The King’s Indian Defense – How to Play the KID as Black

The King’s Indian Defense occurs after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7. It is one of the most popular chess openings for Black against 1.d4.

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

It is a popular opening choice at all levels and the choice of players looking to win as Black against 1.d4.

The reason for this is that many positions in the King’s Indian Defense promise Black more active play than in most other openings. Black is able to avoid early simplifications and can enter unbalanced positions, which allows him to play for more than equality.

From club players to Super-GMs like Hikaru Nakamura, Teimour Radjabov or Garry Kasparov, you regularly see this opening arising on the chess board.

Learning how to play the dynamic, fighting King’s Indian Defense is not as difficult as many chess players believe.

Kings Indian Defense 3...g6
Kings Indian Defense 3…g6

Variation Tree

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7

Fianchetto Variation – 4.g3 0-0 5.Bg2 d6 6.Nf3

Mar del Plata Variation – 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6

Four Pawn Attack – 4.e4 d6 5.f4

Samisch Variation – 4.e4 d6 5.f3

King’s Indian Defense: Questions and Answers

1.) Is the King’s Indian Defense good for beginners?

The King’s Indian Defense is good for players of all levels if you like counter-attacking! Your style of play is more important than your level of play when selecting an opening.

If you prefer safe, solid positions then the Queen’s Gambit Accepted or Queen’s Gambit Declined would be better choices. However, beginners who enjoy tactical battles, counter-attacks, and keeping lots of pieces on the board can confidently play the King’s Indian Defense.

2.) Is the King’s Indian Defense aggressive?

The King’s Indian Defense is a very aggressive opening. Black invites White to take control of the center and if Black doesn’t counter-attack soon he will find himself in a bad position.

3.) Is the King’s Indian a good opening?

The King’s Indian Defense is a very good opening. Many of the greatest players in chess history have played the King’s Indian Defense including two players many regard as the best to ever play chess – Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer.

Other notable players from the past who have played the King’s Indian Defense are David Bronstein, Isaac Boleslavsky, Miguel Najdorf, and Svetozar Gligoric.

4.) Why is it called King’s Indian?

The term Indian Defense was used in the late 1800s and attributed to Indian chess players who were fond of the fianchetto. A famous Indian chess player Moheschunder Bannerjee used it in his games against John Cochrane.

The King’s Indian Defense involves the fianchetto of the king’s bishop and in the Queen’s Indian Defense it is the queen’s bishop that is fianchettoed.

5.) Can you play the King’s Indian as white?

When you play the King’s Indian Defense setup with White it’s known as the King’s Indian Attack.

6.) Is the King’s Indian Defense a system?

Yes, the King’s Indian Defense is a system. A system many players adopt because it can be effective against many of White’s opening moves other than 1.d4 and 2.c4.

The King’s Indian setup is often used against the London System the English Opening, and the Reti Opening.

King’s Indian Defense – Typical Chess Tactics

Active learning is the key to success in chess. To start with, you have the opportunity to dive actively into the King’s Indian Defense, and solve 4 puzzles which feature typical tactical motifs that frequently arise from this opening. Have a go! (You’ll find all the solutions at the end of the article.)

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

Every opening has its fair share of tactics and the King’s Indian Defense is no exception. GM Bryan Smith has produced many high-quality chess courses and his 80/20 Tactics Multiplier: King’s Indian Defense keeps this trend going strong.

Enjoy the following game between Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, presented by GM Smith.

The King’s Indian Defense: Basics and Key Concepts

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

In general, we can classify the King’s Indian as a modern approach to chess openings, where Black allows White to occupy the center with his pawns.

Later, Black tries to challenge to center with the pawn moves …e5 or …c5. In many variations, the resulting unbalanced positions offer scope for both sides to play for a win.

To put it into a simple formula: Black first leaves the center to White and then tries to conquer it back due to his better development.

If you’re looking for an opening with Black against 1.d4 which leads to sharp positions, the King’s Indian Defense might be an interesting choice for you.

For this reason, this opening guide on the King’s Indian Defense provides you with all you need to know about this fascinating opening. What are the key plans and ideas that Black has at his disposal? What are typical tactical motifs for both sides in the King’s Indian? And what are the main lines and the latest theoretical developments for both sides?

All these questions will be addressed in this article.

On top of that, the article features a free three-part video series by GM Damian Lemos who shares some very powerful opening ideas with you in order to help you understand the King’s Indian Defense.

To start with, let’s go for a little journey through time and take a look at an inspirational game that shows the dynamic power of the King’s Indian Defense:

Taimanov, Mark – Najdorf, Miguel, Candidates Tournament, Zürich 1953

This game was played in the famous Zurich 1953 chess tournament. The tournament was a Candidates Tournament for the 1954 World Chess Championship.

The tournament featured 15 of the world’s best chess players at the time and was finally won by Vasily Smyslov, who deserved the right to play a match for the chess crown against the reigning World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik.

Today, the tournament is also famous for the two tournament chess books written by David Bronstein and Miguel Najdorf. The books are considered to be the best tournament books ever written and are still a must-read for every aspiring player with a classical chess education.

Theory Section: The King’s Indian Defense

As mentioned, the King’s Indian Defense starts with the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 (White can also play the Fianchetto Variation with 3.g3) 3…Bg7.

Due to the fact that Black does not challenge White in the center immediately, White has several sensible ways to set up his pieces. Let’s take a closer look at all the important variations which can arise from the King’s Indian Defense.

Opening Experts in the King’s Indian Defense:

If you want to become an expert in your chess opening, it is a wise decision to regularly check the games of the world’s leading experts.

You can watch their approaches against different opening setups and become familiar with the latest trends, fashionable move orders or opening novelties.

If you choose to play the King’s Indian Defense, you have several opening experts you can follow.

Nowadays, the biggest expert in the King’s Indian Defense is most probably Teimour Radjabov, who frequently plays it against all the best players in the world.

Other strong players to follow are Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Grischuk and Damian Lemos. On top of that, you can also study the games Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer played in the King’s Indian.

Best Games In The King’s Indian Defense 

In order to properly learn a new opening, it is not enough to take a closer look at theoretical lines – you also need to study some classical model games which were played from the opening you want to play.

Checking complete games has various advantages. Most importantly, you get a better overall understanding of the positions arising from your opening. The focus is less on theory than on a general understanding of the resulting middlegame and endgame positions.

As the famous Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan once put it: “Study entire games. Your study can become disjointed if you just learn an opening setup. Don’t just study the opening and early middlegame but instead play the entire game. Don’t just stop when your side has a good position.”

Let’s now take a look at three classical games in which Black (the Super-GMs Garry Kasparov and Judit Polgar) showed how to play the King’s Indian Defense and win:

Piket, Jeroen (2540) – Kasparov, Garry (2775), Tilburg 1989

In the following video, GM Damian Lemos, who has played the King’s Indian many times himself and who is a great expert on this opening, analyzes a beautiful game in which Garry Kasparov demonstrates the enormous attacking potential of this opening.

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

The game we’re looking at was played way back in 1989. But as wise and successful chess players repeatedly tell us, if you want to improve,  it’s essential to study games by the great masters of the past – the classics.

The game started 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 0-0 (4…d5 would lead to another well-known opening – the Grünfeld Defense) 5.e4 d6 (a typical King’s Indian setup) 6.Be2 e5 (GM Lemos tells you why the pawn isn’t simply hanging in the video!) 7.0-0 (see next diagram).

This is the Classical Variation of the King’s Indian. Black has a choice here. He can exchange pawns in the center with 7…exd4 Nxd4. This, however, leads to positions where White has more space and usually a small edge. Other tries for Black are 7…Nbd7 or 7…Na6.

In the game, Kasparov plays the main move, 7…Nc6, and directly puts pressure on the d4-pawn. White is forced to make a decision and goes for the absolute main line with 8.d5. Black’s knight is under attack. He plays 8…Ne7.

Now, as the center is closed, there are new plans for both sides. While White usually tries to start direct action on the queenside with the pawn break c4-c5 (opening the c-file), Black goes for a counterattack on the kingside with the move f7-f5.

In essence, this is a very double-edged position with a lot of risks for both sides. None of the two players can afford to waste time here as each move counts in order to first come up with decisive threats.

In the following moves, both sides try to put their ideas into action. 9. Ne1.

If White plays 9.b4 here, we reach the so-called Bayonet Attack which was considered to be the main line in the Mar del Plata variation of the King’s Indian Defence for a long time. 9…Nd7 (a multifunctional move – preparing f7-f5 and giving extra protection against White’s c4-c5 idea) 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 (the typical pawn storm on the kingside) 13.b4 Nf6 14.c5 Ng6 15.cxd6 cxd6 16.Rc1 Rf7 17.a4 Bf8 18.a5 Bd7 19.Nb5 (see next diagram).

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

White’s last move was a slight inaccuracy. Due to the fact that the knight doesn’t cover the e4-pawn from b5, Black can play 19…g4! without preparing it with the move …h5.

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

After 20.Nc7, Kasparov consequently followed up with 20…g3!

This is King’s Indian power! Black sacrifices a pawn but this allows him to open lines in front of the White king and to free all of his pieces.

If White takes the pawn with 21.hxg3 fxg3 22.Bxg3, the Black knight comes to h5, both Black knights eye the f4-square, the Black bishop can come to h6 and participate in the game. White is left with an uncomfortable defensive task.

Instead, White took the Black rook on a8 with 21.Nxa8. But this couldn’t save him from losing the game. Kasparov played a series of great moves (you can see them in the video with detailed explanations by GM Damian Lemos). Finally, the following position was reached (see the diagram on the right):

Can you spot the beautiful winning move for Black after which Piket immediately resigned? (You’ll find the solution in the video!)

Nei, Iivo – Boleslavsky, Isaak, Riga 1955 (King’s Indian Saemisch Variation)

This time, GM Damian Lemos analyzes an old game that was played back in 1955. However, if you want to learn the key ideas of an opening it is often a clever idea to study many old games first.

The reason for this is that at that time, people had no databases and chess books with tons of theoretical lines. The players had to analyze their openings on their own.

This meant that if one player found a tricky idea in the opening, it was very likely that the opponent wasn’t familiar with this idea and had to find a solution to it over the board (which – as we all know – is much harder than analyzing a line with an engine at home).

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

Today, strong chess players know all these ideas and if you take a look at modern games, it is much harder to figure out the basic ideas of certain opening moves. 

The game started 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f3 (see the diagram on the right).

This is the Saemisch Variation of the King’s Indian Defense. White has built up a strong pawn center. Although the King’s Indian Defense often leads to fantastic attacking positions, resulting in spectacular sacrifices to checkmate the White King, it requires some special understanding.

After all, White is allowed to build a big pawn center and Black must know how to use his pawns to effectively attack it. Piece maneuvers are very important too. There is some essential knowledge to playing the King’s Indian well.

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

The game continued O-O 6. Be3 e5 (a typical King’s Indian move, challenging the center) 7. d5 c5 8. dxc6 bxc6 9. Qd2 Qe7 (see the diagram on the left).

Up to this point, both players went for very standard moves. But now White made a mistake. He played 10. c5. Maybe White was afraid that Black could go for …c5, …Nc6 and …Nd4.

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

Of course, if Black takes the pawn with 10…dxc5, White would have excellent compensation for the pawn. But Black has the strong move 10…d5 (threatening …d4 in the next move – White has to take) 11. exd5 Nxd5 12. Nxd5 cxd5 13. Qxd5 Bb7 (see the diagram on the right).

After some exchanges on d5, White is up a pawn, but Black is much better developed.

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

The game continued 14. Qd6 Qh4+ (Black does not want to exchange queens too early) 15. g3 Qb4+ 16. Qd2 Nc6 17. Qxb4 Nxb4 (White managed to exchange queens but at the cost of developing the Black knight) 18. O-O-O Nxa2+ 19. Kb1 Nb4 (see the diagram on the left).

We can stop here and evaluate the position as clearly better for Black. Black has won back his pawn and still has the much more active pieces.

If you’d like to watch the whole game with a brilliant finish and listen to the detailed explanations by GM Damian Lemos, you should definitely watch the whole video! GM Lemos tells you how to smash your opponent in the King’s Indian Saemisch Variation.

Further Study:

Ruban, Vadim (2590) – Polgar Judit (2630), Groningen 1993

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

The game started with the moves 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 O-O 5. Bg5 d6 6. e3 Nbd7 7. Be2 e5 8. O-O (see the diagram on the right).

So far, both players went for very logical moves. Black went for the typical …e5-move in order to gain space in the center. But how to continue?

In the game, GM Judit Polgar expanded on the kingside and went for the bishop pair. This plan is quite reasonable as the position is relatively open and as we all know, the bishop pair can be an immense asset in open positions. 

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

Let’s see how Judit played: 8… h6 9. Bh4 g5 10.Bg3 Nh5 11. dxe5 Nxg3 (Black managed to exchange his knight for White’s bishop) 12. hxg3 dxe5 13. Qc2 13… f5 (Black tries to grab even more space on the kingside) 14. Rad1 14… c6 (protecting the d5-square) 15. Nd2 (see the diagram on the left).

The position at hand is already favorable for Black. White’s knights have no outposts, whilst Black has great squares for all his pieces.

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

In the game, GM Polgar successfully went for a direct attack against White’s king – 15…h5!? Black wants to open files on the kingside. The tactical justification of this move is that 16.Bxh5 would lose to 16…g4 17.e4 Qg5 (trapping the bishop).

16.e4 f4 17.gxf4 gxf4 (Polgar managed to open the g-file) 18.Bxh5 Qh4 19.Bf3 Nf6 (bringing all pieces into the attack) 20.Qb3 Kh8 (a prophylactic move against a discovered check after c4-c5 with Black’s king still on g8) 21.Rfe1 Ng4! (see the diagram on the right).

Black’s attack is already very strong. White is forced to take the knight due to the threat of …Qxf2.

The King's Indian Defense - The Ultimate Guide To A Dynamic Chess Opening

The game continued with 22.Bxg4 Bxg4 23.f3 Rad8! (another strong attacking move, occupying the d-file and threatening to take on d2) 24.Nf1 (see the diagram on the left). 

White has no counterplay at all in this position. Of course, Black could simply retreat his bishop to e6 and claim that he’s got a fantastic position.

GM Judit Polgar, however, found a more concrete approach on how to win this game. She went for 24…Bxf3! Can you spot the beautiful idea she had in mind when playing this move?

You’ll find the solution in the video!

Learn more about the King’s Indian Defense

The King’s Indian Defense is one of the best openings for club players, and you should consider giving it a try to expand your horizons.

Black leaves the center to White in the opening, develops his pieces to sensible squares first and only then strikes back to conquer the center.

The King’s Indian Defense offers you excellent chances to win your Black games against 1.d4-players. With a lot of pieces on the board and with strategically and tactically complex positions, the player who better understands the opening usually wins.

This guide will get you started with this chess opening. If you enjoy this opening and want to master the King’s Indian Defense, we’ve got a fantastic offer for you.

GM Damian Lemos is an expert on the King’s Indian Defense and has produced a comprehensive 9-hour opening course in which he teaches you how to approach this opening with the Black pieces. Click here to get Lemos Deep Dive: King’s Indian Defense for half price.

Solutions To The Test Positions:

  • Top Left Corner: 1…e5! 2.dxe5 dxe5 3.Bg3 e4 wins a piece.
  • Bottom Left Corner: Black can play 16…Nfxe4! 17.fxe4 Bxd4+ 18.Qxd4  Qxg5 with a clearly better position.
  • Top Right Corner: Black wins after 1…Rxa1 2.Rxa1 Nxf2! 3.Qxf2 Nd3 and half of White’s pieces are hanging.
  • Bottom Right Corner: Black can destroy White’s center with 10…Nfxe4! 11.Nxe4 Bf5! Bd3 Bxe4 13.Bxe4 f5! and Black wins back his piece with a good position.

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