Openings

Kings Indian Defense Theory: An Iconic Opening

The best chess games in history have been played with the Kings Indian Defense as the opening of choice.

If you’re looking to learn about this opening yourself and get an introduction to the Kings Indian Defense theory, you’ve come to the right place.

What’s the Kings Indian Defense?

The Kings Indian Defense is an iconic chess opening that can occur after the moves 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7.

Kings Indian Defense Theory

The Kings Indian Defense has a rich history and has been used as a favorite weapon by legends of chess such as Bobby Fischer or Garry Kasparov.

Let’s take a look at the ideas of the “KID”.

What are the key ideas of the Kings Indian Defense?

Black ignores the center and develops the kingside first. Later, black wants to attack the strong white center with e5.

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White will build a strong center. Also, white will get the space advantage — this is one of the reasons why engines prefer white in the KID.

Black will start a pawn storm on the kingside with f5, while white often starts a pawn storm on the queenside. This results in a race.

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Introduction to Kings Indian Defense Theory

Let me get this out of the way first: The Kings Indian Defense has TONS of theory.

It’s one of the best studied opening in chess. This article doesn’t aim to give you a complete guide of the Kings Indian Defense theory.

My aim is to give you an introduction to the most important Kings Indian Defense variations, along with a game plan for each one of them.

If you want to dive deeper into the Kings Indian Defense theory, I recommend this book.

Classical Variation

Summary: The classical variation leads to a closed center.

Black plans to attack on the kingside with f5, while white advances on the queenside with c5.

The classical variation can occur after 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.

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In the following moves, the black knight will jump to e7 to make f5 possible and to support the f5 square.

White will perform the knight maneuver Ne1-d3 to support c5 himself and to make f3 possible, which supports the center.

A possible continuation could be 9. Ne1 Nd7 10. Bd2 f5 11. Rc1 Nf6.

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11. … f4 would have been a mistake here because it would allow white to exchange the white-squared bishops with 12. Bg4.

Important: It might look like the black bishop on c8 isn’t contributing at all, but it’s a vital piece to the black attack.

Let’s look another key move after 12. f3 f4 13. Nd3 g5 14. c5 Ng6 15. cxd6 cxd6 16. Nb5 Rf7!

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Rf7 is a key move in this variation.

It helps to defend the seventh rank and opens the square f8 for the bishop, where he can defend d6. Additionally, the rook can swing to g7, where he can support the attack.

Averbahk Variation (6. Bg5)

Summary: In the Averbahk variation, white plays 6. Bg5 followed by 7. h4 to start a flank attack on the kingside of its own.

Black tries to open the center. If white closes it, black strikes on the queenside.

Here’s the common move order: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 0-0 6. Bg5

Kings indian defense theory averbahk

After 6. … Nbd7 7. h4, white starts the attack.

Black responds in a textbook way: Whenever you are attacked on the flank, respond in the center: 7. … c5.

Since white has ambitions to start a kingside attack, the most sensible thing to do is to close the center with 8. d5.

averbahk variation

We’ve reached an interesting position.

The most common move played by masters here is 8. … b5, which reminds one of the Benko Gambit.

averbahk theory

Black aims to open the queenside. White can’t take with the knight because the pawn on e4, and potentially on b2, hangs.

After 9.cxb5 a6 10. bxa6 Bxa6, white is a pawn up, but black has compensation.

averbahk kid

Fianchetto Line (3. Nf3, 4. g3, 5 Bg2)

Summary: In the Fianchetto line, white doesn’t build a strong center and focuses on development.

This means that the bishop on g7 becomes strong for black. Black starts an initiative on the queenside.

In the Fianchetto Line, white doesn’t play e4 and focuses on developing the kingside instead: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. g3 0-0 5. Bg2 d6 6. 0-0 Nc6.

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After 7. d5, black can play 7. … Na5.

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After 9. Nbd2 c5, black attacks on the queenside. Unlike other lines of the KID, the center is not closed — which means that the bishop on g7 is strong.

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Four Pawns Attack (5. f4)

Summary: In the four pawns attack, white aims to take complete control of the square e5. Black strikes with c5 instead.

We reach the four pawns attack after the move order: 1. d4 2. Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f4.

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The four center pawns might look intimidating, but this variation is not the best for white, objectively.

The theory continues with 5. … 0-0 6. Nf3.

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In the Kings Indian Defense, black usually attacks the center with either e5 or c5.

In this case, it’s clear that white’s whole setup aims to stop e5. 6. … c5 is the logical choice.

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White can play d5, dxc5 or Be2 here. Let’s focus on 7. dxc5 in this article.

Black can respond with 7. … Qa5.

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An interesting move that enables black to keep the center pawns.

cxd6 is not good because of Nxe4, therefore white plays 8. Bd3 and black takes the pawn: 8. … Qxc5.

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This position is very playable for black.

Saemisch Variation (5. f3)

Summary: In the Saemisch variation, white plans a pawn storm with f3, g4 and h4.

Black can react by playing on the queenside or advance on the kingside himself with Nh5 and f5.

The Saemisch occurs after the move order 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f3.

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Because white hasn’t castled yet, he can be flexible and castle short or long, depending on the reaction of black.

After 5. … 0-0 6. Be3 e5 7. d5, black can either play Nh5 or c6. Let’s look at 7. … c6 in this article.

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After 8. Nge2 cxd5 9. cxd5 Nbd7 10. Qd2 a6, white follows his plan and advances with 11. g4.

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Now, normally it’s not a good idea to push pawns on the kingside – it creates weaknesses. In this case 11. … h5 stops the white plan though.

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This position occurred in ca. 160 master games. I’ll leave it up to you to analyze it further.

Is the Kings Indian Defense a Good Chess Opening?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

The KID has stood the test of time and is still the opening of choice for many masters today.

But engines dislike this opening and the win rate of it is not very impressive.

I think that there are three factors that determine if the Kings Indian Defense is a good opening choice for you:

  1. You have to be willing to study a lot of the Kings Indian Defense theory.
  2. You have to feel comfortable in closed positions.
  3. You have to feel comfortable with a disadvantage in space.

If these three things apply to you, then the KID is a great opening for you!

If you’re looking for alternative openings against 1. d4, my articles on the Nimzo-Indian or the Benko Gambit might be helpful.

FAQ

Which Grandmasters played the Kings Indian Defense?

Garry Kasparov, Hikaru Nakamura or Bobby Fischer have played the Kings Indian Defense with great success.

What’s the win rate of the Kings Indian Defense?

According to the Lichess player database, the win rate of the Kings Indian Defense is 46% for black and 48% for white. For masters its 24% for black and 38% for white.