhaps a fluent reader can provide a more accurate translation):

M. Postan, in East India, said, in speaking of Bombay and its surroundings:
The Philidor of East India is a Hindu called Ramdass, a native of Kattiwar. This man never plays as well as when he doesn't see the board. As he sits in a dark corner of his apartment, it is curious to hear him muttering and arguing with himself about the chances in the game and the consequences of his moves. If a blunder is committed by his opponent, Ramdass notices it right away, and rattles off with ease the exact order of successive moves for both sides. When it the time arrives to apply one of his ingenious mates, Ramdass waits patiently for his adversary to move, then he gets up, considers his move for a moment and finishes him off with a fatal smile of triumph accompanied by the monosyllable: bus (enough), which stops the heart.

 Ramdass has played chess since the age of nine. His countenance was sad and his downcast eyes suggest meditation. While just an amateur, he is gifted with a good memory and having applied his scientific method for six consecutive months, is able to play perfectly without seeing the board.


Daniel Willard Fiske wrote in his History of Chess in the Book of the first American Ches Congress:
In India, until the conquest of the English, the shatranj was still played; but now the Anglo-Saxons have taught the perfected form of the game to the race whose forefathers, so many centuries ago, originated the old chaturanga, and some great players have arisen. These are Moheschunder Bonnerjee, Petumber Mookerjee, Karamat Ali Khan, and Ghulam Kassim.


For more on Ghulam Kassim (and both John and James Cochrane) click  HERE.


In the British Miscellany, and Chess Player's Chronicle (the precoursor to the Chess Player's Chronicle) 1841, Staunton published the following:
As you take an interest in Chess and Chess Players of all countries, I am induced to mention to you the substance of a conversation I had last night, with an intelligent native of Delhi, Karim Khan, at present in this country. He tells me that there is resident in Delhi a native gentleman, by name Karamat Ali Khan, famous throughout Hindustan for his consummate skill in Chess. His age may be about five and forty, and he lives in independent circumstances; but for many years past he has not met with his match in the game. Christians, Mahommedans and Hindus, have repeatedly measured their strength with him, but all of them were obliged to retire, shorn of their previous laurels, if they had any. Not long ago he played with a neighbouring Rajah for a stake as high as six thousand rupees (about 600 pounds.), and won easily.
Such is the account my friend Karim Khan gives of this "wise man of the East;" and my object in mentioning it to you is, that probably, among your numerous readers, there may be some, like myself who have spent a portion of their lives in India, and who may have seen and played with this invincible champion. If so, they may probably inform us what his real strength may be compared with the best players of France and England, I make every allowance for my Oriental friend's description of him, and, after all, there remains sufficient ground for concluding that Karamat Ali Khan is a fine player. Throughout India he is now sur-named Shatir, which signifies a Chess Player, par excellence. Finally, I may mention, that when lately Lord Auckland visited the Northern Provinces, Karamat Ali Khan was presented to His Lordship?--an honour which he owed to his skill in Chess.
In Delhi, Chess is a very favourite game, perhaps more so than in any part of the world. Now that the English rule the land, the proud descendants of the Rajpoots and the Moghuls have found a more innocuous field of contention than they possessed some centuries back.
                                   I am yours, &c. SHAGIRD.

                  [see note at the bottom the page for information on SHAGIRD]


In 1851 the Chess Player's Chronicle contained the following letter:
Sir,—I have the pleasure to forward a few games recently played in this part of the world, a selection from which may perhaps be thought deserving of a placo in the Chess Player's Chronicle. You will observe that some of them are played by Mr. Cochrane. Such games can require no apology for their introduction ; but I fear some of the others will be found on examination much inferior to the standard of games published in your pages. I send them, nevertheless, in the hope that this slight record of Chess in the "far East" may have an interest for your readers, despite any deficiency of intrinsic merit in the games themselves.
The " Calcutta Chess Club" now numbers some forty members, and boasts the honour of having Mr. Cochrane for its President. The only player here who has any chance whatever with Mr. Cochrane, upon even terms, is a Brahmin of the name of Moheschunder Bonnerjee. Of this worthy, Mr. Cochrane has himself remarked that he possesses as great a natural talent for Chess, as any player he ever met with, without one single exception ! This is high praise, but not at all extravagant, when all circumstances are known and considered. Until the early part of last year, Mohesehunder had never been twenty miles from his native village in the Mofussil, as the interior of India is designated. He had never played with a really good player, and was scarcely acquainted with all of the European rules of the game.* From long continued and uninterrupted success, he had become desperately self-sufficient and obstinately addicted to certain faulty styles of opening, of which indeed he is not even now cured.
The introduction of Mohesehunder to Calcutta was on this wise :—A member of the Calcutta Chess Club, during a Mofussil pilgrimage in the autumn of 1848, heard of the fame of this local Philidor, and learning further that the Mofussil Champion had " never been beaten," he rejoiced exceedingly, in the prospect of beating him soundly ! This expectation was not destined to be fulfilled; for our Brahmin triumphed. The discomfited club-man thereupon brought him down to Calcutta, and requested Mr. Cochrane to take him in hand. Now Moheschunder had never even heard of Cochrane, nor, for that matter, of Ruy Lopez, Philidor, La Bourdonnais, Macdonnell, or Staunton !  At this time, in truth, Moheschunder was under a very strong impression that some Mookerjee [Petumber Mookerjee] or Chatterjee, resident in the district of Berhampore, or Burdwan, was incomparably the best player in the known world next to himself. It was not until he had been well beaten six games or so off hand, that the idea began to dawn upon him that he might possibly be mistaken ; and at last he solemnly pronounced his successful opponent to be " Shitan" himself and no other!
Since that period, Moheschunder has been appointed a paid attache of the Calcutta Chess Club. He is much improved, and frequently wins of Mr. Cochrane, playing on even terms. His " sight" of the board is extraordinary ; he plays with marvellous rapidity, and rarely makes an oversight or mistake. I fancy his age must now be fifty or more—so that he is " no chicken," but rather a tough old cock to be taught new modes of using his spurs. With proper teaching in early life, and the advantage of practice with superior players, it is difficult o say to what strength he might not have attained.
At the risk of making my letter unreasonably lengthy, I must crave permission to add a word on another matter connected with Chess, which I would fain hope will be deemed of universal interest. I remember lately reading a suggestion somewhere that a " Grand Match" might be fitly got up on the occasion of the great Scientific Meeting projected for 1851—a match in which the stakes should be of sufficient magnitude to induce the presence of the continental Chess Magnates, and which might be fairly deemed a contest for the "Championship Of The World." I can undertake to procure a handsome subscription from Calcutta should such a scheme be projected; and I have no doubt that in such a cause liberal contributions would quickly pour in from all quarters. As an earnest of my own sincerity, I beg leave at once to forward mine.
I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
A Membrer Of The Calcutta Chess Club. Calcutta,
August 1st, 1850.

[* There are several peculiarities in the rules as observed by the natives of India amongst themselves. The chief are the following:— Only the centre or royal Pawns are allowed the privilege of moving two squares for the first move: Pawn taking Pawn en passant is unknown: and (strangest of all) the King once in the game has the privilege of moving like a Knight I I was astounded once in playing with a native up the country by this antic on the part of his King, who suddenly jumped over the heads of sundry pieces and whipped off my Queen, when I was on the eve of checkmating him. All the Calcutta native players, however, play the European game, and so does Moonshee Warris Ally of Delhi,—a strong player, well versed in the Book openings.]


The Atlantic  Monthly published this statement in 1860:
...if Paul Morphy had gone to Calcutta, instead of London and Paris, he would have found there one Mohesh Ghutuck, who, without discovering that he was a P. and move behind his best play, and without becoming too sick to proceed with the match, would have given him a much finer game than any antagonist he has yet encountered. This Mohesh, who was presented by his admiring king with a richly-carved chess-king of solid gold nine inches high, not only plays a fabulous number of games at once whilst he lies on the ground with closed eyes, but games that none of the many fine native and English players of India can engage in but with dismay. Fine, indeed, it would have been, if the world could have seen in the youths of Calcutta and New Orleans the extreme West matched with the extreme East

Then, in 1885, the The Kansas City Review reiterated:
There is a chess school in India with its salaried professors, and success in the game is held in very high regard. Monesh Ghutuck, it was said, could play a fabulous number of games when lying on the ground with his eyes closed.


The next two game are part of an 1851 match between Moheschunder Bonnerjee and  Petumber Mookerjee -



One of the many hundreds of recorded games between Moheschunder Bonnerjee and John Cochrane


Moheschunder Bonnerjee was only able to win about 1 out of 4 games against the powerful John Cochrane.  Petumber Mookerjee was clearly inferior to Bonnerjee. Below is an 1855 game played between Mookerjee and a Mr. Morton (presumably an employee of the East India Trading Company and member of the Calcutta Chess Club, of which Cochrane was president.) 


An article in Frazer's Magazine, March 1840, called Chess Without a Chess-board talks about another early Indian player:
In the year 1814 there was published, in Bombay, an original work on chess, by a native of India, well known throughout the British  dominions in Hindostan as a player and teacher of the game. The book was originally written in the Sanscrit tongue, but was printed in  English, under the direction of the author, by the title Essays on Chess
, and is prefaced by a goodly list of subscribers, both British and  native. This volume is now exceedingly rare; many of its positions are exquisitely beautiful, and, in fact, of first-rate merit and science.  Mr. Lewis reprinted the greater part of the work in England, under the title of Oriental Chess; for which favour, I have been told, the author  was not particularly grateful. The name of this gifted Hindoo was Trevangadacharya Shastru. I have quoted him in this essay, because  he was celebrated for playing well without seeing the board. A friend of mine has seen him play three, and even four games at once,  blindfold, with the best players,—performing his laborious task with perfect accuracy. He would attend European residents for a certain  fee ; and would play eight, ten, and twelve hours at a sitting,—taking no refreshment but a little rice or tea, and seldom opening his lips to  utter a single word. He played indifferently the English or Hindoo variety of chess ; and never, it is affirmed, was beaten by any  European. Whether he was to be got at when Mr. Cochrane went to India, some years later, I have never heard. If living, I presume our  countryman would eagerly have encountered him. Mr. Cochrane is himself quite a first-rate player, as his treatise testifies ; and can also  play well without seeing the board. It was hoped Mr. Cochrane would have settled the disputed point, as to the superior talent of the  Hindoo players ; but he has sent no publication to England on the subject. The most contradictory reports exist ; and it is clear the truth  of the matter can only be settled by a European chess amateur of first-rate strength in the game. I cannot here resist the temptation of  introducing the Hindoo's preface to his work, as a bit of Oriental prose equally cogent and amusing. Thus runs it:—
 The generous Mr. Warden, who holds an exalted place under the Bombay government, and whose fame is spread in his own country)  and in foreign lands, sitting one day in his beautiful dwelling, along with his consort, thus addressed the brave Major William Cowper, his  old and intimate companion, who is adorned with every virtue, and merits the praises of all great men :—' My dear friend, thou who art of  a placid and noble disposition, who hast an acute mind, who art skilful in all matters, and possessed of an excellent understanding,  procure a new treatise on chess, which may afford amusement to all, and may be valued by the great and learned; to be written in verse  by Trevangadacharya, of the village of Tirputty, near Madras, who is patronised by his highness the Peshwa, is deeply skilled in the  science of chess, and a proficient in the Sanscrit language, and who has lately come here, being the friend of your brother.' Agreeable to  the wish expressed by Mr. Warden, and to the urgent request of Major Cowper, T, Trevangadacharya, who know the principles of the  science, have drawn out this treatise, called Vilas Muni Munjuri, or the diamond flower-bud of amusement. Its sixty-four leaves, four long  petals, sixteen peduncles, sixteen fruits, are invaluable diamonds ; and it grows in a bed of precious stones [The petals, peduncles, &c., denote the sections of the volume , while the " hundred brilliant diamonds" signify the hundred critical situations. The early part of the work is devoted to whole games played in the Hindoo manner.]  . . .


The Chess Player's Chronicle, 1846, gives us the following:
To the Editor of the Delhi Gazette.
Sir,—In a late Editorial you advocated the introduction of Chess into the Barracks of our gallant European soldiers; and said, you knew no amusement so innocent, or one so adapted to the European soldiers as Chess.
As books on Chess must be a scarce commodity in India, I have the pleasure to send a series of games played between an European and a Native ; and hope that from time to time, with the view of encouraging so rational and sensible an amusement, you will find a spare corner for them. The first game unfortunately has not been preserved ; it was won by the Native.
Yours, obediently,

Game 2




from Chess Eccentricities  by George Hope Verney, 1885.
Chess as played by the Natives of India, by a Correspondent in the Chess Players' Chronicle (Forbes, 1860).
1. The board may have a black or white square at the right hand. It does not matter which.
2. The King is to be placed to the right hand of the Queen.
3. The King's, Queen's, and Books' Pawns only are permitted to move two squares for their first move; but if either of these Pieces have moved before their respective Pawns are moved, then these Pawns are restricted to one move at their first move.
4. Castling is not allowed, but once during the game a King may move as a Knight if he has not been previously checked, or if the move will not expose him to check. The King in making the Knight's move can capture either a Piece or a Pawn.
5. A Pawn upon arriving at either Book's, Bishop's, or Knight's eighth square, can be exchanged only for the Piece which originally stood upon that square; but upon its arrival at the King's or Queen's eighth square a Queen or any other Piece may be claimed for it. A Pawn cannot take another Pawn 'en passant.'
6. When all the Pieces are taken the game is drawn, although there be Pawns left, and if all the Pieces of one party are taken before the checkmate is given, the game is likewise drawn.
           -With these exceptions the game is played as it is in England.-



In 1908 the American Chess Bulletin game some insight into SHAGRID, one of Staunton's India correspondants:

          Mr. J. Keeble recently told the following very interesting story regarding the author cl the ancient "Indian," through his column in the Norwich Mercury:
"It has been left to a German writer to do the greatest justice to the subject. In 1903 Herr J. Kohtz, with a thoroughness that wins admiration, wrote a book of 176 pages, entirely devoted to the Indian problem and its development. It was a splendid effort, but it at once started a controversy which is, apparently, still running. Herr J. Kohtz is a strong believer that the "first commandment of history is to be authentic." He closely followed Mr. Staunton's statements, made in 1885, that the Rev. Mr. Loveday was the writer of the letter signed "Shagird," and that the Rev. Mr. Loveday was the author of the problem in its European form. Other writers have called him the Rev. C. Loveday, and "Das C. im vornamen Lovedays" has furnished a text for a hot controversy between the correspondents to the chess magazines of Berlin and Vienna, in which Herr Marco quite recently interposed, in the "Schachzeitung," with the last word.
          We must confess to having been on the side of those who used the letter C. There was a precedent for this in a few English references. An opportunity has, however, recently come for us to settle the question. We have been in communication with the Under Secretary of State for India, and he very courteously informs us that the officer in question appears to be the Rev. Henry Augustus Loveday, who was appointed to the Bengal Ecclesiaitical Establishment in 1840. He was Chaplain at Delhi until the latter part of the year 1844 when he was transferred to Almorah. He was again Chaplain at Delhi in 1847, and died there on January oth, 1848.
          This new fact concerning his death will enable us to understand Mr. Staunton's latest references. On January 8th, 1848, he inserted the following in the "Illustrated London News":
          " 'Shagird.'—The promised article on the present state of chess in India will be highly acceptable to the lovers of the game in Europe. Pray write again at your earliest convenience."
          This, it will be noticed, appeared one day before the death of Mr. Loveday, and, of course, no reply came. Mr. Staunton showed his anxiety a year later by inserting in the "C. P. C." (February, 1849) :
          " 'Shagird.'—We shall rejoice to hear again from our esteemed correspondent at Delhi whenever he has leisure to communicate with us."
          "As far as we can see,. Mr. Staunton did not refer to his death until September, 1855  when he published the original letter signed "Shagird," and stated it was written by the Rev. Mr. Loveday, formerly British Chaplain at Delhi, who had died in India a few years previously. Mr. Staunton also acknowledged to a correspondent that the problem in its European form was the work of Mr. Loveday."
          Mr. H. J. R. Murray adds that the Rev. Henry Augustus Loveday was at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and took his B. A. degree in 1838. "If," he says, "we put this with the fact that he joined the Bengal Ecclesiastical Establishment in 1840, I suppose that he must have been born about 1815."

On August , 1844, SHAGRID sent Howard Staunton what was to become the famous "Indian Problem."  In presenting the problem, Staunton wrote: 
We consider this Problem to be the finest, because the most difficult, of any Four-move Problem extant. It has foiled several of the best English players, to whom we have submitted it . Under these circumstances, having: the Solution before us, we deem it best to withhold the same altogether, warranting: the Diagram to be correct.

I've heard that the problem is actually cooked and can be solved in 4 moves in various ways, although each way follows the main idea.  But I found one solution that I supplied below.  Click here for more on the Indian Problem (in German).