How To Play The Stonewall Dutch

How To Play The Stonewall Dutch

| 27 | Opening Theory

Today we will be looking at a completely different landscape on the chess board compared to last week's King's Indian structure: the light-square focus of the Dutch Stonewall.

The Stonewall is not a specific series of moves so much as a setup, defined by the black pawns on f5, e6, d5, and c6, against White's "closed" -- i.e. non 1.e4 -- development. The white pieces could be in quite different places -- the white knight on h3, for instance, or the king's bishop not fianchettoed -- and it would still be a Stonewall.

The Stonewall Dutch is not a particularly popular opening, but it is still a respected one. By his "stonewall," Black achieves something that he rarely manages in the opening: to obtain at least equal space and control of some squares in White's half of the board, particularly e4.

Against this, there are -- as there must be -- some downsides. In particular, Black has weakened the dark squares by putting most of his central pawns on the light squares. Additionally, he has blocked in the light-squared bishop, which in some ways makes the famous "French" bishop look good.

However, both of these problems are not unsolvable.

Black has two ways of solving the problem of the light-squared bishop. One is to develop it by ...Bc8-d7-e8-h5. This may seem long-winded, but can be very effective. The bishop can become quite a strong piece, and the slow nature of the position means the time spent on the maneuver is not so important. The other possibility -- and probably this is more common -- is to play ...b6 and ...Bb7 (or ...Ba6). In this case, the position begins to look like a Closed Catalan, except with ...f5 played. Black can aim for ...c5, to completely liberate his pieces.

While the dark-squared weakness is very significant, it is something Black can "play around." The most important weak square is, of course, e5. Nevertheless, it is not so easy for White to use this square, since several black pieces can control it, prepared to exchange any white knights which might land there. Also, White can spend a lot of time with maneuvers such as Ng1-f3-e5 supported by Nb1-d2-f3, which will allow him to place a supported knight on e5; but Black can often play around that knight and occupy e4 with his own knight.

With the central pawn formation, one of White's most important plans is to exchange the dark-squared bishops. Black should hinder this plan whenever possible. In general, White can achieve this exchange, but the time lost and damage to his position often compensates.

When I was a young player (in particular, before I left Alaska) the Stonewall Dutch was my main opening against 1.d4. Here is one game, which early on was an inspiration for me. While we talked about the different ways that Black can solve the problem of the light-squared bishop, in this game Black solved it in an altogether different -- and very radical -- way!

This game was played a long time ago. In modern times, by far the most common response for White is to fianchetto the king's bishop. This provides a much more solid defense for the white king. Without the fianchetto, Black's kingside attack can be very strong. Meanwhile, White's light-squared bishop, while hardly a great piece on g2, has probably more prospects than on d3 or e2.

Hot off the press is the main game for this article: Magnus Carlsen's win as Black in the Stonewall against Fabiano Caruana. Carlsen has not played the Stonewall many times -- but keep in mind, he tends to play practically a different opening in every game. In this game he hardly faced any problems, easily equalizing and then deceived his opponent in what should have been a drawn ending.

Not an uncommon sight: Carlsen confusing his opponent in an objectively equal position, extracting a victory from nothing.

In the Stonewall Dutch you have an opening -- hardly fashionable, and less explored than most -- which is simultaneously solid while giving great winning chances to Black due to the lack of simplifications.

The Stonewall's ramparts can give rise to a great variety of plans and rich play, suitable to strategists and those who like to out-think their opponents.

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