Chess Openings: King's Indian Defense

| 6 | Opening Theory

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 Category – Semi Closed Game 

Opening Move Sequence – 1 d4 Nf6, 2 c4 g6

ECO CodesE60 to E99 

Like in other hypermodern openings, in King's Indian Defense, Black lets White control the center in order to attack it later, following the principle that such a center is in fact a weakness. King's Indian Defense was considered unsound for a long time but in the 1930s, analysis by several Ukrainian players was able to prove that it can be sound. Since then it has been a popular opening with many players from the highest level who take advantage of its dynamism and complexity.   

King's Indian Defense is classed among Semi Closed Games and with Indian systems (which are a subset of Semi Closed Games) which start with moves 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4. Variations in King's Indian Defense are listed under the ECO codes E60 to E99. 

Moves and Variations

1 d4 Nf6

2 c4 g6 

While the initial four moves of King's Indian and the separate opening Grünfeld Defense are identical, in King's Indian, Black plays 3…Bg7 and 4…d6 as third and fourth moves while in Grünfeld Black plays 3…d5. White has choice of several third moves: 3.Nc3, 3.Nf3, or 3.g3, in both King's Indian and Grünfeld Defense.  

King's Indian can also be reached via other moves sequences such as, 1.c4 Nf6, 2.Nc3 g6, 3.e4 d6, 4.d4 Bg7, and 1.Nf3 Nf6, 2.g3 g6, 3.Bg2 Bg7, 4.0-0 0-0, 5.c4 d6, 6.d4. 

We will now glance at the huge number of variations that come under King's Indian.   

Classical Variation (3.Nc3 Bg7, 4.e4 d6, 5.Nf3 0-0, 6.Be2 e5)

This variation will branch off at seventh move.

After 7.0-0, there are several possibilities: Mar del Plata Variation (also called Main Line) will continue 7.0-0 Nc6, 8.d5 Ne7, Old Main line 7.0-0 Nbd7, 7.0-0 exd4, 8.Nxd4, and 7.0-0 Na6. The latter can further subdivide: 8.dxe5 dxe5, 9.Qxd8 Rxd8, 8.d5 Nc5, 9.Qc2 a5, and 8.Bg5 h6, 9.Bh4 Qe8, 10.Bxf6 Bxf6, 11.c5!.  

7.d5 leads to Petrosian system. This variation was much favored by Vladimir Kramnik in the past.  

7.Be3 leads to Gligoric System and is played by several players at the highest level even though some variations favor White. Main sub variations include 7...Nc6, 8.d5 Ne7, 9.Nd2, and 7.... Ng4 (both of which favor White). Other alternatives are (7...Ng4 8.Bg5 f6 9.Bh4 Nc6), (7...Na6 8.0-0 transforming to Modern Variation), (7...h6!? 8.0- Ng4, 9.Bc1 Nc6, 10.d5 Ne7, 11.Ne1 f5, 12.Bxg4 fxg4), and (7...exd4 8.Nxd4 Re8, 9.f3 c6, 10.Qd2 (or 10.Bf2!?) d5, 11.exd5 cxd5, 12.0-0 Nc6, 13.c5 e3!?) 

7.dxe5 dxe5, 8.Qxd8 Rxd8, leads to Exchange Variation, in which White (after Queens are exchanged) will try to make the most of his slight advantage during the middle game. Some players select it to reach a draw. 

Sämisch Variation

In Sämisch Variation, Black sacrifices a pawn to obtain some fleeting benefits: 3.Nc3 Bg7, 4.e4 d6, 5.f3. There are several sub variations from this point: (5...0-0, 6.Be3 c5, 7.dxc5 dxc5, 8.Qxd8 Rxd8, 9.Bxc5 Nc6), (5...0-0, 6.Be3 Nc6, 7.Nge2 a6, 8.Qd2 Rb8 called Panno Variation) and (5...0-0, 6.Be3 e5).  

Averbakh Variation

This variation continues with 3.Nc3 Bg7, 4.e4 d6, 5.Be2 0-0, 6.Bg5. The last move prevents e5. Possible alternatives for Black are ...h6 (followed with g5), and ...c5.  

The Four Pawns Attack

This continuation is a highly combative variation; 3.Nc3 Bg7, 4.e4 d6, 5.f4 0-0, 6.Nf3. From here, after 6...c5, 7.d5 e6, 8.Be2 exd5, 9.cxd5, Black has safe 9...Bg4 and 9...Re8, as well as more risky 9...b5 as alternatives. The continuation after 6...Na6 is called Modern Variation. This can be answered by neutral 7,Bd3 or more aggressive 7.e5.  

Fianchetto Variation

Named after the g1 Bishop’s development to g2, this variation continues 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 g6, 3.Nf3 Bg7, 4.g3 0-0, 5.Bg2 d6, 6.0-0. This variation has a different tone to other King's Indian variations due to the differences in the position. Main branches start with either 6...Nbd7, leading to further sub variations including Gallagher Variation, or 6...Nc6, leading to 7.Nc3 a6, 8.d5 Na5, 9.Nd2 c5, 10.Qc2 Rb8, 11.b3 b5, 12.Bb2 Bh6, 13.f4 bxc4, 14.bxc4 e5! 

In addition to above there several further rare variations in King's Indian. For instance, 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 g6, 3.Nc3 Bg7, 4.e4 d6, 5.Nge2 and 6.Ng3 is known as Hungarian Attack.

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