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How to Play the King’s Indian Attack

The legendary Bobby Fischer scored a number spectacular victories with the King’s Indian Attack. On this page you can learn the ins and outs of this versatile chess opening.

(Strengthening your opening play is one of the skills in the “7-Skills” Chess Training Model.)

The King’s Indian Attack

According to Wikipedia, the King’s Indian Attack is popular at chess clubs because it is reasonably easy to learn. It is a good choice for players who don’t want to spend too much time memorizing countless opening variations.

The King’s Indian Attack Theory

The King’s Indian Attack data on, white wins 38% of the time, draws 37% and loses 25% of all games in their database. This is a pretty good score for white. It’s worth mentioning that due to the highly strategic nature of this opening, computer evaluations of the King’s Indian Attack aren’t always reliable.

Introduction to the King’s-Indian Attack (KIA)

King's Indian Attack Opening System

Diagram above: This position was reached after the initial moves 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 c6 4.d3 Bg4 5.O-O Nbd7 6.Nbd2 It is a typical position you will reach when you play the King’s-Indian Attack (KIA) as white. Bobby Fischer scored spectacular victories with this opening system.

The King’s Indian Attack (KIA) is an Opening System

An opening system is a chess opening that allows you to:

  • Use various move-orders to reach the same piece-setup.
  • Achieve the same piece-setup against almost any opening moves your opponent plays.

Characteristics of the King’s-Indian Attack

king's indian attack characteristics

Diagram above: The King’s Indian Attack is often characterized by an all out attack on black’s king-side. However, before you can attack, there is a few other typical goals too:

  • Develop your pieces and get your king safe (castle) before you consider an attack.
  • Get a pawn to e5 from where it gives white a space-advantage on the kingside (if black has a pawn on e5, you usually want to attack it by preparing to play f2-f4).
  • Once your development is complete, launch an all-out attack on the black king.
  • Avoid pointless piece-exchanges early on–you need the pieces to attack your opponent.

However, white should be flexible too. Depending how black plays, white may decide to rather focus on the center or expand on the queen-side.

Note: Many of the positions and suggested moves on this page are based on actual games from chess masters who played the King’s Indian Attack Opening.

Reasons to study the King’s-Indian Attack

The King’s-Indian Attack is a solid opening that’s fairly easy to learn. It is a good choice for players who don’t want to spend too much time memorizing countless opening variations.

However, you should also understand that your position can become fairly passive if you don’t put forth a special effort to attack your opponent. This implies that even though you don’t have to memorize variations, you should still study the main attacking ideas of the opening.

Whether you decide to add this opening to your repertoire or not, it is still a good idea to study the basics of it since your opponent may at some point play it against you. Additionally, reviewing the essential aspects of this opening will expand your overall knowledge and understanding of the game.

KIA: The Knights

In this section we will study:

  1. How to initially develop the knights in the King’s Indian Attack.
  2. Typical ways to further improve the role of your knights once their initial development is complete.
KIA: The Knights g1

Diagram above: Development of the g1-knight.

  • Nf3 is usually played on the first or second move (after 1.e4).
  • Nf3 attacks the e5-square, preventing black from playing e7-e5 right away.
  • Nf3 prepares to castle king-side as quickly as possible.

KIA b1 knight

Diagram above: Development of the b1-knight.

  • Nbd2 supports the e4-pawn.
  • Nbd2 supports the f3-knight.
  • Ndb2 temporarily blocks the view of the c1-bishop but white intends to move this knight to a better square soon.
  • Nc3 would also be a good development move but is not the main move in the KIA.
  • Nbd2 does not block the c-pawn like how Nc3 would. This allows white to advance the c-pawn in some variations.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the knights.

  • With the black bishop on f5, white can play Nh4, threatening Nxf5, obtaining the bishop-pair advantage.
  • Nh4 Bg4 2. h3 Bh5 3.g4 Bg6 is a typical sequence to gain time and space on the kingside when black has a bishop on f5.
  • Nh4 clears the way for the f-pawn to advance at the right time.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the knights.

  • Ne1 prepares to attack the centre by playing f2-f4
  • In cases where there isn’t a black pawn on g6 (which covers the f5-square), white might prefer to play Nh4 instead of Ne1, since the knight would also support the f5-square.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the knights.

  • Nf1 is a common move in the KIA that opens the diagonal for the c1-bishop.
  • Nf1 is mostly played when Nb3 or Nc4 doesn’t suit the position.
  • Nf1 prepares to play Bf4 (defending the important e5-pawn), followed by h2-h4, attacking the black kingside.
  • From f1 the knight will usually join the action again via the e3-square or via h2-g4, after advancing the h-pawn.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the knights.

  • Ne4 is usually possible when your e-pawn gets exchanged for black’s d-pawn.
  • Ne4 opens the view of the c1-bishop.
  • Ne4, in this case, attacks the c5-pawn.
  • Ne4 forces the black queen to keep an eye on the d6-square.

Diagram above: This is a typical position you will aim for in the KIA opening. Note how white brings his forces towards the black king side, whilst the e5-pawn restricts the overall mobility of black’s pieces.

  • Ng4 is an active move that increases the activity of the knight and brings more force to the black king-side.
  • The knight arrived on g4 via the route Nb1-d2-f1-h2-g4.
  • Ng4 coordinates with the f4-bishop to add pressure on h6.
  • Ng4 further supports the e5-pawn.

KIA: The Bishops

In this section we will study:

  1. How to initially develop the bishops in the King’s Indian Attack.
  2. Typical ways to further improve the role of your bishops once their initial development is complete.

Diagram above: Initial development of the f1-bishop.

  • Bg2 wants to become useful on the h1-a8 diagonal.
  • Bg2 gives important protection to the light squares on white’s king-side. This is important since g2-g3 weakened the h3, f3 and g4 squares.
  • Bg2 helps white prepare to castle king side.

Note: In most cases white should avoid exchanging the g2-bishop. If you do exchange it, you would exchange it for black’s light-square bishop, else black can use their light-square bishop to cause a lot of trouble on your weakened light squares.

Diagram above: Initial development of the c1-bishop.

  • White’s pawn move d2-d3 also serves to “develop” the c1-bishop.
  • In the KIA, the c1-bishop is already active from its starting square.
  • Further development of the c1-bishop is usually delayed until it becomes clear how to improve its role.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the bishops.

  • Bf4 is the usually the ideal way to develop the c1-bishop if you managed to get a pawn to e5.
  • Bf4 protects the important e5-pawn.
  • Bf4 gives the d2-square to the queen as a possible development square since the queen now won’t block the c1-bishop.
  • Bf4 over-protects the e5-pawn, which means the f3-knight is now free to move to another square if/when needed.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the bishops.

  • b3 prepares to develop the c1-bishop to b2.
  • b3 makes sense in this position since black has played an early h6, which means the c1-bishop will not be effective on the c1-h6 diagonal, ie. Bf4 could run into g7-g5.
  • Due to black’s setup, white won’t get a pawn to e5, which means on b2 his bishop will be useful on the a1-h8 diagonal.

Diagram above: Bd2 prepares to play Qc1, followed by Bh6, exchanging the dark-squared bishops.

For the same reasons that white wouldn’t want to exchange his g2-bishop, black doesn’t want to exchange their g7-bishop. The idea to play Bd2, Qc1, Bh6 can of course only work if black fianchettoed his bishop on the king side.

KIA: The Rooks

In this section we will study:

  1. How to initially develop the rooks in the King’s Indian Attack.
  2. Typical ways to further improve the role of your rooks once their initial development is complete.

Diagram above: Initial development of the h1-rook.

  • 0-0 develops the h1-rook and brings it closer to the centre. In future it will probably be useful on either the f-file or e-file.
  • 0-0 also ensures that your king is taken out of the centre, which makes him a lot safer.
  • On f1 the rook supports a possible pawn advance f2-f4 (under the right circumstances).
  • The f1-rook could also move to e1 if the centre opens up.

Diagram above: Initial development of the a1-rook.

  • The initial development of the a1-rook is usually delayed until it becomes clear where its role would be most useful.
  • It is even possible that the rook will remain on a1 from where it can support an expansion on the queenside with a2-a4-a5.
  • In cases where the c-file opens up, the a1-rook could possibly move to the c-file.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the rooks.

  • Re1 is a useful development for the rook, particularly if it is clear that the centre won’t be closed.
  • If the centre were to be closed, in other words if black had a pawn on e5 and also played d5-d4, then the white rook should stay on f1–from where it can support the later pawn-advance f2-f4.

KIA: The Queen

In this section we will study:

  1. How to initially develop the queen in the King’s Indian Attack.
  2. Typical ways to further improve the role of your queen once her initial development is complete.

Diagram above: The opening stage is near complete, but the queen is still on her original position. The queen is vulnerable to threats from enemy minor pieces. That is why you will usually delay development of the queen until it becomes clear where she can occupy a safe square and perform a useful role at the same time. This is true for most openings.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the queen.

  • Qe2 is a common way for white to defend the important e5-pawn.
  • Qe2 clears the d1-square which can possibly be occupied by the a1-rook later.
  • Qe2 further clears the way between the white rooks so that they are one step closer to being connected. (Connecting the rooks is a common objective in the opening and moving the queen is an important step towards achieving it.)

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the queen.

  • Qb3 is a typical queen-development move in positions where white played c2-c3.
  • Qb3 attacks the b7-pawn and makes it harder for black to develop the c8-bishop.

Diagram above: Ideas to improve the role of the queen.

  • Qe1 occupies the e-file and prepares to play e2-e4 and possibly e4-e5.
  • By playing Qe1 white also declares that the f1-rook may in fact be useful on the f-file, should white play the pawn-advance, f2-f4, later on.
  • Qe1 moves the queen off the d1-h5 diagonal and avoids the possible problems that may arise from the g4-bishop pinning the f3-knight to the queen.
  • The queen can potentially develop on the e1-a5 diagonal later on.
  • Qe1 clears the d1-square for the possible Ra1-d1 later.

KIA: The Pawn structure

Lastly, but definitely not least, we will study:

  1. Initial pawn-moves that help you achieve the development and centre-control objectives.
  2. Strategic “pawn-play” ideas that may arise in the King’s Indian Attack.

Diagram above: Initial pawn-moves.

  • g3 opens the g2-square for the development of the f1-bishop
  • g3 covers the f4-square and supports a possible f2-f4 later on
  • g3 weakens the light squares on white’s king-side. This is why it is important for white to avoid exchanging the light-squared bishop since that might give black an opportunity to exploit the weakened squares h3, g2, f3 and g4.

Diagram above: Initial pawn-moves.

  • d3 is an essential pawn-move in the King’s Indian Attack.
  • d3 covers the e4-square and prevents black from playing e5-e4 right away, hitting your f3-knight.
  • d3 supports the e4 and c4 squares.
  • d3 opens the c1-h6 diagonal and clears the way for the c1-bishop.

Diagram above: Initial pawn-moves.

  • e4 is a typical King’s-Indian pawn move that strikes back in the centre.
  • In this particular position white is inviting black to close the centre with d5-d4, after which white will aim to attack black on the king side by preparing f2-f4.
  • e4 also blocks the e5-pawn and block black’s idea to play e5-e4.

King's Indian Attack Pawn structure.

Diagram above: Black just played e5 and threatened to follow with e5-e4. This another example of a situation where white need to play e2-e4 in order to prevent black from playing e5-e4.

Diagram above: e4-e5 is a typical pawn advance in the KIA.

  • e5, hitting the f6-knight and winning a tempo is a typical pawn move in the KIA.
  • By hitting the f6-knight, white removes the defender of the h5-square and prepares to play h4-h5, attack the black king side.
  • e5 divides the board in half. The black pieces will now find it difficult to play on the king side as white prepares to launch his h-pawn towards the black king.
  • After e5, play might continue… Nd7, Qe2, b5, h4.

Diagram above: In this position e4-e5 isn’t good. In principle, you should only advance pawns into enemy territory if your pieces are ready to support them. In this position (with the black bishop on g7 and a black pawn on c5 that prevents d3-d4), e4-e5 is a mistake since black can play Ng4 and put a lot of pressure on the e5-pawn.

Diagram above: Pawn-play ideas.

  • c4 attacks the d5 pawn with the idea to improve the position of the d2-knight, 1.c4 d4 2.Ne4 Or 1.c4 dxc4 2.Nxc4 Or 1.c4 0-0 2.cxd5 Bxd5 3.Ne4.
  • c4 could potentially clear the c-file and white might play Rc1 at some point–once the c1-bishop moves.

Diagram above: Pawn-play ideas.

  • In this position black clearly aims to control the e4-square, which makes it difficult for white to play e2-e4.
  • Instead of e4, white now plays c4 and strikes against the centre from the queen side and also prepares to expand on the queen side.
  • If you want to prevent black from controlling the e4-square in this way, you should change your move-order and play 1.e4 (instead of 1.Nf3 which allows 1… d5), taking an early control over e4. This will depend on your own preferences and on how many variations you want to study.

Diagram above: Pawn-play ideas.

  • In the rarer cases where black castles queen side, white should launch an all-out attack on the queen side.
  • In the KIA you, almost always, want to focus your attack on the black king, whether that is on the king side or on the queen side.
  • Black may want to counter-attack on your king-side, which is why you should launch your own attack as quickly and with as much force as possible.

Diagram above: Pawn-play ideas.

  • h4 prepares to play h4-h5-h6 and marks the start of a typical KIA assault on the black king side.
  • In most cases, you should play h4 only once your e5-pawn is firmly supported by your other pieces, else black’s counter-attack in the centre may be very effective.
  • h4 opens the h2-square which could soon provide a useful development for the f1-knight.

Diagram above: Black just played dxe4. How should you respond, dxe4 or Nxe4?

  • In the KIA you generally want to avoid early piece-exchanges since that gives black an easy way to achieve an equal position.
  • Nxe4 is not a mistake, but dxe4 is more in the spirit of the KIA–since it avoids the early piece-exchange Nxe4, Nxe4.
  • After dxe4, white will follow-up with e4-e5, followed by Ne4. Or, if black plays e5 now, white could play Nc4 and put pressure on black’s e5-pawn.

Note: In principle, when pawns are exchanged in the centre, the centre will open up and the nature of the game will change in that you now will focus your piece-activity on the centre, instead of the flanks.

Diagram above: Black just played Bxf3. How should you respond, exf3 or Bxf3?

  • Bxf3 is the better move because it keeps your pawn structure intact and avoids “losing” a centre-pawn (since exf3 would take your e-pawn away from the centre).
  • White achieves a small advantage here since black gives up their bishop-pair without getting any compensation for it.

Diagram above: Pawn-play Ideas.

  • a4 is a typical KIA-manoeuvre that prepares to bring the d2-knight to c4.
  • a4 prevents b7-b5.
  • a4 prepares to further expand white’s territory on the queenside with a4-a5.
  • a4-a5 makes a rook-lift possible (at a later stage in the game the a1-rook may join the action via a3 or a4).

Diagram above: Pawn-play Ideas.

  • g4 allows white to expand his space on the kingside and gains a tempo at the same time.
  • g4 opens the g3-square which can become useful for the d2-knight via f1.
  • g4 also shows that if black plays Bg4 early on, you can usually gain tempos against the bishop by playing h2-h3 and g3-g4 at a suitable time.

Note that if black plays … Nxc2 then after gxh5 Nxa1, Nf1! The black knight will be trapped on a1. Next white can play Be3, threatening Rxa1. White gets a bishop + knight for his rook.

Diagram above: Pawn-play Ideas.

  • c3 prepares to support the central pawn-advance d3-d4.
  • c3 prepares to support a white pawn on e5, i.e. 1. c3 b6 2. e5 Ng4 3. d4.
  • c3 blunts the role of black’s g7-bishop on the a1-h8 diagonal.
  • c3 opens the d1-a4 diagonal and makes it possible for the queen to develop to c2, b3 or a4.

Diagram above: Black just played d5-d4, trying to grab space in the centre. How should white respond?

  • c3 is a typical way for white to dislodge the black d4-pawn.
  • c3 threatens to exchange a flank pawn for a central pawn, which would increase white’s control over the centre.
  • c3 opens the d1-a4 diagonal and makes it possible for the queen to develop to c2, b3 or a4.

Diagram above: Black just played d5-d4, with the idea to open up the centre and stop white’s plan to attack on the king side. In principle you shouldn’t attack on a flank if the situation in the centre isn’t very stable. How can white proceed?

White has quite a few options here, but c4 is in the spirit of the opening. (White locks down the centre, which makes the planned king side attack more likely to succeed).

Diagram above: Black used a few moves to fianchetto his queen side bishop, but waited too long to castle and get the king safe.

  • e5! wins a tempo against the f6-knight.
  • e5 will be followed-up with e5-e6 on the next move.
  • e5 takes advantage of the fact that black is still trying to develop and takes the initiative by going on the attack right away. For example 1.e5 Ng4 2. e6 fxe6? Ng5! threatens Qxg4 and Nxe6.

Diagram above: Pawn-play Ideas.

White understands that his pawn on e5 promises a strong king side attack. However, in order to increase the chance of success, he needs to block the centre.

  • d4 blocks the centre.
  • d4 gives extra protection to the e5-pawn.

White’s chances of success is based on the fact that black can’t counter-attack in the centre and it’s hard for the black pieces to defend the kingside, whilst the white piece is ready to support a kingside attack, starting with h4-h5 or Ng4 or Bg5 or Ng5.

I hope you enjoyed this unique approach to study the King’s Indian Attack.

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