King’s Indian Defense

King’s Indian Defense (not to be confused with King’s Indian Attack) is an aggressive opening against white’s Queen’s Pawn Opening and characterized by the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 with the intention of fianchettoing the dark-squared bishop on the kingside and ..d6.

Kings Indian Defense

The opening is regarded as one of the epitomes of the hypermodern school of chess, and it became highly fashionable at the top level of chess, among Soviet chess masters in particular, in the mid-19th century. Among its most prestigious practitioners are attacking geniuses like Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, who brought a lot of new ideas to the theory of the opening.

Winning percentages on both sides

Results Rate
Win for white 38%
Draw 38%
Win for black 24%

Main Ideas

The King’s Indian Defense unfolds slowly in the beginning, but it is only the silence before the storm. The razor sharp tactical nature of the King’s Indian Defense makes it a double-edged opening where any outcome is a possibility. The opening is an ambitious one to play for scoring a full point rather than trying to equalize the game as black. Therefore, this explosive opening is mostly used in must-win situations by the top players due to the structural imbalances and counterattacking opportunities it provides.

Just like other hypermodern openings, like the Modern Defense, black concedes central control to white and gives priority to completing the kingside development. After that, black will try to undermine white’s big center with either …e5 or …c5 and depending on how white reacts, the long-term central structure of the game will be established. Oftentimes, the center will be locked up by pawn chains. Both sides will then direct their focus on flanks, seeking pawn breakthroughs towards the tip of their pawn chain. For white, this usually means a pawn storm on the queenside with a4, b4 and c5 or a5, which is also known as Bayonet Attack. On the other hand, black will focus on expanding their position on the kingside with the intention of launching an attack against the white king, starting with …f5 and …f4 followed by advancing the g-pawn.

Theoretical lines of King’s Indian Defense

In the King’s Indian Defense, black’s first moves revolve around the idea of tucking the king away as quickly as possible by castling: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 (Black can still transpose to the Grünfeld Defense with 3…d5 if they wish) 3…Bg7 4.e4 d6, preventing an early e5 by white. This could be regarded as the main starting position of the King’s Indian Defense. Since, black does not exert direct pressure on the center yet, white gets a free hand in determining the structure of the game with their next move. The main question for white is now to decide if they want to develop the knight, 5.Nf3, which is the most standard continuation, or advance the f-pawn before that, for example with 5.f3, Sämisch Variation, or , 5.f4, Four Pawns Attack. In the Classical (Orthodox) Variation with 5.Nf3, the main line continues with 5…0-0 6.Be2 e5. Against black’s …e5 breakthrough, white can ignore the tension with either 7.0-0 or 7.Be3, resolve the tension with either 7.dxe5, the Exchange Variation, or close the center with 7.d5, known as the Petrosian Variation. Alternatively, white can delay developing the knight and play 5.Be2, which is the second most popular move. 5…0-0 6.Bg5 would then be the Averbakh Variation.

Classical variation: 6.Be2 e5

Kings Indian Defense - Classical Variation

In the mainline, white continues with a natural developing move 5.Nf3 and after 5…0-0 6.Be2 e5, white has four major options to consider: 7.0-0, 7.dxe5, 7.Be3 and 7.d5.

The most commonly chosen move is 7.0-0. 7…Nc6 would force white to make a decision about how to resolve the central tension. The standard reaction is 8.d5, gaining space and utilizing the classical chess principles. After 8…Ne7, white will now launch the thematic Bayonet Attack with 9.b4. The main theme of this standard King’s Indian Defense structure is flank attacks: black wants to remove the f6-Knight away to advance f7-f5, starting a deadly attack on white’s king, while white undermines the root of black’s central pawn chain with c5 and intends to create a potential target for long-term advantage. If both sides follow their thematic plans, a natural continuation of the game could be: 9…Nh5 10.Re1 f5 11.c5 fxe4 12.Nxe4 Nf4

The Exchange Variation, 7.dxe5, might be tempting as it looks like the e5-pawn is simply hanging after 7…dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Nxe5?, but this would actually be a blunder because of 9…Nxe4, unleashing the power of the dark-squared bishop on the long diagonal. Now 10.Nxe4 (10.Nf3?? Nxc3 11.bxc3 Bxc3+ and black wins a free rook) Bxe5 and if anyone stands better, it could only be black due to the activity of their pieces. So instead of getting greedy with 9.Nxe5?, white should just pin the f6-Knight with 9.Bg5.

The Gligoric-Taimanov System, 7.Be3 is another option white has, but it lets black to harass the bishop with 7…Ng4.

Petrosian: 6.Be2 e5 7.d5

Kings Indian Defense - Petrosian Variation

In the Petrosian Variation, 6.Be2 e5 7.d5, white intends to accelerate their Bayonet Attack c4-c5. and locks up the center before castling kingside. Black’s usual response is the prophylactic 7…a5, preventing white’s b4. In return, white will try to interfere with black’s main plan with ..f5 by pinning the f6-Knight with 8.Bg5. Nevertheless, black can achieve the desired …f5 break with a controlled play on both wings: 8..h6 9.Bh4 Na6, eyeing on c5, 10.Nd2 Qe8, getting out of the pin, 11.0-0 Nh7 12.a3 Bd7 13.b3 f5

Averbakh Variation: 5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5

Kings Indian Defense - Averbakh Variation

Alternatively, white may try to stop black’s powerful …e5 break with the Averbakh Variation: 5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5 as now 6…e5? would simply be a mistake after 7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Nd5, attacking both f6 and c7.

The proper way to challenge the center for black is therefore 6..c5, which is usually met by 7.d5 h6 8.Bf4 e6, trying to open up the e-file since white has king in the center and is behind in the development.

Four Pawns Attack: 5.f4

Kings Indian Defense - Four Pawns Attack

The all-in approach with 5.f4 seems visually frightening; however, it is not as problematic for black as other variations like Sämisch because it overextends the pawns. So, black can castle without fear, 5…0-0. The main drawback of white’s hyper-aggressive approach is that almost all of white’s pieces are still in their initial positions while black has already completed kingside development. Games will usually resemble the structure of Benoni Defense: 6.Nf3 c5 7.d5 e6 8.Be2 exd5 9.cxd5 Bg4 10.0-0 Nbd7 11.h3 Bxf3 12.Bxf3 Re8 would be a sample line, where black will expand on the queenside with a6-b5.

Sämisch Variation: 5.f3

Kings Indian Defense - Sämisch Variation

In the Sämisch Variation, white first reinforces the center with 5.f3. But behind this quiet move, there is a very dangerous setup white has in mind: castling queenside. So, if black ignores white’s vicious intention and tries to employ the same thematic ..f5 break like in the classical variation, this would give white a very comfortable position. A sample line of that would be: 5…0-0 6.Be3 e5 7.d5 Nh5 8.Qd2 f5 9.0-0-0. Now black is just helping white in opening up the kingside, which would eventually expose the black king.

Therefore, in the Sämisch Variation, black adapts their main plan to prevent this scenario. For example, instead of 6…e5, black challenges the center with 6…c5, and after 7.Nge2 Nc6 8.d5 Ne5, hitting the c4 pawn, 9.Ng3 e6, trying to open up the center, 10.Be2 exd5 11.cxd5 a6 12.a4 Bd7, white would have no choice but to castle kingside: 13.0-0

Common Trap

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Bd3 Bg4 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Nc6 9.Be3 Nd7, attacking twice on d4 and trying to protect it with the natural 10.Ne2?? would be a blunder because of 10…Nde5! 11.dxe5 Nxe5 12.Qg3 Nxd3+ with a crushing position for black.

Pros and Cons

Dynamic counterplay for black with high stakes. White can dictate the structural formation of the game and, therefore, the plans to follow.
Clear attacking plans on the kingside. Exhaustive theoretical lines that black needs to know.


In conclusion, the King’s Indian Defense is a bold and ambitious opening choice that offers players a unique set of advantages and challenges. Its dynamic nature and aggressive counterplay make it a thrilling option for those who thrive in sharp, tactical positions. The opening provides black with opportunities to launch a powerful kingside onslaught and disrupt white’s plans. While it can be a risky choice as it requires accurate calculation and resourcefulness, it rewards those who are willing to take calculated risks.

Written by
Deniz Tasdelen, National Master
National Master with over 20 years of experience. He has participated in many prestigious tournaments, including the European and World Youth Chess Championships.
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