Beat the King’s Indian Attack with the French Defense

The King’s Indian Attack in chess was a favorite opening of the legendary Bobby Fischer. The King’s Indian Attack deserves our respect and must be seen as more than simply an attempt by White to avoid learning mainline theory.

Defeat the Kings Indian Attack with this Set Up blog image

The King’s Indian Attack is a potent attacking weapon for White and can prove deceptively strong against an unprepared French Defense player. However, if Black takes a little time to defend against White’s attack, he can expect to reach exciting positions.

These positions offer both sides the chance to play for a win!

You can trust the French Defense to provide you with every opportunity to beat the King’s Indian Attack.

White’s Attacking Plan in the King’s Indian Attack in Chess

The opening moves that bring us to the starting position of the King’s Indian Attack are 1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Nc6 5.g3 Nf6 6.Bg2 Be7 7.0-0 0-0

The King's Indian Attack in chess starting position after 7...0-0. White's two main moves are 8.Re1 and 8.e5
The King’s Indian Attack Starting position

The two main moves for White in this position are

  • 8.Re1, and
  • 8.e5.

The good thing for French Defense players is that White’s attack usually involves the same moves. White might vary the order of the moves, though, so you can’t play the opening on auto-pilot.

The attack by White involves the e5 advance to drive the knight from f6. Bf4, Nf1, h4-h5, Nh2-g4, and Ng5 will follow to take advantage of any weaknesses caused by the advance of the h-pawn.

Black will play …h6 to stop the advance of the h-pawn, which gives White tactical opportunities to expose the Black king.

Black must be vigilant against the queen and bishop battery aimed at the h6 pawn!

White will not hesitate to play Bf4, Qd2, and sacrifice the bishop for two pawns with Bxh6. Even though Black’s knight is no longer on f6, he does have other defensive resources available to meet this threat.

The turning point in my career came with the realization that Black should play to win instead of just steering for equality - Bobby Fischer

Black’s Plan to Defeat the King’s Indian Attack in Chess

Because Black has established the e6-d5 pawn chain, he needs to play on the queenside. Most of White’s pieces will end up on the kingside, which leaves Black with a majority of pieces on the queenside.

Black will advance the b-pawn to allow the bishop to go to b7. The bishop can be defended with …Ra7 or …Rc7, enabling Black to double rooks. 

Another way to defend the bishop is to play …Rb8 and …Ba8 to allow the Black rook to support the advance of the b-pawn. Since White usually plays c3, this gives Black a hook for the b-pawn. 

The Black pawns on the queenside will be pushed forward and open files for Black’s major pieces. 

Do not neglect the threats on the kingside while creating counterplay on the queenside.

The Bishop on f4 Is a Dangerous Attacker for White

Along with the threat of a bishop sacrifice on h6, White can sometimes take advantage of the Black queen being on c7 and sacrifice on d5. Black must not allow the White bishop on f4 to take aim at his queen for long.

When the bishop has lined up against the queen, a capture on d5 followed by e6 becomes a real threat. The pawn on e6 attacks the knight on d7, and the bishop attacks the queen on c7 after the pawn advance.

When White plays Bf4, it is a good idea for Black to remove the queen from c7!

The retreat of the Black queen back to d8 makes playing …Rfc8 early essential. Another good reason to play …Rfc8 early is to free the f8 square for the bishop.

This bishop becomes a great defender back on its original square and is a crucial part of our plan to beat the King’s Indian Attack.

…Bf8 is a multi-purpose move that supports the pawns on g7 and h6 while freeing the e7 square for the knight on c6. By playing …Ne7 Black allows the bishop on b7 to support the d5-pawn and brings another piece closer to his king.

The next game shows exactly how to go about beating the King’s Indian Attack with the French Defense. Notice how well the backward defensive moves combined with the rooks to keep the Black king safe and win material.

The Waiting Move 8.Re1

White might hold off on advancing the e-pawn to get Black to show his cards. Since Re1 is a move White intends to play, it makes sense to keep the option of exchanging on d5.

Against 8.Re1 Black is advised to continue with his usual plan of queenside expansion and play 8…b5. Black’s well-centralized pieces are perfectly placed if White chooses to create play in the center instead of on the kingside.

Play might continue with 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Ne4 Bb7 11.Bg5 f6 12.Bd2 e5 13.c3 Kh8 with a balanced position.

In the king's Indian Attack in chess White sometimes delays the move e5 and plays 8.Re1 instead.
A typical position in the King’s Indian Attack

The King’s Indian Attack can be reached by a variety of different move orders. This game shows how you can use the French Defense against the Reti Opening, although we soon transpose back to the King’s Indian Attack with 8.Re1.

In Conclusion

You can beat the King’s Indian Attack in chess with a bit of preparation. Fortunately, the way to winning against the King’s Indian Attack is through understanding the typical strategies for both sides and not remembering long theoretical lines.

The trickiest part of beating the King’s Indian Attack with the French Defense is that the crucial moves are backward – …Bf8, …Qd8, and …Ne7.

While playing through games, be on the lookout for these moves. Also, pay attention to how Black goes about generating play on the queenside.

You can not only beat the King’s Indian Attack with the French Defense but can start to look forward to seeing it played against you.

Also, be sure to read:

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