Grandmaster Chess Ep 16: Learning the King's Indian from the King himself
It is indeed more than just the metaphoric king - the "Raja" or "Radja" - in Teimour Radjabov's name that makes him the king of the King's Indian defence. The world no.10 is truly a leading expert in the said opening, someone whose exploits have redefined the way it is handled in the uppermost echelons of contemporary chess. In the 16th episode of ChessBase India's "Grandmaster Chess" series Teimour joins our ever-genial host Sagar Shah and the chess-crazed comedians to present the viewers one of his many brilliancies with Black using the famed hypermodern line. In this write-up we give you a summary of this epic stream which lasted an astounding 2 hours and 19 minutes. The critical positions, like always, are posed to you as questions. Work through them all, and see how many you manage to get right.
The King's Indian defence is the quintessential extremist opening. It can, perhaps once in a blue moon, lead to a solid positional struggle, but mostly it's known to be a weapon that is wielded only when one is desperate to strike with the black pieces. The King's Indian player is therefore used to positions where things hang only by a thread, he exults in wild tactical complications, and hopes to elbow out his opponent in ruthlessly sharp lines where almost every move seem to decide the fate of the game. "In King's Indian it's like the first six moves are always the same and then nobody knows what's going on, you have to keep finding various tricks to stay in the game," says Radjabov at the start of the session. "But in those moments," he further states, "you really have to know what you are doing, or else you might just get checkmated in 10 moves."
Well, the list of Grandmasters who understand the King's Indian defense as well as Raja does is indeed very short, and it most definitely would end with just Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura on it, the only two players in the world perhaps of comparable strength and style. Back in the 80s and 90s, the great Garry Kasparov was the biggest exponent of the KID, but in the early 2000s, the opening saw a period of decadence when Vladimir Kramnik rose to prominence and devised solid ways to deal with it. It took some years for the line to become fashionable again, and Radjabov was one of the first players to breathe fresh life into it. He used it with plenty of success against the who's who of the chess world, from Ponomariov to Shirov to Ivanchuk to Gelfand—you name it!
From his many brilliancies in KID Radjabov chose a relatively unknown and simple one to demonstrate in this session. This was from the 2005 FIDE World Cup played in the city of Khanty-Mansiysk in Russia. The player with the white pieces was the strong Kazakhstani Grandmaster Murtas Khazgaleyev. In fact, this game was one of the rapid encounters in the tie-breaks after the players had already drawn their classical match 1-1.
KID, the extremely tactical opening that it is, requires preparedness not only in terms of chess but also psychology—you simply can't hope to navigate through all the complications that entail it without being at your absolute best. Radjabov fortunately was in no need of motivation before this game that day. "In general I was in a very good mood before this game. Our classical match was tied 1-1, and here I was ready to strike, to be honest," he recalls. Khazgaleyev, himself a KID expert, employed a somewhat questionable system with the white pieces, perhaps hoping to catch Radjabov by surprise—but the gambit clearly backfired on him. Let us now get into the game proper!
at 16:35 in the video
The online database shows only 61 games played in this variation, the point of course is to create an early attack on the kingside—not the soundest choice for sure but one that certainly can stir up unpleasant problems if Black is out of depth. Solution? Well, often when your opponent starts taking risky decisions, the best course is sticking to the fundamentals, and the fundamentals dictate that Black must react to this advanced flank attack with counterplay in the center. Thus, 5...e5 and 5...c5 are the two main options here, Radjabov decided against closing down his dark-squared bishop and played the latter.
Biswa - 5...c5 (1)
Vaibhav - 5...e5 (1)
Anirban - 5...c5 (1)
Radjabov clarified here that 5...e5 too is a perfectly playable option. It looks as though 5...e5 locks down the g7 bishop, but this is very typical in such positions, and experience has shown that the dark-squared bishop more often than not comes out as an extremely powerful piece once the position opens up with ...f5 and ...e4.
at 31:45 in the video
The principle is again the same: Black needs to hit the center. 6...e6 is what Radjabov played, but the hyper-aggressive 6...b5 too is an option here, going into Volga Gambit territory after 7.cxb5 a6 8.Qa5 etc. However, a normal developing move like 6...Nbd7, or just 6...h5 to stop White's advances on the kingside, are too slow.
Biswa - 6...b5 (1/2)
Vaibhav - 6...Nbd7 (0)
Anirban - 6...h5 (0)
at 49:43 in the video
Biswa preferred fxe6 here, he wanted to consolidate the center more with pawns, and he also felt that the light-squared bishop wasn't doing much on the c8-h3 diagonal so opening up the f-file for the rook was much better. However, the right choice here is 7...Bxe6, this is what Radjabov played, and although this makes the d6 pawn appear backward and weak this is very typical in King's Indian. In fact, after Bxe6 the King's Indian player prepares to give up the d6 and c5 pawns to generate pure piece play.
Biswa - 7...fxe6 (0)
Vaibhav - 7...Bxe6 (1)
Anirban - 7...Bxe6 (1)
at 56:28 in the video
Biswa - 10...Qb6 (1)
Vaibhav - 10...Qb6 (1)
Anirban - 10...Qb6 (1)
With the impending Ng4 and h5, 10...Ne8 is an absolutely horrible move to play. The comedians went for 10...Qb6 which certainly looks decent, but for Radja 10...Re8 was the most natural reply.
at 1:05:01 in the video
Biswa - 13...Ng4 (1)
Vaibhav - 13...Nd7 (1)
Anirban - 13...Ng4 (1)
Although 13...Ng4 was played in the game, Radjabov thought 13...Nd7 is equally good in this position, so all the comedians were awarded full points here.
at 1:14:54 in the video
Black really doesn't want to capture fxg6 here as that needlessly weakens the king by opening up the g8-b3 diagonal. Moreover, in principle, captures towards the center are better than captures away from it. 18...hxg6 is the move here and sure enough, all the comedians got this one right.
Biswa - 18...hxg6 (1)
Vaibhav - 18...hxg6 (1)
Anirban - 18...hxg6 (1)
at 1:20:59 in the video
Biswa - 21...Kh7
Vaibhav - 21...Re5
Anirban - 21...Bd4
Both Biswa and Vaibhav felt that using the open h-file in this position was important. 21...Kh7 was played with the intent of going 22.Rh8 next. 21...Re5 too was made with the same idea. But it was Anirban who got the best move in the position: 21...Bd4
at 1:29:18 in the video
Biswa - 23...Kg7 (1)
Vaibhav - 23...Kg7 (1)
Anirban - 23...Kg7 (1)
Everyone got this one right. 23...Kg7 with the idea of going Rh8 next works perfectly now. Radjabov also pointed out that at this moment even 23...Re5 could be a strong move. Note that the rook on e5 can't be taken as after Qxe5 checkmate on h2 becomes inevitable, moreover against moves like Nxd4 as well Black has nasty tricks like Re2!
at 1:30:52 in the video
Of course, 24...Rh8 also wins here, but Radjabov went for the flamboyant 24...Re3!! This obviously threatens Rxf3 followed by Qh2# and you can't really take the rook because of the bishop on d4.
Biswa - 24...Be3 (0)
Vaibhav - 24...Rh8 (1)
Anirban - 24...Rh8 (1)
at 1:40:33 in the video
Well, 25...Rxf3 26.gxf3 Qg3+ 27.Kf1 Nh2+ should also be a forced win in this position. The move played in the game, 25...Qf4, doesn't look as forcing but actually is equally powerful and tightens the noose around White's neck. More importantly, to make such a move, you hardly have to calculate anything.
Biswa - 25...Rxf3 (1)
Vaibhav - 25...Qf4 (1)
Anirban - 25...Nxf2 (0)
Anirban's move, unfortunately, complicates matters. 26.Qxf2 is obviously not possible because of 26...Rf3, but after 26.Nxd4 things aren't so clear.
at 1:51:47 in the video
The move here was found by all three comedians but it was Anirban who finished off the final calculation and this helped him edge out Vaibhav just by a point in this session. Yes, the move played here was obviously 28...Nh2+, and this made White resign. The point is after 29.Ke2 Qxf3+ 30.Ke1 Qh1+ 31.Ke2 Qe4+ Black will be forced to give up his queen.
Final Scores of the Day - Anirban Dasgupta wins this session!
Vaibhav - 9/12
Biswa - 7.5/12
Let us know in the comments section below, how you enjoyed this game and how many points you scored! Want more masterclasses like this? Do checkout Radjabov's The Chess Stars Academy where some of the best chess players and trainers in the world are coming together to offer high-class training. We end this article with a brief description of this unique learning platform.
The Chess Stars Academy
The Chess Stars Academy is the brainchild of Teimour Radjabov. He has built it with his two long-time associates Grandmasters Vladimir Chuchelov and Igor Nataf. Currently, Chuchelov is offering his legendary course on "Strategic Balance" which he has developed through a period of ten long years whilst working with some of the top players in the world.
The Strategic Balance is a comprehensive course that addresses all aspects of chess from calculation to positional and dynamical understanding of the game. It comprises highly specialized and instructive material, introducing a very different approach to position evaluation, decision making, and the game itself. If you want to know more about this seminal training course do read more about it in this article.
The other distinguished trainer in the academy is Igor Nataf, who like Chuchelov has also been a long-time trainer of Radjabov's. Currently, he is offering a course on the King's Indian Defense. We have spoken about Radjabov's success with the KID earlier in this article, much of the credit for this success actually also goes to Grandmaster Nataf who has been instrumental in preparing Raja in this super-complex opening.
Of course, it goes without saying, that both trainers will be joined by Raja himself from time to time for intensive master-classes. We leave you with some more links below to know more about this academy and the people behind them.