Here’s my chess confession: growing up, I never knew what to play as Black against 1.d4. Nothing seemed to work. QGD and Slav positions always ended up passive; Nimzo positions ended up simply lost. I asked around, and apparently the King’s Indian was the best chance to attack as Black. I tried that … and lost about 80% of my games. I clearly was not a KID player.
To be fair, I didn’t study much if any theory before playing these openings. I just looked at a few games and then tried it out myself. With 1.e4 openings, that seemed fine. I had an intuitive sense of what to do. The 1.d4 openings, though, left me completely in the dark … until I found the Dutch defence.
1…f5 gave me renewed hope. For the first time, I was not just winning, but winning easily and in style. This gave me confidence. I would later give up the Dutch after several painful losses, but not before it gave me some memorable wins. Let’s look at some.
[Note: this is part three of a four-part series on chess attack. Part One is about attacking the uncastled King. Part Two is on attacking the castled King, and Part Four discusses my personal development as an attacking player.]
Example 1: Somporn – Smithy, 2002
This was one of my first outings with Dutch, and despite a complete lack of sophistication, it worked!
1.d4 f5 2.c4 e6 3.a3?! d5 4.c5?! Be7 5.Nf3 Nd7 6.e3 Ngf6 7.Bd3 0-0
White has played a strange move, the early c5, and a waste of time, the early a3. This gives me time. I actually have a lead in development right now, and I start to use it in the only way I know how: launch pieces around the King.
8.Nc3 c6 9.0-0 Ne4 10.Bd2 Rf6!? 11.b4 Rh6
Well, I have my Knight on a good square, and now I’ve moved my Rook over to look at the King. I’m almost laughing at my complete lack of subletly, but don’t worry, in case you couldn’t tell I was attacking yet, it only becomes more obvious!
12.a4 g5 13.b5 g4 14,bxc6 gxf3 15.cxd7 Bxd7
At first, this position looks like nothing special, but if you look a tad bit deeper, you suddenly realize White is helpless to prevent the Black attack. When I analyzed it with my computer, first it says White has a slight advantage, then dead equal, and then huge advantage for Black.
16.g3 (this loses instantly) Qe8! 17.Nb5 Qh5 18.Bxe4 Qxh2# 0-1
What really impressed me with this game, and most games in the Dutch, was how hard it was for White to defend. That is, with the centre blocked, it’s hard for White to bring his Queenside pieces over, whereas Black can just funnel everything over and go nuclear at the King.
Example 2: Amanda – Smithy, 2005
This game features an almost identical attack, but it happens even faster, before White can even pretend to start his counterplay.
1.d4 f5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.Be2 c6 7.0-0 Bd6
Even though I made four pawn moves in the first seven turns, I stand very well. White is somewhat passive, with his Bishop doing nothing on e2 and his e3-d4 pawns blocking his other one. True, my own light-square Bishop sucks, but my dark-square one is perfectly placed.
8.b3 0-0 9.Bb2 Ne4 10.c5 Bc7 11.b4 g5 12.b5 g4
White’s Queenside play is slow because he went b3-Bb2-b4. That’s two turns to move the pawn, and the Bishop doesn’t do much on b2. In comparison, I am about to chase away White’s only defender, and my pieces are ready to race against the enemy King.
13.Nd2 Bxh2+! 14.Kxh2 Qh4+ 15.Kg1 Rf6
We see a very similar attack going on. My Rook will simply slide over and help my Queen deliver mate. White has almost all of his pieces nearby, but they struggle to actually help. This is one of those positions where one wrong move leads to instant defeat … which is exactly what happened.
16.f4 Nxd2 17.Qxd2 g3 0-1
White is helpless to stop the simple Qh2+ and Qh1#.
While the Stonewall Dutch has served me well, it wasn’t my only system with the Dutch. I also tried some other setups, including a fianchetto.
Example 3: Geebs – Smithy, 2005
1.d4 g6 2.c4 f5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bf4 d6 5.Nf3 Bg7
Here I’m trying out the Leningrad Dutch. I’ll be honest, I’ve only ever won twice with this system according to my records, but it included this game, so that makes it okay!
White clearly doesn’t know what to do against the Leningrad, as his London-style setup doesn’t work and his further play even more doesn’t work.
6.Nd2? Nh5! 7.e3 Nxf4 8.exf4 Bxd4
So I’ve won a pawn, which is awesome, and already White’s position is bad. He knows this, so he tries to mix things up and heads for an opposite-side castling position.
9.Qf3 c6 10.Nb3 Bg7 11.0-0-0 0-0 12.Bd3
At first sight, White’s position doesn’t look too bad. He’s almost fully developed whereas almost all of Black’s pieces are on the back rank. White might think of playing g4 and h4-h5 to storm the Black side. Black might pay for snagging that pawn.
Amazingly, I don’t worry about my development at all. In fact, I make four (!) consecutive moves with my a-pawn, and it completely destroys White!
12… a5! 13.Rhe1 a4! 14.Nd2 a3 15.Ndb1 axb2+
White is in huge trouble here. If White takes the pawn, there follows Qb6+, and if Ka1 then Qb3! and White is losing at least a piece. Amazingly, Black has a huge attack despite not developing at all!
White tried to avoid that, but he walked into a just-as-bad position and soon threw in the towel.
16.Kd2 e5 17.g3? e4 18.Bxe4 fxe5 19.Rxe4 Bf5 0-1
Black finally develops a minor piece, and so White resigns. Yes, he blundered a piece, but his position was completely busted regardless. The computer scored the position after the 15th move as 6 points in Black’s favour.
This was a unique experience, playing such a game. Unfortunately, I never had this success again with the Leningrad, or the Dutch at all to be honest.
Giving Up the Dutch
Considering the quick victories I’ve posted here, it might seem odd that I soon gave up the Dutch defence. There are a number of reasons. Stronger opponents didn’t let me attack so easily, and getting stuck in a passive endgame isn’t much fun.
To be honest, attacks only work against opponents who don’t know theory. If White plays ‘normal’ moves like in the first two example, Black has easy play. If White plays g3 and Bg2, attacks become very hard.
Worse, White has a number of anti-Dutch systems that suck to play against. Imagine 1.d4 f5 2.Bg5!? or 2.g4!? or the classic 2.e4. These might not trouble Black theoretically, but they completely change the character of the game. Black is not attacking in any of these lines, and why play the Dutch if not to attack?
The following is the game that largely made me give up the Dutch, at least as my main choice. I got my dream set-up against a high-rated opponent, but I couldn’t break through, and as the endgame approached I didn’t know what to do and simply blundered.
Sobedesce – Smithy, 2005
1.c4 f5 2.d2 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bf4 Nf6 5.e3 Be7 6.Be2 0-0 7.0-0 Ne4
White does not adopt one of the tricky sidelines. In fact, I should be estatic, as his Bishop isn’t great on e2 and I can hit the Bf4 with my eventual g5-g4 advance.
8.Nbd2 g5 9.Be5 Nd7 10.cxd5 exd5 11.Nb3 g4 12.Nfd2 Nxd2 13.Qxd2 Nxe5 14.dxe5 Bg5
Black has the better pawn-structure, more space and the two-Bishops. In fact, his normally passive light-square Bishop has a perfect diagonal after an eventual f5-f4. Black is doing great out of the opening.
15.Qc3 Qe7 16.Rad1 c6 17.f4 gxf3 18.Rxf3 f4 19.exf4 Rxf4 20.Rdf1 Rxf3 21.Bxf3 Be6 22.Nd4 Rf8
Do you know what’s incredible? According to the computer, I’ve played near perfectly so far. Komodo even favours Black slightly here! Nonetheless, I felt like I was struggling, because I didn’t know how to play this position. I only knew how to attack, and I can no longer do that here.
I now lose the game in four moves, as I simply fall apart.
23.Re1 Bh6 24.b4 Rc8?! 25.h3 Bf4?? 26.Nxe6 1-0
After Qxe6, Bg4 skewers the Queen and Rook.
Now, did I lose this game because of the opening? No, of course not. I lost it because I wasn’t a very good player beyond King-side attacks. What did happen, though, was I lost all confidence in the Dutch defence. Here, I had everything going my way, but I couldn’t turn it into a position I liked.
That was really the key. As I played the Dutch more, I got more and more positions I didn’t like. What’s the point in playing an opening if you don’t routinely like the middlegame? As I’ve grown as a chess player, I value positional over aggressive features more and more, so I likely won’t go back to the Dutch … very often at least!
The Dutch defence can lead to some fun attacks, and it served me well for a time. As a more general point, it’s nice to find that opening that perfectly meshes with you as a chess player. For a time, for me, the Dutch was my favourite, and the only reason I didn’t play it more was so few people played 1.d4.
If you can find such an opening for yourself, milk it for all it’s worth.