STRATEGY UNIVERSITY

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Vol 2.  Prevention and Preparation in Chess

Adrian Mikhalchisin

 

This is the second of an exciting new series in the Fritztrainer format that ChessBase have introduced recently - the first being "The Central Approach."

What exactly does "Prevention and Preparation" mean to the regular over-the-board player who turns out for his club every week, enters the odd congress and responds to calls from his county captain.  Well, he sits at the board having played quite well for the first fifteen/twenty moves, and then perceives that with a little more preparation on his part he can achieve a nice attacking possibility with the chance of winding up the game with a smart combination.  Resolutely he starts bringing his pieces to the squares where they will be best suited to carry out his bidding.  This done, he settles down to analysing the manoeuvre he had in mind some five or six moves ago.  Everything works out well until at a crucial point when he wants to play 26.Qc5, the key move to his combination, he suddenly finds that his opponent has covered this square with a knight and the combination is no longer possible.  What the devil!  So that was the purpose of his opponent's ...Ne6 a few moves ago!  He had seen it all and pre-empted the brilliant idea. Now he realised that he had been well and truly "prophylactiicised."

This wasn't a matter of defence.  It was a matter of prevention.

The term "prophylaxis" came into the chess vocabulary in the 1920/30's at the time the hyper-moderns were reshaping chess strategy.  The word was properly placed in "My System" by Aron Nimzovitch who then developed it further in "Chess Praxis".  Generally the word  can be defined in various ways depending on the subject under discussion and its context.  In chess I think it can be succinctly defined as "pre-empting the opponent's threats."   In this particular context it can be attributed to a number of stratagems such as restraint, over-protection, blockade etc.  These are broadly speaking the topics that Adrian Mikhalchisin sets about discussing on this absorbing DVD.

Nimzovitch used the term in a far narrower way than does Mikhalchisin and many modern writers.  He limited the term mainly to the prevention of the opponents freeing moves and then more generally to the need for inner prophylaxis by means of over-protection.  Mikhalchisin applies a freer concept, e.g. among the stratagems he tackles are :-

Excluding the opponent's pieces.

Limit the activity of opponent's pawn structure.

Prevention of freeing pawn moves.

Prevention of the improvement of opponent's structure.

Improvement of king's position.

Prevention of opponent's plan.

Prevention of exchanges.

Tactical prophylaxis.

Exchange of pieces

etc.

Rubinstein's chess legacy is bountiful.  He is best remembered for his endgame play, particularly in rook endings, and his contribution to opening theory.  Mikhalchisin, however, brings to the fore his mastery of prophylaxis and the manner in which he used an exchange of pieces in a prophylactic manner. Take for example the following manoeuvre from his game with Janowski in the 1907 Carlsbad tournament.

 

The position on the left was reached after White played 24. Re3.  Rubinstein, with the Black pieces, spotted that the key piece in White's set-up was the seemingly strong knight at e4.  He saw that the removal of the knight would pre-empt the attacking possibilities White had, and set about exchanging it with 24...Ne7!.  After 25.Rd1 Kh8 26.c4 Ng8 27.f3 Nf6 28.Rf1 Nxe4 29.Qxe4 the position in the diagram to the right was reached.

What a difference!

OK the capture with the queen was probably a doubtful move and White might have been better served by playing 29.Rxe4, reserving e3 for his queen, but Black's position has improved and he is in a better shape to counter White's ambitions.

Being a fan of Rubinstein enables me to be very appreciative of Mikhalchisin's skilful analysis and comment on this aspect of the grandmaster's play and the liberal use of his games is most certainly a bonus

There is a very thin line between moves that are defensive and those that are prophylactic.  i will not be so bold as to attempt to define that difference, but a clean example of prophylactic play occurs when a king forsakes one wing for the green grass of the other wing in the face of what is likely to be an attack on the monarch.

Quite apart from the individual stratagems involved in preparation and prevention, there is one major lesson to be learned, and this is stressed by Mikalchisin on several occasions.  Understand and appreciate what one's opponent is aiming for or recognise what chances he has available.  Mikalchisin urges us to continually ask oneself the question "What would I play if I were sat on the other side of the board?"  The counter to a threat, if required, becomes easier to identify and the remedy applied at an early date.  Had the player above, who was surprised when he discovered that his blissful combination would not work, asked himself this question, his difficulties would have been averted.

Such preventative measures fit nicely into the armoury of the positional player and thus can be recognised in the games of Karpov, Petrosian, Smyslov etc.  Very recently I played over the game Smyslov - Seirawan, 5th game of the Candidates Match, 1985.  This game is absolutely stiff with prophylactic play, and the very authoritative notes by Seirawan describe how he was so thwarted and frustrated by Smyslov's prophylactic play, that he turned a winning game into a rather lucky draw.  Another victory for these types of manoeuvres.

Nevertheless, such play is not the sole right of positional players and Mikalchisin gives some examples of attacking prophylactics undertaken by Tal.  These he describes as "advanced prophylactics."

As with virtually all ChessBase' Fritztrainers this DVD is not an end in itself.  It sets the digestive juices flowing and stimulates ones own researches into the subject matter.  Being aware of such possibilities brings an alertness to ones play and no doubt will bear fruit in improved results.

Mikalchisin has become a stable presenter of Fritztrainer products and his commentaries now flow very easily.  The material he presents has been well chosen and sits very comfortably into the Fritztrainer media format.  I have seen many attempts by other companies to market such a format, but the ChessBase offerings are head and shoulders above rivals.  One very obvious attribute is that they are very user friendly, unlike others that I even have difficulty in mounting onto the screen of my PC.

This is a DVD fully worthy of it's recommended price of 24.95.