Prophylaxis in chess is not a strategy used only in defense. Prophylaxis can be a crucial component of your strategy to convert a winning position.
Many chess players will instinctively apply prophylaxis when they are forced to defend. They might not even realize this is the strategy they are using.
In his enlightening Intuition Navigates Chaos – Fundamentals of Chess Strategy course, GM Georg Meier uses two examples of Magnus Carlsen‘s games. Both games show how the current world champion used prophylaxis to convert a win.
Take a look at how Magnus Carlsen used this powerful strategy in his games.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Active Play is Part of Prophylaxis in Chess
There are times when you must play a defensive move to keep a piece from reaching a critical square. For example, you might play c3 to prevent black from establishing a knight on d4.
However, if you can play attacking and forcing moves to prevent your opponent from carrying out his plan, even better!
Take a look at the following game by GM Simon Williams against Kanyamarala.
Black tries desperately to castle queenside, but the GingerGM first keeps his opponent’s king tied to the defense of the f7 pawn. Then he forces the rook from a8-c8 to defend the c7 pawn.
The white bishop and rook became very active and were well placed as part of White’s prophylaxis strategy.
Positional Sacrifices and Prophylaxis in Chess
Although it might seem a move is played out of desperation and hope, sometimes the decision is based solely on chess prophylaxis.
When you see what your opponent is planning, it can make it easier to sacrifice material.
The following position was reached in a game between Grischuk and Rublevsk:
Black is placing a lot of pressure on the g2 pawn after 1…Rf2. There is no way to defend the pawn or exchange the black rook on f2.
But White can capture the other attacking piece – the bishop on c6! White plays the exchange sacrifice 2.Rxc6! and after 2…bxc6 gets a powerful passed pawn.
After 3.Rxf7, White is winning, but only if he pays attention to stopping black’s counter-play. There follows 3…Rf4 4.c3.
The c3 advance stops the rook from reaching b4 and getting in behind the white pawn. Without this prophylaxis, White would have made it much harder to convert this winning position.
There’s More To Winning Than Prophylaxis in Chess
The complexity of chess is such you simply can’t have only one strategy in your arsenal. Even though prophylaxis in chess is a powerful strategy, it’s not enough on its own!
Creating and targeting weak pawns is a strategy that can work very well with prophylaxis. After you have saddled your opponent with a weak pawn, you can use prophylaxis to prevent him from eliminating the weakness.
Before attacking a backward pawn stopping it from advancing will add further misery to your opponent by denying him space. Playing slowly is an endgame technique that can work well in the middlegame too!
Placing pressure against a weak pawn will force your opponent to defend it and tie down his pieces.
Recognizing weak pawns isn’t nearly as tricky as playing against them.
If your opponent has an isolated queen’s pawn or a backward pawn, it’s often good to exchange pieces. This reduces his defensive resources.
The critical thing to remember is you want to exchange minor pieces and keep your major pieces on the board.
In many variations of the Sicilian Defense, black has a backward pawn on d6. The white rooks can double in the d-file, and the white queen can apply more pressure from g3 or a3.
Exchanging minor pieces will deprive the d5 square of one of its most essential defenders – the black light-square bishop.
Denying your opponent any counter-play by using prophylaxis in chess games makes converting a winning position easier.
Be sure you don’t neglect to improve your calculation and tactical skills.
There is a danger that players who become very reliant on prophylaxis in chess think this is all they need to do. When applied to your games, prophylaxis can make it seem like the game plays itself, but it doesn’t!
That is why the top courses on strategy cover other elements of strategic play as well.