Playing a brilliant move is every chess beginner’s dream, and is something that even titled players and grandmasters take great pride in.
The dopamine spike you get when you review your game on Chess.com and find out you played a brilliant move is incomparable.
But what exactly classifies as a brilliant move? And how rare is it to be awarded this teal badge of honor in the world of chess?
In this article, we explain exactly what a brilliant move is, exploring practical examples and discussing when, and how often, a chess engine crowns a move as brilliant, particularly on Chess.com.
This article uses algebraic notation like Qxf3 and Rd1#. If you're not familiar with it, I suggest you read my article where I explain all about this chess notation.
Brilliant Moves in Chess
A brilliant move is a special occurrence in chess; a move that is not only strategically sound but also creative and difficult to find. Often times, a brilliant move involves some sort of material sacrifice.
These moves usually take your opponent by surprise and can lead to a significant advantage or even a direct win.
Defining Brilliant Moves
There is no universally accepted definition of a brilliant move in chess. However, it is generally agreed that a brilliant move should meet the following criteria:
- It must be the best possible move in the position: A brilliant move should lead to the best possible outcome for the player who makes it.
- It must be creative and unexpected: A brilliant move should not be obvious or easily predictable.
- It must be difficult to find: A brilliant move should require great vision and understanding of the position.
In chess annotation, a brilliant move is denoted by two exclamation marks (!!) after the move.
In this position, Black played the brilliant move Qxf3.
The reason this move is brilliant is because Black sacrificed their queen for White’s knight; an exchange which would normally be deemed unfavorable.
The idea is that if White recaptures, Black can play Bxf3+, forcing White’s king to move to g1, at which point Black can deliver the killer blow with Re1#.
Remember though, if you were playing with the Black pieces in this example, there is a very important question that you need to ask yourself:
Does White have to capture the queen?
If your “brilliant” move relies on a single specific response from the opponent and fails otherwise, it is not brilliant.
A brilliant move must either force your opponent to respond in your intended way, or leave them with no choice as no matter what they do, your position would still be favorable.
In this example, the move in itself wins a knight for Black, leaving White down 9 points of material overall. White doesn’t really have a choice – Black is completely winning regardless of whether White captures the queen or not.
The Rarity of Brilliant Moves
Brilliant moves are rare because they require a combination of strategic thinking, creativity, and pattern recognition. Most players do not have the ability to consistently find these types of moves.
According to Chess.com’s analysis of over 100 million games, only about 0.2% of all moves are classified as brilliant.
This explains why many people consider getting a brilliant move a huge feat in their chess journey; the value of many things is inherently tied to their rarity.
The Brilliant Move Problem on Chess.com
Brilliant moves are not always brilliant.
Sometimes, the Chess.com algorithm classifies certain moves as brilliant when really they are not difficult to find, but rather extremely obvious.
Let’s take a look at an example.
In this position, Black played Qd1+, sacrificing their queen and leaving White with no choice but to take the queen with the rook, which would then allow Black to win with Rd1#.
The Game Review on Chess.com labelled this move brilliant.
Let’s face it, a queen sacrifice is always a treat to a watch, but this move was fairly obvious. In fact, does this really classify as a sacrifice? The game ended right there and then, so Black didn’t have to live without a queen except for a single move.
White hung a forced mate in two, and spotting it is definitely not challenging.
This is just one example of a recurring theme; a move getting more credit than it deserves, simply because it involves a sacrifice.
The Brilliant Move Update on Chess.com
In October 2021, in response to the people’s feedback, Chess.com introduced a Brilliant Move Update:
“As popular as the Brilliant Move has been, we’ve heard your feedback that Brilliant Moves can be too rare and sometimes not that brilliant. We agree, and we’ve updated the way that “brilliant moves” are recognized. The new Game Review has been fine-tuned to better understand what humans identify as a brilliant move. Brilliant Moves must now sacrifice material in some way and must be the best, or nearly the best, move in a position. Brilliant Moves will also be a bit more generously awarded for newer players, recognizing that some strong sacrifices that may be standard for experienced players are quite an achievement for newer players.”The Chess.com Team
Here are the main takeaways from the update:
1) A brilliant move must still involve some sort of material sacrifice.
The problem with this is that it leaves out many ingenious positional moves that do not give away material, but are certainly brilliant.
2) Brilliant moves are now more accessible to beginners, as the Game Review algorithm now takes into account the player’s level to determine whether a move is brilliant by their standards.
This means that brilliant moves are not as rare anymore. Perhaps the previous example we used to demonstrate was played by a beginner – that would explain why the Game Review was so generous.
The Impact of Time Controls
The time controls on Chess.com play a significant role in shaping the frequency of brilliant moves.
In faster time formats like blitz and bullet, players must rely on quick thinking and intuition. Brilliant moves can emerge spontaneously in the heat of the moment, catching opponents off guard. The swift pace of these games amplifies the rarity and excitement of exceptional moves.
Deep Calculation in Classical Time Controls
On the other hand, classical time controls allow for deeper calculation and strategic planning. While brilliant moves in classical games are equally appreciated, the slower tempo tends to foster a more measured and deliberate approach. The rarity of brilliance in classical games is often compensated by the depth and complexity of the moves played.
Brilliant moves add an element of excitement and awe to our chess experience.
Whether the Chess.com Game Review crowns a candidate move as brilliant or not depends on factors including player strength and whether the move involves a sacrifice.
Many moves labelled brilliant by the Chess.com Game Review are just winning sacrifices that are easy to spot. On the other hand, there are many genius plays that are not classified as brilliant only because they don’t sacrifice material.
At the end of the day, remember that chess is a very human game and brilliancy can sometimes be subjective. To decide whether a move is brilliant or not, algorithms must rely on concrete guidelines; they can’t always capture this human element very accurately.
Have you ever played a brilliant move?
If you have any questions, experiences, or insights you’d like to share, please join the conversation by leaving a comment down below. I’d be more than happy to have a chat with you.