Prophylaxis in Chess: A Quick Guide with Examples & Tips

In this quick guide, we will introduce the important chess concept of Prophylaxis. We will be looking at examples from known games and from theoretical lines, and we will see how DecodeChess can help you identify positions and moves that are prophylactic in nature. Let’s start!


What is Prophylaxis & what does it mean in chess?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, phylax means “guard” in Greek, and “prophylactic measures guard against disease by taking action ahead of time”. Thus, prophylactic moves in chess are those that prevent the opponent’s possibilities to create an imminent threat.

One of the best known pieces of chess literature on this subject is Aron Nimzowitsch’s My System. An entire chapter is dedicated to this topic and is called Prophylaxis and the centre (pages 177-200).

Examples of Prophylaxis

We will look at a few examples of prophylactic moves.

1. Prophylaxis in the opening (Sicilian defense, Najdorf variation)


In this position, the best move for black is pushing the pawn to a6. As you can see on the right, DecodeChess explains the reasoning behind this recommendation through a few perspectives. Specifically, the point about “prevents playing Bb5+ by guarding square b5″ is most relevant to the prophylactic element we’re after.

See the entire explanation for this position here.

2. Prophylaxis in middle game (Skoberne-Suarez, 0-1)

prophylaxis-in-chess-example-2 prophylactic-chess-move-skoberne-suarez

In the position above, taken from a GM-level game, white missed the prophylactic 24.Rf1. DecodeChess explains why Rf1 is recommended, stressing the importance of supporting the pawn and thus preventing checkmate.

See the entire explanation for this position here.

Chess pros who’re known for playing Prophylactically

The following grandmasters are usually referred to when talking about prophylaxis in chess.