The Dutch Defense: The Ultimate Chess Opening Guide

The Dutch Defense: The Ultimate Chess Opening Guide

What is the Dutch Defense?

  • a chess opening for Black against 1.d4
  • characterized by the moves 1.d4 f5
  • suggested as the best response to 1.d4 in a book by Elias Stein in 1789 in the Hague, Netherlands, hence the opening’s name
  • occurred in several games of the World Championship Match between Mikhail Botvinnik and David Bronstein in 1951
  • played by several chess giants like Hikaru Nakamura, Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi

“The problem with the Dutch is that Black very often in the middlegame finds that his best available move is f5-f7.” – Artur Yusupov

The Dutch Defense: The Ultimate Chess Opening Guide

The Dutch Defense is a chess opening for Black against 1.d4 and occurs after the moves 1.d4 f5 (see the diagram on the left).

It is a fighting chess opening as the Black player immediately unbalances the position as early as move one by moving his f-pawn.

The Dutch Defense is an exciting opening choice, especially at club level, and is a good option for players looking to win as Black against 1.d4. The reason for this is that many positions in the Dutch Defense promise Black more active play than in most other openings. Black is able to avoid early simplifications and can enter unbalanced positions, which allows him to play for more than equality.

From a practical point of view, it’s a clever opening choice for Black to play the Dutch Defense as 1.d4-players don’t meet it that frequently and more-often-than-not are not well booked up.

Although many great attacking games have been played in this opening, today the Dutch Defense has a relatively poor reputation. Due to the fact that engines favor White in certain lines, the opening does not get the attention it deserves. The fact that an opening is not frequently played at the highest level does not necessarily mean that it’s not an excellent weapon in the hands of club players.

Indeed, the Dutch Defense has given Black some great results at the very top. Here are a few examples:

  • In 2015, Magnus Carlsen crushed both Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand with the Dutch Defense.
  • At the Candidates Tournament 2014, Peter Svidler used the Dutch Defense to beat none other than former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik.
  • At Wijk aan Zee 2014, Loek van Wely outplayed the tournament winner Levon Aronian with the Dutch Defense.
  • At Wijk aan Zee 2012, Hikura Nakamura won a nice game against Boris Gelfand with the Dutch Defense.

And there are plenty of other examples. It quickly becomes obvious that if this opening can occasionally take down even the greatest players in the world, you’re bound to find success at the chess club or in your tournaments against most players who haven’t spent the time to analyze it.

In fact, diving deeper into the opening, it turns out that it’s not that easy for White to get an edge against the Dutch Defense.

This free opening guide on the Dutch Defense provides you with all you need to know about this fascinating opening:

  • Is the Dutch Defense an outdated opening of the past which can no longer be taken seriously today?
  • Can you still play the opening in a time where strong chess engines and huge databases are the predominant sources for opening preparation?
  • What are the overall advantages of playing the Dutch Defense?
  • How can Black launch an early attack in this opening?
  • Which opening traps and typical tactical motifs should both sides be aware of?
  • What are the main lines and the latest theoretical developments for both sides?

All these questions will be addressed in this article.

The Dutch Defense – An Aggressive Chess Opening For Black

To begin, we’ll explore the attacking potential of the Dutch Defense.

Let’s go for a little journey through time and take a look at an inspirational game from the first half of the 20th century.

Kotov, Alexander – Bondarevsky, Igor Leningrad 1936

Let’s now look at a recent game which started off as a Reti Opening and then transposed to the Dutch Defense. This game is particularly interesting as it shows that Black does not need to start with 1…f5 to reach a Dutch Defense setup. He can also make use of some move order nuances.

The Dutch Defense – Basics and Key Concepts

Before we take a deep dive into the theory of any opening, we should always strive to get a solid understanding of its key ideas first.

The Dutch Defense is one of the spiciest, most aggressive openings against 1.d4. The opening results in the lowest percentage of draws among the most common options for Black against 1.d4.

With the move 1…f5, Black breaks with conventional wisdom on the main opening principles. Instead of developing his pieces or occupying the center with a central pawn, Black moves a pawn that defends his own king. Playing the Dutch Defense is a risky and double-edged choice.

So why play it? By moving his f-pawn, Black takes control over the key central square e4. Moreover, the f-pawn can become a dangerous attacking unit later in the game. With the move 1…f5, Black creates an asymmetrical pawn structure.

Usually in the Dutch Defense, Black tries to get the initiative on the kingside, while White aims for a queenside expansion. Both players also look to get the superiority in the center.

While Black gets very active pieces that aren’t cramped, leading to some very exciting positions, keep in mind that Black has a weakened f7-square that White can target. In fact, sometimes White will throw all their resources into attacking this one square.

That’s why is important to play with speed and to understand the ideas behind this chess opening. If White plays a strong positional game without allowing some tactical counterattacks by Black, Black could soon regret having pushied the f-pawn and exposing the king.

If White does not go for early deviations like the Staunton Gambit (1.d4 f5 2.e4), the 2.Bg5-line or the 2.Nc3variation, Black has three major options to play in the Dutch Defense:

  • the solid Stonewall Dutch (1.d4 f5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Nf3 c6)
  • the flexible Classical Dutch (1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.Nf3 d6)
  • the dynamic Leningrad Dutch (1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 d6)

All three setups for Black lead to quite different play and include some unique ideas. Over the course of this in-depth guide, we’ll tackle all three setups.

Why Play The Dutch Defense?

Before we dive deep into any lines, it’s always a wise decision to take a look at the broader picture. Why play the Dutch Defense at all? What kind of player will the Dutch Defense suit?

There are several reasons to play the Dutch Defense:

  • First of all, playing the Dutch Defense can be a vital alternative for all Black players who are tired of repeatedly entering the highly theoretical terrain of all the main lines against 1.d4. The Dutch Defense will frustrate White players used to trying their pet lines against Black’s responses like the Queen’s Gambit, the Slav Defense or the Grunfeld Defense.
  • Similarly, the Dutch Defense is quite a surprising opening. Club players often have no repertoire against the Dutch Defense, giving you a huge advantage right from the get-go. If White does not know what he is doing, there is a good chance he will go down quickly in an early kingside attack.
  • The Dutch Defense not only helps you to steer away from heavy theoretical battles in the opening – thanks to the developments in the opening over the last years, the Dutch Defense can carry a lot of theoretical bite in many lines. It is a common occurrence that club players who try to develop naturally against the Dutch Defense soon find themselves with a bad position. They lose the game without even understanding why.
  • The Dutch Defense still has a reputation of not being a fully sound opening. Therefore, many Black players don’t like it. This also means, however, that there haven’t been a lot of opening books, articles or videos published on the Dutch Defense. Most White players haven’t taken the time to study how to play against the Dutch Defense as it occurs comparatively rarely. This makes the Dutch Defense an easy and quick-to-learn opening that does not require an endless amount of studying the latest theoretical developments. It’s much more important to know the key strategic ideas and plans.
  • The fact that the Dutch Defense is not that well analyzed as an opening such as the Slav Defense or the Grunfeld Defense might enable you to contribute some new ideas to it. If you take the time to analyze the lines in the Dutch Defense, you might come up with interesting moves that haven’t been played often, or even at all.
  • If you play the Dutch Defense regularly and you’re used to difficult positions, you’ll gather a lot of experience in these types of positions. In difficult positions, the player with more experience usually gets rewarded.
  • Defending is harder than attacking: in chess, attacking is easier than defending. When you’re attacking, you can mostly focus on your own ideas and plans. When you’re defending, you always have to react to your opponent’s moves and ideas. This is what makes defending so difficult – you can’t really focus on your own ideas, but have to pay a lot more attention to your opponent’s intentions. The defensive skills of most club players are very weak – it makes sense to play an attacking opening that exploits this weakness.

Dutch Defense – Typical Chess Tactics

Active learning is the key to success in chess.

You now have the opportunity to dive actively into the waters of the Dutch Defense, and solve 4 puzzles which feature typical tactical motifs that frequently arise from this opening. Have a go! (You’ll find all the solutions at the end of the article.)

The Dutch Defense: The Ultimate Chess Opening Guide

Theory Section: The Dutch Defense

So far, we’ve seen a couple of crushing wins in the Dutch Defense as an appetizer. In all these games, an early kingside attack – which is a recurring theme in this opening – decided the outcome of the game.

Now, we’re going to dive a bit deeper into the theory of the Dutch Defense. First, we’re going to tackle White’s most common early deviations, the Staunton Gambit (1.d4 f5 2.e4), the 2.Bg5-line and the 2.Nc3variation.

Then later, we’re going to analyze all three main variations of the Dutch Defense – the Stonewall Dutch, the Classical Dutch and the Leningrad Dutch.

Theory Section: Dutch Defense – The Staunton Gambit (1.d4 f5 2.e4)

White has tried plenty of ideas to exploit Black’s kingside weaknesses with some quick attacking ideas. One of the most direct attempts for White to challenge the Dutch Defense is the Staunton Gambit. Black should definitely be aware of this gambit when he wants to play the Dutch Defense as it’s quite sharp and Black needs to know some concrete moves. If he does, however, he has nothing to fear.

Theory Section: Dutch Defense – The Anti-Dutch Systems with 2.Nc3 and 2.Bg5 (1.d4 f5 2.Nc3 and 1.d4 f5 2.Bg5)

Many White players are frustrated of trying the main lines against the Dutch Defense and finding out that the Black player is better prepared, more familiar with the subtleties of the opening and that it’s hard to get an edge out of the opening. Therefore, the Anti-Dutch Systems with 2.Nc3 and 2.Bg5 have become quite popular in recent years.

Yet, just like against the Staunton Gambit, if Black is not surprised by these two moves and knows what to do, there is nothing to be afraid of.

It should be said at this point that Black players who go for the Stonewall Dutch or the Leningrad Dutch can avoid these variations altogether if they desire.

If you play the Stonewall Dutch, you can start with the move 1…e6 after 1.d4. Now, White has the chance to play 2.e4, transposing to the French Defense. Yet, speaking from experience, most 1.d4-players don’t do this as they have no repertoire against the French Defense and stick to 2.c4. After 2…f5, Black has avoided all the sidelines White can play on move two.

If you play the Leningrad Dutch, you can start with the move 1…d6 after 1.d4. Again, White has the chance to play 2.e4, transposing to the Pirc Defense (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6) or the Philidor Defense (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5). Just like when Black starts with 1…e6, most 1.d4-players don’t play 2.e4 as they don’t want to get into 1.e4-territory. After 1.d4 d6 2.c4 f5, Black again avoids all sidelines for White on move two and is back in the Leningrad Dutch.

If you want to stick to 1…f5, however, there are decent setups against both White’s moves.

IM Andrew Martin analyzes a good setup for Black against 2.Nc3 in the following exclusive free video:

Against the move 2.Bg5, Black needs to react differently. Let’s take a closer look at this variation:

Theory Section: Dutch Defense – The Classical Dutch (1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.Nf3 d6)

Now, as we have covered the most challenging sidelines, we can take a closer look at the mainlines. To start with, we take a look at the Classical Dutch. This opening has become less popular nowadays as White, with precise play, can obtain a slight advantage.

However, due to the fact that the Classical Dutch only rarely occurs on the board and most White players are not booked up with the latest theoretical ideas, it is still a viable option that Black can attempt.

In the following video, GM Simon Williams aka the GingerGM provides you with the most essential strategic features of the Classical Dutch. Simon is a world-renowned expert on the Dutch, and he relied upon this opening heavily in order to reach GM level. If you forget your theory or your opponent surprises you with a move order you don’t know, knowing these key guiding principles will help you to handle the position:

With the key guiding principles in mind, we can take a closer look at the theory of the Classical Dutch:

Although modern opening sources show some ways that White can get a slight edge, the Classical Dutch is a highly effective and versatile weapon for black against 1. d4 – guaranteed to surprise your opponent and take him out of his opening preparation. Let’s take a close look at two highly instructive examples from Grandmaster Williams own games:

Theory Section: Dutch Defense – Leningrad Dutch (1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 d6)

The Leningrad Dutch is quite a fashionable setup for Black which is not seen that rarely among club players. If White does not know how to play against it, Black can quickly get the initiative. Let’s take a closer look at the key variations:

Theory Section: Dutch Defense – Stonewall Dutch (1.d4 f5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Nf3 c6)

The Stonewall Dutch is another popular variation in the Dutch Defense for Black. It’s very solid, but at the same time offers some attacking chances for Black.

Opening Experts in the Dutch Defense

If you want to become an expert in your chess opening, it is a wise decision to regularly check the games of the world’s leading experts who play the same opening.

You can watch their approaches against different opening setups and become familiar with the latest trends, fashionable move orders or opening novelties. If you choose to play the Dutch Defense, you have several opening experts to follow.

Nowadays, among the top players, the biggest expert in the Dutch Defense is most probably Hikaru Nakamura, who plays it every now and then against the best players in the world.

However, there are several other experienced GMs from the past and present to follow. You can check out the games of GM Vladimir Malaniuk, GM Stefan Kindermann, GM Simon Williams and GM Roeland Pruijssers. 

Model Games In The Dutch Defense

The Dutch Defense: The Ultimate Chess Opening Guide

Many great games have been played in the Dutch Defense and it’s definitely worth taking the time to study them if you are serious about adding this opening to your repertoire.

It is not enough to take a close look at theoretical lines – you also need to study classical model games.

Checking complete games has various advantages. Most importantly, you get a better overall understanding of the positions arising from your opening. The focus is on a general understanding of the resulting middlegame and endgame positions.

As the famous Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan once put it: “Study entire games. Your study can become disjointed if you just learn an opening set-up. Don’t just study the opening and early middlegame but instead play the entire game. Don’t just stop when your side has a good position.”

Let’s now take a look at two games in which Black shows us how to play the Dutch Defense against decent opposition:

Anand, Vishy (2797) – Carlsen, Magnus (2865): Genke Chess Classic 2015

Gelfand, Boris (2739) – Nakamura, Hikaru (2759): Wijk aan Zee 2012 

Conclusion – Master the Dutch Defense

The Dutch Defense is an interesting opening for club players, and you should consider giving it a try to expand your horizons. You can add it to your repertoire to play it from time to time. Very few club players will be properly prepared against the Dutch Defense.

If you like exciting and active play, this could be the opening for you! Not only that, but lots of beginner and club players don’t often see this opening, meaning you’ll have the edge.

It is a very rich and complex opening that is sure to give its user many unique positions different from typical positions that arise from other openings.

If you want to start playing and mastering the Dutch Defense, we’ve got a fantastic offer for you.

In his course “The Killer Dutch“, dealing with many ideas and variations from the opening, GM Simon Williams offers a refreshing break from rote-memorization, with a unique ideas-based opening system.

This is your repertoire for Black based on using the power of the early f-pawn advance.

Click here to get instant access with 61% off.

Solutions To The Test Positions:

  • Top Left Corner: Black wins after 1…Nxg3+! 2.hxg3 Qh6+!
  • Bottom Left Corner: Black wins after 1…Nc3!, threatening to capture White’s queen on e2 and mate on g2.
  • Top Right Corner: White wins after the calm move 1.Nd2! Qb5 (against any other queen move, White has Bd5! +-) 2.a4 Qa5 3.Qb3! +-.
  • Bottom Right Corner: Black wins a piece after 1…Nxd5 2.cxd5 f3 -+.

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