Prophylaxis, Part 1: The Best in the Business

Prophylaxis, Part 1: The Best in the Business

NM zkman
Sep 15, 2014, 3:00 PM |

   Hello! My name is Zach Kasiurak. I am a National master living in Columbus, OH rated 2273 USCF and 2198 FIDE. I am seriously pursuing my chess career and looking to improve rapidly as a player and coach.

   I have created my blog to provide insight into ideas or themes I have discovered in my own games, games of my students, or in games of strong players. I hope to convey my personal struggles as well as successes in my own studies, my tournaments, and the coaching scenes.


   The concept of prophylaxis as defined by Nimzovitch, "A measure which is taken with the aim of preventing something which is undersirable from a postional point of view". Prophylaxis is an essential concept of the highest level of modern day chess. Every modern day strong player is adept at finding their opponent's plan and focusing their resources on preventing their counterplay. However, prophylactic thinking was not always as prominent or well respected as it is today. One of the main pioneers and adherents to prophylactic thinking was the young Anatoly Karpov.

   Karpov's style has often been compared to a boa constrictor; focusing on limiting the resources of an opponent and slowly squeezing them for the full point. The following game of Karpov includes his notes where he showcases his style of thinking.


  Karpov states, "A typical prophylactic in situations like this. By limiting the scope of his opponent's bishop, White is creating a no-go area on the kingside for the reamining minor pieces". A deep understanding of the common 9. h3 push, White begins to limit Black's possiblities.


   Now white has two main candidate moves to consider, 14. f4 and 14. g4. Karpov describes his thoughts on this critical moment, "It is illogical to increase the pressure immediately as I will have to play g3-g4 later anyway, so why not use such resources as g3-g4 and Ng3 in order to strengthen my position first?" 

   Karpov slowly increases his stranglehold and limits Black's counterplay first by dulling the effectiveness of Black's inevitable release of tension in the center.


   By now it is clear that White has a advantage. He has more space, control of the center, and better placed pieces. However, a la Karpov, how can black organize his pieces and create counterplay? Black's idea involves activating his bishop by means of ...a5 and ...Ba6 followed by releasing the tension in the center with ...exd4 and a ...c6-c5 push. Karpov limits his opponent's pieces and counterplay first before pressing matters in the center.



   Now is it finally time for action in the center? Not yet! Black still has time to regroup his pieces. A few more prophylactic moves are used before White comes crashing through.


   A clinic of prophylactic thinking. Karpov's world-class opponent did not appear worthy in this encounter. Here is the game in its entirety for your viewing pleasure.


Final Thoughts

   1. Identify your opponent's ideas before focusing on your own.

   A fitting motto as any for Karpov. It is important to proceed with your own plans and improve your position but at the same time limit the counterplay of your opponent.

  2. Do not confuse prophylaxis with passivity.

  A commonly held misconception. Passivity occurs when non-serious threats are addressed as well as the lack of improvement of your own position. Karpov's style teaches us to focus on your opponent's key ideas (Such as the pressure on the e4-pawn in Karpov-Timman) while at the same time improving your own position.

Follow/Contact Me

  I will be updating my blog regularly throughout the week and will tweet when I post blog updates. Please check out my links, comment below, or send any questions or games and I may include them in my next post!



Coaching Profile:

My 5-Min Stream:




All the Best!