Bonnerjee Mohishunder (sometimes given as, e. g., Moheschunder Bannerjee or Mahesh Chandra Banerjee) was born around 1800 near Calcutta, India. Philip W Sergeant described him as having been as of 1848 <a Brahman in the Mofussil-up country, as we might say-who had never been beaten at chess!> Hundreds of his games survive through the writings of John Cochrane, who regularly played him between 1848 and 1860, during Cochrane's tenure at the Calcutta bar.
Mohishunder originally played traditional Indian chess, in which pawns did not have the option of moving two squares from the starting row and pawns would promote to the piece of the square reached. He probably learned Western rules after contact with Cochrane and other Europeans. Cochrane is quoted in a letter written by a member of the Calcutta Chess Club, appearing in the Chess Player's Chronicle in 1850:
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. (1)
"Mohoschunder Bonnerjee is Brahmin of considerable chess skill, engaged at an annual salary to play in the Calcutta Chess Club. We are sorry to hear, through recent communication from Mr Cochrane, that indisposition has for some time incapacitated Mohoschunder from pursuing the game" (2)
"... 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 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, Moheschunder 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 Moheschunder was in 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 clubman 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 very strong impression that some 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 ‘Shatan’ (the Devil - e.d.) himself and no other. Since that period Moheschunder has been appointed a paid attache of the Club. He much improved, and frequently wins of Mr. Cochrane when playing on even terms. His sight of the board is extraordinary; he plays with marvellous rapidity, and rarely makes an oversight or mistake. (3)
Mohishunder favored defenses, unusual in the West, that involved fianchettoing his bishops. The Indian Defenses, such as the King's Indian and Queen's Indian, are named for Mohishunder and his countrymen. Both involve advancing pawns one square, as in Indian chess, rather than more traditional defenses like 1.e4 e5 and 1.d4 d5. Sergeant wrote in 1934 (algebraic notation substituted for Sergeant's descriptive notation),
The Indian Defences by g6 coupled with d6, or b6 coupled with e6, were largely taught to European players by the example of Mohishunder and other Indians, to whom the fianchetto developments were a natural legacy from their own game.
"This eminent player, unlike his countrymen generally, does not rigidly adopt system of close tactics. Many of his games in the collection before us are begun in the European rather than in the Oriental style, and he appears to be as much home in the one as in the other." (4)
Among other innovations, Mohishunder played the first known Gruenfeld Defense in Cochrane vs Mohishunder, 1855, 67 years before it was "introduced" in Alekhine vs Gruenfeld, 1922.
Game at odds
Mr Morton (formerly of the Calcutta Chess Club) vs Moheschunder
(Remove Black's <f> pawn)
1. e4 ... 2. d4 d6 3. Bc4 g6 4. h4 Bg7 5. h5 Nf6 6. hxg6
hxg6 7. Rxh8+ Bxh8 8. Nc3 c6 9. f4 d5 10. exd5 Nxd5 11. Nxd5 cxd5 12. Bd3 Kf7 13. Be3 Nc6 14. c3 Qb6 (Bf5!) 15. Qc2 Nd8 16. Nf3 Bf6? (Bg7) 17. Bxg6+ Kf8 18. 0-0-0 Bg4 19. Ne5 Bxe5 20. fxe5 Bxc1 21. Bh6+ Kg8 22. Qf5 1-0" (5)
(1) Philip W. Sergeant, A Century of British Chess, David McKay, 1934, pp. 68-69; Wikipedia article: Moheschunder Bannerjee; http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/....
(2) Illustrated London News, Saturday 10th January 1852, p. 11.
(3) Illustrated London News, Saturday 12th October 1850, p. 11.
(4) Illustrated London News, Saturday 28th August 1869, p. 24.
(5) Illustrated London News, Saturday 7th April 1855, p. 10.