LEARNING

THE DUTCH DEFENSE

 

By: Michael Aigner

Updated: May 16, 2005

 

 

Introduction

Section 1: Stonewall variation

Section 2: Leningrad variation

Section 3: Anti-Dutch variations

Section 4: Dutch Against the English and Reti

 

 

 

 


INTRODUCTION

 

The document serves merely as an introduction for black in the Dutch defense. The purpose is to provide a 1300-1700 rated student with sufficient theory in order to learn the Dutch defense and play it in tournaments. It is neither intended as a thorough analysis of this tricky opening, nor for advanced students. For a more detailed study, you may wish to check out two books: Dutch Defense by GM Larry Christiansen and Understanding the Leningrad Dutch by GM Valeri Beim. The first book treats all variations of the Dutch in a manner that intermediate players would understand. The latter is an exhaustive master-level summary of the Leningrad Dutch and the anti-Dutch variations.

 

Why play the Dutch defense? The reason varies from person to person, but here are a few of the common ones.

 

·        It is an aggressive way for black to respond to 1.d4. Black frequently obtains a dangerous kingside attack, started by the pawn on f5.

·        The typical play is unbalanced, which tends to make the game more interesting.

·        Less people play the Dutch than the Queen’s Gambit or the King’s Indian, so your opponent may be less prepared.

·        There are few ways for white to force a drawn endgame right out of the opening.

·        The Dutch system works for black against most opening moves except 1.e4.

 

Unfortunately, one word of caution must be provided before proceeding. By playing the f-pawn to f5 on move 1, black violates two opening rules: he fails to move a center pawn on the first move, and he weakens his kingside. The second turns out to be critical, as you may get checkmated if you are not careful. The following game illustrates what might happen. Note that black has no good moves after allowing Rxh7.

 

1.d4 f5 2.g4 fxg4 3.h3 Nf6 4.hxg4 Nxg4 5.Qd3 Nf6 6.Rxh7 Rxh7 7.Qg6#

 

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Figure 1: Beware king safety while playing the Dutch.

 

Fortunately, black has better ways to play than this silly game. As a Dutch player, you typically choose to specialize in one of two major variations: the stonewall, named after the resulting pawn structure, and the Leningrad, named after a city in Russia. The stonewall variation is less sophisticated and easier for black to learn, but as a consequence, it is also easier for an experienced opponent to play against it. Contrast that to the complicated maneuvering that characterizes the Leningrad and you quickly see why it is the choice of most higher rated players. You may choose to learn both systems and then play one or the other depending on the opponent and tournament standings.

 

The first two sections of this document detail the two major variations of the Dutch defense. The third section provides strategies for how to handle several tricky alternatives that your opponent might try on move 2. Finally, the fourth section covers how black may employ the Dutch system against 1.c4 (English opening) and 1.Nf3 (Reti opening).

 

 

 

 


Section 1: Main line of the STONEWALL VARIATION (with Bd6)

 

You may play this normal setup if white starts with 1.d4 and on move 2 plays one of the following: c4, Nf3, g3, Bf4, or e3. Black's preferred move order is: f5, Nf6, e6, d5, c6, Bd6, Nbd7, and O-O. White can play several moves in a variety of orders, but usually they include: d4, c4, Nc3, g3, Bg2, Nf3, O-O, and Bg5 or Bf4. Watch out for small threats by white, especially with moves that look strange or that you haven't seen before.

 

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Figure 2: Typical stonewall position after 7 moves.

 

Look at black’s resulting central pawn structure: f5-e6-d5-c6. That is an impressive wall, hence the name of this variation. You will note that black’s dark squared bishop is the good bishop while the light squared bishop is considered bad.

 

Here are three sample variations, with reasonable moves for white and recommended moves for black.

 

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.g3 d5 5.Bg2 c6 6.Nf3 Bd6 7.O-O Nbd7 8.Qc2 Ne4 9.b3 O-O

 

1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.Nf3 d5 5.O-O c6 6.c4 Bd6 7.Bf4 Bxf4 8.gxf4 Nbd7 9.e3 O-O

 

1.d4 f5 2.c3 Nf6 3.Bg5 e6 4.Nf3 d5 5.e3 Bd6 6.Bd3 Nbd7 7.O-O O-O 8.Nbd2 Qe8

 

 

Questions to ponder:

 

What are the most important squares? Black wants to control e4, and white wants to control e5. Both players would love to post knights on these central squares. If you can get a knight to e4 and at the same time prevent white from playing Ne5, you're doing great!

 

What is black's most common middlegame plan in the stonewall Dutch? Black wants to start a kingside attack, using the pawns in front of the king. Typical moves are Ne4 followed by g5 and h5. The queen goes to e8 and h5, or sometimes to f6 and g7. The queen's knight might go to f6 and g4, or just trade itself for white’s knight on e5. Finally, don't forget a rook lift (Rf6 or Rf7).

 

How does the bad light-squared bishop get out? There are three strategies: <1> Play b6 and then Bb7 or Ba6; <2> Go the long way via d7-e8-h5; <3> If white ever advances his c-pawn to c5 (so that it no longer attacks your d5 pawn), then you can play e5 to open the e6 square for your bishop.

 

What should black do if white takes the d5 pawn with the c4 pawn? You want to play exd5. However, sure your f5 pawn doesn't hang in the meantime. A smart chess player will realize ahead of time that white is threatening the f5 pawn after white takes cxd5. Watch out if white plays Bd3 or Qc2!

 

When does the dark-squared bishop belong on e7 instead of d6? This is really an advanced topic. Here is a partial answer: Always play Bd6 except if white plays Bg5 (pinning Nf6) or if white tries Nh3 with the aggressive idea of advancing pawns to f3 and e4.

 

 

 

 


Section 2: Main line of the LENINGRAD VARIATION (with Qe8)

 

This variation may be played by black against 1.d4 and almost any second move except e4, Nc3, Bg5, and g4. It also may be played against 1.c4 or 1.Nf3, regardless of whether white eventually plays his d-pawn to d4. In fact, the Leningrad is more flexible than the stonewall variation because white has less opening tricks. On the other hand, the Leningrad is more advanced and requires deeper positional and tactical insight. The resulting middlegame positions tend to be more complex. Black’s preferred move order in the Leningrad is: f5, Nf6, g6, Bg7, d6, O-O, and Qe8. White will typically play d4, c4, g3, Bg2, Nf3, O-O, and Nc3. Be alert for different move orders, which often are insignificant, but occasionally contain nasty tricks.

 

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Figure 3: Typical Leningrad position after 7 moves.

 

Both players have powerful bishops situated on the long diagonal, ready to wreak havoc on the opponent’s center and queenside. With his last move of Qe8, black tries to support a pawn advance to e5, or to provoke white into playing his d-pawn to d5. Note that Qe8 keeps an eye on the kingside (f7, g6, and h5), the queenside (c6, b5, a4), and lastly the center (e7, e6, and e5).

 

Here are six sample variations, with reasonable moves for white and recommended moves for black.

 

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 d6 6.O-O O-O 7.Nc3 Qe8 8.d5 Na6 9.Rb1 Bd7 10.b4 c5 11.dxc6 bxc6

 

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 d6 6.O-O O-O 7.Nc3 Qe8 8.d5 Na6 9.Nd4 Bd7 10.Rb1 c6 11.b3 Nc7

 

1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.c4 Bg7 5.Nc3 d6 6.Nf3 O-O 7.O-O Qe8 8.d5 Na6 9.Nd4 Bd7 10.e4 fxe4 11.Nxe4 Nxe4 12.Bxe4 c5 13.Ne6 Bxe6 14.dxe6 Nc7

 

1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.c4 Bg7 5.Nc3 d6 6.Nf3 O-O 7.O-O Qe8 8.Re1 Qf7 9.b3 Ne4 10.Bb2 Nd7

 

1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.O-O d6 6.c4 O-O 7.Nc3 Qe8 8.b3 e5 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.e4 Nc6 11.Ba3 Rf7 12.Re1 f4 13.Nd5 Bg4

 

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.g3 Bg7 5.Bg2 d6 6.Nh3 O-O 7.d5 Nbd7 8.O-O Ne5 9.b3 c5

 

 

Questions to ponder:

 

How does black proceed after completing the first 10 to 12 moves? He can choose from three major plans: The first is more solid (safe and sane) involving queenside and center play. The second is a direct kingside attack, which is far more aggressive yet also more risky.

 

Explain the queenside positional plan. Black wants to develop his pieces and connect his rooks before playing anything risky. For example, from a6, the knight might go to c5 and e4, or to c7 (where it controls e6). Typical moves are Bd7 and pawn to c6, Nc5 followed by pawn to a5 (to prevent white from kicking the knight with a4) and Rb8 or Rc8 (to vacate the long diagonal, which frequently opens up).

 

Explain the kingside attack plan. One major purpose of Qe8 is to go to g6 or h5. Naturally, black needs to play his g-pawn to g5, and perhaps support it with h6 first. The king’s knight might go to g4 and, if attacked, retreat to e5. If white ever plays e2-e4, black can consider advancing his f-pawn to f4. In fact, pawn sacrifices on f4 are common, or black can choose to play Nh5 for support. By moving the f-pawn, the light-squared bishop also comes to life.

 

What other favorable tactics may arise? Keep an eye out for tricks on the long diagonal (a1-h8). White often plays b3 or b4, which leaves the c3 knight undefended. This may result in discovered attacks when Nf6 moves. Another common theme involves occupying e5 or d4 with minor pieces, generally the f6 knight or the g7 bishop.

 

 

 

 


Section 3: ANTI-DUTCH VARIATIONS (on move 2)

 

There are four major anti-Dutch variations that white might play. White tries to immediately refute black’s aggressive first move, but with careful play, white achieves nothing more than equality. Most beginners and even intermediates won't know these tricky lines, but you better be prepared nonetheless. Unless you are confident that you can solve the resulting tactics over-the-board, then you should memorize as much as you can. The four anti-Dutch alternatives for white on move 2 are: e4, Nc3, Bg5, and g4. The first, 2.e4, is called the Staunton gambit. The next two moves are often played in tandem: 2.Nc3 and 3.Bg5 or 2.Bg5 and 3.Nc3. Black may play a flexible hybrid Leningrad-stonewall system that works against both. The Bayonet variation (2.g4) is a pawn sacrifice that can actually be accepted, but it is safer to decline it.

 

This section provides two or three key ideas for each variation and then will illustrate them in a sample line. Beware that both players may choose reasonable alternatives for many moves. This makes chess challenging, but also fun!

 

STAUNTON GAMBIT 2.e4: key idea is to capture on e4 and immediately develop both knights

 

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Figure 4: Staunton gambit after 4 moves.

 

1.d4 f5 2.e4 fxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nc6 5.d5 Ne5 6.Qd4 Nf7 7.Bxf6 exf6 8.Nxe4 f5 9.Ng3 g6 10.0–0–0 Bh6+ 11.f4 0–0 12.Nf3 Bg7

 

1.d4 f5 2.e4 fxe4 3.f3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.fxe4 e5 6.dxe5 Nxe5 7.Nf3 Bd6 8.Nb5 Nxf3+ 9.Qxf3 Be5 10.Bf4 Qe7 11.O-O-O O-O

 

 

Flexible approach to Nc3 and Bg5 using HYBRID LENINGRAD-STONEWALL system:

2.Nc3: key idea is to play d5 to discourage white’s e-pawn advance (stonewall structure)

2.Bg5: key idea is to fianchetto on the kingside (Leningrad structure)

 

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Figure 5: Hybrid Leningrad-stonewall system after 4 moves.

 

1.d4 f5 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bg5 g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.Nf3 c6 7.0–0 Nbd7 8.Ne2 Ne4 9.Bf4 0–0 10.c4 e6

 

1.d4 f5 2.Bg5 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 Bg7 5.Bd3 c6 6.h4 Qb6 7.Rb1 Nd7 8.Nf3 Ngf6 9.h5 Ne4 10.hxg6 hxg6 11.Rxh8+ Bxh8

 

 

BAYONET VARIATION 2.g4 (sometimes 2.h3 and 3.g4): key idea is to play d5, intending Bxf5

 

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Figure 6: Black’s response to the Bayonet variation after 2 moves.

 

1.d4 f5 2.g4 d5 3.gxf5 Bxf5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.c3 e6 6.Rg1 g6 7.Bf4 Bd6 8.Bxd6 Qxd6 9.Nbd2 Nbd7 10.Qb3 0–0–0

 

 

Questions to ponder:

 

What is the number one thing to think about when playing black against one of these tricky moves? King safety! Remember that the main disadvantage of playing the Dutch defense is that you weaken your kingside on move 1. Make sure that castling is your number one priority. Your second concern should be the smooth development of all your pieces, ideally on active squares.

 

Does black ever try to keep the pawn that white sacrifices? There are exceptions to every rule, but almost always black should be content to give back the material in order to finish his development. As one saying goes: “The nice thing about being up a pawn is that you can give it back in a clever way and still be even material.” Maybe the simple way to summarize this paragraph is to say: almost never capture a pawn on f3.

 

Can white do something other than what is in this document? Certainly he can! That means you must be alert for tactics and take extra time in the opening. Don’t do anything stupid. If your opponent plays something unexpected, stop and think!

 

What if white makes up his own anti-Dutch variation in an effort to confuse black? Simply remember the opening rules. They provide excellent guidelines to getting your pieces out on active squares, controlling the center, and getting your king safe. Sometimes additional tactics may override these rules, but your chances of surviving a surprise tactic are greater if you have developed and castled.

 

 

 

 


Section 4: DUTCH DEFENSE Against the ENGLISH and RETI

 

The reason many people choose to play the Dutch defense is to reduce the amount of opening theory that they need to learn. While 1.d4 f5 is most common, black can safely respond with f5 against any opening move except 1.e4, 1.f4 and 1.g4. The opening moves e4 and g4 immediately control the f5 square. A strong gambit follows the symmetric reply 1.f4 f5: 2.e4 fxe4 3.d3 exd3 4.Bxd3 with the ideal of fool’s mate (4…Nc6?? 5.Qh5+ g6 6.Qxg6+ hxg6 7.Bxg6#).

 

White has two choices of how to proceed after 1.c4 f5. First, white might simply advance his d-pawn two squares to obtain a normal center position for a queen pawn opening. You should be thrilled to see d4 played on move 2 or 3 because you can transpose into theory that you already know. Both the stonewall (Section 1) and Leningrad (Section 2) variations are possible.

 

Of course, the advantage of delaying d4 is that white might choose to play d3 instead. Such flexibility is the hallmark of the English opening and you should expect any true English player to refrain from advancing his d-pawn two squares. By playing d3, white has the option of supporting the aggressive pawn move e4 later on. While the possibility of this central break should be familiar to a Leningrad player (two of the variations given in Section 2 feature 10.e4), it will no doubt come as a nasty surprise for someone used to putting his pawns on f5-e6-d5-c6. The following unpleasant position might arise if black obeys the standard move order of the stonewall variation. Perhaps black can develop his pieces adequately, but defending the isolated e5 pawn will be a challenge.

 

1.c4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 d5 5.0–0 c6 6.d3 Bd6 7.Nbd2 Nbd7 8.Qc2 0–0 9.e4 fxe4 10.dxe4 dxe4 11.Nxe4 Nxe4 12.Qxe4 e5

 

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Figure 7: Avoid the stonewall setup against the English opening.

 

You should instead play a modified Leningrad variation whenever white plays 1.c4 without following up with d4 on move 2 or 3. This is called the Anglo-Dutch system. Not to fear! Most of the complications that white creates in the Leningrad variation (with 1.d4) are lessened in the Anglo-Dutch system (1.c4 without early d4). One reasonable move order for black is: f5, Nf6, d6, e5, g6, Bg7, O-O, and Nc6. A more standard Leningrad move order with early g6 and Bg7 is possible as well. If you are familiar with the closed Sicilian as white, you might recognize the similar placement of your pawns and pieces, except that colors are reversed (e5 and f5 in Dutch correspond to e4 and f4 in Sicilian).

 

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Figure 8: Anglo-Dutch system after 8 moves.

 

1.c4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 d6 4.Bg2 e5 5.Nc3 g6 6.d3 Bg7 7.0–0 0–0 8.Rb1 Nc6 9.b4 h6 10.b5 Ne7 11.Nd2 c6 12.Qc2 g5

 

Another flexible opening move for white is the Reti opening starting with 1.Nf3. If black plays the Dutch defense, white can choose one of three approaches: <1> play d4 early and transpose into a normal stonewall or Leningrad; <2> play c4 early and avoid d4, thereby playing into the Anglo-Dutch system; <3> throw caution to the wind by playing the pawn sacrifice 2.e4. You should already be prepared to handle the first two options. To face the so-called Lisitsin gambit, you merely need to memorize the first four moves (f5, fxe4, d5, and Qd6) and then patiently calculate the tactics that arise. Here are two sample variations to guide you.

 

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Figure 9: Lisitsin gambit after four moves.

 

1.Nf3 f5 2.e4 fxe4 3.Ng5 d5 4.d3 Qd6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.dxe4 h6 7.Nb5 Qd8 8.e5 hxg5 9.exf6 gxf6 10.Qxd5 c6 11.Qxd8+ Kxd8 12.Nc3 Bf5

 

1.Nf3 f5 2.e4 fxe4 3.Ng5 d5 4.d3 Qd6 5.dxe4 h6 6.Qh5+ g6 7.Qh4 Bg7 8.Nf3 Bf6 9.e5 Bxe5 10.Bd3 Nc6 11.Na3 a6 12.0–0 Bd7 13.Re1 0–0–0

 

 

Questions to ponder:

 

When do you know that you must play the Anglo-Dutch system rather than the stonewall or Leningrad variations? First of all, remember that the Anglo-Dutch is very similar to the Leningrad where black plays the central e5 plan. Hence, this question is more aimed at stonewall players. Observe that f5 and Nf6 are the first two moves in both the Anglo-Dutch and the stonewall variation. Therefore, you can wait to see if white plays d4 before your third move. You would like to wait even longer, but on your third move, you must choose d6 or g6 (Anglo-Dutch and Leningrad) or e6 (stonewall). To answer the question: you know after white’s third move whether the game will be a normal queen pawn opening or a more flexible English opening.

 

What are the typical plans in the Anglo-Dutch? Black prefers to play on the kingside by advancing pawns to h6+g5+f4. Furthermore, a bishop and queen battery on the light squares e6 and d7 will allow penetration with Bh3 (after the f5 pawn moves). The king’s knight will go to g4 or occasionally h5. The queen’s knight would love to end up on g6 but frequently needs to stay on e7 in order to defend weaknesses on c6 and d5. White, on the other hand, has two plans at his disposal: either push pawns on the queenside to create weaknesses on c6 and b7 or play for the central break e4.

 

Should black try to keep the gambit pawn in the Lisitsin? If your opponent plays well, then you should not try to keep the extra pawn. Perhaps if you can develop a piece while defending the pawn, then that is worthwhile. But never bend over backwards or go out of your way to save it. Like in all gambits, the biggest key is finding good squares for all of your pieces and keeping your king safe (often by castling).

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