Playing the Stonewall Dutch

Book Review: Playing the Stonewall Dutch by Nikola Sedlak

“Not a Dutch surely? That would be fine by me! … So it is a Dutch Defense. One of the openings which, just like most masters, I am very happy to play on the white side.”

Tigran Petrosian commenting on his game against Bent Larsen, San Antonio 1973 (1-0, 63).

The late, great former World Champion Tigran Petrosian was not a fan of the Dutch Defense, as the above quote shows. 

Bent Larsen vs Tigran Petrosian

In contrast, his opponent in this game, Bent Larsen, wrote in 1974:

“Solid, rock solid. Is this [the Stonewall Dutch] the answer to Black’s dreams if he has little time for opening theory? For some players it may be, though it is a little discomforting that most experts think White has a small but clear positional advantage… Though some may call it primitive it is a fine solution to many of Black’s problems. But some difficulties remain. First of all, the Stonewall is not so good if White does not fianchetto his f1-bishop! It is very much against this bishop that Black’s strategy is directed. So if White is not a fianchetto man you are probably wise to have another system ready. (Not all Stonewall fans will agree.)”

Nearly fifty years later, the author of this book, GM Nikola Sedlak, sides with Larsen and not Petrosian, and he provides a black repertoire on the Stonewall. He writes about the position after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5:

“From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Black’s position does not make the greatest first impression! Black seems to have gifted his opponent an outpost on e5, while also blocking the c8-bishop behind its own pawns. The justification for these concessions can be found in the space Black has gained, the solidity of his set-up (there’s a reason why the opening was named the Stonewall!), and his ability to develop actively with …Bd6 and …0-0, with various attacking and other dynamic possibilities available in the middlegame. Finally, setting up a rook-solid barrier to oppose the bishop on g2 is a great boon. In fact, I always like to wait for White to play g2-g3 before l commit to a Stonewall set-up. When White avoids doing so, I recommend choosing a different set-up, as detailed in Chapter 1.”

Sedlak is in complete agreement with Larsen!

Moreover, because of Sedlak’s commitment to a Stonewall only against g2-g3, he prefers the move order 1.d4 e6 and only later …f5. Of course, this allows White to enter a French Defense with 2.e4 d5. Some players may not have the French in their repertoire, and so Sedlak provides a chapter on 1.d4 f5. This move order allows several aggressive systems by White, including the Staunton Gambit (2.e4), 2.h3, 2.Bg5 and 2.Qd3. Some of the resulting positions are surprisingly sharp, and players will need to be well-prepared to meet them. Sedlak provides sensible options against all these systems.

The first chapter deals with positions where White avoids the fianchetto after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5. In this case, Sedlak recommends various Nimzo-Indian and Queen’s Indian type systems, rather than the Stonewall. 

The second chapter starts the Stonewall theory and looks at options after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5, where White plays Bf4 now or later, and 5.Nh3

The backbone of the repertoire is the position after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Nf3 c6 6.O-O Bd6, where the modern 6…Bd6 has replaced the older 6…Be7.

The theory of this line is covered in three chapters, while the interesting 6…O-O (called The Flexible Stonewall by Sedlak) is covered in a separate chapter.

Another interesting system called the Aggressive Stonewall, which arises after 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Nf3 Be7 6.O-O Ne4, is also covered in another chapter.

Finally, Sedlak looks at move order issues and options against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 to round off the theoretical discussion. The book ends with a series of exercises to test the reader’s knowledge of the material.

It’s clear from this overview that Sedlak has put a lot of thought into designing this repertoire, which is perhaps not surprising given that he plays the Dutch himself. There is a very good balance between analytical variations, computer recommendations, and verbal explanations. The theory is also complemented by a good range of annotated games. Although Sedlak obviously champions the black side of the Dutch, he is honest with his views on White’s options. The book also contains a lot of new recommendations for the reader to try.

An example from the book is given below, with annotations from the book. 

This example is a good illustration of the informative annotations used by Sedlak to explain the typical plans in the Stonewall. The author continues to annotate the rest of the game in the book, and he won in 51 moves.

In summary, Sedlak has written an excellent repertoire on the Stonewall Dutch. The combination of detailed explanations and analysis makes this a very good choice for both long-term Dutch players and those looking to take up the Dutch for the first time. 

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