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  3. What other plans could white have adopted?

This is a game I played in a club tournament in London. I am white.

I realized I've made a few blunders (e.g. move 24 Qg4 instead, and move 28 f4 instead. And end game mistakes)

But I wonder if I could've played other plans. Is Bc1-g5-f6 trying to exchange dark square bishops a good one?

What are some other plans that I could've considered?


@brianmak #1
You started trading pieces pretty often in this game while in general the KIA player usually needs pieces to push through on the king side. Why not the common Nh2 to prepare the pawn push g3g4 to break open on the king side ? You could even prepare it by making space on g1 for a white rook.
(I'd say : Study the games of Bobby Fischer who played several beautiful KIA games).
Your suggestion to trade your dark squared bishop against the dark squared bishop might often be a good idea, but here it could make pawn e5 weak or a target for black, while you already got the weak pawn d3 eventually. White had no weak targets to play against really.
By the way, in the resulting rook ending you played very passive while active play was needed to have some counterplay. Your passive play and closing off the position resulted in no counterplay at all. As an example I'm giving a quick (and possibly incorrect) active rook ending line example where white even wins.
Some thoughts in a study :

There are some tricks with the move order in the KIA vs closed Sicilian. I will discuss the opening first and leave the middlegame and endgame for later, as there are already many things to say before move 11.

1) If White plays an early Nbd2, he should really go for Dvoretsky's gambit 8.exd5 exd5 9.d4! cxd4 10.Nb3 (Dvoretsky-Vulfson, 1986). You will see why White can't otherwise hope for any edge in the sequel (2 and 3).
2) In the game, Black commits his king too early. He should play b6 instead of castling and wait to see White's intentions as in Ljubojevic-Kasparov, Niksic 1983. If White pushes h4, Black replies with h6. The e5 push can be met by Qc7 and g5!, exchanging Black's g-pawn for White's e-pawn.
3) On the 9th move, White pushes e5 too early without securing the pawn. After 9.e5 Qc7 10.Qe2, Black should play 10...g5!, again winning White's spearhead in exchange for his g-pawn (see Alvir-Ulibin, Vienna 1998 and Golovir-Gleizerov, Voronezh 2008).
From White's viewpoint, he can play 9.h4 in order to prevent g5 (Bologan-Lautier, Chalkidiki 1992) or 9.c3 in order to prepare for d4 defending e5 (Aronian-Nakamura, St Louis 2014). Both sides have chances. White only stands better if Black doesn't answer 9.h4 with 9...h6, preparing for 10.h5 g5= (I don't believe in the reverse Maroczy Bind 9...e5 10.exd5 Nxd5 for Black, White is ready before Black can consolidate).
4) Unless you really like Dvoretsky's gambit, it is more promising for White to avoid the move Nbd2 altogether against the Sicilian (as opposed to the French, with no fianchetto by Black). I think that the best move order is to play 7.Re1 first. If Black then castles, you can follow Petrosian-Pachman, Bled 1961 and push e5 (it can be strengthened by Bf4 and Nbd2-c4 if need be ; White has the better prospects because his attack on the kingside is quicker than Black's counterplay that hasn't started yet). If Black plays d5, White can push e5 and answer Qc7 with Bf4 ; there is no g5 threat this time, and White will follow with c3 and d4, transposing (or nearly so) to Fischer-Panno, Buenos Aires 1970 (without allowing Hübner's defense as we will see below).

5) This leads us to the most balanced variation : 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3 Nc6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0-0 Nge7 7.Re1 d6 8.c3.
5a) As Black here, I would play 8...e5 and enter the Botvinnik pawn structure. White should play 9.a3 and plan the undermining b4. It's unusual than White plays on the queenside in the KIA, many players won't even consider it, and as Black I would be counting on this. Dolmatov-Rublevsky, Moscow 1996 is a nice example.
5b) Black's other option is to play 8...0-0. White should then avoid Fischer's 9.d4 because of 9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Qb6! (10...d5?! 11.e5 is what White was looking for), which has been analyzed thoroughly by Hübner on the basis of Ljubojevic-Hübner, Buenos Aires 1978.
White has three plausible moves : 9.Na3, 9.Nbd2 and 9.Be3
5c) On 9.Na3, I would again play 9...e5 as Black. White is late with his queenside play and I've entered the Botvinnik structure under more favorable circumstances than on the 8th move.
5d) On 9.Nbd2, Black's queenside play is quicker than White's kingside attack : 9...b5 10.Nf1 a5 (or b4) is actually favorable for Black.
5e) It is unusual for White to play 9.Be3, but in this case, Black's queenside is too threatening to play anywhere else than in the center. On the next move White will simply play d4 and, on cxd4, recapture with the knight. The long diagonal g2-a8 is opened up and the knight can jump to b5, aiming at the weak pawn on d6 (there is no Be7 to guard it). Black can't just push and win, and as White, I'm counting on leaving him without a clear plan. The moves 9.Be3 b6 10.d4 have been seen in Yermolinsky-Shirov, North bay 1994 and Shirov didn't take right away on d4.

6) In the game, Black wastes two precious tempi with Bd7 (instead of g5) and Nf5. Likewise, White plays 11.c3 for no reason, without planning d4 (perhaps he could catch up with 11.Nb3, gaining a tempo on c5, followed by Bf4). So the early middlegame is entered with balanced chances.

The KIA is much more difficult than it looks. Whether you play Nbd2, c3 or Re1 depends on many nuances. When I learned it first, I often found myself slowly worse and worse without knowing why. The same goes for Black with the closed Sicilian structure, it's not just a pattern to follow, the queenside play must be timed well.

About the early middlegame, I think that the only possible justification for Nf5 by Black is to play Nxe3. Maybe 15.Ne3 is not the move that White wants to play here, but it does threaten the thematic pseudo-sacrifice 16.Nxd5 exd5 17.e6 discovering an attack on Black's queen, recovering the piece (exd7) and weakening Black's center in front of the fianchettoed bishop. Black needs to realize this and there is no point in delaying 15...Nxe3. I agree with the line given by Achja on the 16th move, but one move earlier : 16.Qxe3 Ne7 17.d4 Nf5 18.Qe2 c4, followed by b4, and White must be careful even though Black's weakness on g5 gives him a few options that he shouldn't have (i.e. Black should play h6 and not h5 ; if White pushes h5, Black answers with g5). The position is balanced.
Let's assume that Black doesn't take on e3. Indeed he must cover d5 against the pseudo-sacrifice, so 15...Nce7 makes sense. White will play against Black's tangled pieces on the kingside with the interesting sacrifice played in the game. I agree with 16.Ng5 (in order to play Bf3). Then it's not too late for Black to play Nxe3 and fall back on the equal line given by Achja. White can do nothing to prevent this, that's why Ne3 is not so useful as usual. All the same there is nothing else in the position, I don't think we can criticize 15.Ne3 as such, but White should have deviated earlier.

Now we come to the position after 18.Bf3. A very good thing about this position is that even Komodo doesn't understand the magnitude of the threat Bxh5. So the engine would happily play 20...gxh5, expecting a draw by repetition. After 21.Qxh5, Black has two defenses against the mate threat.
1) 21...Rfd8 fails to 22.Qh7+ Kf8 23.g4 with three branches : 23...Ne7 24.h5 Ng8 25.Nh3 (and h6 soon) ; 23...Nh6 24.Nxe6 fxe6 25.Bxh6 ; 23...Nxh4 24.Qxh4 Rxd3 25.Qh5 (a fighting line where Black counter-sacrifices). All three lines lead to a clear advantage for White but no instant win.
2) 21...Nh6 gives White good compensation 22.Nh3 Kh7 23.g4 Qd7 (or Qd8) 24.Bxh6 Bxh6 25.Re3! Rg8 26.g5 Rg6 27.Nf4 Rag8 28.Kf1 b4 29.Rc1 Qb7 and the game goes on after this long forced line, White having a slighty easier time in the complications because of a well-timed Rg3.

In the game, Black doesn't play 20...gxh5 and White has an undisputed advantage. In order to realize that advantage, Komodo would play 23.h5 (after hxg6 fxg6, White will take the pawn on e6). White's queen is already on f3, it can go to h1 to enhance the threat hxg6. This is just a winning initiative.
Even if White doesn't play 23.h5, there are two occasions to increase the advantage with the f4 push : 28.f4 and 29.f4. One of Black's rook must defend the knight, so the d3 pawn is immune. If Black plays 28...Nc6, then 29.Rb1 defends d3 indirectly again (29...Rxd3? 30.Nxc5 forks Black's rooks). Black has no counterplay and White can slowly grab more squares and more material (e.g. 29...b4 30.c4 Rd4 31.Nxc5).

After the wrong combination 29.Nf6+ Bxf6 30.exf6 Red7, Black's rooks are more active than White's and Black has a clear plan on the queenside. White should be able to hold the position but it's going to be a hard task. Komodo even claims a small edge for White after 32.Rc1 (instead of 32.c4). Black should definitely pre-empt this rook move with 31...c4 and play b4 only later.

I'll need more time to analyze the endgame after 31...b4?! 32.c4?! Rd4.