Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Stonewall


....knock down their shitty wall!

Every club has one! On Monday I've got a long awaited rematch against the Stonewall of M.C.C legend Roger Un-Beattie-able! I played a nice game with him in the Victorian Championship Reserves last year. Even though I hadn't studied the Stonewall setup before, I managed to build a good position at the board. (The lessons learned from that game were the weaknesses created by 6. a6?! and 15. f5?)

To start with, some older ideas. One obvious plan in a fixed pawn structure is to play Ba6 and swap weak bishop for strong bishop. But swapping isn't always good. For example, it's not worth swapping the Bishop if white takes back with a pawn covering the hole he has made on e4. This is something to remember in all variations of the stonewall.

From Andrew Soltis': Pawn Structure Chess
Another example is given in the Queenside Stonewall:

White has exchanged Bishop for knight on c6 and black uses the doubled 
pawns to control the central squares

 Now on to some more modern ideas:

It's up to everyone to choose their own system, I don't mind this one. Crucially black gets his c8 Bishop out before playing e6. Let's have a look at the position and make some general strategic comments:

  • At move 6 white has made 4 pawn moves to black's 3
  • I feel that white's e3 pawn is a little overworked: after an eventual cxd4, white will either play exd4, weakening the f4 pawn, or cxd4, weakening b4 (see Valderrama - Korneev where white is forced to play a3)
  • The position is closed, so these tempi are not as important as in an open position.
  • Due to the c3 pawn, white's b1 knight and c1 bishop lack space to move into. Because of that, black should definitely hold off cxd4 and let white struggle with the space disadvantage for these pieces.
  • Both sides will usually castle King-Side, though white can leave the King in the center.
  • Black should be careful of Bxh7 sacs given the position of his Bishop on g4 (Bxh7, Kxh7, Ng5+ then Qxg4 is a common tactical idea)
  • White can have tactical problems on the c-file, especially if he plays slowly and doesn't move the b1 knight, bringing the a1 rook into the game. If black has time to play moves like Rc8 and Qc7, then maneuvers like cxd4 followed by Nb4 can cause trouble. 
  • After obvious moves like h3 black should carefully consider where he places his Bishop- often f5 is the best square despite the fact white doubles the pawns with Bxf5. The f5 pawn solidifies black's control of e4, stops white playing f4-f5 and importantly opens the e-file and white's e3 becomes a weakness.
  • Because of the pin with Bg4, Ne4 can be quite strong for black, especially after white castles. White can take the knight on e4 with: Bxe4, dxe4, h3, but obviously this is going to be weaker after white has castled as black can play exf3, hxg4, fxg2

    Black's 12. Bxe5 is a tough move to see. In an opening where we're constantly told about 'good and bad bishops' I wouldn't even come up with Bxe5 as a candidate. f6 and Ne7 (followed by f6) come to me immediately. So let's try to work out why the GM took the continuation Bxe5, fxe5, f6:
    • There are long-term and temporary aspects of every chess position- in this one the long-term weaknesses are:
      • White's backward e3 pawn on a semi-open file
      • The outpost on e4
      • Black's f5 pawn
      • White's dark squared Bishop
    • None of these weaknesses change after Bxe5! So it's a question of whether the d6 Bishop is really a strength- at the moment it's not. 
    • The temporary weaknesses are white's development problems with the a1/b1/c1 pieces.
    • So in my view, Bxe5 is a way of keeping the weaknesses in the white position alive, but quickly opening the position too: the best of both worlds. Essentially black has to choose between Bxe5, fxe5, f6 or Ne7, Nd2. Black thought that using the development lead was his best road to an advantage.

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