One of the most interesting openings, in my opinion, is the Kings Indian Defense (KID). 2-4 decades ago it used to be very popular at the top level with Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov using it regularly. Even a few years ago it used to be quite popular with Radjabov and Nakamura having it in their repertoires.

Why has it started to go out of fashion at the elite level, and especially with the Neural Network engines on the rise? Leela has been able to use it quite effectively. Nakamura said in an interview that the Kings Indian is lost for black. What are the drawbacks of the openings that prevent it from being seen at the top level?

The Interview is from 2015 Sinquefield cup after Hikaru obliterated Wesley So with the Kings Indian

  • 2
    I don't know for sure to put it as answer, but I thought it was Bayonet attack, popularized by Kramnik in the 90s that greatly reduced popularity of KID at top level.
    – Akavall
    Feb 19 '20 at 5:21
  • and yet I win many games with KID as black Feb 19 '20 at 14:34

It is simply not as solid as other openings, mostly because it cedes too much space, and especially with the advent of computers: White has simply found more ways to press black.

In a 2017 interview, Magnus Carlsen did not think too highly of it. "If he had wanted a worse position, he would have played the King’s Indian," Carlsen said.

Nevertheless, it still gets played at the highest level from time to time, probably mostly as a surprise weapon. Here is a recent search of Mega 2020 (I previously searched incorrectly, and have edited this). This is from 2015-2020, sorted by rating first, and then date. You can see that despite the quote above, even Carlsen has played it.

enter image description here

  • 6
    I think this answer still begs for clarification on why it is simply not as solid as other openings.
    – polfosol
    Feb 19 '20 at 10:36
  • 3
    And that's exactly what I was talking about. Can you please elaborate a little about the ways white has found?
    – polfosol
    Feb 19 '20 at 10:41
  • 1
    @polfosol Sorry, that is WAY beyond the scope of the question. I can look at a specific question or variation and explain it, but what you are asking for, literally, could fill entire books since it covers many lines, and I am not a great theoretician. Feb 19 '20 at 10:44
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    At least, do you have any opinion about @Akavall's comment?
    – polfosol
    Feb 19 '20 at 10:47
  • 1
    Give me a little bit, and I will look at the recent top level games in the photo, and see if there is a common thread. It may take a bit. Again, not being a theoretician, I do not have an answer off the top of my head as to why. Feb 19 '20 at 10:51

Nakamura is known to run at the mouth. KID is certainly not losing.

Chess in general at the top level is more solid; Berlin's instead of Sicilians. It is just a trend.

Notice how Carlsen wasn't dominating with double-king-pawn as Black, but when he prepared the Sveshnikov his score soared. People thought they could go after his Sicilian... It's the same with the King's Indian. Radjabov is the top KID proponent and he does very well, but at the top they don't want to play 35 moves of book. They are more about minute edges in the endgame and that is not in the spirit of the KID.

Having said that, there is ton's of theory which make it not fun for Black. The Bayonet attack doesn't let Black try to mate White while White wins on the Queen-side in a bunch of other mainlines.

UPDATE: Firouzja is playing the KID right now in the Prague Chess Festival; would a 2700 player play it if he thought it was losing?


While the KID is a good opening if you want an exciting game and good winning chances as black, these benefits come at a cost. The KID is not a solid opening when compared to many other ways for black to meet queenside pawn openings from white, and there is a wide variety of tricky lines that white can choose from to try for a serious advantage out of the opening.

Some of these setups by white are very sharp, forcing black to know a huge amount of concrete lines by heart not to immediately fall into a lost position (I'm thinking mainly of the various ways to play the Mar del Plata variation for white, including - but not limited to - Kramnik's dreaded bayonet attack)

Other setups are more strategic in nature, trying to utilize the space advantage that black hands over in the beginning of the game. In this list, we include the Sämisch, the Petrosian, and the Makogonov systems (not to mention the various fianchetto systems that white can try, which is another can of worms that black has to deal with). All of these systems pose serious strategic problems for the black side, and black needs not only a solid understanding of the arising position, but must also know a ton of spectacular "only moves" to defend properly (see the game between Svidler and Griscuk from the candidates 2013; if Grischuk hadn't played the seemingly outrageous 12...Nxc4! he would have found himself in deep, deep trouble).

If you want a good indication of how much effort and time a top level player would need to put in to play the KID consistently with confidence, you may want to look at the book series "Kotronias on the King's Indian". In this series, Kotronias needs more than 2000 pages of concrete analysis to demonstrate that there is no clear refutation to the KID.

With all this being said, the KID is certainly not a bad opening (a claim supported by the analysis done by Kotronias). But the problem with playing it at the highest level is that black is risking a lot when playing it, and would be risking even more by including it in their main repertoire (leaving themselves open to some seriously nasty preps by their world-class opponents; this is something that MVL does by only playing his absolute pet Najdorf and Grünfeld against basically anything, and sometimes he suffers for it). Therefore, most players at the top level who are comfortable playing the KID only use it as a surprise weapon (or if they're playing shorter time controls), or if they're in a must-win situation where the difference between a draw and a loss is irrelevant.

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