The title of this book leaves no doubts that its topic is the King's Indian Defence - one of the most popular and controversial openings in modern chess. The author has used this opening with Black for more than 25 years. How I got started was slightly unusual. When I was 8 or 9, I played a training game with a friend from my chess club, Dima Novokhatko. After 1 c4 I noticed a certain weakening of the a1-h8 diagonal, and answered with 1...g6. The result of this game is not preserved in my memory, but probably it was positive enough, because I immediately started to seek information about 'my' opening and found that it was well-known as Staroindiskaya zashchita (the Russian name for the KI).
According to common classification, everything that begins with the moves 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 is called the 'King's Indian Defence', with the exception of cases when Black later continues ...d5, which is the Grünfeld Defence.
While the other KI lines (most importantly, the Fianchetto Variation with early g3) are covered in this book, most of material is devoted to the 'real' King's Indian lines which begin from 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6. Note that 4...0-0!?, which once brought a brilliant victory to Bobby Fischer in a famous game against Letelier, alas, does not have much independent significance, because Black will normally play ...d6 soon enough in any case.
It is obvious that White, in accordance with opening principles, has occupied the centre with pawns and enjoys a territorial advantage. So, we should discuss what Black is doing, and why.
First, of all, he has developed his pieces in such a way that they cannot be profitably attacked (e4-e5 is out of the question for the moment), and at the same time they occupy active positions. The weakening of the a1-h8 diagonal, mentioned above, is not a joke but a real factor which, as Black hopes, could somehow compensate him for White's territorial achievements.
The most vulnerable square in White's centre is d4, which can be defended by pieces only. And, not surprisingly, two main basic ideas for Black are related to attacking the d4-pawn (after castling) by ...e5 or ...c5, which lead to two different classes of positions. After either ...e5 or ...c5, White has the choice between keeping the d4-pawn in its place (in this case the support of minor pieces is required), exchanging this pawn for Black's pawn on e5 (c5), or moving the pawn forward by d5, stepping into the opponent's side of the board and increasing White's territorial advantage.
In the book we shall deal with all these types of structures (also including lines where Black delays the assault on White's centre). Black's methods of counterplay will be illustrated separately in each of the opening lines, and general observations will always be made when possible.
There should be no doubt that the King's Indian is not only a highly provocative opening (White is invited to occupy the centre) but also not an easy one to play with the black side. "It's a difficult opening, positionally it's very difficult," wrote the most successful King's Indian player ever, Garry Kasparov, answering a question from a visitor at his Website. The stakes are higher than in other openings and, basically, White gets some objective advantage from the very beginning. (Well, I can try to describe the word 'advantage' as a situation where the opposite site would be satisfied with a draw offer.)
How valuable is White's objective advantage in the King's Indian? The correct answer to this question is beyond our knowledge. There are grandmasters (even those who often use the King's Indian as Black), who have the opinion that with perfect play White should win. For my part, I firmly believe that Black, if he plays perfectly, should not lose. Some players, on the other hand, simply do not worry about such abstract theoretical questions.
A more practical question is: what does Black get in return for voluntarily giving his opponent an obvious (even if slight) opening advantage? In fact, he gets quite a lot. By playing the King's Indian, Black, as a rule, avoids early simplifications, which allows him to keep the position complicated (due, not least, to such a banal factor as the number of pieces remaining on the board!).
So, the King's Indian is a perfect opening choice for players who aim to 'outcalculate' the Opponent in a complicated struggle. The spirit of the King's Indian was best described in my memory by one of its regular practitioners, Croatian GM Cvitan. "I want to be dangerous", he said during the post-mortem analysis of one of his games.
Yes, Black's main strategy in the King's Indian is: to be dangerous, to keep the game as complicated as possible, and
to deny his Opponent the type of clear technical superiority that makes his position easy to handle in practice. Very importantly in the King's Indian (and this is atypical for most other openings) even in the case that Black makes a mistake and obtains an (objectively) bad position, he often, due the complexity of the Situation on the board, preserves reasonable practical chances not only for a draw, but also for a win.
It is not therefore surprising that a list of regular King's Indian practitioners (say, those who have more than a hundred KI games as Black in ChessBase's Mega Database 2005) features most of the brightest and most ambitious chess fighters of the 20th Century, including four world Champions - Kasparov, Fischer, Tal and (maybe some will be surprised by this) Petrosian. Also: Shirov, J.Polgar, Geller, Stein, Bronstein, Najdorf, Gligoric, Gelfand, Nunn, Uhlmann, Smirin and many other great
players. There are also young stars of the present day who may not have played as many KI games due to their age, but who use the opening regularly. It is enough to name Radjabov and Volokitin.
Here I should perhaps say a few words about the book's legitimacy (as I hold the view that opening books should be written by opening experts). I had some doubts when I started this work. Although according to the statistics I am among the 30 most active GM practitioners of the KI (168 games as Black in Mega 2005), it would seem strange to place my name along-side the illustrious players mentioned above, who are the great KI experts.
If most of the present King's Indian gurus (or Kasparov alone) were to reveal their secrets, I would possibly prefer to write not a book but a short article. In reality, however, the top players rarely show all what they know. They need their analysis for their practice. Here I have an advantage, because my career as a professional player at this moment is over (chess journalism, especially the work for Chess Today, which requires daily attention, occupies me more and more). So, I do not have any reason to hide anything - with exception of joint analysis with other players, which it would be improper to reveal without the agreement of the other party.
But also in this respect, I face fewer problems than most other grandmasters would face. In 2000, I helped the then very young Ruslan Ponomariov to include the King's Indian in his repertoire. His results (especially from the opening point of view) were quite good, but eventually Ruslan decided that the King's Indian did not fully suit his chess taste, and he stopped using it. He did not object to the inclusion of our analysis in this book.
Earlier, in 1996, thanks to efforts of Anatoly Karpov's coach IM Mikhail Podgaets who lives in Odessa, I was invited to a Karpov & Podgaets training session to help them prepare for the Karpov-Kamsky match. There our King's Indian analysis was limited in a very narrow direction, in a line that is not critical for current opening theory. I did not use our analysis of that specific line in this book, and have not indicated which line it was, but have provided an honest assessment around the place where today's official theory ends.
This book on the King's Indian is my third writing attempt, after Easy Guide to the Dragon and The Sicilian Sozin. All three books were bom in my cooperation with Gambit Publications (in the case of the Dragon in association with Everyman). Gambit's editor Graham Burgess, to whom I am endlessly grateful for his patience (alas, I seem unable to complete a major work within the agreed schedule) certainly has enough material to write a book entitled "Understanding Mikhail Golubev". I only can say in my defence that I would never have started any of these projects if in the beginning I had not been over-optimistic and unable to imagine the real amount of work required.
The key difference between this book and the two previous ones is in the size of the topic under consideration. The King's Indian database which I used (Mega 2005 games, joined with all other available material) consisted of more than 255,000 games (Kasparov was, perhaps, quite correct, when he stated that the KI "is not fresh any more"!), which makes it impossible to provide any complete, scientific coverage of the opening.
So, this book has a different concept. The coverage of all lines is based on my own games, while I have also provided additional theoretical material - enough to enable the reader to use the work as a repertoire book at the very least. I considered it important to offer a choice of different lines for Black wherever it was possible and appropriate. I believe that the best approach to playing the King's Indian is a flexible one -I would not like the situation when someone, knowing that his opponent owns my book, would be able to predict his opponent's first 20 moves. And, let's be completely honest, if I were able to construct a straightforward, perfect opening repertoire for Black (in the King's Indian or in any other opening), containing not even the slightest potential problem, I would have preferred to sell this repertoire to one of the participants in the San Luis world championship.(Well, this is a purely hypothetical idea - chess is alive, and White will always find ways to set new, unexplored problems for Black.)
I should say a little more about the selection of the main games for this book. It was not such a difficult task, because I had some clear criteria: quality, theoretical importance, instructiveness, and a balance in the number of games for each of the different lines. The additional theoretical material, as a rule, is placed not in introductions to chapters, but inside games (hence, some of games are a bit overloaded with notes - but the opposite approach would have had its own drawbacks).
References to many games, played by me and by other players, can be found inside the notes to the main games. In some cases I considered it appropriate to refer to blitz games, in those cases where I felt that the moves objectively deserved to be mentioned. I apologize to any chess purists who object to this. (I also apologize for cases where the moves are given without references to the actual games, which can be found in databases.) My attitude to the games that I lost was simple: I always included such games when they deserved it. Of the main games, you will find 25 games that were won by me, with 15 draws and 16 losses. So, to some extent these are selected games of myself and my opponents.
The notes to all games are new. Certainly, during the work I used my old notes from chess periodicals (New in Chess, Informator, Chess Today, etc.), but the differences and contradictions between the old and new notes are not analysed - it would be just a waste of space. Understandably, the notes to the older games were sometimes changed in more dramatic ways - before 1998 I did not make serious use of chess engines to help with analysis.
(On a separate note, I should mention that in 2001 ChessBase published a collection of surveys on the Classical King's Indian with "Glek/Golubev" in the annotator's field. In fact, I was responsible only for the E98-E99 part, i.e. the main line with 9 Ne1.)
On the whole, I have written this book as a practical player rather than a theoretician. Primarily, I worked with all the material I have accumulated over the years from my own games and from work on my repertoire - and only then started to add supplementary material. The book can be considered as a personal introduction to the world of the King's Indian. I am sure that it will be useful for players who are interested in this opening, but the usefulness will vary from player to player. There is no question that 'black' King's Indian players are my target audience and I am not even sure what to say to white players to encourage them to pay attention to my work. There is plenty of material here to help them to combat the KI with greater success... Perhaps I should say 'Please, never buy this book and allow us, the black KI players, to improve our statistics a bit!'.
The so-called Anti-King's Indians (i.e. lines where White does not play c4) are outside this book's scope. However, I feel that I should explain the point of the move-order 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d6 (instead of the usual 2...g6), which I use very often. In the past I experienced some problems dealing with the seemingly innocuous line 2...g6 3 Bg5 (intending 4 Nbd2, 5 e4 and 6 c3). Therefore I started to use 2...d6 as an antidote. Krivoshei-Golubev, Ukrainian jr Cht (Dnepropetrovsk) 1988 continued 3 Bg5 Nbd7 4 Nbd2 e5 5 c3 Be7! 6 e4 0-0 7 Be2 h6! 8 Bh4 exd4! 9 Bxf6 (9 cxd4? Nxe4! and Black wins the pawn) 9...Bxf6 10 Nxd4 Nb6 11 0-0 d5 12 Bf3 c5 13 Ne2 d4 14 cxd4 cxd4 15 Nf4 d3 16 Nb3 Bxb2 17 Rb1 Bf6 18 Qxd3 Qxd3 19 Nxd3 Nc4. Black has a pleasant position with two bishops, and went on to win. Of course, the 2...d6 move-order has its own nuances and drawbacks. Thus, 3 g3 can be answered by 3..Nbd7!?, planning ...e5, ...c6 and ...e4. On the other hand, 3 Nc3 forces Black to choose between the Philidor (3...Nbd7 4 e4 e5), the Pirc (3...g6 4 e4) and lines with an early ...Bg4, which may not be to the taste of all KI players. I shall not enter into deeper details here, but will add that the 1 Nf3 d6 move-order (instead of 1...Nf6, the most normal move for KI players) is linked with the same idea (2 d4 Nf6) and, more importantly, allows Black to use lines with an early ...f5 if White opts for the English set-up with d3. Black should also be ready to meet 2 e4. Then 2...c5 is the Sicilian.
I am planning to launch a weblog devoted to the book. Reviews and letters from readers can be discussed there. Please, check the news at my webpage www.geocities.com/mikhail_golubev, where my contact data is available as well.
And finally: good luck in your King's Indian adventures!
Odessa, December 2005