Stonewall Attack

Stonewall attack is not an opening but a set-up that white can choose to play. For example, 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.Bd3 e6 4.f4 c5 5.c3

This set-up is called the Stonewall attack. White creates a strong point on e5, where he wants to establish his knight. There are mainly two drawbacks to this setup.

  • White’s dark-squared bishop is locked inside the pawn chain.
  • Square e4 is a hole which black can occupy and easily get a comfortable position.

White can gain a quick attack if black is not careful. But it is also very easy game for black if he knows various ideas around this structure.

How Black can go wrong

First, Let’s look at how easy it is for black to get in trouble.

5…Bd6 6.Nf3 0-0 7.0-0 Nc6 8.Ne5 Qc7 9.Nd2 b6 10.Rf3 andnow, many beginners from black would play a move like 10…Nd7 here, with the idea of playing f5 and lock the position. It is a blunder..Do you see why?

11. Bxh7+ Kxh7 12.Rh3+ Kg8 13.Qh5 and white wins! Checkmate is inevitable.

I have played this trap often in blitz and even highly rated players have fallen into this trap.

Second wrong way to play from black is to capture on e5 knight. For example, in the above line after 8.Ne5 Bxe5 9.fxe5 Ne8 and white will get a very strong attack  on the kingside due to open f-file and lack of defenders.

Another way to go wrong is to play …c4 prematurely. For example, in our first line after 9.Nd2, beginners tend to play 9…c4

It is a very bad move positionally because it releases pressure from the d4 pawn, and white can freely play e4 to release his bad bishop on c1.

For example after 10.Bc2 b6 11.e4 White’s weakness on e4 is gone and also his bishop is freed up. White is better.

Correct way to play for black.

Black’s plan is to exchange the light-squared bishops and establish his own knight on e4 and then if possible, play f5 to lock the position. That leaves white with a long-term weakness of a bad bishop.

For example, 1.d4 Nf6 2.e3 d5 3.Bd3 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.f4 Bg4 6.Nf3 e6 7.0-0 Bd6 8.Qe1 Bf5!

Now after 9.Bxf5 exf5 black’s double pawns are not a weakness because the f5 pawn strengthens e4 square. Black will play Ne4 with a good game.

And if white plays 9.Qe2, then 9…c4. Note that black can play c4 now because the e4 square is well controlled by his bishop, pawn and knight. After 10.Bc2 0-0 11. Ne1 Bxc2 12.Nxc2 Ne4 13.Nd2 f5

The pawn structure is almost similar in the center, but black has good bishop vs. white’s bad c1 bishop. It will take many moves to get that bishop out either via d2-e1-h4 or via b3-Bb2, which will create weaknesses in white’s camp.

This black has a very good position.

Also note that black can play 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Bf5 and discourage white’s entire plan of playing the stonewall attack.

Black plays early e6

In the case where black plays e6 before getting the bishop out, the correct way is to develop the bishop on b7 or a6 and take the e4 square with the knight.

For example, 1.d4 Nf6 2.e3 c5 3.Bd3 d5 4.c3 e6 5.f4 Bd6 6.Nf3 0-0 7.0-0 b6

Here a point to remember is that if white plays 8.Nd2, then black should take on d4 with 8…cxd4 because white is forced to take with 9.cxd4 because 9 exd4 Bxf4 and black wins the pawn. So black should always be mindful of the opportunity to capture on d4 pawn whenever possible.

After 8.Qe2 a5 9.a4 Ba6 and black achieve the objective of exchanging light-squared bishops.

Instead of a5, black could also play 8…Bb7 9.Nd2 Ne4 followed by f5 to lock the position in his favour.


The stonewall attack is a comfortable opening to play against armatures and beginners but with an experienced player it is a bad choice. That’s why it is not seen very much in the professional chess. There are better versions tried out like the Torre attack and probably even the London system to create a similar set-up with white.

Harikrishnan A

I am an International Fide Rated player with 10+ years of experience. Played many International Chess Tournaments and Commonwealth games.

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