Sharjah Masters: Ju stuns Vidit, shares lead with Pragg

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/19/2023 – Women’s world champion Ju Wenjun scored a second consecutive upset win to go into round 3 of the Sharjah Masters sharing the lead with Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu (pictured). Ju got the better of third seed Vidit Gujrathi with the black pieces, while Pragg defeated Raunak Sadhwani with white. A total of 25 players stand a half point behind the leading duo, including top seeds Parham Maghsoodloo and Dommaraju Gukesh. | Photos: Tournament’s Facebook page

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Fearless Ju wins with black

Ju WenjunThe 2023 Women’s World Chess Championship is set to take place on July 5-23 in Chongqing and Shanghai. These Chinese cities were chosen to give a home advantage (or disadvantage?) to each of the two contenders: defending champion Ju Wenjun and challenger Lei Tingjie.

While Lei had plenty of tournament practice while qualifying to the match for the title, Ju has played no more than 23 rated classical games in 2021-22 — all in China. Ju’s participation at the Sharjah Masters surely has to do with her need to face strong opposition in an over-the-board, competitive setting before the all-important match. The world champion is ranked 70th in the 78-player field, and is the only female participant in the all-grandmaster lineup.

Her being one of the lowest-rated players in Sharjah did not prevent Ju from scoring consecutive wins at the outset of the 9-round Swiss open, though. Ju (rated 2550) has defeated two strong Indian GMs in Murali Karthikeyan (2627) and Vidit Gujrathi (2731) to go into the third round sharing the lead with yet another formidable Indian: 17-year-old prodigy Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu (2688).

In Friday’s direct encounter between co-leaders, Ju will get the white pieces against her young opponent. Pragg beat Vahap Sanal and Raunak Sadhwani in the first two rounds.

Sharjah Masters 2023

Out of a theoretical Italian Opening, Vidit, playing white, got a better structure in the middlegame, while Ju gained the initiative on the kingside as she took control over the f-file.

Vidit’s decision to trade his bishop for a knight was somewhat questionable.

The black bishop on a7 is restricted, while the knight on f4 is ready to create dangerous threats. From this point of view, Vidit’s 19.Bxf4 makes sense. However, in the long run, he is getting rid of the best defender of the potentially weak f2-square.

Instead, 19.g3 Nfg6 20.Kg2 would have expelled the knight while keeping the tension, which would have favoured White in this position.

Once the queens left the board, Black got the upper hand. Later on, Vidit did go for g2-g3 — but not at the right moment.

31.g3 fails to 31...Nxd3 32.Re3 Nc1 and, although 32...Nb2 was stronger according to the engines, the knight will manage to find its way back into the game after having grabbed a second extra pawn for Black.

Ju simplified into a winning knight endgame when she got a chance and clinched the upset victory after Black’s 51st move.

Vidit Gujrathi, Ju Wenjun

Standings - Round 2

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Praggnanandhaa, R 2 0
2 Ju, Wenjun 2 0
3 Maghsoodloo, Parham 1,5 0
Sevian, Samuel 1,5 0
Aravindh, Chithambaram Vr. 1,5 0
Sargsyan, Shant 1,5 0
7 Gukesh, D 1,5 0
Yu, Yangyi 1,5 0
Niemann, Hans Moke 1,5 0
Salem, A.R. Saleh 1,5 0
Tabatabaei, M. Amin 1,5 0
Nihal, Sarin 1,5 0
Cheparinov, Ivan 1,5 0
Narayanan.S.L, 1,5 0
Nguyen, Thai Dai Van 1,5 0
Yilmaz, Mustafa 1,5 0
Kovalev, Vladislav 1,5 0
Kadric, Denis 1,5 0
Mchedlishvili, Mikheil 1,5 0
20 Erigaisi, Arjun 1,5 0

...78 players

Pairings - Round 3

Name Pts. Result Pts. Name
Ju, Wenjun 2 2 Praggnanandhaa, R
Kovalev, Vladislav Maghsoodloo, Parham
Gukesh, D Narayanan.S.L,
Yu, Yangyi Cheparinov, Ivan
Niemann, Hans Moke Yilmaz, Mustafa
Erigaisi, Arjun Nguyen, Thai Dai Van
Predke, Alexandr Aravindh, Chithambaram Vr.
Kadric, Denis Sevian, Samuel
Esipenko, Andrey Sargsyan, Shant
Jumabayev, Rinat Salem, A.R. Saleh
Tabatabaei, M. Amin Sethuraman, S.P.
Nihal, Sarin Suleymanli, Aydin
Korobov, Anton Mchedlishvili, Mikheil
Galperin, Platon 1 Sjugirov, Sanan
Ivic, Velimir 1 1 Martirosyan, Haik M.

...39 boards

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.