One of the basics of chess strategy is prophylaxis, and it is a strategy you can use to make your life much easier at the chessboard.
Prophylaxis ought to be the foundation for every chess game you play!
After every move, asking, “What does my opponent want?” is a habit you should develop early in chess.
Asking this question will help you in every stage of your chess growth, from beginner to titled player.
We often overlook simple things or discount something because it is too obvious.
Everybody knows chess is a game of two people. Your opponent wants to win and has his own ideas!
“What does my opponent want? What is his threat?” Ask these questions from the first move to the last move of the game.
Applying the Basics of Chess Strategy to Your Game
Unless you apply chess prophylaxis in the opening, you are likely to concede an advantage to your opponent when transitioning to the middlegame. You can be material up and still give your opponent the advantage.
For example, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be3 0-0 6.Ne2 c5 7.d5
This is a typical King’s Indian Defense position where White has a space advantage, but Black has no weaknesses and a strong bishop on g7.
7…Qa5+ 8.Qd2 Qxd2+ 9.Nxd2 a6 10.Nc3 Bd7 11.a4
White’s last two moves were prophylactic moves aimed at preventing Black from playing …b5. Against any other moves, Black could have sacrificed a pawn.
For example, 11.Bd3 allows 11…b5 12.cxb5 axb5 13.Nxb5 Na6 14.Nc3 Nb4 15.Bb1 e6
Now, if White captures on e6, Black’s bishop will add more pressure against the a2-pawn. White is a pawn up but has a bad light-squared bishop and disconnected rooks.
This is how quickly a position can go from equal to bad if you neglect one of the most essential basics of chess strategy – prophylaxis.
After 11.a4 the game soon ended in a draw.
Bercys, Salvijus (2485) – Melekhina, Alisa (2292), 2008.07.04, 1/2-1/2, World Open, 2008
As GM Lenderman mentioned, there are times when you cannot prevent your opponent from achieving the first part of his plan.
However, by applying prophylaxis, you can restrict him to winning a battle while you win the war.
Flexibility is an essential quality in chess success. We might start by occupying the center with our pawns and switching to controlling it with our pieces later.
This is a common occurrence in the French Defense Advance Variation.
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 Bd7 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.0-0 f6
Black appears to have done well by removing White’s central pawns and achieved his first goal. Now he is ready to start advancing his pawns in the center.
9.b4 Be7 10.Bf4 fxe5 11.Nxe5 Nxe5 12.Bxe5 Nf6 13.Nd2 0-0 14.Nf3
White intends to play Bd4 freeing the e5-square for the knight. The blockading pieces will be reinforced with Qe2 and Rae1, which adds pressure to the backward pawn on e6.
A dynamic center like the one Black has is only a strong center if it is mobile!
In this position, the pawns become targets, and White’s pieces have greater mobility thanks to his space advantage. Take a look at how Nimzovitch went on to win a very well-played game.
Aron Nimzowitsch – Georg Salwe, 1911.09.09, 1-0, Karlsbad Round 15
Final Thoughts on the Basics of Chess Strategy
Learning the basics of chess strategy will serve you well in many different aspects of chess.
The strategies you find easiest to apply will show you what type of chess player you are.
Once you know which of the basic chess strategies work well for you, then you can look for chess openings that use these strategies.
You can adopt Nimzovitch’s style of play if you enjoy setting up a blockade or use an isolated queen’s pawn strategy if you play more like Tal.
No matter what style of chess player you are, the one common theme for chess success remains prophylaxis. This is true not only for the different styles of play but for all three phases of a chess game.