Queen’s Indian Defense

Queen’s Indian Defense, along with the Nimzo-Indian Defense, makes up the two pillars of Nimzo-Indian Systems. Queen’s Indian Defense is considered one of the soundest responses to Queen’s Pawn Opening. In particular, when after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6, white goes for the Anti-Nimzo-Indian by playing 3.Nf3, the starting position of the Queen’s Indian Defense is reached after 3…b6.

Queen's Indian Defense

As an opening that embodies the spirit of the hypermodern school of chess, it became fashionable during the early decades of the 20th century. In the contemporary scene of chess, it is fair to say that Queen’s Indian Defense is included in almost any of the top player’s opening repertoire.

Winning percentages on both sides

Results Rate
Win for white 29%
Draw 51%
Win for black 20%

Key Ideas

The Queen’s Indian Defense can be described rather as an opening system than an opening, and it can be employed against almost any Queen’s Pawn Opening or English Opening, unless white makes deliberate effort to avoid it, e.g. via the Catalan Opening (with the move orders 1.d4 2.c4 and 3.g3). In the Queen’s Indian Defense, most of the time it will be white, who will decide the nature of the position, depending on their choices. So black needs to be prepared to face various types of positions.

Just as in any other hypermodern opening, the Queen’s Indian fights for central control with minor pieces, mostly fianchetto, instead of occupying it directly with pawns, as in the classical approach. The most characteristic feature of the Queen’s Indian is the queenside fianchetto, which exerts pressure on the long diagonal and also prevents white’s e2-e4. The e4-square is the most crucial square in the opening, and the main conflict of the Queen’s Indian Defense revolves around controlling the light square color complex of the center. For that objective, black’s all pieces will contribute either by being directed towards it (…Bb7, …Nf6) or reducing white’s control, e.g. ..Bb4 pinning white’s c3-Knight. Oftentimes, black occupies e4 with …Ne4 and reinforces it with the thematic …f5. Once black has established enough grip on the center, the main plan to follow would be to go for a kingside attack in a similar fashion to the Dutch Defense.

Queen’s Indian Defense’s Theory

After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6, the most direct way for white to fight against black’s monster bishop on the queenside is to encounter it with a kingside fianchetto, 4.g3 followed by Bg2. Black can then choose between the old mainline, 4…Bb7, and the more contemporary one, 4…Ba6. Sometimes white wants to prevent black’s …Bb4 as a prophylaxis, even at the cost of a tempo, and plays 4.a3 (Petrosian Variation). On the other hand, the Kasparov Variation 4.Nc3 does exactly the opposite and provokes …Bb4 with 4.Nc3.

Main Line: 4.g3

Queen's Indian Defense Main Line - 4.g3

White rapidly wants to neutralize black’s queenside fianchetto with its own fianchetto on the kingside: 4.g3. After that, the main line branches out into two major variations: 4…Bb7, the old mainline, and the 4…Ba6, which gained popularity in more recent times. The difference between them lies in subtle positional nuances.

4.g3 Bb7 (Old Mainline)

Queen's Indian Defense 4.g3 Bb7 (Old Mainline)

In the Old Mainline of the Queen’s Indian Defense, both sides proceed with their routine development to get ready for the close combat stage: 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 Be7 (5…Bb4+ would be encountered with 6.Bd2) 6.0-0 0-0. Since black has developed their dark square bishop via e7, white can develop the queen’s knight to its natural square, 7.Nc3, without fearing the …Bb4 pin. The other and more ambitious looking alternative is the Polugaevsky Gambit, temporarily sacrificing a pawn with 7.d5 to get it back with interest.

Polugaevsky Gambit: 7.d5 exd5 8.Nh4

Queen's Indian Defense - Polugaevsky Gambit 7.d5 exd5 8.Nh4

The underlying notion behind white’s pawn sacrifice with 7.d5 is to deflect black’s e6 pawn, which controls the f5 square. After 7…exd5, white’s 8.Nh4 has dual-purpose: heading towards f5, but also unleashing a pin on the long-diagonal and threatening to recapture on d5. Black needs a series of ugly looking moves to maintain their chances. 8…c6 is almost mandatory in order to defend the d5 pawn, but also intending to capture …dxc4 as the pin is no longer present. So, white has to play 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.Nf5. Black retreats their knight to c7 before white plays e4 with tempo: 10…Nc7, also with the idea of …d5. 11.e4 d5 12.Nc3 Bf6 13.exd5 cxd5 14.Bf4 and white will keep pressuring black on the center, with the intention of regaining the material in more favorable conditions. As a result of pawn sacrifice, white has basically forced black’s forces into a state of discoordination. An attempt by black to consolidate their position may look like: 14….Nba6 15.Re1 Bc8 16.Nd6 Be6 17.Nxd5 Nxd5 18.Bxd5 Bxd5 19.Qxd5 Bxb2 with an equal position.


Queen's Indian Defense 7.Nc3

7.Nc3 offers a more fruitful approach for White, because the Polugaevsky Gambit may lead to drawish positions if black knows the defensive technique, as we have seen in the previous analysis. At this point, black starts to apply their thematic idea: 7…Ne4, occupying the e4 square and hoping to follow it with …f5. White usually defends c3 with 8.Bd2 (8.Qc2 Nxc3 9.Qxc3 c5) to be able to recapture on c3 with Bxc3 in case of …Nxc3. 8…f5 and we reach the main tabiya of the Old Mainline.

White has several moves to choose from here, which are equally good. A few of them are: 9.Ne5, unleashing the fianchetto bishop, 9.Qc2, connecting the rooks; 9.d5, trying to break in the center and dampen black’s fianchetto bishop. In the case of 9.Qc2, game may proceed with 9….Bf6 10.Rad1 Nxc3 11.Qxc3 Be4 12.Qc1 d6 and black try to bring the queen to kingside via …Qe8.

4.g3 Ba6

Queen's Indian Defense 4.g3 Ba6

By developing the 4…Ba6 instead of 4…Bb7, black wants to point out that defending c4 is not a trivial task as each response comes as some sort of concession. For example, 5.Nbd2 would be a passive placement for the knight, as opposed to the active c3 square, from where it can control d5. 5.Qc2 is also not so desirable for a similar reason; the control of d5 gives black a chance to strike at the center with 5…c5.

The most common way to defend c4 is with 5.b3 and follow it up with queenside fianchetto. So black may interrupt this idea of white with 5…Bb4+, forcing 6.Bd2 (6.Nbd2 Bc3 7.Rb1 Bb7 and black is slightly better) and returning 6…Be7, leaving white’s bishop on an undesired square. Black will keep exerting pressure on c4 and black’s center, utilizing the fact that white’s light square bishop leaves c4 undefended when white fianchettoes. The battle in the center might proceed with 7.Bg2 c6 8.Bc3 d5 9.Ne5 Nfd7 10.Nxd7 Nxd7 11.Nd2 0-0 12.0-0 Rc8, each side will keep on fighting for control of the square that the opposite side has a weak grip on.

Queen’s Indian Defense Kasparov Variation: 4.Nc3

Queen's Indian Defense 4.Nc3

Kasparov Variation 4.Nc3, turns the position into a Nimzo-Queen’s-Indian hybrid. Against this variation, black can choose an aggressive setup to gain spatial control: 4…Bb7 5.Bg5 Bb4 (If black wants a calmer approach, 5…Be7 can be played, e.g. 6.e3 Ne4 7.Nxe4 Bxe4 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.Be2 0-0 10.0-0 d6 11.Nd2 Bb7 12.Bf3 c5 13.Bxb7 Qxb7) 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 g5!?, unpinning the knight, 8.Bg3 Ne4 9.Qc2 Bxc3+, eliminating white’s knight to stabilize control on e4, 10.bxc3 d6 11.Bd3 f5 12.d5 Nd7 13.Bxe4 (13.dxe6 Ndc5) fxe4 14.Qxe4 Qf6 and black will target white’s ruined pawn structure after …0-0-0.

Queen’s Indian Defense Petrosian Variation: 4.a3

Queen's Indian Defense 4.a3

White may prefer to close the door to any ..Bb4 pin possibilities once and for all with 4.a3, even at the cost of a tempo in the opening. White wants to build a powerful pawn center with Nc3, reinforcing e4. Therefore black needs to react actively without delaying …d5 too much: 4…Bb7 (or 4…Ba6 5.Qc2 Bb7 6.Nc3 c5) 5.Nc3 d5 6.Bg5 Be7 7.e3 0-0.

A routine move like 5…Be7 would allow white to grab more space with 6.d5, followed by e4 and stand slightly better already.

Trap in Queen’s Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.Bg5 Bb7 5.e3 h6 6.Bh4 Bb4+ 7.Nbd2? would be the wrong way to block the check due to 7…g5 8.Bg3 g4! 9.Ne5 Ne4 and there is no way for white to save the pinned knight on d2 10.Qxg4 Bxd2+ 11.Kd1 Qg5

Pros and Cons of Queen’s Indian Defense

Pros Cons
Firm grip on the light squares in the center and the e4-square in particular, with the minor pieces. One of the most common positional drawbacks for black is the knight on b8, as it is not trivial to find an ideal square for it.
Provides black with a solid pawn structure, which makes it hard for white to find a clear target.


The Queen’s Indian Defense, classified as a system opening, offers a relatively straightforward learning path. The primary focus of the ensuing struggle is typically more positional than tactical, affording players a stable and secure opening foundation as black. However, it’s important to note that white can influence the structure and nature of the position based on their chosen variations, such as the Kasparov Variation or Polugaevsky Gambit. Thus, a comprehensive opening preparation should encompass an exploration of the features and key concepts related to potential positions.

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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Is the Queen’s Indian Defense good?

The Queen’s Indian Defense is a sound opening against the Queen’s Pawn Opening and promises black enough counterplaying chances.

How to play against the Queen’s Indian Defense?

One of the best strategies for white when facing the Queen’s Indian Defense is to look out for a d5-pawn break to grab space and discoordinate black’s forces.

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