King is more important

Chess Piece
By Bobby Ang

Posted on December 16, 2011

The King’s Indian Defense (KID for short) was popularized by the Ukrainians, notably David Bronstein, Isaak Boleslavsky and Yefim Geller in the 1940s and 1950s. It became very popular then. In fact, in one of the most famous tournaments in chess history, the Zurich 1953 Candidates’ Tournament (immortalized by the book The Chess Struggle in Practice by Bronstein and Vainstein), you will note that one-fifth of the games played opened with the King’s Indian.

In more recent times, though, the opening fell into a bit of hard times. King’s Indian players included Kasparov, Gelfand, Judit Polgar, van Wely, Svidler and Topalov, yet if you search your database, you will be hard-pressed to find a single KID game, featuring one of these players as Black, in the last five years.

Quoting from a Q&A Kasparov gave in 2001, on giving up the KID:

“It’s a difficult opening, positionally it’s very difficult. It’s not fresh anymore. The KID is one of those openings where you have to play only the King’s Indian just to defend the position in different lines. For example, I play the Najdorf. It’s tough, but I spend all my time analyzing it and I’m confident that I can play it with white or black with excellent results. But it’s hard to play anything else.

“I could play other openings against 1.e4, but if you play the Najdorf you have to concentrate on it, and when you play the KID you have to concentrate on that. On a practical level it’s a very tough call. I did it in the early ’90s, playing both the Najdorf and the KID, but I have more faith in the Najdorf. It creates more counter-chances for black. In the King’s Indian these days white has already established the right patterns. Whatever they play, b4 or other lines, you just can’t win. Basically, what’s the point of having so much trouble when white can play the first twenty moves without risk?

“Years ago I had great scores with the King’s Indian, but now there’s little danger for white. Now I can play the Queen’s Gambit and get a reasonable position. Even if it’s a draw, like with Piket and Van Wely in Corus this year, I can push for a win and I don’t have to suffer so much in the opening.”

Nowadays there are just a few of the elite players who still wheel out the King’s Indian. The highest-rated would be Azeri GM Teimour Radjabov. There is also former FIDE World Champion Uzbek GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who has actually come out with a DVD to convince you that not only is there nothing wrong with the King’s Indian, but it remains one of the most dangerous defences for the 1.d4 player to face (or so the DVD tells us).

The Greek GM Vasilios Kotronias is very dangerous with the KID, but the one making the headlines now is the American Champion Hikaru Nakamura, who has defeated three of the world’s best players in this line: Boris Gelfand, Vladimir Kramnik and now the reigning world champion Viswanathan Anand. Nakamura twitted after the game: “Live by the sword and die by the sword. I wonder how many of these games I can play in the KID before I die of a heart attack.”

Just a personal note. I myself played the King’s Indian Defense for many years before giving it up in favour of more solid lines -- just got tired of oftentimes getting inferior positions and having to “work” to fight back. Lately though I am sensing that it is precisely this imbalance which leads to so many interesting games. I have defeated a lot of players who were stronger than me because the KID leads to tactical situations where a single tactical blow can turn the tables.

The following game is not perfect, but illustrates my point completely.

Anand, Viswanathan (2811) -- Nakamura, Hikaru (2758) [E97]

London Chess Classic London (4), 06.12.2011

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0 -- 0 6.Be2 e5 7.0 -- 0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.b4

The Bayonet Attack, the line which made Kasparov quit the KID.


It is no longer fashionable to play 9...Nh5 followed by ...Nf4.

10.c5 f5 11.Nd2 Nf6 12.a4

Anand avoids 12.f3 f4 13.Nc4 g5 14.a4 Ng6 15.Ba3 Rf7 with which his opponent won well known games against Beliavsky and Gelfand.


Nakamura had played the more accurate 12...f4 against Vladimir Kramnik in their 2010 Khanty Mansiysk game. Perhaps he was experiencing an attack of nerves and forgot his move orders? I’ll show you later why the text move is wrong.

13.Nc4 h6

This is the reason why the previous move was an error -- Black is now forced to play 13...h6. If he had instead played 12...f4 this move would not have been necessary and he could have moved the h-pawn to h5 in one go.

14.f3 f4 15.Ba3 Ng6 16.b5

Black now has a problem on the defense of d6. In the time-honored Gligoric formation Black would play ...Rf7, ...Bf8 and ...Rg7 to both attack and defend, but since he is a tempo down 16...Rf7 would lose an important pawn. There remains 16...Ne8, but Nakamura chooses to concede his strong point on d6 and capture on c5.

16...dxc5 17.Bxc5 Rf7 18.a5 h5

As usual White is dominating in the queenside and now also the center. However, the kingside is Black’s compensation.

19.b6 g4 20.Nb5 cxb621.axb6 g3 22.Kh1

Nakamura: “All these lines are very similar. I’m just down a tempo, which makes a big difference, unfortunately.” By the way, take note that White makes a point to avoid playing h2 -- h3, since the h-pawn becomes a target for Black to sacrifice either his knight or bishop on h3.

22...Bf8 23.d6!

Secures c7 and d5 for his pieces. 23.Bxf8? is a mistake because of 23...Nxe4! 24.fxe4 Qh4 and White cannot avoid mate.

23...a6 24.Nc7 Rb8 25.Na5 Kh8 26.Bc4 Rg7 27.Ne6

More often than not the Black bishop on c8 is important for his attack, so Anand forces it off the board.

27...Bxe6 28.Bxe6 gxh2

And Black now takes off the white pawn on h2 before it can go to h3. <D>

Position after 28...gxh2

This is a crucial moment in the game.


It is not so obvious, but this is a mistake, and I will show you why next move.


Nakamura is very tactically alert. The White bishop cannot go to h3 because after 30.Bh3 Qb5! White loses a piece. The bishop is forced to go to d5 but from that square it can no longer keep an eye on h3, which is why Black now advances his h-pawn. It appears that the tables have already turned and Nakamura rushes his pieces up the kingside.

30.Bd5 h4 31.Rf2 h3! 32.gxh3 Rc8 33.Ra5 Nh4 34.Kxh2

Some more tactics: 34.Rxh2? Nxd5! 35.exd5 (35.Qxd5 Nxf3 36.Rg2 Qh5 wins) 35...e4!


Nakamura is getting confused as well. Best is 34...Nxd5! 35.exd5 (35.Qxd5 Qg6 followed by mate) 35...Rg3! and 36...Qg6.

35.Bb4 Rg3 36.Qf1 Qh5! 37.Ra3 a5 38.Be1 Rxc4! 39.Bxc4 Bxd6 40.Rxa5 Bc5 41.Be2 Bxb6 42.Rb5 Bd4

[Black can also play 42...Bxf2 43.Bxf2 (43.Qxf2 Nxf3+ 44.Bxf3 Qxh3#) 43...Nxf3+ 44.Bxf3 Qxf3 45.Rb1 (45.Rxb7? Nc5 46.Rb4 and now Black has the luxury of playing 46...Kg7! and tucking in his king at either g5 or h5 before crushing white with ...Nd3) 45...Rg6 46.Re1 b6 White is powerless.

43.Bd1 Bxf2 44.Bxf2 Nxf3+ 45.Bxf3 Qxf3 46.Rb1

Defending the queen so that he can (hopefully) take the g3 -- rook.

46...Rg6 47.Rxb7 Nf6 48.Rb8+ Kh7 49.Rb7+ Kh6 Anand is losing his e4 -- pawn, after which the two passed Black pawns guarantee victory. 0 -- 1

I remember Mal del Plata 1953, When Miguel Najdorf lost to Gligoric’s King’s Indian Defense. Najdorf was in disbelief that White’s tremendous queenside initiative did not win the game. M. Luckis, though quite inferior to Najdorf in playing strength, did explain matters to the grandmaster: “It is simple. The King is more important!”

Maybe we should take up the King’s Indian Defense again.

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