King’s Indian Defense

The King's Indian Defense is a popular response played vicariously by many Grandmasters across the globe and has proven to be positionally advantageous especially in closed games.

Grand Master Marian Petrov

This article is technically edited and reviewed by Grand Master Marian Petrov.

The King’s Indian Defense is a popular hypermodern chess opening that arises after the following moves:

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 g6

Black gives up central control and allows White to expand control while Black develops minor pieces. Nf6 is a great move to play against the common d4, and the reason is that this usually allows Black to be more active in the opening. This is also one of the most solid defenses where Black builds a strong defense around his King and chooses to counter-attack according to the best opportunity at hand. Black usually strikes back after White has gained space and central control and has overexerted the White pawns.

Theory

The most common options for White on the third move are – 3. Nc3, 3. Nf3, 3. G3, simultaneously Black intends on playing Bg7 and d6. If Black plays d5, this will branch into the Grunfeld Defense. Black deliberately gives central control to allow White to control the centre with pawns, and Black waits for the right time to counter-attack. If both sides play the first few moves right, it results in an unbalanced position providing scope for Both sides to win. 

History and Origin

Till the mid-1930s, the King’s Indian Defense did not gain much popularity till it was played by three strong Soviet players – Alexander Konstantinopolsky, Isaac Boleslavsky, and David Bronstein. The term used for the King’s Indian Defense in 1884 was the “Indian Defense.” The popularity of this opening took a hit in the early 2000s when Vladimir Kramnik won multiple games against this opening. His victories even forced Garry Kasparov to give up this opening after his losses against Kramnik.

Concept of the Opening

  • Black allows White to gain control over the centre.
  • Later, Black challenges the centre with pawn moves like c5 and e5.
  • Such moves result in unbalanced positions providing scope for both sides to actively play for a win.
  • Hence, Black initially leaves the centre for White and tries to conquer it post-development

Mainline

The main line of the King’s Indian Defense arises after the following moves:

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 g6 
  3. Nc3 Bg7
  4. e4 d6
King’s Indian Defence MAINLINE

 The Classical Variation under the mainline continues as:

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 g6 
  3. Nc3 Bg7
  4. e4 d6
  5. Nf3 0-0
  6. Be2 e5
King’s Indian Defence Classical Variation

The Classical Variation further branches out into the following variations:

1. Mar del Plata Variation

This variation continues with the following moves:

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 g6 
  3. Nc3 Bg7
  4. e4 d6
  5. Nf3 0-0
  6. Be2 e5
  7. 0-0 Nc6
  8. d5 Ne7
Mar del Plata Variation

On the 9th move, White has a lot of options to play like – b4 (Bayonet Attack), Ne1 or Nd2. Usually, White tries to attack the Queenside by playing moves like c5, while Black will try to attack the Kingside by playing moves like Nd7 followed by f5 and g5 and so on.

2. Petrosian Variation

This variation is named after the World Champion Tigran Petrosian, and Vladimir Kramnik played this opening in the 1990s and is marked by White playing d5 on the 7th move. Here Black plays a5 on the 7th move, followed by White playing Bg5, pinning the Black Knight. This makes it hard for Black to play f5.

3. The Gilgoric System

This variation is marked by White playing Be3 on the 7th move, named after the World Champion Candidate – Svetozar Gligorić. The idea behind this variation was to avoid theoretical lines, and Be3 allows White to maintain pressure in the centre. Most often, Black responds to Be3 with the following moves:

  1. Be3 Ng4
  2. Bg5 f6 
  3. Bh4 Nc6
The Gilgoric System

4. The Exchange Variation

  1. dxe5 dxe5
  2. Qxd8 Rxd8

Here White exchanges Queens for safe advantage, and the position remains relatively calm. This line is played by players fishing for a draw, and White players try to exploit d6 by playing moves like b4 and c5. Simultaneously, Black will play to control the d4 square.

Variations

Four Pawns Attack

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 g6
  3. Nc3 Bg7 
  4. e4 d6 
  5. f4 0-0 
  6. Nf3
Four Pawns Attack

This is an aggressive response for White to choose where White gains a great amount of central control while delaying development. If Black responds to this by playing c5 on the 6th move, it leads to the main variation, while if Black plays Na6, it leads to the Modern Variation.

Samisch Variation

  1. d4 Nf6
  2. c4 g6
  3. Nc3 Bg7 
  4. e4 d6
  5. f3
Samisch Variation

This variation is named after Friedrich Sämisch, where the game leads to a position where White and Black castles on opposite sides and Black can play moves like e5, c5 and b5. This variation can transpose into the Modern Benoni if the following moves are played:

  1. 0-0 
  2. Bg5 c5 
  3. d5 e6

This variation allows White to promote a kingside attack with moves like Be3 and Qd2.  The Samisch Gambit begins if White plays Be3 on the 6th move and Black responds by sacrificing a pawn by playing c5

Fianchetto Variation

  1. d4 Nf6 
  2. c4 g6 
  3. Nf3 Bg7 
  4. g3 0-0 
  5. Bg2 d6 
  6. 0-0
Fianchetto Variation

This variation is called so because the White Bishop comes to g2 on the 6th move. This is a solid variation where Black’s usual Kingside attack would fail due to the White Bishop on g2. Further Black plans to gain central control by playing e5.

Averbakh Variation

  1. d4 Nf6 
  2. c4 g6 
  3. Nc3 Bg7 
  4. e4 d6 
  5. Be2 0-0 
  6. Bg5
Averbakh Variation

This variation prevents Black from playing e5, and Black usually responds to the White Bishop by playing h6. White can follow this by developing his pieces with moves like f4, Qd2 and Nf3. 

Traps

  1. Nf3 Nf6 
  2. b3 g6 
  3. Bb2 Bg7 
  4. e3 0-0 
  5. d4 c5
  6. dxc5 Qa5
  7. c3 Qxc5
  8. Ba3
TRAPS

Nakamura played this trap against Magnus Carlsen, and he was one of the first to fall for this trap, where the point of this trap is to prevent e5. 

Statistics

Result Percentage
White Wins 36.6%
Black Wins 25.7%
Draw 37.7%

Famous Games

Step by Step Learning Process

Books to Refer

  • The King’s Indian Defense: Move By Move (everyman Chess) – Collins, Sam
  • King’s Indian Warfare – Smirin, Ilya
  • Bologan’s King’s Indian – Bologan, Victor
  • The King’s Indian According To Tigran Petrosian – Yanvarjov, Igor
  • Starting Out: King’s Indian (starting Out – Everyman Chess) – Gallagher, Joe

FAQ

Why should a player play the King’s Indian Defense?

The King’s Indian Defense is the best response for Black to White’s d4 and allows Black to pose an attack on White’s Kingside while allowing White to pose an attack on Black’s Queenside, allowing both sides to take part in active play. Further, the opening is flexible and versatile and gives you the opportunity to venture into multiple variations.

Is the King’s Indian Defense good for Beginners?

The usual response Beginner’s go for is d5, to White’s d4, but some Beginners could explore this line to branch into further variations.

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