Ian Nepomniachtchi's Brilliant Moves On

Ian Nepomniachtchi's Brilliant Moves On

| 129 | Chess Players

GM Ian Nepomniachtchi entered the 2023 FIDE World Championship as the number-two player in the world. You don't get to that position or win two Candidates Tournaments in two years (2021 and 2022) by only playing mundane moves. Sometimes you have to be brilliant. 

Indeed, Nepomniachtchi was a fast riser, fully capable of brilliance from a very young age. Famously, he defeated GM Magnus Carlsen twice when the two of them were adolescents. He joined the 2700-rating club in 2010 at the age of 20.

Always a fast player, Nepomniachtchi's next decade wasn't perfect, but in his early 30s, he has been the second-best classical chess player in the world after Carlsen, all while retaining his high level in faster time controls. Now he has an early lead in his match against GM Ding Liren, trying to become the 17th world champion.

It is easy to understand how, with move charts like this (from Insights):

Mere mortals can only imagine being more likely to find a brilliant move than to miss a win in blitz, but top grandmasters like Nepomniachtchi are not mere mortals.

The games in this article, all of them played on the site, were selected by NM Jeremy Kane and have been generously annotated by's GM In Residence Rafael Leitao. Let's jump in!

Nepomniachtchi–Naroditsky, 2020

We start with the game that has Leitao's favorite move in the collection. Nepomniachtchi and GM Daniel Naroditsky, the commentator extraordinaire, played an impromptu blitz match on March 30, 2020, which Nepo won 15–11 with four draws. In this game, he scored 98.7% accuracy, and it's easy to see why with moves like 24.Ba6!! and 26.f6!!

Nepomniachtchi–Nakamura, 2022

When you think of blitz brilliancies, you may think of GM Hikaru Nakamura before any other player. But sometimes Nakamura is on the receiving end. In this game from day three of the finals of the 2022 Rapid Chess Championship, which was won by Nepomniachtchi, a move looks like a bishop sacrifice but actually just wins a pawn with a positional crush to boot.

Ian Nepomniachtchi Hikaru Nakamura brilliant moves
Two of the most brilliant players in the world are deep in thought at the 2022 Candidates. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nepomniachtchi–Smirnov, 2018

No game in this group contains more brilliant moves than the four in this contest: Nepomniachtchi leaves a knight attacked on g5 for several moves, which Australian GM Anton Smirnov simply can't take without devastating consequences. Since his opponent is Nepomniachtchi, those devastating consequences eventually arrive anyway. 

Don't miss Leitao's notes on this one (or any of the games, but especially this one).

Nepomniachtchi–Paravyan, 2020

A relatively simple but still brilliant move came against GM David Paravyan. This is a good pattern to know for players learning tactics and trying to understand just how much more powerful a queen is than a rook.

Kleiman–Nepomniachtchi, 2018

The final position of this game against IM Jake Kleiman is somewhat amusing, with Black boasting two queens on opposite ends of a diagonal. But the path there is the brilliant part, even if again relatively "simple" in that one tactical theme predominates. This time, interference.

Nepomniachtchi–Vazquez, 2020

Sometimes the basics—things like pins, removing the defender, attacking the inherent f7/f2 weaknesses—are enough, but what if you can take advantage of all three at once? Then you might just play a brilliant move, as Nepomniachtchi did here against GM Guillermo Vazquez.

Nepomniachtchi–Grischuk, 2018

A great player often leaves an opponent in a situation with multiple options... and none of them are good. After move 26 in the following game, the also amazing GM Alexander Grischuk can either take the knight—and be hit with an open f-file and a glaring weakness at the g6-square—or leave the white knight at one of the two most dangerous squares where it can ever land (a central sixth-rank square).

Ian Nepomniachtchi Alexander Grischuk brilliant moves
Nepomniachtchi and Grischuk facing off at the 2021 World Rapid & Blitz. Nepo won this game, too. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nepomniachtchi–Sarana, 2018

A weak g6 strikes again, this time with GM Alexey Sarana as Nepomniachtchi's victim. Unlike Grischuk, Sarana has no choice but to accept the knight sac on move 15. The game is not totally lost for him at that point, but he leaves Nepomniachtchi the opportunity for a crush on move 18. Naturally, Nepo finds it.

Nepomniachtchi–Fedoseev, 2020

GM Vladimir Fedoseev, who once reached a 2733 rating in slow chess and is currently the ninth highest-rated rapid player in the world, is absolutely no slouch. Yet Nepomniachtchi treats him like a ragdoll in this game, winning in just 16 moves with checkmate-in-four on the board.

Fedoseev doesn't put up the strongest resistance, but the way Nepomniachtchi punishes him just seems cruel.

Nepomniachtchi–Saleh, 2020

Sometimes you see a great candidate move that doesn't quite work... yet. Good players look for a way to make the move work; great players find the way. That's what Nepo did to GM Salem Saleh here. 28.Rg4! sets up the key move 30.Rd8!!

Nepomniachtchi–Costachi, 2022

Nepo is one of those stars who can calculate further than almost anyone, including most fellow grandmasters. (There's a reason that players with ratings above 2700 are known as super grandmasters.) When a player like Nepomniachtchi draws an international master like IM Mihnea Costachi, the game might seem like a mismatch.

And while the depth of a player's combinational ability tends to be an overrated aspect of chess, there are absolutely times at the highest levels when it can make all the difference.

Nepomniachtchi–Mamedov, 2020

Staying on the theme of Nepo seeing further than his opponents do, GM Rauf Mamedov knows not to capture on g6 (that square again). But after being forced to take on h7, he is then forced to abandon protecting the square. It doesn't seem like Mamedov could have seen 24.Rg3!! when playing a move like 21...c5. But Nepo did.

Firouzja–Nepomniachtchi, 2019

This article is the fifth in a series about brilliant moves by elite players. Nepomniachtchi dropped the brilliancy bomb on three of the previously featured players: Naroditsky, Nakamura, and now GM Alireza Firouzja

Ian Nepomniachtchi Alireza Firouzja brilliant moves
No reason to look concerned, Nepo, you're going to win this game against Firouzja too (at the 2022 Candidates). Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Firouzja doesn't lose this game on the c3-square because of a lack of attention or missing a major detail. Yet Nepomniachtchi is so good that even the prodigy (only 15 at the time of this game) allows not one but two devastating sacrifices on the square. And, of course, the pawn cover destruction theme appears again.


And how many more brilliant moves does Nepomniachtchi have in store? When a spectacular move is on the board, perhaps no player is more likely to find it than Nepo. 

What was your favorite move in this collection? Do you know of any other brilliant Nepo moves that are even better? Let us know in the comments!

Read more:

Nathaniel Green

Nathaniel Green is a staff writer for who writes articles, player biographies, Titled Tuesday reports, video scripts, and more. He has been playing chess for about 30 years and resides near Washington, DC, USA.

More from NathanielGreen
Who The Stats Say Will Be The Next World Championship Challenger

Who The Stats Say Will Be The Next World Championship Challenger

Which AI Is Better At Chess, ChatGPT Or Gemini?

Which AI Is Better At Chess, ChatGPT Or Gemini?