04 May 2020

Book completed: The Stonewall Attack

In searching for an alternative opening as White (although I expect to continue to use the English Opening as my primary), I eventually settled on learning the Stonewall Attack, largely because I had put a good deal of time into studying the Dutch Stonewall as Black. While the defense has a robust if not particularly large collection of book and video publications dedicated to it, the White side has relatively few - really, almost none - professional-level ones. The Kenilworthian's 2012 blog post on "The Stonewall in Black and White" is probably the best compilation of resources on the Stonewall, although now somewhat dated from the Black perspective. (It's not dated for White because so little has been done on it.)

Andrew Martin's Foxy video on the Stonewall Attack and Colle Zukertort is still being produced (my summary of the e-DVD content is in the link), but the only dedicated book by a GM is The Stonewall Attack by Andrew Soltis (Chess Digest, 2nd edition, 1993). I recently completed it using the legit downloadable (PDF) version you can find on Scribd.com; the book itself has been out of print for some time. The Kenilworthian post mentioned above praised it as a resource, but offered no details.

It was interesting to see that the structure and recommendations of Andrew Martin's video closely parallel those of Soltis, although to be fair Martin focuses on more recent example games that are not included in Soltis' work. I expect it would be better to read the book first when beginning a study of the opening, since it provides a deeper conceptual foundation, then look at the video presentation for additional commentary and updated modern examples.

I have to say that The Stonewall Attack has become one of my favorite chess opening books - probably chess books in general - because it is both enjoyable to go through and effective in its presentation. Soltis is a prolific and excellent writer; here he clearly enjoys his subject, digging into some of the opening's history - games from Capablanca, Marshall, Pillsbury and other top players from the first part of the 20th century are featured in the chapters - while discussing the various setups and approaches. There is for me a near-ideal balance of conceptual explanations, variations and examples. Some repetition of material occurs from certain example games, but from a learning perspective I felt this was actually a good thing, to help reinforce particular ideas.

Soltis also does certain things I appreciate, such as not sugar-coating things (the Stonewall is respected but not over-sold as a wonder weapon for White), highlighting move-order options that are often neglected, and calibrating his annotations and explanations to an amateur audience, including explanations of variations and moves which are bad/losing, not just focusing on best play for both sides. For improving players, I find this to be a crucial point in gaining chess strength, since rarely will both sides follow the "best" plan in an opening below master level (or even then).

I find studying the Stonewall Attack to be useful for both general chess skill and as a practical opening weapon. It's not just for historical purposes, either, as I was reminded when I saw Anand using it as White to beat an expert-level player in the recent Indian GM online simul at Chess.com (see the game vs. Fllinc, with a full transposition by move 14). Maybe Anand wouldn't play it at a top-level GM tournament, but he nevertheless knows how to play it successfully.

Below is a summary of the contents of the book, for those who may be interested in taking a closer look. It's worth noting that this is not a repertoire book, so both White and Black sides get examined from a number of different perspectives, with many options presented in the text.

This is a narrative introduction to Stonewall Attack ideas and history, covering five games from 1890 (Gunsberg-Tchigorin) to 1992 (Mohammed-Denker).

CHAPTER ONE: The Matter of Move Order
This is a more sophisticated introduction to early concepts and move-orders, for example using a Colle System to start and later playing Nf3-e5 and f2-f4. One point is that the Stonewall Attack should not be treated as a "system" opening in which the same moves are always made in the same order, regardless of what your opponent does, although Soltis recommends beginning with 1.d4 followed by 2. e3 and 3. Bd3. The chapter also contains the high-level clash Yusupov-Anand, Linares 1991.

CHAPTER TWO: Stonewall Strategies
(1) Simple Kingside Attack
(2) Good vs. Bad Bishops
(3) Queenside Play: The Open and Half-Open C-file
(4) The Pawn Re-Capture on d3
(5) Double Stonewall
(6) The Advance of the e-Pawn

CHAPTER THREE: The "Theoretically Best" Defense
Here Soltis deals with the primary theoretical recommendation for Black (3...Nc6) and also points out the move 3...Bg4 as a strong alternative idea.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Traditional Defense
This covers what most Black players are likely to play if not very familiar with the Stonewall Attack, which is a Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) formation with ...c5 included.

CHAPTER FIVE: Black Fianchettoes
Here we see Black going into either a reversed Dutch Stonewall, where standard plans/ideas apply, or setting up a King's Indian Defense (KID) or Queen's Indian Defense (QID), which require different treatments from White.

Although these games are sometimes quoted in the main text, here Soltis presents them in full. It's great fun to play over these old games and feel that they are still relevant to our understanding of the positions.
#1: Sultan Khan - A. Rubinstein, Prague (Olympiad) 1931
#2: Marshall - Rubinstein, Vienna 1908
#3: Horowitz - Amateur, New York 1950
#4: Kmoch - Nagy, Budapest 1926
#5: Santasiere - Adams, United States 1940
#6: Lipke - Zinki, Leipzig 1894
#7: Lipke - Schiffers, Leipzig 1894
#8: Pillsbury - Hanham, New York 1893


  1. Hi,
    I can recommend 1. d4 Keep It Simple by Sielecki. It's basically d4 / Nf3 / g3 / Bg2 / 0-0 with a delayed c4 and very well explained,

  2. I wasn’t aware that there is a book covering the Stonewall Attack (SA) before September 2022. And what a treat that it has been offered freely as PDF! The concept “attack” is analogous to the King’s Indian Attack (KIA), such rarity compared to the KID with tons of books and theory. The Stonewall Defence is well examined counterpart against many white’s systems though not popular on the highest human level.

    As a youngster, I had trouble finding comfortable openings to play. I got creamed so badly in 1. e4 and Queen’s Gambit openings both colors. Then, in mid 2000s I saw an Asian guy demonstrating how to beat Fritz 5.32 solidly with the SA on the internet. I became a fan instantly. I got a dedicated chess computer, Mephisto Milano Pro (Fritz 3 included) as a present at one time and no surprise it lost to the same attack pattern.

    This Soltis’ book is the first chess book I have ever seriously studied. I discovered the majority of the same techniques before reading it by playing people and chess engine analysis. I still have to master nuances like QB/dark-squared bishop d2-e1-h4, cxd3 instead of Qxd3 and Ngh3!?. One problem is that most of the people don’t know how to counter SA at all: the most basic setup is enough to win, or they play the favorable setup but manage to find some defence in the middle game just before the typical sacrifices.
    Another problem is what to do if the opponent counters the SA with KID, some other Kingside fianchetto lines, mirror Stonewall or early …Bf5/Bg4. There is no other option than to abandon SA and switch to another opening. Although these topics are discussed in varied lengths in the book, I wish there was more sturdy analysis on these strategies and perhaps concrete lines as a summary how handle these situations. The authors suggest reading their successive book White Opening System: Combining Stonewall Attack, Colle System, Torre Attack which came out 5 years after the 1st edition in 1992. I find Colle very vague and double-edged to play if your opponent knows to neutralize the SA to begin with (but maybe this book can change my opinion!?). Another downside to me is that I couldn’t find 6 referred example games in the text on the internet. If someone can provide me those, please let me know! There are couple of games where the move order contradicts the internet sources I found. Also, the analysis is pre-engine era, so I strongly suggest going through every game and line with multi line analysis of your favorite modern engine (there are few harsh misjudgments).

    Overall, the book is the most in-depth work on SA by a landslide, which is a point the chess literature has missed completely and the most important feat of the book. There are many SA games (from same players) not covered in the book, of course. It’s a no-brainer to seek and go through them to get more ideas and how modern strong players play them out.

    Some supplementary material:

    The Stonewall Attack in 60 Minutes by IM Andrew Martin – Frivolous analysis of SA but a resource for novel games and players.

    Yaacov Norowitz's Lecture on the Stonewall Attack http://www.kenilworthchessclub.org/games/java/2006/yaacov-lecture.htm
    – Perhaps the closest digest of Soltis’ book and gives a complete repertoire to work with. Really recommend!

    Matt Pullin’s SA videos:

    – Short and instructive videos focusing on how to counter the SA also giving white some improvements. I haven’t had time to study these myself, but look informative at least. He used relatively weak Crafty for analysis and Chessgames.com database, so there is a need for better DIY assessment.


Your comments and ideas on chess training and this site are welcomed.

Please note that moderation is turned on as an anti-spam measure; your comment will be published as soon as possible, if it is not spam.