The Stonewall Attack – Basic concepts for beginners

Jan 5, 2014, 9:12 PM |

The Stonewall Attack – Basic concepts for beginners

What is the Stonewall Attack?

Basically it is the Dutch Defence Stonewall variation played by White. As White gains a tempo by having the 1st move this is one of the defences that converts nicely into an attack.

Many beginners try to play this opening with less than satisfactory results & the reason is that they don't understand the concepts underlying the opening. Transposing move order or changing the positional structure can rapidly lead to a confusing & often disastrous result leaving the player wondering “Where did I go wrong?”

So we start with the pawn structure after which the opening is named. Stonewall refers to a specific pawn structure not the town where it was invented or the player who made it popular or where certain pieces are moved. It is just the pawn structure.

So here it is from Whites point of view








 As you can see the structure is quite solid, which is why it is so successful in the Dutch defence. It can be difficult to attack successfully & provides a couple of key points for White from which to generate an attack. The b1 – h7 diagonal is open for the LSB with sacrifice potential on h7 & the e5 square is a strong outpost for a Knight with 2 supporting Pawns. After Castling the f file is an excellent place for a Rook as it can be opened very easily with a pawn exchange targeting Blacks traditional weakness the f7 pawn.

If you are into pattern imprinting this is what you are looking for in Pawn structure so use whatever techniques you have to lock this structure into you brain.


Looking at the Pawn structure what are the weaknesses? The obvious one that we first need to deal with is the hole on e4. A hole is a square that cannot be defended by a Pawn(s). If Black could place a Knight there supported by a Pawn on d5 it would have an excellent outpost & the b1 – h7 diagonal would be closed for the LSB. As the LSB is vital to the attack the strategy is to over protect that square. This is done first with the LSB & then with the Knight on b1 moving to d2.








These moves must be played early as there is no way back if Black occupies the e4 square.

After protecting e4 we then move onto setting up the Pawn Structure & developing the minor pieces to their optimum positions.

So we are going to put the Kings Knight on the e5 square via f3 where it has strong pawn support & attacks deep into Blacks position. After O – O the King will be safe & the Rook well placed on f1.

Finally the Queen can come to f3.

The position now looks like this.








So far we have only looked at the position from Whites point of view. This is the position we strive for so commit it to memory if you can.

Of course we can only play according to Blacks response to our moves so we now look at it from both sides of the board. There are several ways for Black to prevent us playing the Stonewall, these will be addressed later. At the moment the entire point of this exercise is to learn the Stonewall itself not the refutations.

As the opening plays out there are several critical responses White must make to moves by Black. There is no room for error here the response must be immediate.

So here is how a game may start. Blacks moves are typical of what a lower level player may make especially if he doesn't know exactly what you are playing.

Move order is important here for White. After Black plays Nf6 White must play Nd2 to prevent Blacks Ne4.


Blacks move ….c5 is the next & one of the most critical response moves in the early opening. It threatens 2 things. Firstly it threatens to exchange pawns d4. So if c5 x d4 we recapture with the e3 pawn. The reason for this is twofold, firstly it maintains the c3 d4 pawn structure for reasons that become important later, secondly by recapturing with the d Pawn we partially solve problem of the DSB which is locked in by the Knight on d2 & the Pawn on e3, later in the game when the Knight on d2 moves the Bishop may be developed to a better square freeing up the Rook on a1, it will also lend support to the Pawn on f4 after the Knight moves. So in many cases Black is doing you a favour with this exchange & receives very little in return for it.

The other threat of ...c5 is a little more subtle but possibly even more important. Black now has the option of playing c4 attacking the Bishop & forcing it to retreat from the b1 – h7 diagonal. Without that Bishop on the diagonal Whites attacking chances are greatly diminished & Black is gaining a superior position. The only way for White to counter this threat is too immediately play c3 creating a retreat for the Bishop.

Figure 1


This position shows how White continues the Stonewall line after the exchange 5/- …..cxd4. Note that the structure is maintained with the exception of the e3 Pawn & the diagonal for the DSB is now clear of Pawns making it easier to solve the DSB problem & connect the Rooks as the game progresses.


Now that we have dealt with the 2 most important early responses from Black we can continue development & setting up the attack. Once again it is important to be aware of certain responses from Black. Black will want to exchange off your Knight on e5 at some point, its just too dangerous to leave there for long. So it is very important to play Pawn f2 – f4 before developing the Knight.

If we develop the Knight to e5 before the Pawn is on f4 Black can play N x N & the only response White has is d4xN destroying the Pawn structure & disrupting the entire attack. (See Figure 3) If the Knight has support from the Pawn on f4 its is a very different scenario. If NxN we now recatpure with the f4 pawn. This maintains the strong c2 – d4 Pawn chain & !!!! it kicks away the Black Knight on f6 which is the key defender of the Black Kings position in particular the h7 Pawn. Now the reasons for our LSB on the b1 – h7 diagonal become apparent. There is a potential sacrifice on h7 looming & the Black Kings position is lacking defenders after removal of the Knight on f6.

Figure 3
Figure 4


As you can see by comparing Figure 3 & Figure 4 there is a huge difference. In Figure 3 Whites carefully co-ordinated attack is looking messy & Black is gaining space & counter play potential for the minor inconvenience of having to relocate his Knight on f6.

In Figure 4 White has a solid position with an attack developing nicely on Blacks Kings position while Black is very cramped for space & lacks good squares for his pieces especially defenders on the Kingside.

So now it's time to have a look at an actual game. The game I have chosen was played in an interclub tournament many years ago & is fairly typical of the success I had with the Stonewall at that level.

Its is interesting to note that if Black doesn't know the opening & plays passively the opening almost plays itself ...... as long as you stick to the basic concepts & don't fall into the trap of blindly following the opening regardless of what Black does. You still need to take time & calculate.

So that's about as good as it gets playing the Stonewall Attack. It won me a "Best game with sacrifice" prize, although it nay have been the only game with a sacrifice in a tournament at that level but I had many similar successes with the Stonewall until my rating reached a level where my opponents knew how to counter it, then it became much more difficult until I eventually started losing to strong players & abandoned it apart from occaisionally using it as a secret weapon.

It's very interesting to run it through the computer this many years later. The Stonewall gave chess computer programmers many headaches in the early days as the computer continually failed to see the attack & it tended to make some weird moves as the main lines are somewhat unclear early in the opening. Apparently some of this still lingers today. If you want to see it try playing the computer on medium or lower & see what it does.

The computer (I'm using SCID with the Stockfish engine) rates this game as even or a slight edge to Black until 13/-.....Nxe5 then it swings rapidly in Whites favour.