How To Play A Brilliant Move

How To Play A Brilliant Move

| 106 | Tactics

Every chess player wants to play a brilliant move. But how do you know if a move is brilliant, and how can you find it in your own games? This article will tell you exactly what Game Review looks for in determining brilliant moves and offers some tips for you to spot them in your games!

What Are Brilliant And Great Moves?

If you click Game Review after you play a game on, you’ll see a breakdown of the "quality" of the moves you and your opponent played during the game.

A typical game review.

This feedback lets you know how well each side handled the game and evaluates each move. Learning a bit more about chess and your decision-making process with each game is a great way to incrementally improve at chess. However, the process of chess feedback can be a bit discouraging.

It’s impossible to play something better than the best move in each chess position, so every piece of chess engine feedback is a measure of how big your mistakes were. A good coach would never criticize each move without offering praise when you make a good choice, so Game Review offers categories of moves beyond just the best move (the engine-approved top choice). 

A great move (notated as !) indicates one of three things:

  • It’s the only good move in the position, and you found it! 

Can you spot why e6 was the only good move for Black?
  • The game was equal, your opponent made a mistake, you punished it, and now you’re winning!
  • You were losing, your opponent made a mistake, you punished it, and now the game is equal!

Now a great move is nice, but what most of us crave is a brilliant move, written in chess notation as !!. The algorithm that Game Review uses is complicated, but here are the basic things that it looks for when awarding a brilliant move.

1. A brilliant move is usually a strong sacrifice of a piece or an exchange (a rook for a knight or bishop).

13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov's classic exchange sacrifice on c3 earned a !!.

2. In the endgame, a brilliant sacrifice must be the only good move. If you were winning in several ways before the sacrifice, then the move may be best, but it won’t be brilliant. In the opening or middlegame, a brilliant move must be strong, but it's OK if it's one of several good options.

3.  Brilliant moves only occur in competitive positions. If you've already won a lot of material and then start to sacrifice, it probably won't be classified as a brilliant combination. 

How To Find Brilliant Moves In Your Games

Always Check Your Checks

Very often a surprising sacrifice with check will be a brilliant move. Checks are the most forcing moves in chess, making the opponent find a way out. Keep an eye out for which sacrifices with check will win material or lead to a quick mate. See if you can spot the brilliant move by a young Magnus Carlsen to force checkmate against his countryman, future-GM Jon Ludvig Hammer

Now, see if you can spot a series of brilliant checks that Hammer used to gain revenge in a recent game on Hint: remember en passant!

Imagine checkmating Carlsen with an en passant! Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Expose The Opponent's King

Not every move in a mating attack has to be a check. Stay on the lookout for sacrifices to damage the pawn protection around the opposing king. See if you can find the powerful combination that streamer NM Kevin Bordi played to score two brilliant moves and win in style.

Promotion Tactics

In the endgame, you can find many brilliant moves that have nothing to do with a kingside attack. When there’s a sacrifice that leads to promotion, there’s a great chance that it will be a brilliant move.

See if you can spot young FM Tani Adewumi’s brilliant promotion tactic against GM Hikaru Nakamura.

A brilliant game by Tani! Photo: Maya Meyers/Charlotte Chess Center.

Practice Your Puzzle Rush

A lot of the tactics that score brilliant moves are the exact same ideas that you’ll see in puzzles. A few of the most common Puzzle Rush themes are Greek Gift sacrifices, forks, smothered mates, and back-rank mates. If you want more tips for Puzzle Rush, I recommend checking out this course. In the meantime, let’s practice with the sort of brilliant back-rank tactic that could appear in Puzzle Rush. 

How did GM Bobby Fischer take advantage of White’s weak back rank?

Bonus: The Trick To Score A Ton Of Brilliant Moves In The Same Game

We’ve covered how to score a brilliant move in your game. That’s hard enough, but there’s one trick you can try to score a lot of brilliant moves. The key is to reach a position where your king is stalemated, but you have a rook that’s ready to sacrifice itself with check. This type of tactic is called a "crazy rook" or "rampant rook." If you sacrifice the rook repeatedly to aim for a stalemate and your opponent keeps refusing to take it, you can score many, many brilliant moves. 

This trick is how I scored my personal best 12 brilliant moves. The grandmaster playing White had already told me to resign before he allowed this stalemate tactic.

Here is another example from Dan Schipper, who scored 13 brilliant moves with his desperado rook sacrifices!

Have you ever had a brilliant move in your own games? Let us know in the comments below!

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