En prise (Chess Term)

Edward Winter



The meaning of en prise is obvious and easy to explain, or is it? English-language dictionaries give simple but serviceable definitions, such as ‘Exposed to capture’ and ‘In a position to be taken’, but some chess books aim for more and achieve less. From page 102 of Chess Thinking by Bruce Pandolfini (New York, 1995):

‘En Prise: ‘In take.’ A French term indicating an undefended unit in position to be captured.’

En prise does not mean ‘in take’ because ‘in take’ does not mean anything. Nor can it be regarded as indicating a unit (defended or undefended).

Page 55 of Chess: How to Improve Your Technique by Frank Brady (New York, 1974) was no more successful:

‘En Prise: a French expression meaning ‘in taking’ – when a piece or a pawn is under direct attack and is left unprotected, it is said to be en prise (pronounced en-pree).’

‘In taking’ and ‘unprotected’ are as inappropriate as Brady’s pronunciation guide (since prise rhymes, more or less, with ‘keys’).

Yet even some prominent authorities have disagreed about what the term signifies. In Harry Golombek’s The Encyclopedia of Chess (London, 1977) the entry for ‘en prise’ (written by H.G. himself) stated:

‘When a player unintentionally places a piece where it may be captured, then he is said to put the piece en prise.’

The word ‘unintentionally’ was then disputed by W.H. Cozens but defended by a contributor to the Encyclopedia, Wolfgang Heidenfeld. (For their discussion, see the BCM, September 1978, page 402; April 1979, page 175; July 1979, page 311.) After all that, Golombek dropped ‘unintentionally’ from the paperback edition of his Encyclopedia, although the word (and much else besides) was the subject of an unwise reprise in Nathan Divinsky’s desperate and desperately imitative 1990 volume The Batsford Encyclopedia of Chess.

Finally, a little-known game to illustrate the theme:

Theodor Gerbec – J. Schenkein
Trebitsch tournament, Vienna, 1929-30
French Defence

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nf6 5 Ng3 Be7 6 Nf3 Nbd7 7 Bd3 a6 8 O-O c5 9 Qe2 cxd4 10 Nxd4 Nc5 11 Rd1 Nxd3 12 Rxd3 Qb6 13 b3 O-O 14 Bb2 Nd5 15 Nh5 g6

en prise

(Leaving his knight at h5 en prise, White puts his other knight en prise to two pawns.) 16 Nf5 exf5 17 Rxd5 Bg5 18 Rad1 gxh5 19 Rd6 Qc7 20 Qxh5 Qe7 21 h4 Bf4 22 Bf6 Qe4 23 g3 Be6 24 gxf4 Qxf4 25 R6d4 Resigns.

Source: Tidskrift för Schack, April 1930, pages 80-81, which gave the game with brief notes by G. Stoltz.

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The mispronunciation of en prise seems particularly prevalent in United States sources, as a web search for ‘on pree’ will show. As regards chess books, the most recent occurrence of this error that we have seen is on page 167 of Portable Chess Coach by Judee Shipman (New York, 2006).

As usual, the Collins English Dictionary is impeccable:

en prise

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From an article ‘Tsoogtsvahng and All That’ by Burt Hochberg on pages 350-351 of the June 1972 Chess Life & Review:

en prise

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Latest update: 28 February 2015.

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Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.