You are all in for a treat. Today, James, a ChessGoals member, shares his wisdom on how to crush the Kings Indian Defense with the London System. Thank you, James, for giving away all these valuable insights for free. Let’s dive right in!
After 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4, the King’s Indian Defense (‘KID’) is by far Black’s most popular set-up to meet the London System. More than half of all games enter this position. You are more likely to see the KID than the Grunfeld, Queen’s Indian Defense and Benoni, combined.
The KID is chosen by players who want to attack with Black and who are not afraid of complications. For a London System player, who may prefer quiet positional play, the KID quickly puts you outside your comfort zone. My aim is to provide you with solid positional plans for each of Black’s main KID set-ups and highlight common traps for both sides. By the end of this article, you will be confident to reach a playable middlegame against the KID with an understanding of your plans.
Classical London versus Jobava London
This article is written for players learning the Classical London System move order (1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Bg7). I will make consistent recommendations. This ensures newer players are more familiar and comfortable with where the pieces go and can rely more on their general understanding of the ideas. There is less theory in the Classical London System compared to the Jobava London System, when considering Black’s Kingside Fianchetto defenses (KID and Grunfeld).
The Jobava London System (1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7) is the primary choice of titled players and scores better at all levels, even when played by amateurs. In the Classical London, after 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Bg7 4 Nf4 0-0 5 Be2 d6 (Figure 1), amateurs with White score 49% (the average for amateurs after 1 d4 is 50%).
In comparison, in the Jobava London after 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Qd2 0-0 (Figure 2), White scores 57%, which is impressive.
I believe part of the reason for this discrepancy is the clarity of White’s plan in the Jobava London – attack the Black King! In comparison, the plans and ideas in the Classical London are much more subtle, seeking positional advantages and an edge in the endgame. I have carefully selected lines in the Classical London System which score better than the 50% average for 1 d4.
Once your overall London System knowledge improves and you are comfortable against most set-ups for Black, I would recommend learning some Jobava London theory, even if you are only ever going to use it as a surprise weapon. Its good to have a more forcing weapon in a must-win situation.
Check out the ChessGoals London System Course! Enroll for free.
Move Order Details
While we are trying to achieve a similar set-up every game, against the KID especially, the early move order details do matter. We need to get them right. The main variations we will be discussing are reached via 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Bg7 4 Nf4 0-0 5 Be2 d6 (see Figure 1 above) 6 0-0.
Black can deviate and switch up their move order, for example, playing d6 before 0-0 or Bg7. These move order quirks do not change anything and will transpose to our mainlines below.
Black can be tricky with an early Nh5, sometimes as early as move two, so I need to introduce you to one of the most import patterns in the entire London System:
1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 Nh5 3 Bg5 h6 4 Bh4 g5 5 e3
1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Nh5 4 Bg5 h6 5 Bh4 and now 5… g5 can be met with Qxh5
1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Bg7 4 Nf3 Nh5 5 Bg5 h6 6 Bh4 g5 7 Nfd2! (Figure 3) where Black’s best response is to give up and return the Knight to f6. White will continue to play in the usual fashion set out below but Black’s King will be much weaker than usual.
If you follow the exact move orders set out in this article, you will not need to remember the above. The pattern will always be available to you. This is why the specific move order set out in this article was chosen, saving you the hassle of calculating these variations after every move.
1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Bg7 4 Nf3 0-0 5 Be2 d6 6 0-0 Nh5 was tried in Magnus vs Nepomniachtchi in 2020. The game continued with the pattern we are now familiar with: 7 Bg5 h6 8 Bh4 g5 9 Nfd2 Nf6 10 Bg3 and Magnus went on to win. Black could have tried 9… Nf4 when White should respond 10 exf4 gxh4 11 c3 (Figure 4) with an even but unbalanced position.
Because of these variations, White does not play an early h3, while the pattern set out above is still available. You will need to play h3 in preparation for Nbd2 however, as the move Nfd2 will no longer be available. As we will see later, one of the key traps in this opening (which results in the trapping of the Black Queen) requires White to have saved a tempo by not having played h3 too early!
Another early move order detail is to always play Be2 and not Bd3. There are a few good reasons for this:
- On e2, the Bishop defends our Knight on f3, which allows our Queen to move elsewhere without there been a threat of Black doubling our pawns on f3 or even worse, playing Bxh3 and unprotecting our Knight!
- On e2, the Bishop watches the g4 square and control of this square often determines whether or not Black can continue their kingside expansion and attack.
- On d3, the Bishop stares directly into the g6 pawn which greatly limits its potential.
- On d3, the Bishop is exposed to a common tactic after Black plays e5 (Figure 5) which will result in the loss of a piece. Because e5 is Black’s most common plan in the KID we never want to allow this possibility.
Finally, Black can transpose to the Grunfeld by playing d5 rather than d6. By employing the move order described in this article, you ensure your pieces are not misplaced after the transposition.
Mainline 1: Black plays with e5
In this approach, Black plays for an early e5 pawn break, with their Queen’s Knight developed to d7 (most commonly) or c6 (less commonly). Black will then follow up with a fast f5 to attack our King. Our approach is to meet their expansion on the wing with expansion in the centre.
The critical difference between Nbd7 and Nc6 for Black is, unsurprisingly, the position of the Knight itself – on c6 the Knight is more active (watch out for a jump to b4 at an opportune moment) but can be pushed around by d5 or b4-b5 from White, when it is sometimes forced to retreat to b8. Because White wants to expand on the Queenside anyway, placing the Knight on c6 can play directly into White’s strategy. For this reason, the recommended line for Black in most resources is with Nbd7.
1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Bg7 4 Nf3 0-0 5 Be2 d6 6 0-0 Nbd7 (Figure 6)
Black’s last move signals their intention to expand in the centre with e5, after preparation with Qe8 first. When Black plays e5, our dark square Bishop will need to move (with or without dxe5 dxe5 inserted first). Further, if we play the natural-looking Nbd2 here, then Nh5 can no longer be met by our clever Nfd2 pattern described earlier. Nc3 is possible, but when Black plans to expand with e5, it is critical we expand with c4, to control our fair share of the centre. For this reason, the best move is:
7 h3 Qe8
We will return to why Black plays Qe8 and not the natural looking Re8 in a moment.
8 c4 e5 9 Bh2
You can insert dxe5 dxe5 before playing Bh2. This creates a more open position and extends the range of our dark square Bishop, which will be extremely threatening if Black pushes e4. In practice however, White scores better by maintaining the tension with the immediate Bishop retreat.
Having served its purpose by supporting the e-pawn, the Queen is now not very well placed, so she moves to connect the Rooks.
10 Nc3 (Figure 7).
This is a natural place to stop as there are many ways for Black to continue here, so its best to talk about general plans and strategy for the position:
- White’s long term strategy is to expand on the Queenside with b4, c5 and then play cxd6 when Black will have to recapture with a pawn. If achieved, this will greatly weaken Black’s centre and allow White’s Rooks to infiltrate Black’s position through the c7 square.
- White can complete development with moves like b4, Qb3 and Rac1. The King’s Rook can be harder to place as it may be required on the f-, e- or d-files depending on Black’s plan.
- Black’s traditional strategy is to move the f6 Knight, play f5 and the continue with their traditional Kingside attack. Unlike traditional KID structures (where White has pawns on c4 and e4), Blacks attack will take longer to make contact and Black will not have the d4 square to use in the attack, so it is generally less effective.
- Black will of course play for checkmate while White will play for a winning endgame.
- Should Black play e4, retreat the f3 Knight to d2 where it will exert tremendous pressure on Black’s centre. Later, after you have played c5, this Knight can develop from d2 to c4 to d6 were it will usually be the best piece on the board.
A recent OTB classical game of mine from this variation reached the following position (Figure 8):
In this game, both sides carried out their strategic goals – White played c5 and exchanged on d6. Black played f5 but never got any further because pushing f4 would have dropped the e4 pawn. The result was White invading on the Queenside and carrying out a winning attack on the Black King.
Common Trap 1!
Returning to move 7, the most common move played by Black amateurs is 7… Re8. While not yet a losing blunder, after White continues with 8 c3, more than two-thirds of the time, Black will then blunder with the natural looking 8… e5?? (Figure 9).
In this position, White wins after 9 dxe5 dxe5 10 Nxe5 Nxe5 11 Qxd8 Rxd8 12 Bxe5 where White emerges a clear pawn up and with the c7 pawn hanging (Figure 10).
In this position, White should seek to exchange all the Rooks and Black’s Knight, after which it’s a two result position in White’s favour:
12… c6 13 Rd1 Bf5 14 Na3 Ne4 15 Nc4 and White is much better
12… c6 13 Rd1 Rxd1 14 Bxd1 Be6 15 Nd2 with Nb3, Bf3 and Rd1 to come, White is much better.
Mainline 2: Black plays with c5
In this approach, Black takes some central control with c5, which requires much less preparation than e5, then focuses on quick development. Black hopes to obtain equality and then outplay their opponent in an even middlegame. Our plan is to expand on the Queenside.
1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Bg7 4 Nf3 0-0 5 Be2 d6 6 0-0 c5 (Figure 11).
7 c3 Nc6
White wants to strengthen the centre, which plays against the Knight on c6 (as b4 and e5 are both controlled by White’s pawns) and the Bishop on g7 (which is blunted by the White pawn chain).
Black can develop the Knight to d7 too, which will usually transpose to our third mainline below.
8 h3 b6 9 Nbd2 Bb7
White wants to continue development with Nbd2, but this exposes the dark square Bishop to Nh5. Hence, h3 is played now that it is essential, and not earlier.
Black places the light square Bishop on the most active diagonal. Black can play with Bf5 or Be6 but the light square Bishop is usually less influential on these squares. White’s plan remains the same.
10 a4! (Figure 12).
White’s long-term plan is to continue with a5 and then:
- If the Black Rook is on c8, play axb6 if a White Rook can infiltrate to a7.
- If the Black Rook is on a8, play a6 when the light square Bishop will be misplaced and White enjoys a long-term asset with the pawn on a6.
- If Black pushes a6 themselves to prevent a6, wait to play axb6 when Black must recapture with a piece, so Black will have an isolated a-pawn on a semi-open file.
The pawn on a6 can be a real thorn in Black’s side. If the Black pawn on a7 ever falls (after Nb5 for example) or if White can sacrifice a piece on b6, White may have an easily winning endgame.
White will continue a5 if the c6 Knight moves away (or supported with Nc4) and can continue to take space with b4 too (which does require preparation). When Black inevitably plays cxd4, the correct recapture is always exd4, opening the e-file for your Rook and dominating the Knight on c6.
Common Trap 2!
Returning to the position in Figure 11, after White plays 7 h3, Black may be tempted to play Qb6, targeting the b2 pawn. White can continue with 8 Nbd2 here, as the pawn is poisoned (Figure 13):
8… Qxb2 9 Nc4 Qxc3 10 Rc1 Qb4 11 Rb1 Qc3 12 Rb3 and White will collect the Black Queen with a winning position. After 8 Nbd2, Black is without a strong move and White is simply a little bit better.
Black could try to be clever and play 7… Qb6 forcing 8 Nbd2 and allowing Nh5 (seemingly winning the Bishop pair at least) but White has a strong continuation here too: 9 Bg5 f6 10 Bd3! where White offers a piece sacrifice but Black’s King is totally exposed, with Nxh4 and Qxh5 coming soon.
Mainline 3: Black plays b6 and Bb7
In this approach, Black remains as flexible as possible, putting all their pieces on good squares and then deciding how to proceed. Black hopes to obtain equality and then outplay their opponent in an even middlegame. Our plan is to expand on the Queenside.
1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 g6 3 e3 Bg7 4 Nf3 0-0 5 Be2 d6 6 0-0 b6 7 h3 Bb7 8 a4! (Figure 14).
The most flexible continuation. We do not yet know if we want our c-pawn on c3 (if Black plays c5) or on c4 in one move. We also do not know if our Queen’s Knight belongs on a3, c3 or d2. What we do know is Black put a pawn on b6, which we can target with our a-pawn push.
In practice, Black’s replies fall into three categories:
1) Playing 8… a6 and intending to meet a5 with b5.
Here I recommend the line 9 a5 b5 10 c4 where Black will most likely continue with bxc4, 11 Bc4 Nbd7 12 Nc3, where White is a little bit better, with more active pieces and fewer weaknesses.
The computer recommends Black push on with 10… b4 but this is a hard move for a human to play, unless they have seen the position before – it seems like the b4 pawn will fall after Nbf2 and Qb3.
2) Playing 8…a5 and stopping White from playing a5 forever.
While this stops one positional threat, it creates another which may be worse – the b5 square can now be occupied by a White Knight! This is not yet a huge problem, since Black can still play c6, but its something to keep in mind if Black plays c5 to take some control in the centre.
Here I recommend remaining flexible with 9 c3 Nbd7 10 Na3. The computer says this position is even, which may be true with perfect play, but in practical play, White scores a very nice 54%.
3) Ignoring the positional threat and continuing with development, most commonly with 8… Nbd7.
This allows White to carry out the positional threat of playing a5 themselves. The idea is not to immediately take, as the Rooks will exchange on the a-file and White will not have anything to show for the moves invested, but to push a6.
Here, play could continue 9 a5 a6 10 c4 c5 11 axb6 Qxb6 12 Nc3.
Now the Black a-pawn is a target and White enjoys more space. Please note Black cannot play 12… Qb2 as it leads to a much worse endgame after 13 Na4 Qb4 14 Rb1 (skewering the Queen to the Bishop on b7) 14… Bxf3 15 Bxf3 Qxc4 16 Bxa8 Rxa8 where Black does presently have two pawns for the exchange, but after 17 dxc5 dxc5, White is much better with very active Rooks (Figure 15).
Common Trap 3!
Sometimes when we reach the position from Figure 14, players with Black will continue with 8… Nbd7 and allow 9 a5, intending to meet a6 with Bc6, and keep the light square Bishop more active. If we follow the third most common line, play would go 9… Re8 10 a6 Bc6 11 c4! when there is a real danger of the light square Bishop being trapped (Figure 16). Black can save the Bishop but White is gaining a lot in time and space.
This was not best play for Black but the example serves to highlight how easily Black can go awry.
There is a lot to digest in this article, but I have attempted to provide a simple and easily understandable approach, which could be briefly summarized as follows:
1) If Black seems to be preparing the e5 pawn break, be ready to continue with c4 and Nc3.
2) If Black seems to be preparing the c5 pawn break, be ready to support your centre with c3.
3) If Black remains flexible with b6 and Bb7, push your a-pawn up the board.
4) Do not play h3 before you must.
5) If you’re not sure how Black will proceed and need a waiting move, Bh2 is often useful.
With that, this concludes our presentation on the Classical London System versus the King’s Indian Defense. We hope you find this information useful for your games and I would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have in the comment section below.
Thank you for reading!