The Stonewall Attack is a chess opening identified by the c3-d4-e3-f4 pawn structure. It usually starts with the Queen’s Pawn Opening (1.d4) and may also transition from a different opening. The main line can be reached by the sequence of 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 and 3.Bd3. White typically avoids the opponent’s first few moves and aims to reach their ideal set-up.
It was popularized in the 1800s and deployed successfully. Although the main line is not played at the elite level nowadays, several strong grandmasters developed nuances for this to surprise their rivals.
Winning Percentages on Both Sides
Master Games Statistics
|Victory for White
|Victory for Black
Statistics from 3.5 Million Amateur Games
|Victory for White
|Victory for Black
The main idea of this opening is to create a pawn structure with d4-c3-f4 and expand on the Kingside with g4- and h4-pushes. The f1-Bishop often belongs to the d3-square, and White develops the Knights to d2 and f3 and castles on the short side. Black typically strikes from the Queenside and creates ideal pawn breaks, such as c5-pawn pushes, to exploit White’s weaknesses.
White looks for a Kingside expansion and a pawn storm to checkmate the Black King. They typically need to open up either g- or h-files to launch their attack.
Black looks for a Queenside expansion and ideal pawn breaks and takes advantage of the weakened squares due to the f4-pawn push. The endgames are often favorable for them due to these reasons.
Stonewall Attack Theory
If we mention the Stonewall Attack variations,
The 3…e6 variation often leads to closed positions where Black’s light-squared Bishop is inside the pawn chain, and White creates the ideal setup and strikes with g4- and h4-pawn pushes. White can also maneuver the d1-Queen to the f3 and h3-squares to reinforce the assault.
The 3…c5 variation often leads to positions where Black strikes to the center of the board and White might have difficulty creating the Stonewall structure. These games often favor Black if White insists on the casual setup.
The 3…Nc6 variation often leads to positions where Black gains the Bishop pair and White seeks to expand on the Kingside.
This variation starts with 1.d4 d5, and White goes for the 2.e3 pawn push to develop the f1-Bishop on d3 (3.d3) and finish the Stonewall setup. Black has various responses against this setup since White will create a specific construction and dominate the center. They usually play 2…Nf6 against the e3-pawn push and open up their f8-Bishop by pushing the e-pawn to 3…e6. However, this pawn structure for White creates weaknesses, such as the ‘e4-square’, because both the d- and f-pawns will be pushed.
After these moves occur, White often wants to play Nd2 and f4, and move order doesn’t matter much if Black doesn’t put up immediate threats.
In this section, we will analyze these move orders (4.Nd2 and 4.f4) and show some sample lines regarding the Stonewall Attack.
This line starts once White first develops the b1-Knight to d2 (4.Nd2). White wants to play 5.f4 on the next turn if nothing unusual happens. Black has many responses against this Nd2 move, and the most common ones are 4…c5 (attacking the d4-pawn) and 4…Be7 (aiming to castle on the short side).
If we examine the 4…c5 line first, we will realize that White has to delay the f4-pawn push because it would lead to a worse position after a sequence such as 5.f4 c4 (assaulting the d3-Bishop), and 6.Be2. Then, Black can play 6…b5 and expand on the Queenside. The ‘b1-h7’ diagonal is crucial for the White’s light-squared Bishop.
Hence, White needs to react to the 4…c5 move with 5.c3 to create a room for the d3-Bishop on that long diagonal in case c4 happens.
A sample line after 5.c3 could be 5…Nbd7 (developing the b8-Knight), 6.f4 (reaching the Stonewall setup), 6…b6 (aiming to create a fianchetto square for the c8-Bishop), 7.Ngf3 (improving the Knight and preparing to castle in the next turn), 7…Be7 (preparing for the short side castle), 8.Ne5 (this move is quite casual in Stonewall Attack, where white aims to strike with g4-h4 pawn pushes in the following turns), 8…O-O (black castles), 9. O-O Bb7 (fianchettoing the Bishop), 10.Qf3 (maneuvering the Queen to the Kingside to launch an assault on the enemy King), 10…Rc8 (improving the Rook), and 11.g4.
From here, White would aim to play 12.h4 or 12.Qh3 (Both have different plans), and the main goal would be to attack the Kingside and checkmate the rival.
If Black plays 5…Be7 or a similar improving move instead, White can play 5.f4 and 6.c3 to have the same ideas we mentioned after getting castled.
This line starts with 4.f4, similar to the 4.Nd2 line, as White aims to go for 5.Nd2 in the next move. Similar to the 4.Nd2 line, Black often either improves the Bishop to e7 (4…Be7) or plays 4…c5. Again, White has to play 5.c3 against Black’s c5-pawn push because the Bishop aims to be on that diagonal. Since these positions transition very commonly, we can see a line where playing the 4.f4 move makes a difference.
The sample line could start with 4…Ne4. This move forces White’s hands and might be uncomfortable if not played precisely because White has to find 5.Nf3 to stop the Qh4 check (allowing this move loses a pawn for White in a perfect world due to 5…Qh4 6.g3 Nxg3 7.Ngf3 Qh3 with a threat on g2-square).
Also, capturing the e4-pawn (5.Bxe4) would be a positional error because White would lose the Bishop pair, and the doubled e-pawns for the Black side would help them dominate the center.
This variation starts similarly to the 3…e6 variation, but Black plays the immediate 3…c5 to attack the center. Objectively, this is a more forceful line for White because Black can get the positional edge if they are precise. Since the e-pawn is not pushed yet, Black can take advantage of their light-squared Bishop’s presence and prevent White’s assault on the Kingside.
In this section, we will explore both 4.c3 and 4.b3 to meet this c5-pawn push.
White can play the typical 4.c3 to meet the 3…c5, which is often replied to by Black’s 4…Nc6. This developing move allows Black to strike with the e5-pawn push in the next turn if White delays the f4-push.
Hence, 5.Nd2 would be a positional error due to 5…e5 (striking the center), and once White captures the e-pawn (6.dxe5), Black can recapture with the Knight (6…Nxe5) and enjoy a better position with a central control.
In this case, the wisest way to continue in the Stonewall setup is to play 5.f4 immediately and not allow Black’s e5-push. This move allows Black to get a tempo with 5…Bg4 and develop their light-squared Bishop. White can still try to attack from the Kingside, and Black must make some critical positional moves to stop this attack.
One sample line could be 6.Nf3 (improving the Knight and protecting the Queen), 6…e6 (opening up the scope of the f8-Bishop), 7. O-O Bd6 (developing the Bishop), 8.h3 (kicking the g4-Bishop), 8…Bh5 9.Nbd2 (improving the other Knight), 9…O-O 10.g4 (striking to the h5-Bishop and launching a pawn storm on the short side), and 10…Bg6.
In the resulting position, White can trade the light-squared Bishops and play Ne5 with the idea of an attack. Black usually expands on the Queenside, and an endgame would favor them since White has overextended and weakened many squares.
This line starts with White playing 4.b3 against 3…c5. It stops the c4 threat; however, it is a passive move, and it is very challenging to play the regular f4-push and reach the ideal setup with this move.
One sample line could be 4…Nc6 (now the 5.c3 would be met with 5…e5), and White fianchettos the c1-Bishop to b2 (6.Bb2). We must also say that this continuation is not in the spirit of Stonewall. Black can capture the d4-pawn (6…cxd4), and White can recapture with the e-pawn (6.cxd4). Since the ‘a1-h8’ diagonal is closed, the b2-Bishop is misplaced, and dark squared weaknesses lead to a better position for Black in most variations.
This variation starts similarly to the other variations, and Black plays 3…Nc6 against 3.Bd3.
The idea of this move is often to play Nb4 to harass the d3-Bishop, and if White plays 4.c3, Black can strike to the center with 4…e5 and claim an edge.
Hence, White can proceed with 4.f4 and give up the d3-Bishop for the Knight to expand in the Kingside.
One sample line could be 4.f4 Nb4 (attacking the d3-Bishop and aiming for a Bishop pair), 5.Nf3 (developing the Knight), 5…Nxd3 6.cxd3 Bf5 (putting the Bishop outside the pawn chain before playing e6), 7. O-O e6 8.Nc3 Bd6 (preparing to castle), 9.Ne5 O-O and 10.g4.
In the resulting position, White would seek to expand on the Kingside, and Black would aim to play positionally and exploit White’s weaknesses.
Pros and Cons of Stonewall Attack
|Stonewall Attack for White can launch a strong initiative on the Kingside.
|Black can counter this assault by striking from the Queenside.
|White remains a solid pawn structure.
|The move ‘f4’ creates a long-term weakness for White.
|Black might have difficulty defending against a pawn storm.
|Endgames often favor Black due to White’s weak squares.
|White immediately goes for the kill, whereas Black’s moves are not obvious.
|If Black plays precisely, they are objectively better.
This trap starts with the 3…e6 variation. White enters the 4.c3 line, and Black responds with 4…Be7. Then, 5.Nd2 O-O 6.f4 Nbd7 7.Ngf3 c6 8. O-O are played. This normal-looking position continues with 9.Ne5, and Black tries to kick the e5-Knight with 9…f6. Then, White plays Qh5 and ignores the Knight. If Black takes the Knight (10…fxe5), they would be mated in three moves with 11.Bxh7, 12.Bg6 and 13.Qh7.
The Stonewall Opening is an attack where White creates a certain set-up to strike against the enemy King. It allows White to hold a solid pawn structure and create a fierce assault. Black typically seeks to expand on the Queenside and exploit White’s vulnerabilities. It can be played and examined to generate different ideas at every level.