Review: Bologan’s King’s Indian – A modern repertoire for Black

New In Chess 2017
448 pages

By Davide Nastasio

When I switched from a 1.e4 to 1.d4 player, I must admit I felt the biggest pressure when I played against someone who was adopting a King’s Indian setup (often in chess circles abbreviated as KID), because in a sense he asked me the question “I’m here, controlling everything from far away, in my fortress, show me what you can do.”  In many cases, when I tried to attack I was repelled easily and was forced to run to the defense because the enemy pieces would come out quickly and create havoc!

At the same time, I’ve seen endless classical games with legendary names like Tal, Fischer, and Bronstein magically win game after game using the King’s Indian. I think the King’s Indian is the counterpart of what the Sicilian is for 1.e4, a monster, like the Greek Hydra, which is difficult to tame with so many heads.  Once we cut one off, another comes out.



Magnus Carlsen at the 2017 Milken Institute Global Conference


A few days ago I heard a Q&A before a simul played by Carlsen in which he said, in no uncertain terms, that one should play many different openings.  In fact, he was advising the father of a young player, telling him to let his son learn and play all of them.  In my opinion there are two openings we must all go through to become better players. One obviously is the Sicilian, and the other is the King’s Indian. I never tried the King’s Indian till today, because, like the Sicilian, I’m afraid of the amount of lines I would have to learn and memorize. But following Magnus’ words, I decided to give it a try, and what better book than one written by Bologan who is clearly an authority in the opening field?

He has written so many books on the KID, and made at least two DVDs for Chessbase.  This shows he is likely the best teacher one can learn this opening from.




Personally I’m excited to write the review of this book for the following reason: I don’t know much about the King’s Indian, apart from having watched about 30 to 50 games played with the opening by the strongest players of 50-60 years ago.  I’m ready to open my mind to new ideas and plans, which I will use in my games, or at least to vary my opening repertoire and keep my opponents always unprepared!

While writing this review I found the following interesting factoid: one of the greatest chess books of all time, Bronstein’s Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953, has one fifth of the games played with the KID, so if one wants to superficially begin to meet the opening, that book can be a good start!




What sparked my interest in this book was one phrase written by Bologan in the foreword: “The King’s Indian is probably the most romantic response to 1.d4.”   This tells a lot about the opening, and surely can fire the imagination of every player who lives and breathes for intricate positions which can give rise to brutal tactical fights!

Of course, the reader of this review could think: “Is he crazy? The King’s Gambit is a romantic opening, the Evans Gambit is a romantic opening, but the King’s Indian is just a positional hypermodern answer to 1.d4.”  Well, to me the words written by GM Bologan struck a note, and by the end of this review I hope they will sound true to you, too! Let me illustrate the point with a couple of games.

The first game, a blitz game, was played by the best player of all times. By move 15 we can see a total domination of the board by Black. Then there is the attack on the king. White is one of the best defenders of all time, and also a great expert of the KID, since he played it all his life.



GM Viktor Korchnoi



In the next game, played by Spassky, we see multiple sacrifices to kill the king, an example of Romanticism as described by Bologan:



GM Boris Spassky



Bologan, in the foreword, makes clearer his personal meaning of “romantic” with the following brief description, which gives us an idea of what the personality of the player needs to be in order to play the King’s Indian: “Yes, in order to play the KID one needs to be something of a romantic and a poet: to believe in the irresistible strength of the bishop on G7, the power of one’s kingside attack, the triumph of spirit over material.”  Now what really gives the idea that we MUST learn this opening is the following passage which well expresses Bologan’s credo: “Whenever I need to win as Black, I choose the KID… and I try to pass onto my pupils my love for this remarkable opening!”  From the games I’ve seen, it is, but I have similar feelings for the Sicilian, a complicated, sharp, and risky opening. This opening is especially tailored for those who believe in winning when playing Black!

If my scientific degree gave me anything, thanks to deep conversations with professors of different fields, I gained some skepticism, and the need to prove a statement through data, not through my personal opinion.




As you can guess, being a great fan of Chessbase 14 and Mega Database 2017, I did a simple search.  The KID is defined as ECO from E60 to E99, and I inserted into the filter Bologan as Black. I got a total of 265 games! Those games were played from 1991 to 2017. I made a database of those games only. Just studying these games would surely give me a deep understanding of the KID, but this is not the reason I made such a database.  I used Chessbase to make a dossier on Bologan’s games played as Black with the KID, and the result was impressive!




Out of 265 games he won 99, drew 83, and lost 83, which makes his statement of using the KID for winning quite true. Chessbase has also a Elo performance in correlation with the games, and when he was younger (yes, chess is a sport, and obviously a younger player has a faster brain!) he even had a performance of 3071 using the KID!! Granted, it was a short period against some opponents, but clearly in that period to play 1.d4 against Bologan was the equivalent of committing harakiri!

I’d like to show you a couple of games played by Bologan because they are spectacular, but as always I like to make it a learning experience. Look at the following position, place it on the board for 10 minutes, and guess what would be Black’s next move.




Here is the game for those who want to check if they played like Bologan!



Here is another spectacular position. Place yourself in Bologan’s shoes and guess what he played!






Hoping the above games stimulated your appetite for this opening, let’s go to review the content of this great book!  The book is divided into 9 parts for a total of 38 chapters. Part IX is made up of two chapters: one is dedicated to positions the reader must solve (86 in total), and they come from different lines of the King’s Indian; the other chapter is dedicated to the solutions, which also explains why those continuations were correct. Another plus for this book is each solution gives the names of the players, so one can eventually make his own database based on those games.

This is an example from chapter 37 to give you an idea:




Now, as reviewer I’m allowed a small criticism in each review (but of course I don’t know the publisher’s technical difficulties).  My criticism would be that in a book whose title contains the phrase A modern repertoire for BLACK, all the board positions should be oriented from Black’s side. Instead, this is the case for the 95% of books on the market.  They are always oriented from White’s side, even if the book is specifically dedicated to players playing with the Black pieces.

I love chess history, and I found it quite interesting that in the foreword Bologan mentioned the first game played with the King’s Indian, and how the name of the opening was coined by Savielly Tartakower.



GM Savielly Tartakower


Now, while history is not a science like math, it is still a science as research methodology. So when someone makes a statement, I generally check. In the foreword, at page 7, Bologan writes, “This position arose in the very first King’s Indian game which has come down to us today (i.e. entered into the computer databases). This was played in Leipzig in 1879, with the Black pieces being played by the great German theoretician Louis Paulsen. The Hungarian playing White, Adolf Schwarz, was probably bewildered as to why his opponent, breaking all the accepted canons of play of the day, had granted him a free hand in the centre.”




Thanks to Chessbase 14 and Megabase 2017, searching chess history is quite easy.  The King’s Indian by Wikipedia is defined as the ECO from E60 to E99. I opened my Megabase 2017 (which I keep updated every couple of weeks, since now there are so many tournaments around the world, more than one can imagine! Practically every couple of weeks 2000 or more games are added to the 7 millions I already have!), I inserted E60 to E99 in the filter, and got an answer from the oracle with over 340 thousand games!!  The first was played in 1851, not 1879 as Bologan writes.  Here it is for those who, like me, love chess history:


mega_database_2017 (1)





Between 1851 and 1855 Cochrane and Bonnerjee played over 50 games using the KID between them, all these games can be found in Megabase 2017 (since these are old games, it is possible they were available also in previous editions, like Megabase 2013).

This is the game Bologan mentions, played in 1879 from a Match between Paulsen and Schwarz, where Paulsen won 5 games, lost 2 , and drew 0:





Bologan hits an important point when he writes that he re-wrote this book (a previous edition appeared in 2009) adding in some new lines and ideas for White which are not correct, BUT since nowadays tournaments more and more are moving toward rapid time controls, clearly the Black player must know how to neutralize such ideas quickly.

In fact, the book begins with 10 chapters on rare continuations (this is Part I) for a total of more than 100 pages. Such a choice is quite sensible, because when I try to learn an opening, I never find an opponent who plays the main classical lines first taught in the book. They always play some sidelines.

Some of these rare lines are the research product of champions, like the one in Chapter 4 which is regularly used by Sokolov 1.d4,Nf6; 2.c4,g6; 3.Nc3,Bg7; 4. e4,d6; 5.Bg5,




Chapter 6 treats a line which has been a reliable weapon by the 12th World Champion, Karpov:  1.d4,Nf6; 2.c4,g6; 3.Nc3,Bg7; 4.a4,d6; 5.h3,0-0; 6.Be3,




Here I believe we come to an important part, which will be the method I’ll use to study this opening and the book. I underline or highlight every name of the players that Bologan mentions, because these names will give me a broad understanding of the opening, and then I’ll use the positional evaluations given by Bologan in the book to better understand what I see in those games.  For example, when he mentions Sokolov as the player playing this line: 1.d4,Nf6; 2.c4,g6; 3.Nc3,Bg7; 4. e4,d6; 5.Bg5, I open my mega database 2017, open a board, and input the above moves, then I click on the database, click on filter,…




hit the Position tab and copy the board.  I then go to the tab “Game Data” and write down the name of the player I’m looking for: Sokolov.



GM Ivan Sokolov


I then get the result of my search.




A total of 21 games were played by Sokolov with that line.  The result was impressive! He won 14 games, lost 1, and drew 6.   The only player who won against Sokolov was rated over 2700, which means that if one day I play against Sokolov as Black, I’ll definitely NOT play the King’s Indian!  I took those 21 games, made a new database (which I will use for studying as companion to this great book written by Bologan), and began to immerse myself in the study of Sokolov’s games to understand what went wrong for Black.

This also shows how great this book is because Bologan was aware of Sokolov’s brilliancy and treated it right away.  In the beginning of the book, Bologan mentions a lot of different names of players from the last century (and one modern one), and shows the differences with which they played the KID.  If one is serious about learning the KID, then one needs to find the games played by those players (modern ones are Nakamura, Radjabov, Grischuk, etc.) and watch their games to have a feeling of how they play and what are the recurring ideas and maneuvers.

Part II treats the Averbakh system with two chapters: 1,d4,Nf6; 2.c4,g6; 3.Nc3,Bg7; 4.e4,d6; 5.Be2,0-0; 6.Bg5,Na6.




Chapter 12 treats 6…h6.




Sorry to reiterate the point, but while I’m writing this review, I’m also noticing all the names which are important.  In this case, there is the GM who gave his name to this line: Averbakh.  Consequently, I watched 5-10 games played in the 1950s by Averbakh and other top GMs, and found the following gem:



Part III is made up of 4 chapters and is dedicated to the Sämisch system which arises after these moves: 1.d4,Nf6; 2.c4,g6; 3.Nc3,Bg7; 4.e4,d6; 5.f3,0-0; 6.Nge2.




Part IV, comprised of 3 chapters, is dedicated to the Four Pawns variation, the variation that we see played for the first time in the history of the KID after the moves: 1d4,Nf6, 2.c4,g6; 3.Nc3,Bg7; 4.e4,d6; 5.f4,0-0.




Part V is made up of 8 chapters.   This is called the Classical System, after the moves: 1d4,Nf6; 2.c4,g6; 3.Nc3,Bg7; 4.e4,d6; 5.Nf3,0-0; 6.Be2,e5.




Within the Classical System we have the Gligoric System, the Petrosian System, the Bayonet Variation, etc.   Part VI and VII are about the fianchetto and minor lines, with a total of 7 chapters. One can make White enter the KID also from the English, and these chapters show many different move orders where White fianchettos his bishop.  This is one of the lines examined: 1.c4,Nf6; 2.Nc3,g6; 3.g3,Bg7;4.Bg2,0-0;




This book is important also for White’s 1.d4 players.  Why?  The first chapters I read were chapter 35 dedicated to the London…




and chapter 36 dedicated to the Torre system.




In conclusion, this book is really comprehensive and written by a player who is really impressive at the theoretical and practical level. Bologan is thorough, but stresses that one cannot really learn this huge opening by just reading this book. The King’s Indian Defense is an opening with over 100 years of theoretical battles at top level, and one must take time to learn it. At the same time, the book can be the reference and confidence builder which will let us introduce this opening into our games, and little by little master it, within the realm of our chess understanding.


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