Ju Wenjun remains World Champion

by Macauley Peterson
1/24/2020 – The 2020 Women's World Championship came to a dramatic finale on Friday with a four-game rapid tiebreak. After a pair of draws, Ju Wenjun struck first with a win in the third game. But unlike in the final classical game, Goryachkina was not able to equalize the score and force the tiebreak into the blitz phase. Ju hung on for a draw, winning the tiebreak, the match and thereby retaining her title as Women's World Champion. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili (FIDE / official site)

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A happy new year for the Chinese World Champ

When Ju Wenjun resigned Game 12 on Wedesday, Aleksandra Goryachkina and her fans breathed a sign of relief with renewed hope that the Russians' fortunes may turn up in the tiebreak match that would follow.

While some observers naturally drew a parallel to the 2018 World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, other than the final score the circumstances could not be more different. Carlsen vs Caurana famously saw a string of twelve draws, the last of which was, much like it had been in 2016, a strategic decision on the part of the World Champion to take the game to a rapid tiebreak. Carlsen estimated his chances over four games would be much higher than in the last classical game, even if his position was better!

Ju and Goryachkina, in contrast, traded wins throughout the contest — and equal number of decisive games as draws. For Ju, with a half point lead, she only needed to hold a last draw with black in the twelfth game to avoid a tiebreak. Losing that game was clearly a blow, and the question became, how would she handle it?

Ju before Game 12

Ju contemplating game 12 | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili 

On paper the Elo gap between the players is significantly higher in rapid where Ju could be confident in a 114 point edge (2613 to 2499) and of course, lest we forget, she is also the 2018 World Rapid Champion. But Goryachkina is still young and improving steadily, and she showed tremendous fighting spirit to be able to come back from a point deficit, not once, but twice in the match!

Goryachkina a worthy challenger

The challenger had a golden opportunity to spoil Ju's New Year (Chinese New Year begins tomorrow) with black in the first rapid game: 

 

Black has a very serious edge thanks to her better pawn structure and safer king. Goryachkina's 37...b4 was a fine move but the tactical shot 37...♝xa3! would have already put the game out of reach. White's best 38.♖xe8+ (38.♗xa3 b4 39.♖e5 bxc3 40.♖d3 a4) 38...♜xe8 39.♗xa3 b4 40.♗b2 bxc3 41.♗xc3 ♛d5+ 42.♔h2 ♛xb3 leaves black with a passed a-pawn and a winning advantage.

After missing this chance, it's not as surprising that another tactical shot with a similar theme (the discovered attack on the e4-rook) escaped Goryachkina's notice a few moves later.

 

Can you spot the winning move?

41...♝xg5! 42.♖xe8+ ♜xe8 43.fxg5 ♛d6 (the threat of Qh2+ is the key) 44.♖g1 ♜e3 and White is busted.

Ju succeeded in exchanging pieces and obtaining a passed d-pawn drumming up enough counterplay to reach a drawn ending.

In the second game Goryachkina pressed in a better rook endgame for 72 moves, but again yielded a draw.

Goryachkina

Goryachkina was pressing but never broke through | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

Game 3 was the turning point for Ju, as she developed a safe and solid edge on the white side of a Reti. Goryachkina adopted a triangle Slav set-up as she had in the first rapid game, but gradually lost control of the position, which finally became critical after 39...Rg5: 

 

Ju correctly played 40.f4! forcing ♜xh5 (40...♜g8 41.♕f5 +-) but quickly took on e5, overlooking 41.g4 ♜h4 41.♕f5 which wins quickly.

After 41.fxe5 e6 42.g1 Goryachkina still had a chance to bring her rook back 'onside' by 42...♜f5, but 42...d4 was met decisively by 43.g6! and the rook is lost thanks to the threat of mate and the strength of White's e and f-pawns.

This set the stage for a dramatic fourth and final rapid game with a now-familiar theme: Ju with black and a one-point lead; Goryachkina with white in a must-win scenario. 

The game began quietly, but Goryachkina gained the upper hand after Ju decided she couldn't live with the white e5-pawn cramping her position and played the dubious-looking 12...f5:

 

After the en passant capture 13.exf6 xf6 14.a3 xf3+ 15.xf3 e7 16.h3 g6, White's position is obviously for choice with more active pieces and a target on e6. It's something to work with, but is it enough to win?

Ju exchanged the dark-squared bishops, then the queens, and finally made a wise decision to jettison her b7-pawn in exchange for activating her remaining pieces.

 

23...d7 24.xb7 e8 25.b3 d8 and the position was only slightly better for White. Ten moves further and the engine assessment trended to 0.00, which in Chinese translates to "hurrah" (celebrations ensue)!

The 17th World Champion already defended her title as recently as November 2018, but now she will have until at least 2021 or perhaps even 2022 to enjoy the glory.

Closing ceremony

It's easy to see who won solely from their faces! | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili 


Final match standings

 

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


Tiebreak games and commentary

The tiebreak consisted 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.

 

Analysis by Fat Fritz (lc0 CUDA)


Commentary by GM Nigel Short & GM Hou Yifan


All games

 

Links



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.