How do you define the best chess moves of all time? A lover of chess tactics may have a different view than a positional player when it comes to what defines a great chess move.
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 moves on their own, but also because of the context of the game in which they were played.
These 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 below.
- If you are looking for an article that explains how the chess pieces move, we’ve got you covered. Click here to learn how the chess pieces move.
15) Johannes Zukertort – Joseph Henry Blackburne, 1883
When one of your pieces is threatened, an excellent defensive resource is to create an even bigger threat for your opponent!
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. Obviously, the first thing we must do when we offer a sacrifice is to calculate what happens if our opponent accepts the sacrifice.
If Black plays 28…Qxb4 the bishop and two rooks deliver checkmate. Surprisingly, the only pawn sheltering the Black king from attack is a White pawn on h7.
Zukertort knew capturing the e5-pawn was vital and he makes use of the fact the Black queen is overloaded. After 28…Qxb4 there might follow 29.Bxe5+ Kxh7 30.Rh3+ Kg6 31.Rf6+ Kh5 32.Rf5+ Kh6 33.Bf4+ Kh7 34.Rh5#
A vital move in many of the winning combinations if Black declines the sacrifice is the deflecting Rf8!. This draws the queen away from the defense of e5. For example, 28…Re8 to defend the queen is met with 29.Rf8 when capturing with the rook loses the queen and capturing with the queen allows 30.Bxe5.
30.Bxe5 also makes use of deflection since 30…Rxe5 allows 31.Qxf8. The rook and queen will soon deliver checkmate since Black’s only move is to expose the king further with 31…Kxh7.
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 involves creating threats or sacrifices. In other cases, good chess moves involve a deep chess strategy.
When you are playing against strong opponents, you need to find good chess moves with a hidden strategy. The best chess players are unlikely to overlook direct threats.
This was certainly the case in the game between Steinitz and Chigorin, played in Havana, during their World Championship Rematch in 1892.
What would you play in this position as White?
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.
20.Qf1 is a multi-purpose move. Firstly, it removes the queen from possible tactics involving …Nf4 and a discovered attack by the rook on e8. Secondly, it allows the queen access to h-file, which will soon be opened with a rook sacrifice on h7.
Notice that White does not rush the sacrifice on h7, but first seeks to exchange Black’s bishop on g7 with play in the center. The loss of the bishop leaves the dark squares around the king extremely weak.
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.
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, winning 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!! A special chess move that contains the element of surprise!
There is no doubt the winning chess move 22…Rxc3!! contained a significant surprise element, as did 23…Rd2!! First, Rubinstein sacrifices a queen and, on the next move, a rook.
22…Rxc3!! becomes an extremely strong rook swing if White captures the Black queen. The rook swing typically occurs on the third or fourth rank, but these ranks are blocked locked pawns.
Looking at the position after 22.g3 it is clear that the only way for black to swing a rook over to attack the king is along the sixth rank. However, this chess move makes use of a second strategy – remove the crucial defender!
The capture of the knight removes a defender of the bishop on e4, White’s queen is overloaded defending against a checkmate on h2 and the bishop.
Once you understand how capturing the knight on c3 impacts the queen then 23…Rd2!! becomes easier to find, yet no less beautiful.
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, Jose Raul Capablanca was a deep strategy expert. 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!!
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:
After 36.Kf2 h5, Black has a decisive advantage. The threat is h4 winning material and even with the best defensive play, Black will have a rook and two bishops against a rook.
One possible line is 37.Ne3 h4 38.Nxg4 fxg4 39.Bxh4 Bxh4, followed by …Bd7 attacking the front b-pawn. Black’s rook is extremely active along the eighth rank and can place White under immense pressure from the b8 and h8 squares.
White will find the isolated pawn on the h-file and double isolated b-pawns impossible to defend. Against Capablanca, such an endgame is certainly lost.
When you play chess moves with an extremely deep strategy you make it much more challenging for your opponent, especially if your goal is not a direct checkmate but reahing a winning endgame position!
David Janowski – Jose Raul Capablanca, 1916.02.08, 0-1, Rice Memorial, Round 3, New York, NY USA
11) Efim Bogoljubov – Alexander Alekhine, 1922
The Dutch Defense is a fighting defense, which made it an excellent choice for the fourth World Chess Champion, Alexander Alekhine, who usually favored 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.
Capturing on c3 works because the White pieces lack scope and get in each other’s way. The bishop on h1 will need several moves to become active, as will the rook on g2.
None of White’s pieces can stop the pawn promotion after 30…bxc3!!
White might have a material advantage but Black’s pieces are much more active!
On move fifty, the players reached a pawn endgame with Black having the extra pawn. White resigned three moves later because his king couldn’t stop Black’s passed pawn and defend his remaining two pawns.
This game, like the Capablanca game above, is a good reminder that an attack can be successful without delivering checkmate or winning large amounts of material.
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 in the Dutch Defense, this time by Dr. Savielly Tartakower. Perhaps he was inspired by Alekhine because the game took place just two weeks after Alekhine’s victory.
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 be followed by an exchange sacrifice to remove a crucial defender. These great chess moves had a very direct attacking strategy.
The greatest moves in chess all make use of common themes we are taught early in our playing career. One theme that seems to crop up time and time again is deflection.
17…Rxh2!! draws the king away from defending the f-pawn. Once the f2 and h2-pawns fall, the pawn on g3 drops, leaving the White king totally exposed.
Tartakower makes excellent use of the open f-file while White’s pieces are stuck on the first rank!
On move 28 the most advanced White piece is the queen on g2. Both bishops, the knight, rook, and king are on the first rank. This allows Tartakower to play an exchange sacrifice with 28…Rxf1+!
White has a material advantage of a rook for three pawns on move thirty. The Black army only comprises a queen, knight, and bishop, yet it proves more than enough to win the game.
This game is certainly an excellent reminder of the importance of king safety and that you can often sacrifice material to open lines against the enemy king.
Don’t neglect to calculate your lines, but being aware of the power of open lines can help you consider a greater number of winning candidate chess moves.
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 force White’s pieces to squares that block the king from escaping.
These sacrificial chess moves are part of a subtle strategy. On their own, it is extremely difficult to notice how dangerous the position is becoming for White.
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. This is the critical point in the game:
In the game Cabral choose to play 20…Bxg2 and allow White to capture the rook on c8. …Bxg2 only works if White is greedy, and shows us how important a tempo can be when attacking and defending!
White could have played 21.e4 instead of capturing on c8. This move keeps the Black queen from making it over to the kingside and joining in the attack.
Black retains a healthy advantage after 21…Rc6 even with best play from White.
After 21.Nxc8 Rxc8 22.Re1 Bf3 23.Qf1 Qd5 24.e4 Rxc4!! Black has a winning position no matter which way White recaptures. Note that 25.Bxc4 allows 25…Qxd2.
Once again, open lines against the White king would prove decisive and allow the active Black pieces to find a way into White’s kingside position. White’s king soon ran out of escape squares when the queen joined in the attack after 25.bxc4 Qh5.
Black brought all his pieces into the attack with …Ng4, Nde5, and …Bc5 before delivering the killer blow.
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
This game might not be as well-known as some of our other choices, but it has everything you could ask for – many combinations to enjoy, the confinement of the black king and queen, a sacrifice to open lines, and a passed pawn that promotes.
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.
A simple glance at this position is enough for you to notice all the black pieces are on the queenside. The rook and knight are still on their starting squares, and the bishop is blocked on all diagonals.
White on the other hand can easily bring the rook to f1, the queen can get close to the Black king with Qd1-h6, and the light-squared bishop can access the kingside via f3 or h3.
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 showed he knew 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.
Stop me if you’ve heard it before, but once again we have an exposed king and of open lines to use in the attack.
After 24…Rxf4 25.Be6+ Black must place his rook in an absolute pin with 25…Rf7 or else the rook will soon fall after a series of queen checks.
One possible way to win the rook is 25…Kf8 26.Qh8+ Ke7 27.Qxh7+ Kf8 28.Qh6+ forking the king and rook. If 27…Ke8 28.Qg6+ forcing 28…Kf8 29.Qh6+
Black not only has a terribly exposed king to deal with but his rook on a8 and knight on a5 will need several moves to get back in the game. Although down in material, White has a winning advantage because all of his pieces are in play.
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 when playing with the Black pieces.
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 and this exchange sacrifice doesn’t open lines against the king!
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 and expose it to checks from the White pieces. Moves like Qc4+, Ng5+, or Bg5+ will overwhelm Black’s defenses.
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.
The bishop cannot be captured because N3xe4 brings another piece into the attack with decisive effect! In this example, the Black king is not exposed, but it soon will be after a knight sacrifice on h7.
When studying great attacking games it’s extremely helpful to learn from the mistakes made by the defender. In this game, we can see how dangerous weak squares around the king can prove.
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 in this game.
Unfortunately for Larsen, his opponent, Spassky, punished him!.
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.
The sacrifice worked because the White pieces on the queenside couldn’t get across to help defend the king. In contrast, Spassky could easily get his queen, rooks, and bishop involved in the kingside attack.
This game is a great demonstration of why GM Irina Krush says the three elements of a chess game are space, harmony, and time!
Here is the punishing play of Boris Spassky as he reminded Bent of the importance of getting the opening right.
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.
17.Kxh4 is forced because 17.Nxh4 allows 17…Qf2 mate. Now that he has drawn the king away from the protection of the pawns, Vaganian removes the defender with 17…Rxf3.
The rook cannot be captured or else the Black queen once again enters the position on the f2-square with decisive effect. However, the f2-square is not the only way for the queen to attack the king.
17.Kxh4 brought the king forward and allows the queen to attack from b4!
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 winning chess moves in Kasparov’s games alone would be dead easy.
In this game, 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.
Because of the knight on the rim, Kasparov has enough time to retreat his rook with 29.Rd3 and then resume his attack. Although the knight enters the game it costs Black a vital tempo that leads to an unstoppable checkmate.
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 took it to a whole new level.
He came prepared to play winning 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. This time White does not have time to capture the piece because it would block the queen’s defense of h3.
Giving up the queen for two minor pieces doesn’t help because after Qxe3, …Nxe3, and Bxe3 mate in two follows with Qxh3+, Kg1, and Qxg2. The attack succeeds because White is lacking a single tempo and cannot capture on e3 with the bishop.
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.
Learning from the games of stronger players is one of the best ways to improve. Remember to turn your attention to recently played games and you will find many valuable tactical and strategic ideas to unleash in your own 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.