Erwin L'Ami's Dutch Stonewall – A hard nut to crack

by Sagar Shah
2/12/2017 – Dutch Stonewall is an underrated opening. Players with the white pieces who play 1.d4 usually do not devote much time to studying the best way to deal with it. It's a positionally dubious system, is what they think. However, the Dutch grandmaster Erwin L'Ami has come out with a ChessBase DVD that will change your opinion about the Stonewall. L'Ami calls it a perfect weapon for a fighting game of chess. IM Sagar Shah, a firm adherent of 1.d4 in his chess career, presents his findings.

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There are a few authors whose ChessBase DVDs I make sure I do not miss at any cost. One of them is Erwin L'Ami. The reason is simple: a player like Erwin would not record a DVD unless he has something substantial to offer to the chess world. The amount of research that he puts into his work is mammoth. Being an extremely strong player himself and also the second of Anish Giri, Erwin has a reputation to maintain. And thus, I always wait eagerly for any new DVDs recorded by him.

In 2014 when I was a commentator at the World Juniors, I had an hour long chat with Erwin, who was the coach of the Dutch National Team. (photo: Amruta Mokal)

I played against him at the Dieren Open 2016 on board one in the sixth round (photo: Amruta Mokal)

And I got a good measure of his strength when we analyzed Sandipan's crazy game against Ikonnikov after the Dutch Open ended (photo: Amruta Mokal)

Not to forget, I just like people who are eco-friendly! (photo: Amruta Mokal)

So what's the topic of Erwin's latest DVD for ChessBase?

It's the Dutch Stonewall! With the pawns on c6-d5-e6 and f5.

The DVD is named as "The Stonewall Dutch - A fighting repertoire against 1.d4

Now, I am a hard core 1.d4 player and I must tell you that my opinion about the Stonewall's merits was quite low. I have a good score against it with white and I feel that Black is clearly weakening his dark squares. One of the games which remains in my mind forever to fight against the Dutch Stonewall is the classic between Schlechter and John.

[Event "Barmen Masters-A"] [Site "Barmen"] [Date "1905.08.22"] [Round "8"] [White "Schlechter, Carl"] [Black "John, Walter"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A84"] [PlyCount "99"] [EventDate "1905.08.14"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "GER"] [SourceTitle "EXT 2005"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2004.11.15"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2004.11.15"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 f5 4. Nf3 c6 5. Bf4 Bd6 6. e3 Nf6 7. Bd3 Qc7 8. g3 O-O 9. O-O Ne4 10. Qb3 Kh8 11. Rac1 Bxf4 12. exf4 Qf7 13. Ne5 Qe7 14. Bxe4 fxe4 15. f3 exf3 16. Rce1 Qc7 17. Qa3 Kg8 18. Rxf3 Na6 19. b3 Qd8 20. c5 Nc7 21. Qb2 Bd7 22. Qc2 Qe7 23. Ref1 Rae8 24. g4 Bc8 25. Rh3 g6 26. b4 Qf6 27. Rhf3 Re7 28. a4 a6 29. Nd1 Rg7 30. Ne3 Qe7 31. g5 Bd7 32. N3g4 Be8 33. Nh6+ Kh8 34. Qe2 Qd8 35. Neg4 Bd7 36. Qe5 Ne8 37. Rh3 Qc7 38. Nf6 Qxe5 39. fxe5 Re7 40. Rhf3 Nxf6 41. Rxf6 Rxf6 42. exf6 Re8 43. Nf7+ Kg8 44. Ne5 Rd8 45. Kg2 Kf8 46. h4 Be8 47. Kf3 Bf7 48. Kf4 Ke8 49. Rb1 Kf8 50. b5 1-0

The plan was so simple. Force Black to take on f4 and then take with exf4. The e-file opens up and the e6 pawn is weak. The knight on e4 can be kicked with f3, while the knight on e5 will be on a good outpost. This looked just so smooth! My faith in this system for white increased further when I saw another classic played by Pillsbury against Showalter.

[Event "Nuernberg InternationalesMeisterturnier"] [Site "Nuremberg"] [Date "1896.08.05"] [Round "15"] [White "Pillsbury, Harry Nelson"] [Black "Showalter, Jackson Whipps"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A84"] [PlyCount "105"] [EventDate "1896.07.20"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "18"] [EventCountry "GER"] [SourceTitle "HCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "2"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 4. Nf3 f5 5. Bf4 Bd6 6. e3 Nf6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. O-O Qc7 9. g3 Ne4 10. Rc1 Bxf4 11. exf4 Qb6 12. Qe2 Nd7 13. Rfd1 Ndf6 14. Ne5 Kh8 15. c5 Qc7 16. f3 Nxc3 17. Rxc3 Bd7 18. Nxd7 Nxd7 19. b4 Rf6 20. b5 Rg6 21. Kf2 h5 22. h4 Rf8 23. Rb3 Rf7 24. Rdb1 Qd8 25. bxc6 bxc6 26. Rb7 Qa5 27. R1b3 Rgf6 28. Qb2 Kh7 29. Be2 Nf8 30. Rb8 Ng6 31. Rc8 Rc7 32. Ra8 Rcf7 33. Ra3 Qc7 34. Ra6 Re7 35. Qa3 Rff7 36. Qb3 Nxf4 37. R6xa7 Qxa7 38. Rxa7 Rxa7 39. gxf4 Rfb7 40. Qe3 Rxa2 41. Qxe6 Rbb2 42. Qxf5+ g6 43. Qf7+ Kh6 44. f5 Rxe2+ 45. Kg3 Rg2+ 46. Kf4 gxf5 47. Qf6+ Kh7 48. Qxc6 Rg6 49. Qxd5 Raa6 50. Qd7+ Rg7 51. Qxf5+ Kh6 52. d5 Ra4+ 53. Ke5 1-0

I loved this game so much that I also wrote an article entitled Philosophical side of chess based on one of the positions that arose in Pillsbury vs Showalter.

After a point black players started to realise that this was indeed a potent system for White and started developing their bishop to e7. This was done against me in Porticcio Open 2016 by Ellen Hagesather.

In the position above I played h3 intending the move g4. While the intention was pretty good, my opponent played well and it was only after great fortune that I managed to bring home the full point.

After the game as I was walking towards the dinner room, I bumped into Nils Grandelius. The Swedish GM was playing table tennis. He stopped his game and asked me, "Why h3?! Didn't you see my round one game? h2-h3 is just a loss of tempo! You can directly play g4!"

[Event "Porticcio op 3rd"] [Site "Grosseto Prugna"] [Date "2016.06.26"] [Round "2"] [White "Grandelius, Nils"] [Black "Andersen, Alf Roger"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A84"] [WhiteElo "2643"] [BlackElo "2124"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2016.06.25"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "FRA"] [SourceTitle "EXT 2017"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2016.10.25"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2016.10.25"] [SourceQuality "1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 f5 4. Bf4 Nf6 5. e3 c6 6. Nf3 Be7 7. Bd3 O-O 8. Qc2 Ne4 9. g4 $1 fxg4 10. Bxe4 (10. Ne5 {Erwin recommends this move.} Nf6 11. O-O-O $16) 10... dxe4 11. Ne5 c5 12. O-O-O cxd4 13. Rxd4 Qa5 14. Rg1 Bf6 15. Rxe4 Nc6 16. Nxg4 e5 17. Bh6 Bf5 18. Nd5 Bd8 19. Nxe5 Nxe5 20. Bxg7 Nf3 21. Bxf8+ Nxg1 22. Bb4 Bxe4 23. Qxe4 Ne2+ 24. Kd2 Qa4 25. Kxe2 Rc8 26. Qe6+ Kg7 27. Qxc8 Qc2+ 28. Bd2 1-0

You can bank on Nils to find the most aggressive idea in any position! (photo: Amruta Mokal)

The first thing I wanted to check when I laid my hands on Erwin L'Ami's DVD was, what had he suggested to this simple White's idea of d4 c4 Nf3 Nc3 and Bf4. I hate it when authors do not consider the most critical option for the opponent, and I was happy to see that Erwin too had the same opinion as me when it came to White's aggressive setup. He gives a good antidote against it with black.

This video was good enough to convince me about the quality of the entire DVD

You need to be flexible in chess. Yes, the DVD is about the Stonewall, but when the System doesn't work, you must be ready to adapt. This is what Erwin does well. He suggests the move 4...Bb4 taking the game into some sort of a Nimzo/Queen's Indian territory. Personally I have faced this system as White and have found it much more difficult to crack than 4...d5.

The DVD has good recommendations against the main lines. However, I also like the first six videos which deal with typical ideas and manoeuvres.

The typical ideas and themes is the way in which the DVD begins

Erwin explains how the bishop on d7 is one of Black's biggest problem pieces and how activating it via d7-e8-h5 is a key idea in the opening.
Memorizing theory is good. However, the limitations of it are quite obvious. What if your opponent plays a move that is not covered by the author. And this is quite possible. After all, how much can one cover in four and half hours of video training. In such a scenario, I think learning typical themes and ideas is extremely important. Once you have learnt that the light squared bishop can be activated in this fashion, you can immediately find the best move in the position given below:

What should Black play?

The answer is ...Bd7! with the idea of Be8-g6 or h5 is the best move in the position and this can be easily found if you are well versed with the ideas in the position.

Players who have studied the Dutch Stonewall in a good way can use it as a fighting weapon with black pieces. Unlike the Grunfeld or the Slav, the number of forcing lines are less because of the closed nature of the position. This is the reason why I would recommend you to have a close look at Erwin L'Ami's DVD on the Stonewall. If you learn it well, you might just get an opening weapon that could last a lifetime! 

Purchase The Dutch Stonewall - a fighting repertoire against 1.d4 in the ChessBase Shop

Late Mark Dvoretsky on the Dutch Stonewall

Legendary trainer late Mark Dvoretsky wrote about lot of topics in his Chess Cafe series of articles entitled "The Instructor". In one of them he wrote about the Dutch Stonewall.

Openings wasn't Mark's forte, but he always tried to explain things in a logical manner

This is what Mark had to say:

Vukic - Davcheski Yugoslav Championship 1979

1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 d5

"For a long time, the Stonewall Variation of the Dutch Defense had the reputation of being positionally suspect. It is true that Mikhail Botvinnik, in his youth, included the variation in his opening repertoire; but he later rejected it out of hand. In the mid-nineties, grandmaster Yusupov became interested in the Stonewall. He saw that Black’s position had, besides the obvious positional minus of weak dark squares, a serious plus as well. Black’s solid central construct prevents White from continuing e2-e4; and without this continuation, his fianchettoed Bishop at g2 will remain passive, and could very easily become just as “bad” as its counterpart on c8.

I remember the day Artur came to me and said that he was going to play the Stonewall. I was pretty skeptical, until we played a few blitz games with it. I could see that White’s task was far from simple. Where Botvinnik preferred to develop the Bishop at e7, Yusupov invariably placed it on d6. Now at first, I was winning the blitz games, thanks to a plan I remembered from the ancient game Schlechter - John (Barmen 1905). I played Bf4, then e2-e3!, and tried to enforce the exchange of Bishops on f4 (by playing c4-c5), recapturing with the e-pawn, with a very unpleasant pawn structure for Black. But Artur quickly realized that he had to trade Bishops at once, as soon as I played Bf4. The recapture g3xf4 weakens the kingside somewhat; which will tell, if Black gets a chance to play g7-g5.

Yusupov played the Stonewall successfully on several occasions. Soon, it became fashionable; its reputation improved, and its theory grew by leaps and bounds. The game we are examining here was played prior to the “renaissance” of this opening system; many of its fine points had yet to be discovered. One of these finesses has to do with move order. It turns out that White is better off developing his Knight on h3, not on f3. So, these days, Black generally waits to play d7-d5, temporizing with 4...c6!? Only after 5. Nf3 does he continue with 5...d5; if White plays 5. Nh3 instead, then 5...d6!?, preparing e6-e5, when the Knight will be out of play on h3."

We need not go through the entire Stonewall game in Dvoretsky's article, because it is beyond the scope of this review. However, what I found interesting was that even a strong player and trainer like Mark underestimated the Dutch Stonewall. It was only when he delved deeper that he understood its true merits and tenacity. I hope you too will discover the advantages of the Stonewall and have many hours of enjoyment with Erwin L'Ami's DVD. 

Checkout all Erwin L'Ami DVDs in the ChessBase Shop

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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