Learning An Opening

| 36 | Opening Theory

Athanatos asked:

Hello, I have a question on the King’s Indian. I don’t really know if it is the good place to do that, but after reading a lot of your post I decided to ask.

My last game (I’m White) was like this:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 O-O 5.e4 d6 6.Bd3 b6 7.O-O Nc6 8.a3 Bg4 9.Be3 Bc8 10.b4 e5 11.d5 Ne7 12.Qd2 Bb7 13.Bh6 c6 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.h3 Nd7 16.a4 c5 17.b5 a6 18.Nh4 Nxd5 19.Nf5+ gxf5 20.exd5 Qf6 21.Ne2 e4 22.Ng3 Qg6 23.Be2 Nf6 24.Qc3 Kg8 25.h4 f4 26.h5 Nxh5 27.Nxh5 f6 28.Nxf4 Qh6 29.Ne6 Rf7 30.Qg3+ Kh8 31.Qxd6 and White won on move 39.

I imagine there are a lot of blunders because he is 1450 ELO and I’m not rated. However, we both had questions from the game that players in the 2100 ELO range were not able to properly answer.

First of all, the exchange of Bishops on 12 to 14. In my mind it allowed me to exchange his kingside defenders and start a kingside attack. My opponent thinks it wasn’t a good idea because my Bishop was stronger that his.

But he would probably push his f-pawn sometime and then he will be doing well, so was it really a bad idea or actually not?

The second question — on moves 18 to 20 I gave him a pawn but opened lines to his King. That was my plan, to destroy his castle. But he thinks that he had a big advantage with two advanced pawns (e and f) and a pawn more. I wonder, isn’t it a good idea to give a pawn to open a file right on his King?


Dear Mr.Athanatos:

In general I don’t like going over people’s games since this Q & A column is for general questions that will be of interest to a fairly large amount of players. A game could easily turn out to be for one person only, which isn’t fair to the other readers.

However, I’ve designed my comments so they would not only address your questions, but also turn the discussion into the proper way to learn openings. Thus there’s a bit of something here for everyone!

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 0–0 5.e4 d6

When Black plays the KID, his dream is to close up the position (trying to get White to play d4-d5 after …e7-e5), move his f6-Knight out of the f7-pawn’s way, and with …f7-f5 begin a strong kingside attack. Of course, many other things can (and often do) happen, but that’s the basic backbone of the opening, and the reason so many players find it an exciting choice for Black.

When learning this or any other opening, it’s important to know its main ideas, structures, and plans. Memorizing lots of moves is secondary to this “I know what’s going on and what the opening’s philosophy is” mentality (there is no reason for every player at every level not to know the basic verbal ideas of his opening – if you don’t, you’ll be playing the opening “blind”). This can be achieved by having a teacher gives you an opening’s ins and outs, or by buying a book that’s dedicated to its ideas and most basic lines. One such KID book is Joe Gallagher’s Starting Out: The King’s Indian, while FCO (Fundamental Chess Openings by van der Sterren) offers ideas and plans in all openings.


The main move is 6.Be2 when one interesting sideline (a favorite of the late Igor Ivanov) is 6…Bg4 (the main line is 6…e5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 with the closed center I mentioned earlier) 7.Be3 Nfd7 8.0-0 Nc6 placing pressure on d4. Note that 6…Bg4 began this “beat down” of d4 by threatening to snap off its main defender on f3.

Now look at 6.Bd3, a move that instantly blocks the white Queen’s access to d4 and makes that point vulnerable. Not very logical, is it? It’s not a surprise that very few good players use (or have used) this move, the exceptions being Schmittdiel, and old timers like Tarrasch, Marshall, Kashdan, Golombek, and Cochrane (in 1855!). In general, though, it’s snubbed by the wise and only employed by those that don’t know any better.


One lament from almost every “under 1600” I’ve taught is that the opponents usually step away from theory, thus making the memorization of moves seem rather a waste of time. Though knowing some move sequences is important, it’s clear that ideas are far more useful since then, no matter what the opponent does, you’ll be able to play something that fits the dictates of the plans you’ve absorbed.

After seeing the odd 6.Bd3 Black should have taken a long think and asked, “What’s that? What could be wrong about it?” Once that’s done, you might notice that d4 is a bit loose and that …Bg4 suddenly becomes a pin (if the Bishop stood on e2, it isn’t a pin). Thus 6…Bg4 recommends itself.

However, if you were only familiar with that one “kill white’s King” idea via …e7-e5 and, after d4-d5, playing for …f7-f5 and an attack, then you would do okay with 6…Nbd7 or even an immediate 6…e5.

But 6…b6? What’s that? White just went out of his way to give e4 more support, so Black plays a move to hit the wall on e4 with …Bb7. It just doesn’t make sense. And, with 6…b6 Black instantly shows us that he doesn’t know the KID’s basic setups and strategies. Instead he’s just developing without rhyme or reason as to the opening’s ideas.

Of course, at some point or other we all start out looking at an opening with clueless eyes. But if you intend to use it in tournament play, it only takes a minimal amount of effort to imbibe the opening’s basics – there’s just no excuse not to.

In my view, the most logical reaction to 6.Bd3 is 6…Bg4, when my database shows that white’s only scored an unheard of/abysmal 23% result! That’s mindboggling. Since 7.Be2 leaves White a whole move down on the line I mentioned earlier via 6.Be2 Bg4, 7.h3 is often tried (though Black also has an easy time here too): 7…Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Nfd7 9.Be3 Nc6 (F.Marshall - R.Reti, NY 1924 went 9...c5 10.d5 Ne5 11.Qe2 Nxd3+ 12.Qxd3 Nd7 13.0-0 Qa5 14.Bd2 a6 15.Nd1 Qc7 16.Bc3 Ne5 17.Qe2 b5, =) 10.Ne2?? Nde5! 11.dxe5 Nxe5 and Black wins the Bishop on d3 with check and wins the game. Many players have repeated this exact same road to ruin as White!

7.0–0 Nc6

And what does this have to do with 6…b6? You want your moves to flow together, to complement each other. Clearly, 6…b6 followed by 7…Nc6 don’t do this.

8.a3 Bg4

Playing …b6 and then tossing the Bishop out to g4 is very strange, but it takes courage to accept that you made a mistake and 8…Bg4 (especially combined with …Nc6) puts Black back on track! Bravo!

9.Be3 Bc8??

Aieeeeeee!!!! Someone stop me from poking my eyes out! It burns! It burns!

Okay, I broke down and wept for several minutes, but I’m okay now. I’ve composed myself. I accept what’s before me. No … I can’t accept it! But … I must. Nooo!

Okay, I’ve composed myself again. I’m okay.

To protect what’s left of my mental health, I won’t comment on 9…Bc8???, and will instead discuss how Black should have played it – namely, he should have continued to target d4 in one of three ways:

1) 9…e5 10.d5 Nd4, =.

2) 9…Nd7 (uncovering the g7-Bishop onto d4.) 10.Be2 e5 11.d5 Bxf3 12.Bxf3 Nd4, =.

3) 9…Re8 10.Be2 e5 11.d5 Nd4 12.Nxd4 exd4 13.Bxd4 Bxe2 14.Nxe2 (14.Qxe2 Nxe4!)  14…Nxe4 15.Bxg7 Kxg7 16.Nd4 Qg5 and Black has easy play.

10.b4 e5 11.d5 Ne7 12.Qd2

Here we arrive at the general vicinity of one of your major questions. Is the idea of exchanging dark-squared Bishops by 12.Qd2 and 13.Bh6 the right way to go?

The answer is … “No.”

First off, we know from experience that in the KID, with a closed center, White usually plays on the queenside (he has space there and c4-c5 is the way White can open up files in that area and gain even more territory), while Black goes for white’s King via …Nf6-somewhere and …f7-f5.

While there are times when you can decide where you want to play, for the most part you have to obey the dictates of structure (the trick is to create a structure earlier in the game that suits you, or play openings whose structures make you comfortable), and this structure tells us that the basics apply. Sadly, you made the mistake of thinking that you are the decider! And, as the decider, you feel you can ignore facts like the direction the pawns are pointing and the normal queenside vs. kingside KID fight and wage war anywhere you wish. But it doesn’t work that way – you really have to do the board’s bidding.

Since White has a wall of pawns ready to fall forward on the queenside, he should prepare for the thematic c4-c5. There are various preparatory moves that one could try, but personally I would prefer the straightforward 12.c5 Ng4 13.cxd6 (13. Bd2 bxc5 14.bxc5 dxc5 15.Bc4 is also promising) 13…cxd6 14.Bd2 and we arrive at the typical KID scenario: White, who is the ruler of the queenside, will strive to penetrate on that wing, while Black will go for …f7-f5 and do his best to scare up threats against white’s King. In the present situation, white’s plan is more realistic than black’s because of the open c-file and the weak squares on c7 and c6 that White can try to capitalize on.

Mr.Athanatos, in your question you mentioned that you didn’t want to let him push his f-pawn and get kingside play. However, in the KID that kind of thing is unavoidable! You either have to accept that fact and get used to going for the queenside while the opponent tries to take off your King’s head, or avoid the KID altogether.


Sending his Bishop to Siberia and refusing to try and create the thematic kingside stuff we’ve already talked about. All 12...Bb7 does is make sure the Bishop isn’t participating in that critical battle.


13.c5 is still the logical choice. Trading Bishops isn’t good since your Bishop was actively helping in the indicated queenside venture, while his is just sitting there doing nothing.

We’ll fast-forward through a bunch of moves (I’ll avoid comments) – in general Black seemed to think he was the one that was supposed to play on the queenside while White was convinced that he had an attack simply because he wanted to have an attack.

13…c6 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.h3 Nd7 16.a4 c5 17.b5 a6 18.Nh4?

White prepares f2-f4 and his dreamed of kingside attack. I suspect he wasn’t aware of the potential negatives of f2-f4: the hole on e5 (after f4 …exf4) being a serious concession.


Going for it, and showing a pretty good tactical eye in the process!

Another idea is 18…a5, which stops all of white’s queenside chances and creates a pure kingside vs. kingside situation. Play might continue (after 18…a5) 19.f4 Ng8! (giving black’s Queen access to e7 with tempo) 20.Nf3 exf4 21.Qxf4 Qe7 followed by ...Rae8 and ...Ne5 with control over the important e5-square and a solid position. Black could also consider, after 19.f4 Ng8 20.Nf3 exf4 21.Qxf4 Qe7, the uber-e5 grabbing ...f6 followed by ...Ng8-h6-f7.


After this, white’s simply in trouble. Instead, 19.bxa6 Bxa6 20.Nxg6 hxg6 21.Nxd5 was the way to go, when White has a perfectly good position due to his pressure against b6. 

19…gxf5 20.exd5 Qf6 21.Ne2 e4 22.Ng3

White thought that, by pulling the g6-pawn off the g-file, he would open up black’s King and gain a serious attack. However, this is an illusion. After 22…Kh8 one is left wondering why black’s King is in any real trouble at all. In fact, Black (who is just better after 22…Kh8) might be able to make use of that half-open g-file by a timely …Rg8.


A serious mistake! Suddenly the advantage swings to White.

23.Be2 Nf6??

Losing. Instead, 23…Ne5 keeps Black very much in the game.


24.Qf4, hitting both f5 and d6, gives White a winning advantage. White’s 24.Qc3 is based on the misconception that he has a mating attack, and thus “small” material or positional gains aren’t even being considered.

24…Kg8 25.h4??

It’s hard to understand what this move does (other than discounting anything Black might do – never a good idea!). It wasn’t too late to get back on track with 24.Qe3-f4 with mutual chances.


And, just like that, White is toast.

26.h5 Nxh5???

… Sorry, I passed out there for a few minutes. It felt like someone hit me over the head with a shovel. But, I’m conscious now … weak, deeply depressed, but awake. 

Why is Black giving away a piece? What could have convinced him to do such a thing? I wasn’t there, so anything is possible. Perhaps he was thinking over his move and was attacked by a rabid wolverine. While trying to defend his throat from the gnashing teeth, his elbow bumped the Knight and pushed it to h5.

Whatever the reason for this mega-blunder might be, in one move, things have swung from 0-1 to 1-0. Instead of this madness, 26…Qg5 27.Nh1 f3 wins a piece and the game for Black. The joke is, white’s undoing would have been the half-open g-file, the very thing White considered to be a trump for himself.

27.Nxh5 f6

27…f3 28.Nf6+ Kh8 29.Nxe4+ followed by Bxf3 is game over. 

28.Nxf4 and White easily won the game.

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