The Stonewall Attack is a chess opening where white seeks to quickly put their central pawns on dark squares, maintaining a firm grip over the e5 square.

Many move orders are possible, but a common one is 1. d4 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. Bd3 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. f4


Stonewall Attack


White would like to finish up development, plop a knight into the e5 square, and begin expanding on the kingside! The simplicity of white’s plan has made the Stonewall Attack appeal to many chess players.


Stonewall Attack – a positional understanding

The rigid nature of the pawn structure makes for few early tactics in the Stonewall Attack. Rather, the position is best understood by taking a look at both side’s ideas.

Plans for White

After white finishes up development, white might eventually play g4 and begin an aggressive attack on the kingside of the board.

Once white places a knight on e5, black might at some point decide to no longer tolerate that knight and capture it. Then white can recapture with the f-pawn and look for activity down the semi-open f-file.

An apparent downside of the Stonewall Attack is that white’s dark-square bishop is quite restricted, so white may eventually want to play Bc1-d2-e1-h4 to activate this minor piece!

Bishop activation

Plans for Black

Black can try to change the course of the game in several ways.

First, black can seek to exploit the vulnerable e4-square, which white can never control with a pawn again. A knight often hops into this square at the right moment.

(I’ve even seem some games where black systematically exchanges light-squared bishops, then routes the c6-knight to d6, and finally places an unremovable knight on the e4-square!)


Exchanging light bishops tends to favor black in general, as it removes one of white’s key attacking pieces. For example, after 5…Bg6 6. Nf3 e6 7. 0-0 Bd6 8. Qe1:

Bishop exchange stonewall

White plans to swing the queen into action on the kingside, but black might now prefer to play 8…Bf5, exchanging light bishops even at the cost of doubling black’s pawns.

Black generally wouldn’t mind these doubled pawns too much – they’re not easy to exploit, and afford black good control of the e4 square.

Sometimes black is even able to exchange light bishops from the a6 square, as shown in the diagram below!

Ba6 bishop exchange

Finally, black also has ways to play with pawns.

Black could storm the queenside with pawns and try to blow open lines there. Black could also eventually play …f5 himself, leading to the so-called “Symmetrical stonewall” structure.

In some cases black can even play …f6 and then …e5, really trying to blow open the center!

These are the ideas. Now let’s take a look at a sample game.

The Stonewall Attack – in action!

1. d4 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. Bd3 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. f4 (5. dxc5 is occasionally tried, but this isn’t in the spirit of the Stonewall! Black will either recoup the lost pawn or get good compensation for it, in “Queen’s Gambit fashion”). 5…Bg4 6. Nf3 e6 7. 0-0 Bd6 8. Bd2 c4

c4 Stonewall Attack

We’re following a game between two strong players (Abdullah – Arias, 2008). Black decides to remove the central pawn tension and grab space on the queenside, where a later pawn storm could occur with …b5-b4.

9. Bc2 Ne4 10. b3 (White tries to strike back against black’s queenside space advantage) 10…b5 11. a4 cxb3 12. cxb3 a6

Illustrative Stonewall Game

White avoids being overwhelmed with a queenside pawn storm, but playing on the queenside doesn’t come without its risk. Black has a natural superiority on this sector of the board, and now can hope to use the open lines to pressure the backwards c3-pawn.

13. h3 Bh5 14. g4 Bg6 15. axb5 axb5 16. Rxa8 Qxa8 17. f5

f5 attack

Now a true tactical fight has broken out! White hopes to undermine the d5-pawn with their kingside activity.

As is often the case in the Stonewall Attack, white hopes that the stable pawn structure in the center affords him the opportunity to recklessly advance the kingside pawns, without suffering the repercussions of his own king’s lack of defenses.

17…exf5 18. Bxd5 Nf6 19. Qb3 0-0 20. gxf5 bxf5 21. Ne5

Stonewall in action

Black settled for mass liquidations after capturing on d5 and then on e5, and a draw was the eventual result.


The Stonewall Attack has become popular for its easily-understandable ideas and the potential for a “ready made attack” on the kingside, but black has sufficient defenses if they are prepared.

Some openings, such as the Torre Attack, have been developed to attempt to get an “improved” version of the Stonewall Attack. White develops the dark bishop actively first and only later attempts to play f2-f4, avoiding the “bad bishop” problem.

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