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In this Update I have explored the latest developments in the King’s Indian Attack from the perspective of a 1 Nf3 move order. Most of the lines discussed are formally classified under the ECO code A08. In practice they very often start out as a Réti and are an important part of many a 1 Nf3 player’s repertoire, but are relevant to French and Sicilian players too!

Download PGN of May ’20 Flank Openings games

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King’s Indian Attack, 9 exd5 [A08]

A common way to reach the King’s Indian Attack (KIA) is 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 0-0 6 Nbd2 c5 7 e4 Nc6 8 Re1 b5 and here 9 e5 is the mainline (explored below) but 9 exd5 is an important alternative seen in several recent games. Black has a choice of recaptures, and in Svidler, P - Duda, J, Black chose 9...Nxd5, leading to this position:

After 10 Ne4 Black has extra space, but White will try to provoke weaknesses and launch a timely pawn break such as d3-d4, c2-c4 or a2-a4. Svidler used this line to score an important win against Karjakin at the 2015 World Cup, but Duda varied from that encounter with 11...Rc8 and was well placed out of the opening.

Ragger, M - Predojevic, B varied on move 9 with the alternative recapture 9...exd5 which was met by 10 d4:

This leads to a radically different structure to 9...Nxd5, but the choice is largely a matter of taste. After 10...Re8 11 dxc5 Bxc5 12 Nb3 Bb6 has a fairly good version of an IQP setup, where both of his bishops find active diagonals, and the b5-pawn secures him additional space on the queenside.

King’s Indian Attack, 9 e5, 10...Bb7, 12...Rfc8 [A08]

We now look at a key tabiya of the KIA which arises after 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 0-0 6 Nbd2 c5 7 e4 Nc6 8 Re1 b5 9 e5 Nd7 10 Nf1:

This is commonly reached from one of three completely different paths - 1 Nf3 as above, 1 e4 e6 2 d3 and 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 g3. From the diagram position, 10...a5 has been the most popular move over the years, but in this month’s games we look at the relatively modern plan 10...Bb7 11 h4 Qc7 12 Bf4 Rfc8. This was last analyzed on ChessPublishing by Dave Smerdon (in the Anti-Sicilians section) in 2015, so it is high time for an update! Black's idea is to pre-empt White's typical kingside attacking ideas, vacating the f8-square for defensive purposes and answering 13 h4 with 13...h6 to bolster the dark squares.

The latest engines are quite enthusiastic about Black’s setup, but it remains a complex position where both sides have practical chances over the board. We look at two recent games which ended in a win apiece for Black and White. From the diagram, in Yeoh, L - Brkic, A, White chose 15 c3, hinting at d3-d4, but after 15...a5, 16 a4 was a controversial decision, opening the flank where his opponent is strongest. Black gradually built up considerable queenside pressure, while keeping kingside matters under control.

Gukesh, D - Rafiee, M, meanwhile, varied from the above with 15 c4, a combative move that more or less forces Black to clarify the pawn structure with 15...bxc4 16 dxc4 d4. This should still be playable for Black, but he went wrong on move 20-21, allowing a thematic KIA tactical blow that won material.

King’s Indian Attack, 7...b6 [A08]

Petrosian, T - Lenderman, A opened with 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 d3 Be7 5 Nbd2 c5 6 0-0 Nc6 7 e4 and now Black essayed 7...b6, which is Black's second most popular move after the standard 7...0-0. Black develops his c8-bishop, and keeps his options open for king placement, with Lenderman indeed castling long in this game.

From the diagram, following 8 Re1 Bb7, White has scored quite well by staying flexible with 9 c3 Qc7 10 Qe2, but Petrosian (a KIA devotee) fixed the pawn structure with 9 e5. Although White eventually won, there were several instructive turning points that illustrate some of the nuances of this complex line.

King’s Indian Attack, 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 c5 5 d3 Nc6 6 e4 [A08]

An important branch of the King's Indian Attack sees White plays Qd1-e2 instead of Nb1-d2. In order to reach this line from a 1 Nf3 move order, however, White has to play e2-e4 at a point where Black has the option of taking the e-pawn.

A case in point is Grischuk, A - Fridman, D which opened with 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 c5 5 d3 Nc6 and now Grischuk ventured the extremely rare 6 e4!?

Now 6...Be7 allows White the option of 7 Qe2 which is a line analyzed in our next game below. Instead, Black saw no reason to refrain from taking the pawn with 6...dxe4 7 dxe4 Qxd1 8 Rxd1 Nxe4. After 9 Na3 Be7 10 Bf4, White has ideas of Na3-b5 and Nf3-e5, while Black will struggle to develop his c8-bishop. It appears that Black should be able to equalize with care, but in the game Black fell into a slightly worse endgame.

King’s Indian Attack with Qe2, 9 c4 b5 [C00]

Another move order where the early e2-e4 works is 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 c5 6 e4, and now 6...0-0 gives White the option of 7 Qe2 and the Qe2 mainline arises after 7...Nc6 8 e5 Nd7 9 c4. Now 9...b5!? is an enterprising pawn sacrifice, which has become a a topical move in recent years.

White has two ways of capturing the gambit pawn, and McShane, L - Kantans, T (which reached this position from a Sicilian move order 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d3) continued with 10 cxd5 exd5 11 Nc3 Nb6 12 Nxb5. This leads to a highly complex battle where Black certainly has some compensation for the pawn. McShane won the game after many ups and downs.

King’s Indian Attack, 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 0-0 6 Bf4 [A07]

If Black wants to avoid the positions reached in the previous two games, he can carefully follow the move order 1 Nf3 d5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 0-0 Be7 5 d3 0-0. Now 6 e4 doesn’t make sense, so White has to go with 6 Nbd2 or try something more creative. In Grischuk, A - Dominguez Perez, L, White uncorked the unusual looking 6 Bf4!?:

This is indeed a rare move but has been ventured with success by Kramnik and Rapport. Dominguez answered accurately with 6...b6 7 e4 dxe4 8 dxe4 Bb7 9 e5 Qxd1 10 Rxd1 and now 10...Nd5 improved over 10...Nfd7, when White got a small pull in Rapport-Harikrishna, Shenzhen 2019. White probably had to settle for equality, but pushed too hard with 13 Nxe6?! and suffered in a worse endgame.

I hope you enjoy this update!

Until next month, David.

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