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Don Aldrich’s Book Reviews

King's Indian Battle Plans, by IM Andrew Martin (Thinker’s Press 2004), 241 annotated games, 380 pp., $29.95; Games, with ‘raw’ annotation, on CDROM in Chessbase format, +$5.

The King’s Indian is one of those ‘cult’ openings. Like the French and the Dragon, it attracts a hard core following of players with an almost mystical fascination for and fanatical devotion to their opening. Some well known players played almost nothing else as black against d4 their entire careers — Boleslavsky, Geller, Gufeld to name a few. Under something of a cloud presently ‘at the top’, there is still no shortage of players willing to undertake it, and it is still a frequent sight at the weekend swiss.

And there have been no shortage of books willing to teach its secrets to the uninitiated. In the last few years alone we have seen Gallagher and Bronstein writing ‘intro’ books, along with almost yearly contributions from Gufeld continuing even after his death. What then does Andy Martin have to offer?

KIBP adopts a rather unique approach. It is neither a compendium of lines nor a basic instructional text. It is a selection of some 241 annotated games grouped by base variation. The sections address most of the major systems found in the KID — Four Pawns, Averbakh, Saemisch, Fianchetto, Classical, and several minor variations as well. Each chapter has an introductory text, and follows with the annotated games.

The first two chapters are entitled “Celebration Games,” and “How Not to Play the King’s Indian.” The first contains nine ‘great’ games from KID history, ranging from Taimanov-Najdorf in Zurich, 1953, through Pelletier-Glek, Zurich, 2001. The second gives five disasters, the type of which any regular player of the opening has suffered.

Now, these are not mere ‘intro’ chapters. Each game is well annotated, and has very specific lessons to teach us. IM Martin has a certain, rather well developed voice when annotating, and it shows here. There are times when one will laugh out loud at his comments, and others when a well crafted phrase will explain something plainly that has puzzled the reader up to this point.

The title and the book blurb suggest the purpose of the book is to arm the reader with a complete range of ‘plans’ needed to play the KID well. This is a rather lofty goal, and the type of approach that has always seemed needed to learn an opening — don’t learn lines, learn patterns, is a common mantra of modern chess instruction. One reason this approach is not seen too often is that it is quite difficult to pull off well.

In some areas, Martin succeeds brilliantly. The chapter on the Saemisch is extremely well done. A two page introduction lays out the ideas and plans for both sides very neatly, and the game selection follows up with a game or two highlighting each idea. Unfortunately, some chapters do not fare as well. The introduction to the fianchetto lines has little or no useful information. Overall, this part of the writing is spotty at best.

The games, while sorted by main variation, do not ‘build’ upon one another. That is, there will be a game or two with a particular move order, then a different one, and then back to what was originally shown. There are some points where it strikes one as almost haphazard.

The games themselves are something of a potpourri. There are very few games here by ‘known’ players. I suspect this is due to the author pretty much limiting his selection to the last decade or so, and the KID isn’t played that much at the top any more. Most of the games are by GMs, and the FIDE ratings are usually given.

Having said this, the whole point of the work are the games, and in particular the notes. Let’s have a look:

J. Markos (2465) – S. Movsesian (2620) [E91]
ch-SVK, Kaskady SVK (4), 2002

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 Na6
6...a5!? IDEA

A recent development which doesn't seem too bad. Black invites a move and then he will see what is going on. Probably he plays ...Na6 anyway. 7.0–0 Na6 and there are two recent games from Fressinet against excellent opposition: 8.e5 The most testing.

(After 8.Bg5 Qe8 9.Qd2 e5 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.Rfe1 c6 12.Qd6 Be6 13.Nxe5 Rd8 14.Qa3 Nb4 15.Rac1 Ra8 16.Nf3 Nd7 17.Be3 Bg4 18.Qb3 Bxf3 19.Bxf3 Ne5 White's minor pieces are inactive as yet. 20.Rcd1 Qe6 21.Be2 Rfd8 22.Rxd8+ Rxd8 23.Rd1 Rxd1+ 24.Qxd1 Nd7 25.Bg4 f5 26.exf5 gxf5 27.Be2 Be5 28.g3 Nf6 29.Qd8+ Kg7 30.Bc5 Bxc3 31.bxc3 Qxe2 32.cxb4 axb4 33.Qe7+ Qxe7 34.Bxe7 Ne4 35.Bxb4 c5 36.Ba3 b6 37.Bb2+ Kf7 38.Be5 Nd2 White played the illegal 39.Kf1 and thus immediately lost the game. 0–1, Lautier-Fressinet, Paris 2002.)

There is another game given at this point with a lot more analysis. The ‘IDEA’ maker shows up on almost every game. Most of the time, such as in this game, it marks a point where Martin has some thing significant to say. Sometimes it seems to pop up solely to be there. Martin finishes off this line with the following: "You know, virtually anything is playable in the opening. One could argue that 6...a5 limits White choice — Black avoids exchange systems, lines of the Petrosian, lines of the Gligoric. It's certainly an odd move which places the ball in White's court to find a plan. My own view is that the shelf-life of this idea is limited and that 8.e5! is just good for White."

Thus, in the course of this game, featuring the early ... Na6 line, Martin serves up an entirely different, but related concept (the early ... a5) for the player to investigate, and provides enough examples for the reader to take it up. This is exactly what this book tries to do, and when it succeeds, it is almost brilliant.

Later, in the same game (after 15.Rb1), we have the following:

Decision time. Does Black try to hold White up further on the queenside, or should he move the knight on f6 and get on with the kingside attack without delay? For the answer we should stick to traditional theory — if Black is to successfully attack the white king, he should avoid any queenside advances whatsoever. Note that the Petrosian System is an exception — there Black has a bishop on g5 to push around. Movsesian's plan is unexpected and original:

15...c5! 16.dxc6 bxc6 17.b4 axb4 18.axb4 Rfb8

Unusual but effective.

19.b5 Nc5 20.Bf1 Ne6 21.Nb3 Nd4! 22.bxc6

22.Nxd4? exd4 23.Qxd4 Ng4 24.e5 (only move; 24.Qd3 Qe5–+) 24...Qh4, with Black's advantage.

22...Bxc6 23.Bg5 Nxb3 24.Rxb3 Rxb3 25.Qxb3 h6 26.Nd5

More or less agreeing to a draw, and thus the failure of his method.

26...Bxd5 27.Bxf6 Bxf6 28.cxd5 Qa7 29.Qb4 Be7 30.Rb1 Kg7= _–_

A change of policy for Black and quite an effective one, evidence of the flexibility of an early ...Na6 and thus its attraction to a large group of players.

This is another good example of Martin’s approach. There is enough analysis to make a point, but he is focused on the ideas that underlie Black’s play. Quite a bit of good practical advice is contained in the quoted paragraph.

On the more mundane side, there are some shortcomings. There seem to be more than the expected number of typographical errors. Nothing really serious, but the occasional wrong piece figurine or mistaken diagram. More significantly, there are no indices of any kind. Lack of a lines index is not too serious, as it really isn’t that type of book, and the chapter headings suffice to guide the reader. Lack of a player index is more of a concern. The publisher has been quite vocal about his opinion that such an index has ‘no value’ whatsoever. I would think most people would disagree. For an extra five dollars, a disc with all the games, annotated, plus additional games, in chess base format, is available. If the lack of indices troubles one, purchasing the add-on disc is a must.

Finally, and this is a personal pet peeve, while the games are numbered, each chapter begins with game number one. I suppose with no index, this is not such a big deal, but I greatly prefer sequential numbering of games throughout a book. It does make keeping your own notes easier when you can simply reference the game number.

There is not a whole lot of ‘database dump’ analysis. When it does appear, the editor has done an excellent job of using italics and boldface, along with the different styles of bracketing, to help the reader from losing his place. The book itself is sturdy and well bound, and seems likely to survive lots of use.


There is a rather universal belief amongst lower rated players that one must spend an inordinate amount of time studying opening theory. This usually consists of memorizing specific move orders. We get our hands on a book, such as the recent Psakhis French tomes, and proceed to pour over them, often not really learning anything.

Martin’s approach has a lot to recommend it. Playing over games selected by an expert in the field, with his guidance as you go through them, strikes me as the way to approach opening theory. While some of the flaws and unevenness prevent this from becoming a classic, there is no question that any one who plays the KID will be well served by studying it.

Highly Recommended

Other reviews by Don Aldrich

Review 1: The Critical Moment, by GM Iossif Dorfman (PDF Format)
Review 2: Shirov's 100 Wins, by Sergei Soloviov (PDF Format)
Review 3: School of Chess Excellence 1: Endgame Analysis, by Mark Dvoretsky (PDF Format)
Review 4: Winning Chess Strategies, by Yasser Seirawan (PDF Format)
Review 5: Purdy On The Endgame, compiled by Ralph Tykodi
Review 6: School of Chess Excellence 3: Strategic Play, by GM Mark Dvoretsky
Review 7: Secrets of Positional Play, by Drazen Marovic
Review 8: Tony Miles: It's Only Me, by Geoff Lawton
Review 9: Chess Strategy In Action, by John Watson
Review 10: Leko’s 100 Wins, by Sergei Soloviov
Review 11: Super Tournaments 2002, by Sergei Soloviov
Review 12: French Nd2, by Lev Psakhis
Review 13: Chess Endgame Training, by Bernd Rossen
Review 14: King's Indian Battle Plans, by IM Andrew Martin

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted