Women's World Championship: Goryachkina forces a playoff

by Macauley Peterson
1/23/2020 – With one regular match game to be played the momentum was very much on the side of current World Champion Ju Wenjun, who won back-to-back points in games 9 and 10 then easily made a draw in game 11. Her challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina came into game 12 in Vladivostock knowing that she had to win at all costs. And she delivered! With the match now tied at 6:6, the World Championship will be decided in a tiebreaking series of rapid (and even blitz) games on Friday starting at the same time: 5:30 UTC (6:30 CET, 12:30 AM EST) with commentary by GM Nigel Short & GM Hou Yifan. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili (FIDE / official site)

The London System with 2.Bf4 Reloaded The London System with 2.Bf4 Reloaded

Over the last couple of years nearly all the world's elite grandmasters have been employing the London System, and on this DVD Simon Williams shows what we can learn from their practice. The "Ginger GM" takes a look at all the latest developments whilst teaching you all the basics that you need to know in order to play this opening with success.


A clutch Game 12 win for the challenger

It was do or die for Aleksandra Goryachkina with the white pieces on Thursday in Vladivostok. She needed a win in the final regulation game to force tie-breaks. How would she approach this test? A wild gambit? A solid long-term positional grind? Mainline theory?

In fact Goryachkina chose none of the above, whipping out 1.d4 d5 2.c3!? — a relatively rare move which Ju was obviously not expecting; she thought for nearly 20 minutes before replying with 2...f6. The challenger continued, not with 3.g5 — the Veresov Attack — but 3.f4 heading for a London System sideline. This doesn't promise white much of an opening advantage objectively, but Goryachkina's surprise gained her a time and psychological edge, plus a slight initiative.

Ju Wenjun

Ju Wenjun collecting her thoughts before the start of Game 12 | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

After 3...e6 4.b5 a6 5.e3, the position can be found in the games of a few of well-known players who often eschew mainline theory: Baadur Jobava, Richard Rapport and Nils Grandelius have all tried it in recent years, including against elite opposition. 


Ju spent another seven minutes on 5...b4+ 6.c3 e7 and after 7.a4, already the players were in a position with virtually no precedents.

The middlegame developed into a closed position which was equal but contained enough structural imbalances for Goryachkina to manoeuvre in search of an opening. Her moment finally came on move 26:


Ju retreated the queen to h7, but this allowed White's planned e4 to come with greater impact, since an attempt to defend with 27...♝c6 would give White an edge thanks to 28.♕g3 with ♗e5 in the air and play on the dark squares. It would have been better to keep the queen on g6 or d3 to keep watch over the g3 square. After 26...h7 27.e4 Ju was obliged to take 27...dxe4 breaking her structure and leaving targets on e4 and c4 which Goryachkina would exploit, soon winning a pawn.

However, just after the time control, Goryachkina passed up what was, in retrospect, a chance to put the game away quickly:


Here 41.d5! was very strong, with a clever motive to provoke exd5 and thereby give the white rook access to the f3-square in some key attacking lines. But Goryachkina obviously saw no need to sharpen the game drastically when she could play on the strengths of her position plus the material edge with 41.d3+ g6 42.g4 aiming to reach the f-file via f4 rather than f3.

The dramatic twists and turns are appreciated by spectators of all levels!

The minor pieces were exchanged and Goryachkina found herself in a winning queen and rook endgame in which she could bide her time and gradually work her pieces into better and better squares. 

Black's position reached a breaking point after 51.f4 g5:


52.h4 e7 53.e5+ g8 54.f6 h7 55.h5 gxh5 (55...g5 56.g4! is practically Zugzwang!) and now multiple roads lead to a full point.

Match standings


Click or tap any result to open directly via Live.ChessBase.com

After the game when the players were asked if they had any energy left for a tiebreak, Goryachkina replied, "no matter what the match will end tomorrow and I wasn't ready for it to end today."


Goryachkina won when she needed to | Eteri Kublashvili

A visibly downtrodden Ju called the match "a very tough battle and up to now nothing has been decided yet". She will have just hours to recover from this disappointing loss — the tiebreak tomorrow will consist of four 25 minute (plus 10 seconds per move) rapid games, followed, if necessary, by up to five sets of blitz games (5+3) and, if these still fail to break the stand-off and Armageddon game.

Game 12 and commentary


Commentary by GM Nigel Short & GM Hou Yifan

All games



Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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