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In the King's Indian, there are certain lines which have a good track record for Black and yet the engines often insist on a White edge. Why is this? It could be that the ubiquitous space advantage is weighing on the engine's assessment. In some traditional classical openings, 'equality' can often mean 'few chances for either side to do anything special'. On the other hand, in unbalanced lines in the King's Indian, both sides typically have their chances, and even when the objective judgement would indeed merit '+=', Black has his inherent dynamic potential to create enough mischief to turn things around. So apart from perhaps warning you not to rely too heavily on your engine, and to instead give greater credence to your own instinct, then please read on, especially if you are ready to enjoy some hard fighting KID games!

Download PGN of August ’21 KID games

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Makogonov 6.h3 c6 7.Be3 e5 [E90]

The game Motylev, A - Murzhin, V is a perfect example of White making the most of his assets in this popular line of the h2-h3 system (which has been given various names depending on the source!).

Black just has to seek counterplay, as hanging around while White makes further progress is not a good idea. David Vigorito examined 13...f5 in a game from a few years ago where White won, but he showed that Black had ways to improve. In this case, after 13...Qa5 (seeking queenside action), I thought that the prophylactic 14.a3 was quite a good idea, whereupon, after the further moves 14...Bd7 15.h5 Nc7 16.Kf1! I prefer White. So it looks like Black needs to seek his improvement a little earlier. Grischuk chose 14...f5 which looks like a good area for investigation, especially as this may offer a relatively promising version of the ...f5 theme, now that White has committed himself with his a-pawn.

Karpov System 5.h3 0-0 6.Be3 Nc6 7.Bd3 [E71]

A candidate in the 'longest ever ChessPublishing game' stakes was Kovalenko, I - Shevchenko, K where White's 7.Bd3 may have come as a surprise. After the further moves 7...e5 8.d5 Nd4 the following position was reached:

Now, my favourite reaction is 9...Nh5, but the 9...Nd7 of the featured game was also fine. In any case, Black seems to obtain a good game as the presence of the knight on d4 is largely a positive asset, so White generally hurries to trade it off. In the game, the closed manoeuvring that followed didn't trouble Black, as the exchange of a pair of knights gave Shevchenko adequate space for his remaining pieces. Indeed, he soon found himself pressing for more than equality.

On the evidence of this marathon encounter, I don't rate 7.Bd3 very highly.

Four Pawns Attack 6...c5 7.dxc5 [E76]

An old variation was exploited in the veteran encounter Christansen, L - Benjamin, J by White to show that it still packs a punch.

White's space and potential for expansion can be a problem for Black, and Joel Benjamin didn't cope with White's dynamic piece play in the actual game. His 12...Rfc8 looks natural enough, but might not be fully satisfactory. The recommended move is 12...Nd7 seeking to quickly get things moving on the queenside and only touch his rooks later. Still, I think these positions can be quite tough to handle, and I personally would avoid this whole line with 5...c5! (rather than 5...0-0 6.Nf3 c5) which is a handy move order to get to know.

These well-known American GMs have met each other a great deal over the years, the first time being 40 years ago. How time flies...

Four Pawns/Modern Benoni 9...Bg4 [A68]

In Moranda, W - Cyborowski, L the white player continued his adventure in this critical line of the Four Pawns Attack.

There are several Black attempts here, but in each case White's pawn advance on the kingside can seem scary! The practical approach is perhaps 13...Ne8 14.g5 Nc7 as the knight moves away from danger straight away. Still the 13...b5 of the game might not be too bad either (or that different at times), but play can become very concrete. So prepare yourself well in advance! As a rule, I think that White should leave his a-pawn alone and put all his efforts into making threats on the kingside, a strategy that Moranda now follows, as here. As to an improvement for Black, 21...Nxc3 (rather than 21...bxc3) 22.Nxc3 bxc3 23.Rb1, as played in an earlier game, should be followed up with the solid and novel 23...Qc7 when my engine prefers Black.

Sämisch 6...Nbd7 7.Nge2 a6 8.Qd2 b5 [E81]

In Kaidanov, G - Benajmin, J Black employed a fashionable pawn sacrifice, but White preferred to seek the initiative rather than capture on b5:

This move hasn't been played very often but shows that White is also in a fighting mood. Benjamin was perhaps surprised, because his reaction didn't work very well at all. My conclusion is that 9...e5 is perhaps already an error and the piece sacrifice that followed was unsound. Instead, I suggest 9...c5! hitting back at the centre, but keeping the long dark-squared diagonal open when it's more difficult for White to find a sanctuary for his king.

I think that we'll see more examples of this line in the coming months, because it's fun and relatively unexplored.

Sämisch 6...Nc6 7.Nge2 a6 8.Qd2 Re8 [E83]

In Duda, J - Korobov, A Black played an excellent 'first two-thirds' of the game before mishandling his attack.

The struggle was already heating up, when Korobov found 12...e5 no doubt intending to meet 13.d5 with 13...Nd4!. So Duda preferred to secure his d4-square with 13.Be3, but then 13...Na5 14.Ng3 exd4 15.Bxd4 c5! gave Black excellent play and, notably, the safer king.

The critical move in this line could be 11.h4 (rather than 11.Bh6), leaving the bishop on e3 for now, that is until Black shows how he is going to meet the advancing kingside pawns.

Classical 6...c5 7.d5 e6 8.Nd2 [E91]

The game Firouzja, A - Sindarov, J was definitely a bad day at the office for the rising star Firouzja, who recently obtained French nationality.

In the opening, Black employs a flexible move order in order to give himself the choice of a Modern Benoni or King's Indian depending on White's approach.

White's set-up is ideally geared-up to meeting the Modern Benoni, so Sindarov chose 9...e5 with a cross between the KID and Czech Benoni. Black has less space but by seeking a quick ...f7-f5 is able to at least threaten to obtain chances for play. Overall, such positions often come down to experience rather than calculation, but here 'miscalculation' cost White dear, as allowing the pawn sacrifice 22...f3! led to Black seizing the initiative.

Classical 7...Na6 8.Be3 Qe8 [E94]

I quite like the thinking behind 10.Rb1 in Bjerre, J - Gukesh, D as in the diagram position:

White intends to expand with b2-b4 and then c4-c5, thus making Black's a6-knight look misplaced. However, Gukesh seems to have found the antidote in 10...Ng4 11.Bc1 Nc5 and the erstwhile offside knight is able to come to a more promising square on e6. Still, the engines don't yet consider Black to be fully equal, but in the game he was able to take over quite quickly by sacrificing his distant a8-rook for an attack. He crashed through on the kingside, but if White had taken Black's dynamic pieces more seriously he could perhaps have held.

Classical Bayonet 9.b4 a5 10.b5!? [E97]

Some opening choices by Carlsen are often quite mysterious at first sight, as was the choice of 10.b5 in Carlsen, M - Adhiban, B:

Closing the wing is usually frowned upon (isn't that where White gets his play?) but a deeper look shows that the idea is actually soundly based. White has more space and can hope to 'react more easily' if Black tries something, as in the game where Carlsen was better as soon as Adhiban had ventured 16...f5. However, what to do? It's hard to imagine anybody doing without the natural f-pawn push for long (this is a KID after all!). If Black delays any show of activity then the assumption is that White will find it easiest to get himself organized, with the prospect of being able to seek some action on the kingside (that is, eventually). However, on the other hand, I wonder if White can really get things going!? Well, some of the mysteries in this line persist, as I'm frankly not sure! In the struggle that followed, firstly White and then later Black missed chances for more than half-a-point.

Classical Mainline Mar del Plata 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Nd3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.b4 [E99]

One of the big main lines featured in Thybo, J - Forcen Esteban, D.

The main move is 14...h5, but both this and 14...Kh8 might not be fully 'equal' (whatever this means in such double-edged lines), as shown by Firouzja's efforts when playing White. Here 14...Ng6 15.a5 Rf7 was employed (Black delays ...h5 in order to get his pieces better deployed first) when 16.a6!? bxa6 turned out in White's favour, as he was soon able to trade light-squared bishops. I think that a better chance is 16...b6, but you'll need to compare this precise position with some analogous lines in order to see if you agree. The main lines of E99 remain one of the biggest tests for the KID in general.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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