The Hippopotamus Defense

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

The World Cup winner Teimour Radjabov from Azerbaijan (born March 12, 1987, making him 32 years old now) has been in semi-retirement for the past several years that many of us had forgotten just how good he was. Not only that but he was known as an openings expert.

Many years ago the world’s greatest proponent of the King’s Indian was then-world champion Garry Kasparov, but in the late 90s he suffered several losses to the emerging star Vladimir Kramnik. This was the game which finally made Kasparov give up on the King’s Indian.

Kramnik, Vladimir (2740) — Kasparov, Garry (2795) [E97]
Novgorod (5), 16.06.1997

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.d4 0–0 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.b4

The Bayonet Attack. Kasparov had no answer for this.

9…Nh5 10.Re1 Nf4 11.Bf1 a5 12.bxa5 Rxa5 13.Nd2 c5 14.a4 Ra6 15.Ra3 g5!?N

This is Kasparov’s novelty but Kramnik treats it roughly.

16.g3 Nh3+ 17.Bxh3 Bxh3 18.Qh5 Qd7!

[18…g4? 19.Nf3!]

19.Qxg5 h6 20.Qe3 f5 21.Qe2!

Kramnik is planning to activate his rook on a3. A really amazing idea.

21…f4 22.Nb5 Kh7 23.gxf4 exf4 24.Kh1 Bg4 25.Nf3! Ng6 26.Rg1

With the idea of Ng5+

26…Bxf3+ 27.Qxf3 Ne5 28.Qh5 Qf7 29.Qh3 Nxc4 30.Rf3 Be5 31.Nc7! Rxa4

[31…Qxc7 32.Qxh6+ Kxh6 33.Rh3#]

32.Bxf4! 1–0

[32.Bxf4 Bxf4 33.Ne6 Rg8 34.Rxg8 Qxg8 (34…Kxg8 35.Rxf4 wins easily) 35.Qf5+ Kh8 (35…Qg6 36.Nf8+) 36.Qf6+ Kh7 37.Nf8++–]

After its greatest champion Kasparov quit the King’s Indian Defense its popularity understandably waned and by the turn of the millennium hardly anyone played it anymore as Black. Teimour Radjabov almost single-handedly brought about the current revival of the King’s Indian Defense — he even beat world no. 1, Magnus Carlsen, with it in the 2014 Gashimov Memorial.

Carlsen, Magnus (2881) — Radjabov, Teimour (2713) [E70]
Gashimov Memorial-A 1st Shamkir (5), 24.04.2014

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nge2 0–0 6.Ng3 e5 7.d5 a5 8.Be2 Na6 9.h4 h5 10.Bg5 Qe8 11.Qd2 Nc5 12.0–0–0 Ng4! 13.Bxg4 Bxg4 14.f3 Bd7 15.Be3 b6 16.Kb1 Kh7 17.Qc2 a4 18.Nge2 f5 19.exf5 gxf5 20.Rh3 Kh8! 21.f4 Ne4!? 22.Nxe4 fxe4 23.Rg3 Bg4 24.Rxg4 hxg4 25.f5 Rxf5 26.Ng3 Rf8 27.Qxe4 Qd7 28.a3 b5! 29.c5

[29.cxb5 Qxb5 30.Qg6 Rab8 31.Rd2 e4 32.Qh5+ Kg8 33.Qg6 Rf6 34.Qxg4 Rbf8 with …Rf1+ coming and a winning attack]

29…dxc5! 30.h5 c4 31.h6 Bf6 32.Bc5 Rf7 33.Rf1 Re8!

Protecting the e5–pawn so that he can relocate his bishop.

34.Bb4 Bg5 35.Nf5 c6! 36.Bd6

[36.dxc6 Qd3+ takes queens off the board leaving Black with a winning ending]

36…Bf4 37.Ng7 Qxd6 38.Nxe8 Qxd5 39.Qxd5 cxd5 40.g3 Kh7! 41.gxf4 exf4 42.Nd6 Rf6 43.Nxb5 f3 44.Nd4 Kxh6 45.Kc2 Kg5 46.Kd2 f2 47.Ne2 Rf3 48.Kc2 Kh4 49.Rh1+ Rh3 50.Rf1 g3 51.Kd2 Kg4 0–1

Another one of Radjabov’s pet lines is the Ruy Lopez Schliemann Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5!? which he fearlessly adopted even against the world chess elite. In fact, up to now I believe he is the only top player to have it in his usual repertoire.

And there is also the so-called “Hippopotamus Defense.” Never heard of it? Let me show you.

Vink, Nico (2335) — Radjabov, Teimour (2483) [B06]
Corus-B Wijk aan Zee (11), 28.01.2001

1.e4 g6 2.d4 d6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 a6 5.Be3 e6 6.Qd2 b6 7.Be2 Bb7 8.0–0 Nd7 9.Rfe1 h6 10.h3 Ne7 <D>


This is the full “Hippopotamus Defense” formation for Black. FM Alessio de Santis wrote a book on it for New in Chess recently. I had never heard of him but on going over the book I found that it is quite good — the author does not restrict his analysis to if-he-plays-this then you-should-play-that. He explains the ideas and themes you should look out for including the hidden tactics behind the lines. I have taken the liberty of taking a few quotes from this book to show you what I mean.

11.Bf1 g5 12.a4 Ng6 13.d5

Alessio de Santis wrote here that “White fears an attack on the flank and advances in the center, but Black closes the position to his advantage.” This transposition into the King’s Indian structure is favorable to Black.

13…e5! 14.Ne2 Nf6 15.Ng3 Bc8 16.Nh2 Nf4 17.c4 0–0 18.a5 bxa5 19.Rxa5 h5 20.f3 g4 21.hxg4 hxg4 22.c5?

This is a crucial mistake. White shouldn’t allow his opponent to open the g-file. Better is 22.fxg4 Nxg4 23.Nxg4 Bxg4 first before 24.c5.

22…gxf3 23.gxf3 Bh6 24.cxd6 cxd6 25.Rea1 Kh7 26.Kh1 Rg8 27.Qe1 N6h5 28.Bf2

[28.Nxh5 Nxh5 29.Bxh6 Ng3+ 30.Kg1 Ne2+ 31.Kf2 Nd4! (threatening the devastating …Qh4+, and White cannot do anything about it) 32.Bd2 Qh4+ 33.Ke3 Nc2+]

28…Nxg3+ 29.Bxg3 Qg5 30.Bf2 Nh3 31.Ng4 Bxg4 32.fxg4 Qxg4 33.R5a3 Nf4 34.Bg3 Qh5+ 35.Bh2 Rg4 36.Rg3 Rxg3 37.Qxg3 Rg8 38.Qf2 Bg5! 39.Ra3

Hereabouts there are some inaccuracies as the players blitzed out their moves to make the time control.

39…Qh6 40.Bxa6 Bd8 41.Bf1 Rg4 42.Ra8 Bh4

OK, everything is back to normal.

43.Qa7 Qg6 44.Qe3 Bg3 45.Qf3 Rh4 46.Ra3 Rg4

Radjabov missed 46…Rxh2+ 47.Kg1 Bf2+! 48.Kxh2 Qg1#. Anyway, no harm done.

47.Qe3 Bxh2 48.Bh3 Rh4 49.Bf5 Bg1+ 0–1

It was with great amusement that I saw the Hippopotamus wheeled out for action in the just-concluded FIDE World Chess Cup. White in the following game is the 2018 World Junior Champion and widely touted as a world championship prospect. His opponent, Maksim Chigaev, is a 22-year-old Russian GM. He did not qualify for the FIDE World Cup through the usual avenues — Chigaev was nominated by the FIDE President directly into the 128-man field.

Maghsoodloo, Parham (2664) — Chigaev, Maksim (2644) [B06]
FIDE World Cup
Khanty-Mansiysk (2.59), 11.09.2019

1.d4 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Nd7 6.Bf4 Ne7 7.Qd2 h6 8.h4 b6 9.0–0 Bb7 10.Rad1 a6 11.Rfe1

We have the same hippopotamus formation as in the Radjabov game. We already know that playing d4–d5 is wrong because of the reply …e6–e5 and we go into a version of the King’s Indian which is favorable for Black. So what is the correct way?


GM Justin Tan had an interesting comment on this move in “It’s astonishing that such dubious chess would feature in the classical portion of any of the World Cup matches. Black surely had better ways to play for a win than to play for a loss?!”

12.a4 Qa7 13.e5!

That’s right. Pushing d4–d5 is usually not good in this formation, so as a rule White should go for e4–e5. Or so says GM Maghsoodloo. You will admit later on that his plan is quite effective.

13…d5 14.Bf1 Qb8 15.Ne2 c5 16.c3 c4 17.Ng3 Qc7 18.Nh2!

With the idea of Ng4 forcing the h6–pawn to move, after which White will have the weak black squares g5 and f6 to work at.

18…Nf5 19.Nxf5 gxf5

[19…exf5? 20.e6]

20.Be2 0–0–0 21.Nf1!

This knight is going to g3 to keep watch on both h5 and f5 and also to protect the g-file.

21…Rdg8 22.Ng3 Qd8 23.b3! cxb3 24.c4 dxc4 25.Bxc4

White is getting ready to push his d-pawn.

25…Kb8 26.d5 Nc5 27.Qe3 Qxh4

[27…exd5 28.e6++– Ka7 29.e7 Qd7 30.a5 the attack is dangerous]

28.a5 Bf8 29.Nxf5! Qg4

[29…exf5 30.e6+ Ka7 (30…Ka8 31.exf7 Rg4 32.Qe8+ Ka7 33.Qb8#) 31.axb6+ Kxb6 32.Rb1 fxe6 33.Rxb3+ Ka7 34.Rxb7+! Kxb7 35.Qe5 Qd8 36.Rb1+ Ka7 37.dxe6 Black is not going to survive this]

30.Ng3 b5 31.Be2 Qh4 32.d6 Na4 33.Rc1! Rg4 34.Rc7 Rxf4 35.Rec1 Rc4 36.R1xc4 bxc4 37.Bf3 1–0

Mate will follow.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.