The King’s Indian Defense is a Queen’s Pawn Opening beginning with 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6



King's Indian Defense


Black assures himself of being able to castle early and prepares to put the dark bishop on the long diagonal.

Despite its humble appearance, the King’s Indian Defense is often considered one of black’s most aggressive responses to 1. d4.  White may succeed in taking control of the whole center – but as we’ll soon see, white may come under heavy fire on the kingside if they insist on maintaining their space advantage!



Because of the lack of early pawn tension, white has many options when faced with the King’s Indian Defense.  We’ll cover a few of them here:

  • Main Line: White can occupy the full center, and advance with d4-d5 when their center is challenged
  • Exchange Variation: White can occupy the full center, and then take on e5 when their center is challenged
  • Sämisch Variation: White can occupy the full center and play an early f3 to strengthen it 
  • White can decline to occupy the full center right away

The main Line

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

Mar del Plata

In a sense, this is white’s most principled way to take on the King’s Indian Defense.

From a “Classical Opening Principles” perspective, white should occupy the center when allowed to do so by the opponent. White castles early, and when black attempts to strike back on the center with pressure against the d-pawn, white pushes forward with d5 to claim a permanent space advantage.

With the center locked up, play often shifts to the flanks.  In some of the main lines, White generally plays on the queenside, and black seeks to undermine white’s pawn chain and initiate play on the kingside by playing …f5

8…Ne7 9. Ne1 Nd7 10. Nd3 f5 11. Bd2 Nf6 12. f3 f4 13. c5 g5

King's Indian Main Line

This is what King’s Indian Defense players live for!  White’s overrunning black with their central-and-queenside space advantage, but black is ready to begin an assault on the white king.

Such lines remain highly complex and unsolved, despite the tremendous amount of effort that’s been put forth by the chess community in analyzing them! What’s clear is that a highly double-edged game is the result.

Exchange Variation

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 0-0 6. Be2 e5 7. dxe5

Exchange King's Indian

If white wants to avoid the double-edged scenario described above, then white may choose to pass on the opportunity to close the center and grab more space.  This line (The Exchange Variation) is one such option which can pick.

At first it looks like white is winning a pawn, but this is an illusion.  After 7…dxe5 8. Qxd8 Rxd8 9. Nxe5?! Nxe4!

Discovered attack

Black gets to recapture a pawn, with the help of a discovered attack by their dark bishop!

Instead white often plays something like 9. Bg5, simply containing to develop their pieces and add a little pressure in the form of a pin.  All in all though, these lines are generally considered to give white nothing more than equality.

The Sämisch Variation

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f3


Samisch King's Indian

White’s knight often has to depart from the f3 square in the mainline with the closed center, so here white plays f3 instead.  White retains some additional flexibility.  For example, if black strikes at the center with …e5, white may choose to close the center with d5 and then simply not castle kingside!

In some lines, white may play Be3, Qd2, and then castle queenside. Then white could launch an attack on the kingside if black castles short – quite a role reversal from a main line King’s Indian Defense!

One continuation is 5…0-0 6. Be3 e5 7. D5 Nh5 8. Qd2 f5

samisch main line

Black plays his familiar strike in the center, but here white often responds with 9. 0-0-0. The placement of the white king causes play to take on a more restrained character than in the double-edged main lines.

Black can’t launch a kingside mating attack any more, but white may also have trouble steamrolling black on the queenside as easily – as opening up the queenside may be dangerous to their king!

White declines to occupy the full center right away.

Of course, white is not obligated to play the move e4 at all, and can play in a more restrained manner.

While this approach may not be white’s most ambitious attempt to get an advantage, some players select it for its simplicity.  After all, white already has a space advantage by virtue of their first two moves!

One of the common systems following this approach is the Fianchetto variation.  Play may go something along the lines of the following:

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. g3 0-0 5. Bg2 d6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. 0-0 a6 8. h3 Rb8

Fianchetto King's Indian

Both sides have developed several pieces, and now black decides to strike back at the white enter.  The black plan is pretty transparent – black has spent their past two moves preparing to play …b5!

White most frequently plays 9. e4 in this position, which is a common feature of many of these sidelines – if black doesn’t strike at the white center early on, white will often want to play e4 anyways, even if they decline to do so right away.  It’s hard to come up with a plan for white in the diagrammed position above without making use of the e-pawn!

After 9…b5 10. e5 We’re finally seeing some pawn tension, and a complex position arises.

Naturally, such lines offer both sides a lot of flexibility in how they choose to develop, and understanding the main themes of the position will get you further than knowing memorized continuations!


The King’s Indian Defense is much more dangerous than it looks at first glance, and many players of all levels use it to try to score the full point with Black against the Queen’s Pawn Opening.

Whether white accepts the challenge by taking as much space as possible, or adopts a more restrained approach, an exciting battle is sure to result!

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