King’s Indian Attack: A Powerful, Positional Opening for White

kings indian attack a complete guide blog image

The King’s Indian Attack (e4, d3, g3) became a destructive opening in the hands of the great Bobby Fischer. Now you can take up this opening and steer the game safely to a victory.

Avoid the snares of the latest theoretical lines on your way to a win by playing a positional chess opening that packs a powerful punch.

There’s no need to tip-toe through a computer-generated minefield to win a game. A solid understanding of where to place your pieces and how to unleash them is all you need.

Begin your journey into the fascinating world of the King’s Indian Attack today. Satisfy your curiosity about what attracted the legendary Fischer to this chess opening.

There is no better way to learn the King’s Indian Attack than by studying the games of Fischer. In the following video, GM Damian Lemos explains the ideas of the King’s Indian Attack in a game played by GM Bobby Fischer against GM Oscar Panno.

Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

King’s Indian Attack – the Why and How

Although he is the most famous player to take up this chess opening, Bobby Fischer isn’t the only one to employ it successfully. Botvinnik and Smyslov have played it with great success too!

Undoubtedly, the King’s Indian Attack’s main attraction is its universality.

Mimicking the universal style of Fischer, this opening can be employed against every black chess opening except the Scandinavian Defense.

The King’s Indian Attack really comes into its own against the asymmetrical openings like the French Defense, Caro-Kann, and Queen’s Indian Defense.

Since black can do very little to disturb white’s opening moves, the focus shifts from theory to understanding this chess opening. The importance of knowing why pieces are developed to specific squares is crucial to playing this opening well.

The following diagram shows the position white is aiming for in the King’s Indian Attack.

piece placement by white in the king's indian attack

In the King’s Indian Attack the pawns go to e4, d3, and g3. White almost always plays Nf3, Bg2, Nbd2, and castles kingside. Supported by a rook on e1, white will often advance his e-pawn to e5.

White can play the King’s Indian Attack with 1.e4 or 1.Nf3. Developing the knight first allows Black to play 1…d5 and adopt a defensive set-up usually played against 1.d4.

Although it is a positional opening, the King’s Indian Attack has its fair share of tactics, and white often gets to launch a devastating attack against the black king.

Let’s look at how to play against black’s most common defenses against the King’s Indian Attack.

Caro-Kann

The Caro-Kann Defense is a solid choice by black against the King’s Indian Attack. Black uses the pawns on d5 and c6 blunt the bishop on g2.

In the following video, GM Damian Lemos shows you how to play against the 3…g6 sideline. The main move is 3…e5.

1.e4 c6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2

king's Indian Attack versus the caro-kann defense 1.e4 c6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2

It’s essential to play the knight to d2 when black attacks e4 with …d5 in the King’s Indian Attack.

This prevents the exchange of queens and loss of castling rights after …dxe4. Now the knight prevents black from playing Qxd1.

Black has several ways to continue, including the development of the bishop on c8 with …Bg4. This prevents black from ending up with a bad bishop if he supports his center with …e6.

The following excellent article shows how white can successfully meet this challenge in the King’s Indian Attack.

Black Chooses an Aggressive Response Against the King’s Indian Attack

A more aggressive approach by black against the King’s Indian Attack is to establish a broad pawn center with 5… f5. The following position is reached after 1.e4 c6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 e5 4.Ngf3 Bd6 5.g3 f5

King's Indian Attack versus the caro-kann with 5...f5

In many variations of the King’s Indian Attack, white can continue in a positional vein. However, here it’s undoubtedly best to adopt a more tactical approach with 6.exd5.

The point behind black’s play is clearly shown if white continues with 6.Bg2 Nf6 7.O-O O-O when black has an excellent position with plenty of space to develop his pieces.

Black has played 5…f5 to gain a space advantage. A vigorous response by white is required to challenge this plan.

One of the main ideas behind 6.exd5 is to weaken the e5 pawn after 6…cxd5 7.c4

The King's Indian Attack versus the caro-kann with 7.c4 attacking the undefended d5-pawn

In many variations, white will exchange a flank pawn for the e5-pawn. Although white often attacks the kingside, it’s vital to use the whole board.

When playing this variation, white must remember to play Qb3 to take advantage of the weakness created by …f5. This move can prove powerful thanks to the bishop on g2.

Despite the deceptive simplicity of the position, white can quickly gain an advantage and take the initiative.

For example, the natural developing move 7…Nf6 gives white a pleasant advantage. Take a look at the following game where the white bishops proved devastating!

Savon, Vladimir A – Pomar Salamanca, Arturo, 1-0, Hoogovens, 1972

Sicilian Defense

When black plays 2…e6, the game is very likely to transpose into a French Defense structure with pawns on c5, d5, and e6. This transposition helps reduce your opening theory workload as a King’s Indian Attack player.

Of course, you can use the King’s Indian Attack against all variations of the Sicilian Defense.

The more flexible moves 2…Nc6 and 2…d6 provide more of a challenge for white. This challenge stems from the fact black can play …e6 or …e5.

However, providing more of a challenge is a lot different from refuting white’s opening strategy. As against the French and Caro-Kann, be ready to play Nd2 when black advances his d-pawn to d5.

There is one approach by black involving 2…e6 that doesn’t lead to the typical French Defense structures. Developing the bishop to g7 with …g6 is a sound approach for black to try.

After the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3 Nc6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.O-O Nge7 7.c3 O-O 8.Re1

The King's Indian Attack works very well against the Sicilian Defense and is a good way to get your opponent into new territory.

Black usually plays 8…e5 to prevent d4. Now it’s time for white to expand on the queenside – 9.a3 d6 10.b4 brings us to the following position.

in the King's Indian Attack versus the Sicilian white can expand on the queenside with 10.b4. Playing across the whole board is essential in chess.

Placing the bishop on b2 helps white support the central advance d4 and keeps an eye on the crucial d4 square. White will gladly exchange the bishop for a knight on d4.

In this variation, the white knights are likely to find excellent outposts or hold black’s queenside expansion up with Nb3. Take a look at the following almost perfect example of knight play by Anton Guijarro against Kamsky.

Anton Guijarro, D. – Kamsky, G., 1-0, World Rapid 2018

2…Nc6 Against the King’s Indian Attack

When black plays 2…Nc6 he can choose to strike in the center with …d5 without playing …e6.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d3 g6 4.g3 Bg7 5.Bg2 Nf6 6.O-O d5

When black plays 2...Nc6 he can play ...d5 without ...e6 in response to the King's Indian Attack

7.Nbd2 O-O 8.Re1 brings us to a position where black must decide if he wants to stop the advance of the e-pawn with 8…e5 or continue with his development by playing 8…b6.

Although the bishop on g2 is a powerful piece, the following game reminds us not to neglect the other pieces. In this game, the white knights once again prove particularly strong.

Amin, B. – Fier, A., 1-0, 25th Abu Dhabi Masters, 2018

French Defense

The French Defense set-up can be reached directly from the opening with 1…e6 or it can transpose from a Sicilian after 1e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3 d5 4.g3.

In this video, GM Damian Lemos demonstrates how white can play against the mainline French Defense. The game started with the Sicilian Defense move-order and demonstrates how playing the King’s Indian Attack can shorten your opening study time.

The flexibility of the King’s Indian Attack provides you with a number of options against the French Defense. Avoiding the exchange of queens is possible with both Nd2 or Qe2.

Starting position of the King's Indian Attack against the French Defense. White plays 3.Nd2 to prevent the exchange of queen's after dxe4, dxe4, Qxd1 check
White plays 3.Nd2 to prevent the exchange of queen’s if black plays …dxe4

Qe2 has the advantage of allowing the knight to develop to c3 and avoids blocking the bishop.

Almost every chess move is a give-and-take. The downside to Qe2 is that a bishop can attack the queen on a6.

One way to avoid this attack on the queen is to play Qc2. From c2, the queen also lends support to the pawn on e4.

The g2-Square Is Not the Only Square for the Bishop in the King’s Indian Attack

In keeping with the King’s Indian Attack’s flexibility, the bishop doesn’t always develop g2. Chess is a complex game, and every position must be played on its own merits.

Because white has blocked the bishop on f1 with Qe2 and often moves the queen again to c2, this allows black to play e5. In this instance, the loss of tempo isn’t critical for black.

Although white usually attacks the kingside in the King’s Indian Attack, that doesn’t mean black can find safety on the queenside. No matter which side black castles on, white keeps good attacking chances.

Look at how Richard Rapport plays the King’s Indian Attack against both …e5 and black castling queenside.

Rapport, R. – Meier, Georg, 1-0, 38th Zurich Christmas, 2014

Learn more about 3.Qe2 from IM Irina Bulmaga in this illuminating blog post.

Learn more from IM Irina Bulmaga about how to play the King’s Indian Attack with 3.Qe2

Playing Nbd2 has the advantage of providing consistency in the King’s Indian Attack and makes it easier to remember your opening moves.

This was the move played by Bobby Fischer and there aren’t many, if any, moves chosen by Bobby Fischer you can call bad. Especially in one of his favorite chess openings.

Fischer’s 8.Nh4 in the King’s Indian Attack

After 1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Nc6 5.g3 Bd6 6.Bg2 Nge7 7.O-O O-O 8.Nh4

8.Nh4 was introduced by Fischer when playing the King's Indian Attack against the French Defense.

The more popular move is 8.Re1 but 8.Nh4 was the move Fischer introduced. White prepares to play a quick f4.

Here is Sergey Dolmatov showing how to use the f4 advance effectively to gain both space and central control.

Enjoy this exciting game with lots of tactical blows from both sides.

Dolmatov, Sergey – Lautier, Joel, 1-0, Rubinstein Memorial, 1991

King’s Indian Attack with 1.Nf3

Playing the King’s Indian Attack with 1.Nf3 often means facing defenses usually played against 1.d4. For example, there is no pawn on e4 to prevent black playing 1…f5.

Black can also play the Queen’s Indian Defense and a King’s Indian Defense set-up against the Kings Indian Attack.

Queen’s Indian Defense

The Queen’s Indian Defense is a defense where black plays a quick …b6 and …Bb7. Black can’t delay this development too long, with white developing a bishop on the h1-a8 diagonal.

The Queen’s Indian Defense is most often played against the King’s Indian Attack, where white plays 1.Nf3. Black’s strategy is to prevent white playing e4.

White can still employ a King’s Indian Attack set-up against this defense. Play usually begins with the moves 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b6 3.Bg2 Bb7 4.O-O e6 5.d3 d5

Playing 1.Nf3 in the King's Indian Attack means being ready to face the Queen's Indian Defense.

Black does his best to prevent e4 but white persists with his plan by playing 6.Nbd2 Nbd7 7.e4 dxe4

A pawn sacrifice is the best way for white to keep the advantage in the King's Indian Attack against the Queen's Indian Defense.
White insists on playing e4 even if it means sacrificing a pawn.

White Can Sacrifice a Pawn for Good Winning Chances

There are two sensible options for white in the above position:

  • 8.Ng5 and
  • 8.dxe4

The move 8.Ng5 is the safer option but comes at the cost of being a lot more drawish. This is the option to choose if you are playing a much stronger opponent and are content with a draw. 

The black position is excellent. Black has no weaknesses, and several pieces developed towards the center. All of this factors mean black has nothing to fear and should be equal at worst.

This is not the line to play if you want to win with the King’s Indian Attack.

Take a look at the next game, which shows how easily black can hold on for a draw.

Rakhmanov, Alexander – Hernandez Carmenates, Holden, 1/2-1/2, Capablanca Memorial Premier 47th, 2012

8.dxe4 involves a pawn sacrifice, but the statistics offer white double the winning chances of 8.Ng5.

This is the move to choose in the King’s Indian Attack if you are looking for a dynamic position where white gets a lead in development as compensation for the pawn.

This compensation is sufficient to continue into the endgame. Black can’t hope to simply exchange down to the endgame a pawn up and expect to have an advantage.

Here is Egyptian chess grandmaster Basheer Amin giving a masterclass about playing this position with the white pieces. Forcing his opponent to resign in only 30 moves.

Amin, B. – Predke, A., 1-0, World Blitz 2019

King’s Indian Defense

Although it’s more common at the club level, you must be prepared for the copycat players who try to play it safe in symmetrical positions.

There is no way to prevent this in the King’s Indian Attack if you are playing against a King’s Indian Defense player.

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.O-O O-O 5.d3 d6 6.e4 e5

White needn't fear symmetrical positions in the King's Indian Attack.
Symmetry is unavoidable against a King’s Indian Defense player but not a disadvantage for white.

In these positions, it pays to be patient and work to accumulate small advantages. This is when your positional understanding of the King’s Indian Attack and chess shines through.

Look at how white employed prophylaxis, control of the center, and expansion on the queenside to grind down black in this epic tussle.

Chigaev, M. – Ibarra Jerez, JC., 2019, 1-0

The Dutch Defense

One of black’s most aggressive defenses is the Dutch Defense. White can’t afford to shy away from tactics if he hopes to get an advantage.

There is nothing wrong with playing the traditional g3 system against the Dutch Defense if this is part of your repertoire. You might want to adopt this approach if staying with the spirit of the Kind’s Indian Attack is important to you..

If you know your opponent plays the Dutch Defense, you might play 1.Nf3 to lure him into your opening preparation.

If you are looking for something a little different to play against the Dutch Defense, then 2.d3 and 3.e4 is a promising approach. This has been played with success by such modern-day greats as Svidler and Vachier Lagrave.

1.Nf3 f5 2.d3 d6 3.e4

White plays aggressively with the King's Indian Attack against the Dutch Defense.

In 2004 a young Magnus Carlsen used this variation to beat a strong Russian grandmaster and Dutch Defense expert Dolmatov in only 19moves!

When this game was played, Magnus was rated 107 Elo lower than his opponent.

Carlsen, M (2484) – Dolmatov S (2591), Moscow, Russia, 02.19.2004, 1-0

A game played more recently by Svidler, who used this variation to defeat an opponent rated 2714.

Svidler, P. – Bu Xiangzhi, 1-0, FIDE World Cup 2017

Final Thoughts on the King’s Indian Attack

The King’s Indian Attack is a potent positional weapon you can use not only as a surprise weapon but as the mainstay of your opening repertoire with white.

Whether you choose to play the King’s Indian Attack with 1.e4 or 1.Nf3, you will find it is a reliable weapon offering you winning chances in an easy-to-understand opening.

Over time, as you become familiar with this legendary opening’s attacking patterns and tactical motifs, you will find yourself well-rewarded with many victories.

There is a good reason the King’s Indian Attack was a favorite of world champions Fischer and Botvinnik.

Act now and get 50% Off! the Deep Dive King’s Indian Attack. The Deep Dive series provides you with all you need to know to play an opening with confidence right away! You can get 8 hours of opening instruction in the King’s Indian Attack, from GM Damian Lemos, for a limited time at only $29.95!

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