How do you define the best chess moves of all time? A lover of chess tactics will most surely have a different view of what defines a good chess move or winning chess move than a positional player.
You could think of any famous chess player from the past or present and easily find fifteen chess moves that astonish and inspire you to work harder on your game.
The fifteen winning chess moves presented here are a tiny sample. Many of them stand out not only because they are great sacrifices but also because of the context of the game.
You will no doubt have seen some of these before. However, you are sure to find chess moves with a deep strategy that is new to you among these fifteen.
The games are arranged from the oldest to the most recent. Enjoy them, and be sure to share some of your favorite games in the comments section.
15.) Johannes Zukertort – Joseph Henry Blackburne, 1883
When one of your pieces is threatened, an excellent defensive resource creates even bigger threats for your opponent.
If the piece under attack is the queen, this means attacking your opponent’s queen or king.
After 25…Rc2 attacking his queen, Zukertort played 26.gxh7+ Kh8 27.d5+ and Black blocked the check with 27…e5. In this position, White has a stunning move available.
Yes, it is 28.Qb4!! and five moves later, Black resigned
Johannes Zukertort – Joseph Henry Blackburne, 1883.05.05, 1-0, London ENG
14.) Wilhelm Steinitz – Mikhail Chigorin, 1892
In many cases, what we call good chess moves involve creating threats or sacrifices. Sometimes good chess moves involve a deep chess strategy.
When you are playing one of the strongest chess players in the world, you need to find good chess moves with a hidden strategy. The best chess players are unlikely to over chess moves with direct threats.
This was certainly the case in the game between Steinitz and Chigorin, played in Havana, during their World Championship Rematch.
What would you play in this position?
Did you find the chess move with a subtle attacking strategy 20.Qf1? This move would lead to Steinitz sacrificing two rooks for a knight and pawn to bring the Black king to the center of the board.
Wilhelm Steinitz – Mikhail Chigorin, 1892.01.07, 1-0, Steinitz – Chigorin World Championship Rematch, Round 4, Havana CUB
13.) Georg Rotlewi – Akiba Rubinstein, 1907
Nowadays, we know that excellent chess moves save time, and back in 1907, some chess players, like Dr, Savielly Tartakower, knew it too. Unfortunately, Georg Rotlewi was not one of them.
The loss of a tempo might not seem important, but they can add up in a game and give your opponent time to play astonishing chess moves.
White has just played the natural 22.g3 to drive the queen away from his king. Along with saving time in your games, it’s essential to look at the whole board.
The black queen and knight are not the only pieces aimed at the White king, and soon more will join in the attack.
Rubinstein responded by ignoring the threat to his queen and played on the opposite side of the board with 22…Rxc3!! The special chess moves are those that contain a surprise element.
There is no doubt 22…Raxc3!! contained a significant surprise element, as did 23…Rd2!! First, Rubinstein sacrifices a queen and, on the next move, a rook.
These moves are some of the most amazing winning chess moves of all time!
When White resigned, he had a +8 material advantage.
Georg Rotlewi – Akiba Rubinstein, 1907.12.26, 0-1, Lodz, Round 6, Lodz RUE
12.) David Janowski – Jose Raul Capablanca, 1916
Positional players and chess endgame lovers will enjoy this gem by Capablanca.
Arguably one of the greatest chess players, when it came to winning chess moves with a deep strategy, was Jose Raul Capablanca. Where Tal could create mayhem with his sacrifices, Capablanca managed to find chess moves with a system most players would overlook.
In this quiet position, Capablanca began his positional strategy with the quiet 10…Bd7!!
There is nobody better to teach us how effective endgame strategy can be in chess than Capablanca.
Despite the isolated double-pawns, Black would implement queenside and kingside play that only gained him the upper hand 25 moves later!
Black played 35…Be4+ to reach this position
and after 36.Kf2 h5 gave him a decisive advantage.
David Janowski – Jose Raul Capablanca, 1916.02.08, 0-1, Rice Memorial, Round 3, New York, NY USA
11.) Effim Bogoljubov – Alexander Alekhine, 1922
The Dutch Defense is a fighting defense, which makes it an excellent choice for fourth World Chess Champion, Alexander Alekhine. A player who favored chess moves with an attacking strategy.
Bogoljubov successfully repulsed Alekhine’s attack on the kingside. Play switched to the queenside, where Bogoljubov managed to open the a-file and take control of the center with his pawns.
Unfortunately, he miscalculated in this position, but one can hardly blame him.
Bogoljubov chose to meet the attack against his queen by capturing Black’s rook on a8 and attacking the queen in return.
Alekhine played the brilliant 30…bxc3!! essentially giving up two rooks for the queen. However, it wouldn’t be long before he regained some of the material.
Transposing to a won endgame later led to a winning position.
Efim Bogoljubov – Alexander Alekhine, 1922.09.21, 1-0, Hastings, Round 10, Hastings ENG
10.) Geza Maroczy – Savielly Tartakower, 1922
This game also features an excellent victory for the Dutch Defense in 1922, but by Dr. Savielly Tartakower. Perhaps he was inspired by Alekhine because the game took place two weeks after Alekhine’s victory.
No matter what the inspiration Tartakower gives us a beautiful example of how to attack the castled king. In this position, many would move the rook forward and bring the queen behind it (…Rh5 and …Qh6) or play …Qg6-h5.
These maneuvers would give Black time to close the h-file with h4 when if we take with …gxh3, our pawn blocks our attack.
Tartakower didn’t give White the extra tempo he needed to shut down the kingside.
He met 17.Nd2 with 17…Rxh2!! This rook sacrifice would soon get followed with an exchange sacrifice to remove a crucial defender. These great chess moves had a very direct attacking strategy.
Geza Maroczy – Savielly Tartakower, 1922.10.05, 0-1, Teplitz-Schönau, Round 4, Teplice-Sanov CSR
9.) B Molinari – Luis Roux Cabral, 1943
This game is the Uruguay Immortal Game played in Montevideo. In this incredible game, Black sacrifices numerous pieces to place White pieces on squares that block the king from escaping.
The winning position arises after Black plays two exchange sacrifices! In both cases giving up a rook for a knight.
These sacrifices alone make it worthy of becoming an immortal game.
Although captures are not compulsory in chess, this game shows in some positions, you have no choice but to capture the piece. Since this would lead to checkmate in two moves, White chose the only other option – to resign instead.
Can you spot the winning move in this position?
B Molinari – Luis Roux Cabral, 1943, 0-1, Montevideo URU
8.) D. Andric – Daja, 1949
In this game, you will learn how chess moves embody strategy. There are many combinations to enjoy, the confinement of the black king and queen, a sacrifice to open lines, and a passed pawn that promotes.
This game might not be as well-known as some of our other choices, but it has everything you could ask for in a game.
White attacked the rook on f8 with 17.Ba3 and Black responded with the natural 17…Rd8. Sure the black queen is a little misplaced, but White doesn’t have any threats.
Actually, things are bad for Black and about to get a lot worse after White’s next move.
Here’s the critical position.
18.Rxf6!! The only defender on the kingside must get eliminated. Sometimes the simple chess moves are excellent. Once again, we are reminded of the importance that the pieces on the board are what matter.
A second exchange sacrifice will soon follow and leave Black in a hopelessly lost position.
D. Andric – Daja, 1949, 1-0, Belgrade SRB
7.) Petrosian – Spassky, 1966
In May 1966, Petrosian was defending his World Chess Champion title against Boris Spassky.
Petrosian is known for his positional play and defensive skills, yet he shows he knows a thing or two about attacking in this game.
Many chess players have heard about Petrosian’s incredible exchange sacrifices while defending. During round 10 of this championship match, he shows he knows when to play an exchange sacrifice while attacking.
Now you have an idea of which good chess move to look out for, but there is more to this game than a single exchange sacrifice, including a stunning winning chess move.
Spassky has just played 20…Bh3. What would you play?
Petrosian played 21.Ne3! and after 21…Bxf1 22.Rxf1 Ng6 23.Bg4 Nxf4
he played a second exchange sacrifice 24.Rxf4! The winning chess moves didn’t stop here.
Take a look at the final winning move Petrosian played in this game.
Tigran Petrosian – Boris Spassky, 1966.05.02, 1-0, Petrosian – Spassky World Championship Match, Round 10, Moscow URS
6.) Botvinnik – Portisch, 1968
Many chess players learn tactics in the opening for a specific color. You know to play …Rxc3 in the Sicilian Dragon or …Rxf3 in the French Defense.
One way to take a step up in your playing strength is to look for ways to include these tactics with the opposite color. In this game, Botvinnik played the English Opening: Reversed Dragon.
Black has just played 16…Bc6 attacking the White Queen, and White dealt with the threat by playing 17.R1xc6!! A thematic sacrifice Black usually plays on the c3-square.
What makes this move even more impressive is Black castled kingside!
After the exchange sacrifice, notice that every one of Black’s pieces is on the back rank. The move works because White will also win the f7-pawn with 18.Rxf7 and leave the black king exposed.
Capturing the rook will bring the king into the open.
Mikhail Botvinnik – Lajos Portisch, 1968.04.10, 1-0, Monte Carlo, Round 7, Monte Carlo MNC
5.) Fischer – Panno, 1970
A collection of 15 of the best winning moves in chess wouldn’t be complete without the legendary Bobby Fischer making it on the list. In this example of Fischer’s brilliance, you would think he followed GM Sam Shankland’s advice.
Shankland suggests, “If you want to play a move and it looks like your opponent has stopped it ask yourself, “What if I play it anyway?”
Although he might not have phrased it exactly like that, you can be sure Fischer was thinking along these lines when he found the winning move in this position.
Black appears to have everything under control. After 27…Nf8, the knight helps the king defend h7 and White has no dark-squared bishop to take advantage of the weak squares around the king.
White’s bishop would rather be on the b1-h7 diagonal than the blocked h1-a8 diagonal. The fastest way to get it onto this diagonal is to play the incredible 28.Be4!!
What happens if I put the bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal anyway? I win!
Finding winning chess moves is not that difficult after all.
Robert James Fischer – Oscar Panno, 1970.07.30, 1-0, Buenos Aires, Round 8, Buenos Aires ARG
4.) Larsen – Spassky, 1970
For us mortals and regular chess players, it is good to be reminded that even the best chess players have bad games. Bent Larsen was one of the strongest players in the world, yet even he forgot the basic principles of the opening.
Unfortunately for Larsen, his opponent, Spassky, remembered them and made good use of them.
The two principles Bent Larsen forgot were development and king safety. Five pawn moves and three moves with the same knight in the first twelve moves are sure to leave you in an unpleasant situation.
Spassky had both bishops on the fourth rank, his knight on the fifth rank, and he’d castled queenside. Larsen, meanwhile, had no piece more advanced than the second rank – bishops on e2 and b2 and a queen on c2.
When Larsen attacked the black knight on g4 with 12.h3, Spassky didn’t retreat it. He went on the offensive in a surprising but very effective manner.
Yes, he made good use of the power of a well-advanced pawn. This pawn proved so decisive Spassky could follow up the knight sacrifice with a rook sacrifice!
There followed 12…h4!! 13.hxg4 hxg3 14.Rg1 Rh1!! – the killer follow-up! The game only lasted seventeen moves.
Bent Larsen – Boris Spassky, 1970.03.31, 0-1, USSR vs. Rest of the World, Round 2.1, Belgrade SRB
3.) Reshevsky – Vaganian, 1976
When you are playing with the white pieces, and you play 12.Kg3, you can safely assume the opening did not go well. Vaganian didn’t hesitate to take advantage of White’s exposed king.
Contrary to what Steinitz believed, this French Defense game was anything but dull!
Vaganian has just sacrificed a knight with 15…Ndxe5, and after 16.dxe5, he sacrificed a second piece in this position.
16…Bh4+!! was the winning chess move. Here’s how the game played out.
Samuel Reshevsky – Rafael Vaganian, 1976, 0-1, Skopje, Round 5, Skopje YUG
2.) Kasparov – Portisch, 1983
Honestly, finding fifteen brilliant moves in Kasparov’s game would be dead easy. The biggest challenge would be choosing only fifteen.
The first sacrifice is easy to see because it involves a discovered attack on a loose piece. However, it is the follow-up two moves later which proves decisive.
Many chess players find it easier to spot the first move than the follow-up. That’s what makes move 19 good and move 21 excellent!
Black recaptured with 18…Bxd5 bringing us to this position.
Kasparov wouldn’t miss 19.Bxh7+ Kxh7 20.Rxd5 on his worst day. We can’t fault Portisch for playing the prudent 20…Kg8, getting his king to safety.
Unfortunately, for Portisch, this safety proved extremely illusionary because Kasparov uncorked the stunning 21.Bxg7!!
The White knight wants to go to e5, but a knight on e5 blocks a bishop on b2. After 21.Bxg7, there is no longer a blocked bishop, and the Black king is exposed.
When Portisch resigned on move 35, his king was on f3!
Garry Kasparov – Lajos Portisch, 1983.08.28, 1-0, Niksic, Round 4, Niksic YUG
1.) Aronian – Anand, 2013
Aronian and Anand played this game at the strong Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. Anand is always well-prepared, but in this game, he takes it to a whole new level. he came prepared to play chess moves with a pre-determined strategy.
In this position, White threatens Black’s rook on f8.
Instead of moving the rook, Anand decides to place a second piece on a square where it can get captured – 15…Bc5!! White plays 16.Be2 and Black decides to expose the third piece to being captured with 16…Ne5!
We recommend you watch the analysis of this game by GM Eugene Perelshteyn below:
The d-pawn attacks two pieces, yet if it captures either piece, we have a smothered mate with …Qd4+ Kh1 …Qg1+ Rxh1 and …Nf2#.
The game continued and reached this position after White played 23.Qd3. Anand played the winning move.
Yes, 23…Be3 – once again, placing the bishop on a square where it can get captured.
Levon Aronian – Viswanathan Anand, 2013.01.15, Tata Steel Group A, Round 4, Wijk aan Zee NED
There are many more beautiful games out there for us to enjoy, and we are fortunate to have the internet to bring many of them to us as they happen. We are also blessed to have strong chess engines to help us answer our questions about certain moves.
Many of us first turn to the past greats to look for inspiration, yet many of today’s top grandmasters like Anand produce beautiful brilliancies for us to enjoy. Learning from the past is a sound approach, and one modern grandmasters use.
Remember to turn your attention to games played recently, and you will find many valuable tactical blows to unleash in your games.
Would you mind sharing games you have found inspirational in the comments section below? Perhaps they will make it onto our second sampling of brilliant games.
GM Eugene Perelshteyn has collected a great sample of Modern GM Miniatures to help you get your library of great games started. This Empire Chess collection of modern games is 3+ hours of attacking chess for you to enjoy.
Learn elite hack attacks, opening traps, and speed attacks. All of these tactics worked against grandmasters, so they are sure to catch many of your opponents by surprise.