The Stonewall Attack
A Lecture by NM Yaacov Norowitz (ICC GM)
Former Kenilworth Chess Club regular and National Master Yaacov Norowitz gave a wonderful lecture at the club on May 18, 2006, about the Stonewall Attack. What follows are my notes, in which I have taken some liberties with the order of things and have added some analysis with the help of Fritz.
One of the most important points that Yaacov made is that you cannot play the Stonewall as a tabiya, simply posting your pawns to c3, d4, e3, and f4 and then deploying your pieces in typical Stonewall fashion with Bd3, Nf3-e5, Nbd2, Qe2 or Qf3, O-O, etc. Instead, you have to be willing to play a system of interconnected lines that respond to what your opponent is doing. Here are three examples of how Yaacov changes his strategy to respond to his opponent's play:
As these three lines suggest, Yaacov's "Stonewall System" focuses on issues of light and dark squares in the middlegame, which provides a thematic element to the opening that makes it especially easy to play for those who become familiar with its ideas. That may be one reason it has brought him so much success on ICC, where he currently holds a Super-GM rating of 3280 at 3-minute Blitz!
What follows is a close discussion of The Classical Stonewall (familiar to anyone who read I. A. Horowitz's How to Think Ahead in Chess as a kid), The Anti-King's Indian Zukertort System described above, and then two illustrative games of Yaacov's against GMs in what most consider the critical test of the Stonewall with 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.Bd3 c6 4.Nd2 Bg4 5.Ne2 Nbd7 6.f3 Bh5 7.Nf4 -- the first against GM Alex Stripunsky and the second an ICC victory over current World Champion Veselin Topalov. Those interested in learning more about the line should find a copy of Andy Soltis's "Stonewall Attack."
The Classical Stonewall
Yaacov Norowitz - Analysis [D00]
Yaacov Norowitz Lecture/Kenilworth, NJ USA 2006
The following analysis is meant to illustrate the basic "tabiya" or pattern of the Stonewall.
White dominates the dark squares with his pawns, preventing Black's desired ...e5 break, but then must defend the light squares with pieces. The Knight at f6 must be kept out of e4, and Nd2 is a precaution, like "bug spray" to keep the black flies out.
Castling is not a cowardly act, says Yaacov. Instead, we should see it as an act of aggression, declaring that "now that the king is safe, we are ready to get down to business."
This makes ... c6 seem a wasted tempo, but with . .e5 impossible Black must break with ...c5.
Naturally, Black needs to develop his light-squared Bishop.
"More bug spray" is needed to counter-act Black's intended ...Bb7, supporting a potential ...Ne4.
Now that the center is secure, White is ready for Kingside action.
[based on Norowitz]
The Anti-KID Zukertort System
Yaacov Norowitz - Analysis [E60]
Yaacov Norowitz Lecture Notes/Kenilworth, NJ USA 2006
Yaacov mentioned that he switched to this system against KID formations after losing a game to GM Dzindzindashvili with 3. f4?! Bg7 4. Bd3 d6 5. Nf3
More flexible than 4. Bd3
The key concept of Yaacov's Zukertort system against the KID is that the dark-squared Bishops are likely to be exchanged at some point along the long-diagonal, creating serious weaknesses in Black's kingside. Though he does not get to play his favorite Stonewall formation, the game still revolves around the dark squares.
a) 7... c5!? has the advantage of keeping a pawn at e7 to defend the potentially weak f6 square.
10... dxe5! makes it harder to exchange the Bishops, though it leaves Black with a less dynamic position.
The Queen goes to a dark square in keeping with the theme.
The idea is to play e4, Nd5, and only then f4! when White will have a strong attack.
and White has a winning attack.
20. Qd3 1-0
Illustrative Game One
Yaacov Norowitz - Alex Stripunsky [D00]
NY Masters / Marshall CC/New York, NY USA 2003
The Stonewall is completely underestimated by most opponents, most of whom have not studied it since it is not well represented in theory. The best book on the line is probably Andy Soltis's "Stonewall Attack. " There was also a classic treatment in the beginner's book "How to Think Ahead in Chess."
A popular "anti-Stonewall" line, especially at the GM-level. Topalov himself plays it, as we shall see. The Bishop develops with tempo before Black commits to ..e6.
Yaacov paused here for a long discussion about the relative advantage of Bishop versus Knight in terms of square control. He pointed out that this particular exchange gains White greater control of light squares, since the Bishop at d3 is no longer opposed. But for everything you gain you also must give something, and by trading his Knight White surrenders some control over dark squares, which that Knight could help control. Knights may have about 2/ 3 a Bishop's power at controlling squares of one color, but we have to remember that they can also control squares of the opposite color also. Especially in closed positions, that potential square control become important.
Stopping the ...e5 break -- and not a moment too soon, since the Knight was prepared to support that break on the dark squares.
Black puts his pawns on the opposite color of his Bishop, and the pawns help to control the squares that the Bishop does not control.
White does not worry yet about his dark-squared Bishop's mobility since he can secure control over the dark squares with pawns, which Yaacov pointed out can "work like mini-Bishops." He invited us to imagine the line of pawns at b2, c3, and d4 working together like a Bishop to secure complete control over that diagonal.
Preparing queenside castling, though Black can delay castling so long as the center is still fixed.
The Queen goes to a light square to help secure control over the light squares. The other natural square for the Queen is f3, but here that square should be reserved for the Knight.
Black attacks on dark squares, "eating away at White's pawn structure," but in so doing surrenders some of his control of the light squares. "You always lose something for what you gain in chess" Yaacov said. The advance is also commital and while it makes gxf4 possible, eliminating the doubled pawns, that exchange is much better for White than for Black.
This move risks losing a pawn, since the pawn at g4 is hard to defend. But it is hard to suggest a better idea.
This is what Nimzovich called "Prophylaxis": White prepares to defend the h-pawn from an attack on the h-file before grabbing the g-pawn (which is not going anywhere).
White has won a pawn, but Black has gained the initiative on the kingside. White must now start thinking about his own counterchances on the queenside.
"Restrain, blockade, destroy." Black targets the h2 pawn by blockading on the light squares.
White puts another pawn on dark, but he must open up lines on the queenside and the hook is at b5 due to the pawn at c6. Meanwhile, once the pawn advances to b5, the Bishop will be able to develop to a3 and get to the critical d6 square to aid the attack.
The Knight heads for f3 via h7-g5. But this does give White the time he needs to counter-attack.
Black inches closer to his goal. Who will get there first?
A necessary tactic to speed White's attack.
a) 25... Nf3+!? 26. Kf1 (26. Rxf3!? Rxh2! 27. Rff1! Rh1+ 28. Kf2 R8h2+ 29. Ke1 Rxf1+ 30. Kxf1 Rh1+! 31. Kg2 Rxb1 32. Qxb1 (32. Qc4+!? Qc7 33. Qxe6+ Qd7 34. Qg8+) 32... Qxa3=) 26... Qc7 (26... Nxh2+!? 27. Ke2 Qc7 28. Bd6) 27. Bd6 a6 28. Qa4 transposes to the game continuation( 28. Qb3! Qd7)
27. Qa4 (?)
In extreme time pressure (the game was played at Game-30), Yaacov took a draw against the GM. But there may have been a win, as he discovered after the game during analysis with Greg Shahade.
29. Rb5! Most thematic, since it takes place on light squares, though 29.Rb4 amounts to the same thing. 29... Kd8 (29... Nxh2+? 30. Rxh2! Rxh2 31. Rc5+ Kd8 32. Qa5+ Ke8 33. Rc8+ Kd7 34. Qc7#) (29... axb5 30. Qa8+ Kd7 31. Qxb7+ Kd8 32. Qb8+ Kd7 33. Qc7+ Ke8 34. Qc8#) 30. Qa5+ (30. Rc5 Qd7 31. Qa5+ Ke8) 30... Ke8 31. Rc5 Qd7 32. Rc7! (32. c4 Rxh2 33. Rxh2 Rxh2 34. Rc7 Rd2!!=) 32... Qb5+ 33. Qxb5+ axb5 34. d5! Rxg3 35. Rg2! Rxg2 36. Kxg2 Rxh2+ 37. Kg3 Rh6 38. dxe6 Rxe6 39. Kf4 g6 40. Rxb7 and White has excellent winning chances.
Draw by perpetual check.
[based on Norowitz]
Illustrative Game Two
YaacovN - EttoreMajorana (Veselin Topalov) [D00]
ICC 3 0/Internet Chess Club 2004
Before commiting to the typical Stonewall advance of Pf4, Yaacov takes time out to over-protect e4 to prevent the Black pieces from swarming over that square. As he said, "it's like applying bug-spray to that square." At another point he said, "you first defend the weakness before creating it."
This line is often recommended as an anti-Stonewall antidote and is most popular at the GM level. You can find a large number of Yaacov's games with this line in the file.
Yaacov points ot that Black obtains "lots of light-square compensation" for the loss of the light-squared Bishop in the form of more pawns on light squares. As he said at another point in his lecture, "the pawns are like little Bishops." Black also has a potentially useful half-open h-file, though that opening could also prove a weakness if Black castles kingside.
"In the nick of time" to stop ...e5. Yaacov always waits to commit with the f4 advance until it is necessary to stop Black's Pe5.
Black may eventu ally lose a pawn at e4 this way, but he gains significant light-square compensation for it and has more potential of using the h-file for an attack.
White works to control light squares, but by pushing this pawn forward he potentially weakens his dark-square formation in the center (since he cannot support it with Pc3)...
...and Black immediately attacks it -- though in so doing he weakens his own light squares, so it is natural that White should look for an attacking idea utilizing those squares.
Safer is 15... Kf8 but then it is harder for Black to utilize the h-file.
Naturally seeking an exchange of Queens to lessen his king-safety problem and to mitigate White's space edge.
Refusing the exchange, of course. "The attacker should generally avoid exchanges that can only help the defense."
Black seeks to win in a lost position. Much stiffer resistance was possible with
24. b6!! wins immediately
Allowing Black lots of counterplay and at least a forced draw, though both players were clearly in extreme time pressure.
An extremely sharp move that requires the most precision on White's part and therefore offers Black practical winning chances. After all, there is no way White can defend against the threat of mate -- except by creating counter-threats.
30. Rc1! and there is nothing Black can do against the plan of b7 and c8=Q.
a) Black actually still has at least a draw by 30... Qb7!! 31. Rc1 (31. Kf2? Nc4) (31. Bc5? Qxe4! 32. Bxe3 (32. c8=Q+ Kh7) 32... Qxe3+ 33. Kf1 (33. Kh1 Kh7) 33... Rxh2!! 34. c8=Q+ Kh7 and White cannot avoid mate.) 31... Kh7!! 32. Ng5+! Kh6 33. Nxf7+ Kh5! (33... Kh7 34. Ng5+ Kh6=) 34. Rc5+ Kh4 35. Kf2 Ng4+ 36. Kg1 Ne3 37. Kf2= (37. Rg5? Qxb6)
b) During the lecture, Mark Kernighan pointed out the possibility of 30... Kh7!? 31. Ng5+ Kh6 32. Nxf7+ Kh5 33. Nxh8 (33. Bc5!!) 33... Qb7 34. Kf2 Ng4+ 35. Ke1 which Fritz sees as drawn by perpetual, but which we abandoned as likely winning for White.
Though he missed the stunning drawing line discussed above, the champ has still somehow managed to battle his way into an ending where he is only a pawn down - albeit losing, of course, due to White's passed pawns. But you have to admire him for holding on so well in what was clearly a lost position. Now White must somehow force checkmate against the World Champion before his flag falls -- and there is no increment to help him! That to me is the most impressive aspect of this game.
34. Rd8 f6 35. Bc5 g5 36. a4 gxf4 37. a5 e5 38. a6 e4 39. a7 Nxa7 40. Bxa7 e3 41. Rxh8+ Kxh8 42. c8=Q+ Kh7 43. Qf5+ g6 44. Qxf4 e2 45. Qe3 e1=Q+ 46. Qxe1 Kg7 47. Qe6 g5 48. Bd4 g4 49. Qxf6+ Kh7 50. Qg7#
[based on Norowitz]
Reported by Michael Goeller
See also Yaacov's ICC Games with the Stonewall and Supplemental Stonewall Games.
Games in PGN