In 2009 I was at a crossroads. I still wasn’t a GM and my rating was embarrassingly low. The pain of missing out on the title in 2008 by only a few rating points still hurt. When I realised that I wouldn’t be becoming a GM any time soon, I decided it was time for a serious revamp of my repertoire, so in that fateful 2008 I decided to include 1. d4 in my repertoire. My first and foremost concern was what to do against the King’s Indian Defence.
Why the KID? Because I hate being under attack. Having played the KID all my life until approximately 2002 I knew what I was up against. Even if there was no attack the KID always offers very annoying (from White’s perspective) tactical chances that I was so eager to avoid. So my decision fell on the Fianchetto System. Just to kill Black’s counterplay.
I did my work and constructed a repertoire that was aimed at maximum solidity (as a basis I used Avrukh’s Grandmaster Repertoire series). This was also partly psychological – I was hurt and needed to feel safe and secure. And what is better than fianchettoing your bishop and tucking the king behind it? (I also took up the Catalan…)
The results were excellent. From 2008 until 2012 I played 19 games as White in the Fianchetto KID and I won 9, drew 9 and lost only 1.
I also explored other options. The Fianchetto was serving me well, but I felt I should include the lines where White occupies the centre. I remembered what Karpov did when he played Kasparov in 1990 – he chose the Gligoric System (with the Saemisch as a back-up). Black doesn’t have an attack there, and White still has the centre and the typical (more or less) automatic play on the queenside. I studied the system deeply, but I didn’t get to play it much – only 6 times in the period 2009-2011, even though my result of 5 wins and 1 draw perhaps should have seen the system played more often. The reason was again psychological – I felt more secure behind the Fianchetto.
After working on improving my calculation at the beginning of 2012, I felt a surge in my confidence. I was playing better and I thought I should become more aggressive against the KID. Hence the Four Pawns Attack. As a basis for my preparation, I used Semkov’s very interesting book, “Kill KID” – it had a lot of ideas and coupled with my own and the usual analytical work, I was very happy with the end result. But I only got to play it once – I won a very nice attacking game in the Macedonian league in 2012 against Bulgarian Candidate Master Gochev.
21. Rxe5! Today’s engines see this in an instant, but back in 2012 they didn’t!
In spite of having all these systems at my disposal, I wasn’t entirely happy. I didn’t feel that I had the right mix between aggression and solidity – the Fianchetto was too solid, the Gligoric too vague, the Four Pawns too aggressive. And then a coincidence, a word from a friend – he mentioned the lines with h3 (often called the Makagonov System).
The only book I could find at the time was “Beat the KID” by GM Jan Markos, but I wasn’t too convinced with the lines he was suggesting. I had to do it the hard way this time. I had to figure out the advantageous positions for White myself. The transpositions were a labyrinth. I spent a whole week working on these, writing things down in order not to lose myself in the transpositions and similar positions. Very often I was frustrated so I used two chess sets – one with the current line I was looking at, the other with a similar position or move order and I would compare and think if one or the other could be reached. After a whole week of continuous work, I finally had everything figured out and I was very happy with the system. This time it felt right. Due to its complexity, in the beginning, I was still mixing up my move orders, but my understanding was so superior that I was winning games with ease. I won the first 10 (!) games I played with it (from 2012-2014) before losing a winning position due to bad form in 2014.
The Makagonov System also experienced a boom among the elite in those years. One of its main attractions was that very often it was White who was attacking the king, quite a reversal in the KID! What was amazing for me to see was the way Black players were losing these games – lifelong practitioners of the KID like Smirin, Kozul and Topalov were made to look like they lacked a basic understanding of the KID! The Makagonov posed extremely difficult problems for the Black players that they couldn’t solve just by understanding of the positions – more serious analytical work was required. In spite of developing several acceptable defences against the Makagonov, nowadays the KID is under a cloud, especially because of it. Things are difficult for Black – not only do they need excellent understanding, but they also need hardcore deep preparation against the Makagonov. And not many players are ready to do that kind of work.
From White’s perspective, things are looking bright. But not before the work is done – it is not easy to grasp all the intricacies of the system. However, once it has been done the White player will have a dependable way to tackle the KID, one with a perfect balance of aggression and solidity.