The Stonewall in the Slav Defence
by Alexey Kuzmin
In the opening classification, the position
belongs to the Dutch Defence, but in practice it arises almost exclusively from the Slav line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 e6 4.e3 Bd6 5.Bd3 f5.
Even the very first moves require some comment. We can start by pointing out that there is also the move order 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6. Since 3.Nf3 sharply increases the opponent's range of options in the Queen's Gambit (for example, he now has the Vienna Variation), many White players prefer 3.Nc3, and after 3…c6 we return to our variation. By continuing 4.e3, White avoids the sharp Noteboom variation (4.Nf3 dxc4 5.e3 b5) and also declines to play the Slav Gambit 4.e4 (see the article about this in CBM 123). Sometimes Black plays f7-f5 on move 4, but this allows White the by no means unfavourable line 5.g4!? and therefore more often Black prefers 4…Bd6 5.Bd3 (5.Qc2; 5.Nf3) 5...f5. In this case, 6.g4 (for this and other rare continuations, see the game Sokolov,I - Timofeev,A 0-1) is not dangerous, since White has already spent a tempo on Bd3. So, we reach the position in the diagram. Formally speaking, this is the Stonewall variation of the Dutch. White's main strategical idea against it (in the classical variation: 1.d4 f5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 c6) is the exchange of dark-squared bishops by means of Bf4 or Ba3. Here, however, the moves e2-e3 and Nb1-c3 have already been played, so we have a relatively favourable version for Black. In the diagram position, White has three main strategical plans:
A) Nf3, b3, Bb2 followed by Ne5. He then plans to evict the black knight from e4 by means of the manoeuvre Ne2 and f2-f3.
6.Nf3 Nf6 7.0-0 0-0 8.b3 Ne4 9.Ne2 Nd7 10.Bb2
Now the positional plan 10…b6 (Grigore,G - Sveshnikov,E ½-½) is perfectly possible for Black. With accurate play, he should be able to solve his opening problems. However, in my opinion, the move 10…Qf6!? is more interesting, preventing the enemy knight coming to e5 and preparing an attack on the kingside with g7-g5 (Cvitan,O - Erenburg,S ½-½).
B) The semi-symmetrical plan: White plays f2-f4, shutting down Black's possible activity on the kingside, and trying to exploit the minimal space avantage given by the pawn on c4 vs that on c6.
6.f4 Nf6 7.Nf3 0-0 8.0-0
In this variation, play takes on a strictly positional character. Black occupies e4 with his knight, plays b7-b6, develops his bishop to b7 or even a6 and plans, after due preparation, the advance c6-c5. It should be noted that the early knight jump to e5 does not bring White any dividends (Beliavsky,A - Timofeev,A ½-½). Instead, the most serious problems for Black are posed by the manoeuvre Bc1-d2-e1-h4. This plan can be seen in the notes to the game Aleksandrov,A - Timofeev,A 0-1. All in all, Black is able to solve his opening problems, but after f2-f4 it is very difficult for him to fight for the initiative.
C) Preparing the advance e3-e4. With this aim, White develops his knight to e2 and then continues f3, Qc2 etc. This is the most aggressive plan and leads to non-standard, double-edged positions.
6.Nge2 Nf6 7.f3 0-0
Now if White chooses 8.Qc2, there is a very interesting plan with ...dxc4 and then b7-b5 (Kosyrev,V - Frolyanov,D ½-½). In this case, an important resource is the move Nb8-a6 with the threat of playing ...Nb4 with tempo.
If White prefers 8.0-0, then the analogous counterplay is less well-founded. I would instead recommend Grischuk's more universal (because it is also OK after 8.Qc2) plan: 8...b6 9.0-0 a6, preparing the advance c6-c5! (Zhu Chen - Negi,P 0-1). Truly enough, Alexander started with ...a6 and only then played ...b6. But in terms of the principal strategical idea this is not so important, and the move order with a7-a6 first permits the possibility of c4-c5 which, in my view, is less accurate.