The Dutch Defense – How to Play as White & Black

chessable dutch defense

Quick Summary

  • The Dutch Defense is an aggressive and ambitious opening that vies for control of the e4 square.
  • It is usually played against 1.d4 but may be played against all main White openings, except for 1.e4.
  • The Dutch has three main systems (the Leningrad, the Classical, and the Stonewall), which are all very theoretical but offer quick attacking chances for Black.
  • White has several ways to avoid mainline Dutch theory.

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The Dutch Defense is an opening that can be seen as a sort of opposite-side Sicilian Defense reply to 1.d4.

Similar to how the Sicilian Defense prevents White from establishing the ideal pawn center by preventing 2.d4, the Dutch does the same by not permitting White to play 2.e4.

Broadly speaking, the Dutch is a fighter’s weapon. Players choose 1…f5 because they want dynamic games. They are not looking for draws or to equalize. They believe that by creating imbalances they can crush 1.d4 players’ hopes for a positional game.

The Dutch Defense can prove quite annoying for d4 players. In general, 1.d4 players tend to be more averse to sharp, tactics-laden openings than 1.e4 players. The Dutch forces d4 players out of this.

1…f5 is a double-edged sword though. As it is such a sharp opening, this can backfire for Black. The Dutch is a riskier proposition than the Sicilian as it opens Black’s f-file and provides an open diagonal to Black’s king. White ideally will try to exploit this weakness.

The Dutch may also be played against 1.Nf3 (the Zuketort Opening), 1.b3 (the Nimzo-Larsen Attack), and 1.c4 (the English Opening). In reality, the Dutch may be played against anything White plays, except, 1.e4.

The entire strategy of the Dutch Defense for Black revolves around controlling the e4 square.

History of the Dutch Defense

The origins of the Dutch Defense are unclear, but the name of the opening is believed to originate from a book written by Ellias Stein, published in the Dutch city of The Hague in 1789. In this book, Stein suggested that 1…f5 was actually the best reply to 1.d5.

This of course was the days of romantic chess when openings such as the King’s Gambit reigned supreme. Since then, the Dutch has gone through many reappraisals.

This view held through the 19th century, until Wilhelm Steinitz and Siegbert Tarrasch began to instill the virtues of modern positional chess, and the Queen’s Gambit Declined became the “correct” reply to 1.d4.

The Dutch found new appreciation in the 20th century when it was played in the 1951 World Championship between Mikhail Botvinnik and David Bronstein. In this series of games, it was actually the most important opening.

Since then, the Dutch has remained far behind in popularity to the 1…Nf6 and 1…d5, the main responses to 1.d4, but it is still occasionally played at the top level. Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, and Ian Nepomniachtchi are known to play it on occasion.

Is the Dutch Defense sound?

Despite being a lesser-played opening compared to mainstream openings, the Dutch Defense is far from refuted and thus is not unsound. It is not a trick opening. However, it is rather a risky opening, which can bring players unfamiliar with the opening into shaky territory.

For beginners, the Dutch Defense is not recommended. Beginners would be better off playing 1…d5 as development is more natural.

For intermediate and advanced club players with an attacking mindset, the Dutch can be a nice weapon against 1.d4. It is not an opening for the cautious, positionally-minded player.

Our article on 10 Chess Openings for Beginners can help you find the repertoire that most suits you.

How to play the Dutch Defense- Black’s main setups

After 1.d4 f5, the most common second moves for White are 2.c4, 2.g3, and 2.Nf3, with usually all of these moves being played in some order.

The move 2.g3 (known as the Fianchetto Attack) is a flexible move that prepares to fight for the light squares and by fianchettoing the bishop, White has some control of the e4 square.

The Leningrad Dutch

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6

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In almost all Dutch systems, Black places their knight on f6, adding further control of the e4 square. The fianchettoed kingside bishop provides a lot of pressure on the dark squares. Black has a very solid pawn chain from h7-f5 and has a solid center.

Black will look to play d6 to prop up e5 to take control of the center. The dark-squared fianchettoed bishop will support such a thrust.

Of the three main setups for Black, this is considered to be the most dynamic. It is also the most complicated and theory-heavy.

4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 d6 7.Nc3

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Another reason for 6…d6 is so that Black’s light-squared bishop may be able to maneuver. This system would be exactly like a King’s Indian, except that Black has already placed their pawn on f5. This has an advantage for Black in that it prevents White from having a space advantage as it cannot play e4. The downside for Black is that their king is already weakened.

Being such a strict system, it can be very hard to be guaranteed a Leningrad Dutch, as White has many options early on to deviate from the Leningrad.

From here Black usually plays 7…c6 or 7…Qe8.

7…c6, known as the Warsaw Variation is seen as the safest option. Its purpose is multifold: 1) it blunts White’s fianchettoed bishop; 2) it makes it more difficult for White to play d5 (something White generally looks to do); and 3) the knight can reroute to c7 by way of a6.

7…Qe8 supports the e5 break and helps control the queenside, dampening White’s queenside expansion with any future b4-b5 plans. The queen can also reroute at some point to f7 or g6 for a possible kingside attack.

The Classical Variation

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2

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The Classical Variation substitutes 3…e6 for 3…g6 in the Leningrad. The position is typified by a fluid center and is flexible and versatile.

Black can play a Queen’s Indian Attack type set up with b6, fianchettoing the light-squared bishop, or can reroute the queen to e8 then on to h5 to launch a kingside attack.

If Black goes the route of kingside attack, usually via f4 or e5, White must prepare for an onslaught. To counter any such attack, White will look to break through first on the queenside, using the bishop on g2 to target b7 and by starting a pawn storm with b5, c5 and putting their rook on the c-file. It is anything but boring, with both sides in a race to see who can attack first.

The Stonewall Defense

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 d5 7.Nc3 c6

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The Stonewall Dutch gets its name from the pawn formation it has on the light squares. Black has a significant amount of space, has three pieces controlling the crucial e4 square, and obviously has a grip on the light squares. The downside to this is Black has obvious weaknesses on the dark squares.

There is also the question of how Black can ever develop their light-squared bishop. One option to do this is by playing b6 and putting the bishop on either b7 or a6. A timely c5 may be played to free up Black’s pieces.

The square on e5 is Black’s biggest weakness.

This, like the other Dutch setups, is not a system for passive players. Black accepts the dark-squared weaknesses, the weakness on e5, and the difficulty in developing their light-squared bishop to launch a fast attack. This is usually done by playing Qe8 and Qh5.

Black will also try to play the knight on f6 to the strong e4 outpost. From here, g5 and Bd6 can be played, while the rook can go to f6 then to h6 and Black can try to mate on h2.

Black’s best piece in this setup is their dark-squared bishop, so oftentimes White will look to exchange this bishop by playing Ba3, saddling Black with the bad light-squared bishop.

How to counter the Dutch Defense- Sidelines for White

One of the main drawbacks of the Dutch is how theoretical it is and how easy it is for White to avoid the main lines.

White has many sidelines they can play to avoid the main lines of the Leningrad, the Classical Variation, and the Stonewall.

The Raphael Variation

1.d4 f5 2.Nc3

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The idea behind 2.Nc3 is to play e4 without gambiting the pawn. The downside is that it blocks in the c-pawn, which is usually placed on c4 to help control the d5 square in d4 openings.

To stop White from playing 3.e4, Black will either play 2…d5 or 2…Nf6.

If Black decides to try to play a mainline Leningrad with 2…g6 or a Classical with 2..e6, White strikes with 3.e4, and Black has no better option than to take 3…fxe4 4.Nxe4, and now the f7 weakness is far more evident, and White has a much stronger position.

2…Nf6 3.Bg5

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If 3…e6 4.e4 fxe4 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 Bxf6 7.Qh5 is an interesting line. After 7…g6 8.Qh6 Black has a very compromised kingside and White is about to walk right in.

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To avoid such complications after 3.Bg5, Black’s most popular (and best) move is to play 3…d5.

2…d5

This is the other way to stop 3.e4. It results in a slightly more closed position, and Black has a solid clamp on e4. From here 3.Bg5 and 3.Bf4 are the most popular moves. Bf4 is slightly less aggressive as it does not prevent e6.

3.e4 known as the Kingfisher Gambit is played much less. If 3…fxe4 4.Qh5+, and well, White is much better.

The Hopton Attack

1.d4 f5 2.Bf5

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The Hopton Attack directly foils Black’s plans. Now e6 may no longer be played, and the usual Nf6 allows Bxf6, leaving Black with some unattractive doubled pawns on the f-file and a quite open kingside.

2…h6 attempts can kick the bishop away, but this may be a little too weakening for Black’s kingside. Note that 2…h6 3.Bh4 g5 appears to win the bishop, but if 4.e3 gxh4, White has mate in 1!

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The Staunton Gambit

1.d4 f5 2.e4

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The idea behind the Staunton Gambit is to open the center right away. White would like to take advantage of the gaping h5-e8 diagonal.

Black does have resources to stop this threat, but if they are unprepared, White’s initiative can be too much to handle.

Black should accept the pawn sacrifice. The Staunton Gambit is divisive amongst Dutch players, some love to see it while others dread it.

It is highly tactical, and even though White is down a pawn, evaluation gives a dead-even position.

2…fxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5

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White would like to take the knight on f6 but Black can recapture with exf6 and if Nxe4 winning the pawn back, Qe7 pins the knight and wins a piece.

4…Nc6 5.d5 Ne5

Here White activates their queen and adds another attacker to e4 either with 6.Qe2 or hitting the knight as well with 6.Qd4.

The Lisitsin Gambit

The Lisitsin Gambit is a fun trap in the Dutch that arises not against 1.d4 but against 1.Nf3.

It starts off as 1.Nf3 f5 2.e4

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2.e4 is a counter-intuitive move but ultimately aims to exploit the open diagonal to Black’s king.

2…fxe4 3.Ng5 Nf6 4.d3 This is the crucial move. Black should not take here.

If 4…exd3 5.Bxe3 Nf6 6.Nxh7 Nxh7 7.Bg6#!

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How to play the Dutch Defense against the London System

1.d4 f5 2.Bf4 Nf6 3.e3

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The Dutch Defense is also a viable opening against the London System. Black can play it a few ways, employing a Leningrad setup with 3…g6, a Classical setup with 3…e6, or 3…d6.

If 3…g6, Black must be prepared for the aggressive 4.h4. The way to counter this is to play 4…h6 to stop White from playing h5 and ripping open the kingside. However, even after 4…h6, evaluation gives a +0.9 advantage to White.

If 3…e6 Black should fianchetto their light-squared bishop with b6.

Position after 3…e6 4.Bd3 b6 5.Nf3 Bb7

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How to play the Dutch Defense against the English Opening

1.c4 f5

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There is not a whole lot to comment on in playing the Dutch against the English. After 1…f5 there is a lot of room for transposition; White can play 2.d4, transposing into a mainline Dutch, or other moves such as 2.g3, which are also common in the main lines.

As the main line Dutch Defense variations are somewhat system-based, players can generally play what they would play against 1.d4. 1.c4 does not change Dutch players’ plans too much.

Model Game

The following game is a game that was played in 2015 by current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, and former World Champion, Vishwanathan Anand. Carlsen had dethroned Anand from the World Championship just two years prior to win his first-ever World Championship.

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Summary

The Dutch Defense is an aggressive and sharp opening for players that are looking for a fight. Players that enjoy a slow build-up and calmer, more positional games, would do well to choose another opening against 1.d4.

Take a look at our Ultimate 1.d4 Chess Opening Guide.

If you are unwilling to study much theory, then the Dutch is also probably not the best opening. That said, players willing to learn a few lines can adopt one of the three main Dutch Systems, the Leningrad, the Stonewall, or the Classical, and these can be a lot of fun.

If you do decide to adopt the Dutch, you must also be prepared against some of White’s sidelines that avoid mainline Dutch theory.

As the Dutch is far less common than other replies to 1.d4, d4 players can often be caught unprepared, so if you are a 1.d4 player, it would be a good idea to have some sort of prepared response to the Dutch.

All in all, the Dutch can be a really fun and interesting weapon for club-level players (and Masters too for that matter). If you are interested in learning how to play the Dutch, then GM Simon Williams’ The Killer Dutch Rebooted is an excellent course. If you’d like to check out the course before purchasing, then you can also look at the free Short & Sweet version.

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This video is from The Killer Dutch Rebooted course by GM Simon Williams

FAQs

Is the Dutch Defense good?

The Dutch Defense is a good, but not the best, reply to 1.d4. It is a risky and sharp opening that is best suited to attacking players, but it is not unsound or refuted and is even played by Super-GMs on occasion.

What is the point of the Dutch Defense?

The point of the Dutch is to prevent White from playing e4 and to exert maximum control over the e4 square. It seeks to create imbalances and quick attacking chances.

How do you play against the Dutch?

There are many ways to play against the Dutch. Generally, in the mainlines, Black is looking for a kingside attack, so White will try to launch an attack on the queenside before Black can launch their attack.

Many sidelines may be played against the Dutch as well, such as the Staunton Gambit, the Rafael Variation, and the Hopton Attack. White is able to set the tone against the Dutch Defense.

Can white play the Dutch Defense?

No, the Dutch Defense is a reply to White’s openings, chiefly 1.d4.

How do you play the Stonewall Defense?

The Stonewall Defense is played by Black by placing pawns on the light squares (f5, e6, d5, and c6) and usually by launching an attack on the kingside.

How do you beat the Stonewall in the Dutch?

White can try to beat the Stonewall by trading off Black’s best piece, the dark-squared bishop, and by launching a counter-attack on the queenside.

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