The King’s Indian Attack – How to Play It as White and Black

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King's Indian Attack Chessable Guide
Table of Contents

Quick Summary:

  • The King’s Indian Attack is not a specific opening per se, but rather a flexible opening system for White which can be used against a variety of defenses
  • The King’s Indian Attack is characterized by a kingside fianchetto, pawns on d3 and e4, and knights on f3 and d2
  • The King’s Indian Attack can be reached through various move orders, and can start from either 1.e4 or 1.Nf3. Achieving the same setup is possible in both cases, but White may face some move order nuances
  • Black has a variety of defenses against the King’s Indian Attack. One of the simplest and most solid is the London Defense, which is a reversed London System
  • In many cases, play takes place on the wings, with Black attacking on the queenside and White attacking on the kingside. Common maneuvers are Nf1-Nh2-Ng4, h2-h4-h5, Bf4, Re1, and e5 to launch a direct assault on the Black king

In his book Winning Chess Openings, 4-time US Champion Yasser Seirawan details a very relatable struggle of his early days in chess: finding the right opening.

Trying all the main lines, Seirawan quickly grew annoyed with having to always stay on top of the latest opening theory. After years of frustrating losses after 1.e4, he searched for a solid opening where he could just develop his pieces, get his king safe, and ‘just play chess’ for a win. He found his “opening solution” in the King’s Indian Attack.

But make no mistake – just because it’s not theoretically complex, the King’s Indian Attack is by no means boring – as Seirawan was keen to show his opponents. This versatile system, favored by legendary players like Seirawan and even Bobby Fischer, can be used to launch brutal attacks on your opponent’s king in a variety of defenses.

In this article, we’ll learn the basics of the King’s Indian Attack for both White and Black. After learning the fundamental concepts and testing it out yourself a little, you’ll be surprised just how harmonious and powerful this opening is!

What Is the King’s Indian Attack?

The King’s Indian Attack (or KIA for short) is not exactly a specific opening per se, but rather a system or setup for the White pieces. The predominant features of the King’s Indian are a kingside fianchetto, knights on f3 and d2, and pawns on e4 and d3, resulting in a setup that looks something like this:

This flexible setup can be used against practically anything Black can play. Whether White can gain maximum advantage by doing so is another question, of course, but in actual practice, the KIA is an effective tool against many of Black’s defenses.

So what are the basic ideas in the King’s Indian Attack? In many cases, the center will be locked with pawns, and both players will play on opposing wings: White on the kingside and Black on the queenside.

White will transfer their pieces to attack the Black kingside castle, often via Re1, h2-h4-h5, Nf1-Nh2-Ng4, Bf4, Qd2 and so on. The idea is pretty simple – rip open the castle – even by means of sacrificing a bishop, pawn, or knight, and go for checkmate.

Take this position, which arises from a very common King’s Indian Attack against the French Defense. The opening moves were:

1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Nc6 5.g3 Nf6 6.Bg2 Be7 7.O-O O-O 8.Re1 b5

Black has already started throwing their pawns down toward White’s queenside, so White will respond with moves like e5 (kicking the f6 knight away from the defense of the kingside), Nf1, Bf4, h4, h5 and simply go for a kingside attack.

King’s Indian Attack Move Orders

The flexibility of the KIA setup makes it playable from a variety of move orders. However, some subtle nuances exist.

One of the most common ways to initiate the King’s Indian Attack is the Barcza Opening, which starts with 1.Nf3 – 2.g3 – 3. Bg2 — 4.O-O almost regardless of what Black plays.

Castled by move 4 – nice!

‘Almost’ is where the bit of nuance comes in. For example, in his excellent course Lifetime Repertoires: King’s Indian Attack, FIDE Master Kamil Plichta recommends 3.b3 if Black decides to go for a copycat system of 1…Nf6 and 1…g6 (as in a King’s Indian Defense).

So, 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.b3, preparing to meet Black’s fianchetto with an opposing fianchetto, which in practice often has some nice tactical potential.

As you might imagine, however, 1.Nf3 could warrant all sorts of responses from Black, and White may be better off veering away from the King’s Indian Attack. Black can play a King’s Indian Defense-like setup, Reversed London System, or Reversed Grunfeld, and generally

these openings will steer White away from the typical King’s Indian Attack middlegame.

By playing 1.e4 first, White will probably get a setup resembling the King’s Indian Attack more so, as Black will typically play defenses such as the Sicilian, French, Caro-Kann, against which the KIA is very much playable.

Let’s take the Caro-Kann for example. After, say, the moves 1.e4 c6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 g6 4.Ngf3 Bg7 5.g3 e5 6.Bg2 Ne7 7.O-O O-O, you got there. Play will be somewhat different with Black’s fianchetto structure, nevertheless your King’s Indian Attack setup will work just fine!

How to Play Against the King’s Indian Attack as Black

How you handle the King’s Indian Attack as Black will depend largely on how White initiates the King’s Indian Attack. If White starts with 1.e4, you do not necessarily know if they will go for the King’s Indian Attack. As a result, you should just play your normal response to 1.e4 – whether that be 1…e5, the Sicilian, the French, the Caro-Kann, or whatever defense you choose. If you have a book or course on that opening, almost always there will be a chapter on how to deal with King’s Indian Attack setups.

You have more options if White chooses the 1.Nf3 move order. One option is the so-called London Defense, which is essentially a reversed London System. This is a simple, flexible and solid option, much like the London System for White.

The idea is to develop the knight to f6, light square bishop to f5, and have pawns on c6, d5, and e6, creating a mirror image of the London System for White. An example is:

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 Bf5 4.O-O e6 5.d3 h6 (giving some breathing room to the bishop if it’s attacked) 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.b3 O-O 8.Bb2 Nbd7 9.Re1 c6

The nice thing about the London Defense, from Black’s point of view, is that they have a lot of control over the e4 square – typically a square where White wants to have a pawn in the KIA.

However, there are certainly other viable options. If you’re a French Defense player, for example, it’s fairly easy to transpose into the French variation of the King’s Indian Attack – if you don’t mind playing that, of course! For example, after 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6, play will almost certainly head into a typical King’s Indian Attack against the French Defense.

Model Game – Fischer with the King’s Indian Attack

One of the most famous practitioners of the King’s Indian Attack was none other than the great Bobby Fischer. Though perhaps his KIAs against the French Defense, like this famous game, are the most renowned and studied, the following early game by Fischer shows the universality of the King’s Indian Attack setup and its applicability towards other openings.

Robert James Fischer – James Sherwin

1957 New Jersey Open

Sicilian Defense

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3

Yes, Fischer is going for a King’s Indian Attack setup against the Sicilian! Let’s see how it works.

3…Nc6 4.g3 Nf6 5.Bg2 Be7 6.O-O O-O 7.Nbd2

7…Rb8

As Fischer notes in his book My 60 Memorable Games, perhaps …d5 was a better idea for Black, trying to achieve the typical Sicilian d-pawn break opening the center. Instead, Black is preparing a queenside strategy, with the idea of launching his a- and b-pawns down the board.

8.Re1 d6 9.c3

Black has delayed …d5 too long, and now Fischer decides that he’ll seize the center if his opponent is so willing to give it up. This move prepares d4 and from there, e5. This is important to remember, because the central control will aid in White’s kingside attack, namely by kicking away the important knight defender on f6.

9…b6 10.d4 Qc7!?

This natural-looking developing move is in fact a mistake, because it lets Fischer continue with his plan all too easily. Better was 10…cxd4 11.cxd4 d5 with some counterplay.

11.e5 Nd5 12.exd6 Bxd6 13. Ne4 c4

Stopping Fischer from playing c4 himself, winning material. For example 13…Be7 14.c4 Nf6 15.Bf4 and White wins the exchange with a skewer on Black’s queen and rook. 13…cxd4 14.Nxd6 Qxd6 15.c4 Nf6 16.Bf4 capitalizes on the same idea.

14.Nxd6 Qxd6 15.Ng5

Fischer continues setting the stage for his assault on the black king. True, …h6 could shoo the knight away, but at the cost of weakening the structure of Black’s castle.

15…Nce7?

A serious mistake. For all its faults, …h6 was still the best defense. Let’s see how Fischer capitalizes on the mistake.

16.Qc2 Ng6

This was the point of …Nce7 – to stop Qxh7# without weakening the structure of the castle. But it also allows Fischer to get his kingside attack rolling in full force. Perhaps better was 16.g6, shutting down the diagonal, but at the cost of weakening the dark squares around Black’s king (though without his dark square bishop, that would be a significant drawback for Black)

17.h4 (here comes the attack!) 17…Nf6 18.Nxh7!!

18…Nxh7

If 18…Kxh7 19.Bf4

19.h5 Nh4!

Black decides to complicate things since he’s going to be down the exchange anyway after 19…Be7 20.Bf4 20.Bf4 Qd8 21.gxh4

Why not just take the rook on b8 – the point of the skewer to begin with? The problem is that 21.Bxb8 Nxg2 22.Kxg2 Bb7+ 23.f3 Qxb8, and Black’s 19…Nh4 pays off.

21…Rb7!

A surprising move at first glance. Black again keeps things interesting, as 22.Bxb7 Bxb7 leaves Black down the exchange, but with a monstrous bishop glaring down at White’s kingside

22.h6 Qxh4 23.hxg7 Kxg7

As Fischer puts it, this is suicidal. It was simply better to move the rook over to d8, even if it only prolongs Fischer’s victory.

24.Re4!

Threatening Be5+, a discovered attack which wins Black’s queen.

24…Qh5 25.Re3!

This was the real intent. 24.Re4 allowed White to keep his bishop on f4 and move the Black queen out of the way on account of the discovery tactic. Let’s see what was truly in store.

25…f5

Trying to shut down the b1-h7 diagonal from White’s queen and creating an escape hatch for his own king

26.Rh3

Rather than going straight for Rg3+, Fischer takes the opportunity to shoot out the Black queen from the king’s defense, paving the way for his own queen to get into the attack

26…Qe8 27.Be5+ Nf6

27…Kg7 28.Rg3+ Kf7 29.Rg7#

28.Qd2

28…Kf7 29.Qg5 Qe7 30.Bxf6 Qxf6 31.Rh7+

Tactics! The idea is to win a full piece on b7 after the king moves and White first captures the queen.

31…Ke8 32.Qxf6 Rxh7

32…Rxf6 33.Bxb7 Bxb7 34.Rxb7 and White is up a full rook

33.Bc6+

And Black resigned as 33…Bd7 runs into 34.Qxe6+!

This game shows both the versatility of the King’s Indian Attack against different defensive setups by Black and a typical attacking method. The opening moves and even the Nxh7 sacrifice were typical of King’s Indian Attack kingside assaults.

For a full repertoire based on the 1.e4 King’s Indian Attack for White, with attacking plans against the Sicilian, Caro-Kann, French Defense, and more, be sure to check out Reign Supreme: The King’s Indian Attack by FIDE Master Kamil Plichta.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.What is the King’s Indian Attack?

The King’s Indian Attack is a flexible opening system similar to the King’s Indian Defense, but with the White pieces. It is characterized by a kingside fianchetto, pawns on d3 and e4, knights on d2 and f3, and often a kingside attack with moves like h2-h4-h5, Bf4, Re1, and so forth.

2. Is the King’s Indian Attack a good opening?

Yes! Top players through the ages have used the King’s Indian Attack with much success. Bobby Fischer has been known historically as one of its best practitioners, but pros such as Richard Rapport carry the tradition today.

3. How do you play the King’s Indian Attack?

The King’s Indian Attack can be reached by multiple move orders, but the key is to create a kingside fianchetto, put pawns on d3 and e4 and knights on d2 and f3 – this is the typical King’s Indian Attack structure.

4. How do you counter the King’s Indian Attack?

It depends a lot on the move order! If you’re Black and White plays 1.e4, you don’t know it will be a King’s Indian Attack yet. However, most opening courses have lines prescribed against KIA-type setups. For example, if you play the French Defense, almost any French Defense course will have a chapter dealing with the King’s Indian Attack.

If White initiates the King’s Indian Attack with 1.Nf3, there are several good defenses. One of the simplest is to play a reverse London System with moves such as …Bf5, …c6, …e6, …Nf6 and so on. See the section “Playing Against the King’s Indian Attack as Black” for more details.

5. Why is it called the King’s Indian Attack?

The King’s Indian Attack is so named because it mirrors the King’s Indian Defense, a setup used by Black against 1.d4. The Indian Defenses are a family of openings arising after 1.d4 Nf6, and the King’s Indian is one version of them – Black quickly fianchettos and castles kingside.

6. Can the King’s Indian be played as White?

Yes, the version for White is called the King’s Indian Attack, and is the subject of this article. However, the setup is similar in nature to the King’s Indian Defense, played by Black.

7. What is the weakness of the King’s Indian Attack?

Perhaps the number one weakness of the King’s Indian Attack is using the same basic setup against everything Black plays. However, by modifying your King’s Indian Attack repertoire slightly depending on what Black plays, you can still enjoy much success with the King’s Indian Attack and simultaneously enjoy the universality of the opening.

8. When shouldn’t you use the King’s Indian Attack?

Some setups by Black warrant deviation from the King’s Indian Attack so you can pressure for a larger advantage.

9. What are the Indian openings in chess?

Indian Openings generally refer to openings after 1.d4 Nf6, however the name “King’s Indian Attack” was applied to the White opening due to its similarity with the King’s Indian Defense.

10. How do you play the King’s Indian Defense?

The King’s Indian Defense typically arises from the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 O-O 5.e4 d6. However, the complexity of the King’s Indian Defense warrants an entirely separate article! For now, you can check out Short & Sweet: King’s Indian Defense for a proper and free introduction to the basics.

11. Is the King’s Indian for Black or White?

The King’s Indian Attack, described in this article, is for White. The King’s Indian Defense is for Black.

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