The King's Indian Exchange Structure

The King's Indian Exchange Structure

| 16 | Endgames

For those of you who are expecting the seventh part of "Endgames of Tromsø", unfortunately there wasn't much material from the finals of the World Cup which would fit into the topic of my column. By this I mean that there was no interesting endgame or queenless middlegame position to which it was worth devoting a column. Of course the four games of the final match between Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Andreikin contained many interesting moments - and you can find them elsewhere on this site and others - but those moments also included queens, and  thus do not fit into my column.

One of the principle ways to combat White's central ambitions after 1.d4 is by the King's Indian setup, typified by the following central pawn structure:

Naturally, the tension between the e5 pawn and the d4 pawn will somehow be released at some point in the game. Either White is going to play d4-d5, Black will play ...exd4, or White will play dxe5. We will be looking at the latter, and the queenless middlegame which often results from the subsequent exchange of queens on the d-file.

On the most basic level, this structure favors Black. Pawns cannot move backwards, and the white pawn on c4, the only unsymmetrical element of the structure, has sailed forward, permanently weakening d4 and d3. Black's c-pawn, on the other hand, maintains its freedom of choice. It can remain on c7, move to c6, or go to c5 and create a symmetrical pawn structure.

That said, the position of the pieces is important, and often in this structure White enjoys an advantage in development. While Black's c-pawn can guard d6 and d5, it can only do one at a time. Often the pawn advances to c6, and this leaves d6 vulnerable for an invasion by c4-c5 and Nd2-c4. White has other plans involving an advance of the queenside pawns by b4-b5. A plan of general piece pressure on the queenside can be unpleasant - Be3 keeps the pawn on a7 under constant threat, the advance ...a7-a6 weakens the b6 square, and the advance ...b7-b6 creates new weaknesses, in particular making it possible for White to conquer the d5 square by playing b4-b5, disposing of the c6 pawn.

Let's now see some specific examples around these themes:

Black's control of d4

Black's control of d4 is a critical factor in this structure. If Black can install a knight there, all of White's play comes to an end. Any hope of using rooks on the open d-file ends, the Be3 loses its pressure against a7, and in general the knight gums up the white position. Typically, capturing it would require giving up the dark-squared bishop, which is not what White wants to do. In addition, the exchange of dark-squared bishops is a very important goal for Black. The following game, although a big mismatch, illustrates Black's advantages in their basic form:

White's c4 move has also weakened other squares, which Black is often able to exploit when he obtains the initiative. The following game from the 1980 World Junior Championship features two famous people - one in chess, the other in chess politics (Silvio Danailov is president of the European Chess Union):

"Chess politician" IM Silvio Danailov (2466)

The next game was rather annoying for me. Black managed to carry out his strategies, but White was able to create a fortress. Nevertheless Black had a nice advantage and there were some other ways to put pressure on White.

Black often gains the two bishops as a result of his control of central squares

White sometimes has to give up a bishop for a knight that is occupying d4 or f4. In resulting position, the structure is basically symmetrical, but the possibility of pawn breaks on either flank gives Black a chance to play for the win.

White's control of d6 and queenside squares in general

While White's c4 move leaves some weak squares in its wake, it also provides a space advantage. One of White's strongest strategies is to invade on d6 with a knight. Additionally, b6 can often be used if Black ends up having to play the ...a6 move. The following battle between experts in the King's Indian shows White's strategy triumphing.

The change in structure caused by White's Nd5 move

In some of the basic lines of the exchange variation of the King's Indian, White follows up with Nd5 immediately, forcing ...Nxd5 cxd5. In other positions, the Nd5 move might come later. Black usually has to undermine the d-pawn with ...c6, or else face White's large space advantage and pressure on the c-file. In other cases White ends up with a passed pawn on d5.

Black's ...f5 move

Besides using the d4 square, Black's other main aggressive possibility is the move ...f5. This changes the structure, usually to liberate the Black pieces.

...c5 for Black

Black of course has the possibility to make the central structure symmetrical. In this case he renounces the d5 square, but gains total control of the d4 square and equalizes the space control. This can be especially effective when White has weakened his position in other ways.

Understanding the structure of the exchange King's Indian is crucial for those who play that opening, and can also arise from various other openings, such as the Modern and some kinds of Benoni. 


More from GM BryanSmith
Magnus Carlsen And The Nimzo-Indian Defense

Magnus Carlsen And The Nimzo-Indian Defense

Vishy Anand And The Semi-Slav Defense

Vishy Anand And The Semi-Slav Defense