Valentine's Days Past: Amazing Chess Moves By Nakamura, Firouzja, Caruana
Nakamura and Kramnik concentrate on Valentine’s Day 2016 when Nakamura played a stunning move. Photo: Zurich Chess Challenge.

Valentine's Days Past: Amazing Chess Moves By Nakamura, Firouzja, Caruana


Valentine’s Day is the day for romance, right? Except when a chessboard is involved because some of the most crushing moves have been made on February 14. 

Mid-February is often when very competitive chess events occur. Before the coronavirus pandemic arrived and canceled over-the-board events, several major tournaments were held at this time, such as the Zurich Chess Challenge, Women’s World Chess Championship, Prague International Chess Festival, Cairns Cup, and many other notable matches in the past few years.

Even now as online tournaments instead are planned, February 2021 is very busy. Opera Euro Rapid (just won by GM Wesley So) ends on February 14, and as it is ending, PogChamps 3 (anticipated to be one of the most viewed chess events in history) will begin. What crushing moves will occur on Valentine’s Day this year? Will they rival the ones that we have seen in past years such as these?

Valentine's Day 2020: Firouzja's Geometric Maneuver

On Valentine’s Day last year, GM Alireza Firouzja showed his brilliance with a combination of crushing moves in round three of the Prague Chess Festival. His moves were so amazing that the tournament report describes his win as “a beautifully conducted game against [GM] Pentala Harikrishna that reminded of some of Bobby Fischer's wins in the Ruy Lopez.”

GMs Alireza Firouzja and Pentala Harikrishna
Firouzja en route to a win over Harikrishna in Prague on Valentine's Day in 2020. Photo: Vladimir Jagr/Prague Chess Festival.

Two moves in particular—26.Qf1! and 28.Qa1—by Firouzja, playing as White, are amazing with the first one described as “a beautiful geometric maneuver.” The following diagram shows the board position after Black's 25th move.

Valentine's Day 2016: Nakamura's Genius  

GM Vladimir Kramnik and GM Hikaru Nakamura
Kramnik and Nakamura discuss the game they had just drawn in round 3 of the Zurich Chess Challenge on Valentine's Day in 2016. Photo:

A devastating move on Valentine’s Day in 2016 that you may remember occurred at the Zurich Chess Challenge where the world's top players played two games each day at a time control of 40+10. In round 3, the game between GM Vladimir Kramnik and GM Hikaru Nakamura created the “most intricate discussion among the elite. Discussion of the ending lasted far longer than the game itself,” according to the tournament report. The entire game is below, but first consider the board position after Nakamura, playing as White, made the move 35.Rc1.

Among several elite GMs analyzing the position after the game was GM Judit Polgar, who said: "Nakamura was genius by playing 35.Rc1." Instead of playing a move that transposes to a winning line (as described in the game analysis below), Kramnik responded with a move that eventually let Nakamura draw the game. Play as Black (with Black to move) below and see if you can find the right 35th move instead—and see if you can save the win:

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Try to find the 35th move that Kramnik missed!

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Nakamura was genius playing 35.Rc1.
—GM Judit Polgar

Next, follow the game as it builds to the brilliant 35th move by Nakamura. When he and Kramnik discussed this point of the game after they had agreed to a draw, they quickly came to the conclusion that Kramnik’s response was too hasty. Without it, White’s defensive task would be difficult. Regretting that he hadn’t slowly improved his position first, Kramnik admitted: "Somehow I wanted to win it by force."

Valentine’s Day 2015: Caruana’s Collapse

Not all moves on Valentine’s Day show brilliance, much less lead to love. Sometimes a chess player is spurned by the spirits of the day while another is favored. Such was the case for GM Fabiano Caruana in 2015 in Zurich. He gave away an advantage that he had in a game against Nakamura, next got into trouble, and then missed several combinations. (The tournament report explains Caruana’s collapse in more detail.)

GMs Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura
Caruana’s collapse on Valentine’s Day in 2015 led to Nakamura's highest live rating at the time. Photo:

After the game, Nakamura observed: “I think it was just that Fabiano wanted to win right away, but it didn't quite work.” Although Caruana’s collapse ruined his Valentine’s Day, Nakamura on the other hand achieved his highest live rating, 2797.6, at the time. The collapse of Caruana begins with his 35th move.

Are any games played on Valentine's Day memorable for you? Please add them in the comments section.