28 December 2006

Is the KID dead?

Another quote from the introduction to Shereshevsky's 'Mastering the Endgame: Closed Games'
caught my eye.

The reader will note the relatively large number of 'King's Indian' endings, presented in the 'Dark-square strategy' section. The King's Indian Defense occurs increasingly rarely in top-level tournaments. The charm of its novelty has largely been lost, whereas the degree of risk has grown several-fold. White has a wide range of possibilities for developing his initiative -- from direct play 'for mate' in the Saemisch Variation to 'emasculating' set-ups with the exchange on e5.

I am a great fan of the King's Indian Defense (KID) and this was news to me. The introduction also mentioned, 'In recent years [the book was published in 1992], however, thanks to the successes of the World Champion [Kasparov], there is a justification for talking of another burst in popularity of the King's Indian Defense.'

Now that Kasparov is retired, has anyone taken up the slack? From a recent ChessBase article...

'King's Indian: Fear and trembling on the chessboard' by Steve Giddins

...'In recent years, however, the popularity of the [King's Indian Defense] at top level has waned sharply. If one thinks back a while, KID adherents amongst the super-tournament regulars included Kasparov, Gelfand, Judit Polgar, van Wely, Svidler and Topalov, yet if you search your database, you will be hard pressed to find a single KID game, featuring one of these players as Black, in the last five years. Fashion being what it is, this decline in popularity has been reflected at lower levels.'

Giddins went on to compare the unpopularity of the KID with 'flared trousers' (aka bell-bottoms) and to blame it on two Kasparov losses to Kramnik. The rest of the article is a puff piece for a DVD titled 'A World champion's guide to the King’s Indian' by Rustam Kasimdzhanov. [An aside: Has the world abandoned Nigel Short's initiative to spell the ex-FIDE World Champion's name as Kasimjanov?] Puff piece or not, Kasimdzhanov 'sets out to convince you that not only is there nothing wrong with the King’s Indian, but it remains one of the most dangerous defences for the 1.d4 player to face.'

Whew! I can still play it. Now I'm left with two questions: 1) What were the two Kasparov - Kramnik games? -and- 2) Who else besides Kasimdzhanov (currently FIDE 2672) plays it at the 2650+ level? Answers to follow.

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