Understanding before Moving 65: Prophylaxis

by ChessBase
2/6/2022 – Herman Grooten is an International Master, a renowned trainer and the author of several highly acclaimed books about chess training and chess strategy. In the 65th instalment of his ChessBase show "Understanding before Moving", Herman talks about the concept of "prophylaxis". | Photo: Tommy Grooten

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One of the most mysterious themes in chess is "prophylaxis". But the essence of this concept is quite simple. After the opponent made a move, every chess player should automatically ask himself "What does my opponent want?"

By doing so, he reduces the chances to fall for a trick and also pays attention to long-term plans the opponent might have. This is precisely what makes the concept of prophylaxis  complex. Tactical thinking (which usually focuses on the current situation) is at odds with strategic thinking (schematically devising long-term plans).

It is not easy to see what long-term plan might be hidden behind a move by the opponent. In fact, I think it takes a lot of knowledge, insight and experience before you can apply advanced forms of prophylaxis in a  practical game, something players like Karpov or Petrosian have shown us.

But, as always: practice makes perfect! Therefore I would like to show you two examples of prophylactic play that deeply impressed me.

The position below is from a game between Kick Langeweg, a strong Dutch master, and Jan Timman. The contours of a Maroczy Sicilian with reversed colours are visible. Black has a substantial space advantage and a harmonious pawn structure that gives him a firm grip on the black squares.

But if White managed to advance on the queenside with b2-b4, things might start to look differently. Black's structure will get damaged and lines will open on the queenside which may turn out to be to White's advantage. Even Black's king on g7 might get into trouble.

Moreover, Black should also ask himself, how he wants to break down White's defenses in the long run. For instance, can he launch an attack on the kingside without seriously weakening his own position?

Timman apparently asked himself these questions and answered them with a brilliant move. What did he do?


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