Prophylaxis (chess)

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Pirc Defence: 1.e4 d6
Start of chess board.
a8 black rook b8 __ c8 black bishop d8 black queen e8 __ f8 black rook g8 black king h8 __
a7 black pawn b7 black pawn c7 __ d7 __ e7 __ f7 black pawn g7 black bishop h7 black pawn
a6 black knight b6 __ c6 black pawn d6 black pawn e6 __ f6 black knight g6 black pawn h6 __
a5 __ b5 __ c5 __ d5 __ e5 black pawn f5 __ g5 __ h5 __
a4 __ b4 __ c4 __ d4 white pawn e4 white pawn f4 __ g4 __ h4 __
a3 __ b3 __ c3 white knight d3 __ e3 __ f3 __ g3 white pawn h3 __
a2 white pawn b2 white pawn c2 white pawn d2 __ e2 white knight f2 white pawn g2 white bishop h2 white pawn
a1 white rook b1 __ c1 white bishop d1 white queen e1 white rook f1 __ g1 white king h1 __
End of chess board.
White's next move 9.h3 denies the square g4 to the black B & N, and prepares the developing move 10.Be3

Prophylaxis is a term in chess, as well as being a general idea. It was introduced by the grandmaster Aaron Nimzovich in his book My system in the 1920s.[1] The term refers to actions taken by a player to anticipate and thwart the opponent's plans, and moves of these type are often called prophylactic moves.

Example #1[change | change source]

One simple example of a prophylactic move is when a player moves a rook's pawn forward h3 or h6 to prevent a back rank mate, and at the same time prevent an enemy bishop or knight from occupying g4 or g5. In the example, mate was not an issue, but h3 was still played by world champion Karpov.

Start of chess board.
a8 __ b8 __ c8 __ d8 __ e8 __ f8 __ g8 __ h8 black rook
a7 __ b7 black pawn c7 __ d7 __ e7 __ f7 __ g7 black pawn h7 __
a6 __ b6 __ c6 black bishop d6 __ e6 black pawn f6 black pawn g6 __ h6 __
a5 __ b5 __ c5 white pawn d5 __ e5 __ f5 black king g5 __ h5 black pawn
a4 black pawn b4 __ c4 __ d4 white rook e4 __ f4 white pawn g4 __ h4 __
a3 white pawn b3 __ c3 __ d3 __ e3 __ f3 __ g3 white pawn h3 white pawn
a2 __ b2 white pawn c2 __ d2 white bishop e2 __ f2 white king g2 __ h2 __
a1 __ b1 __ c1 __ d1 __ e1 __ f1 __ g1 __ h1 __
End of chess board.
Black to play

Example #2[change | change source]

Other examples are so subtle that club players would probably never think about them as possible moves. In the second example Nimzovich himself was playing black. In general, he wanted to turn his KP into a passed pawn by advancing it. However, the direct ...e5 does not work well, because the black king gets pushed back:

1.... e5
2.fxe5 fxe5
3.g4+ hxg4
4.hxg4+ Ke6
5.Rd6+ and the black king is kept out of play.

Nimzovich found another way to go:

1.... Rf8! and now after
2.Be1 g5! is best because
3.fxg5 fxg5
4.g4+ hxg4
5.hxg4+ Ke5+ wins the white rook.

To avoid this, White himself neeeds to play a prophylactic move, namely:

2.Kg1. This would prevent the discovered check on the f-file. Nimzovich's opponent did not find this, and Black went on to win the game. The game was won and lost on the players' relative awareness of prophylactic moves.[2]

References[change | change source]

  1. Nimzowitsch, Aron [1927] 1987. My system. B.T Batsford Ltd. ISBN 9789197600538
  2. Dvortevsky, Mark 1996. Prophylactic thinking. In Dvortevsky M & Yusupov A. Positional play. London: Batsford. ISBN 0-7134-7879-9