Women’s World Championship: Tense match tied with one game to go

by André Schulz
7/21/2023 – Ju Wenjun and Lei Tingjie seem to be heading to a playoff at the Women’s World Championship in China. Game 11 saw the contenders for the title signing the ninth draw of the match, which remains tied with one game to go. The twelfth and last classical game of the contest will be played on Saturday. | Photos: Stev Bonhage / FIDE

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Rapid, blitz or Armageddon likely deciders

The Women’s World Championship is very likely to be decided in a playoff. In the eleventh and penultimate game, neither the defending champion Ju Wenjun nor the challenger Lei Tingjie managed to tip the balance in either player’s favour.

After the open World Championship matches facing Magnus Carlsen against Sergey Karjakin (two decisive classical games), and Carlsen against Fabiano Caruana (no decisive classical games), FIDE increased the number of games in the match for the title to sixteen, since the it seemed that twelve games are too short a distance and the players do not want to take any risks for fear of finding themselves at a decisive disadvantage with a single defeat.

The superiority of the defending champion, Magnus Carlsen, certainly played a role, as his opponents acted particularly cautiously. But perhaps the distance of twelve games is also too short in the Women’s World Championship. In the match between Ju Wenjun and Lei Tingjie one also has the impression that the contenders are playing with the handbrake on at some points in the match.

In the event of a tie after the classical phase, a playoff will decide the winner, first with rapid games, then with blitz games, and finally with the infamous Armageddon tiebreaker. Whether this is the right formula for deciding a World Championship match between two equally strong opponents is questionable.

In earlier times, a draw was enough for the defending champion to retain the title. This seems unfair and disadvantages the challenger, but at least one of the two players had to play for a win if he/she wanted to achieve anything. Only a challenger who was better than the defending champion and could prove it in the match replaced the previous world champion. That was not so bad. And it avoided deciding the world title in blitz or Armageddon.

Ju Wenjun

Ju Wenjun

Lei Tingjie

Lei Tingjie

The eleventh game, which saw both sides playing cautiously in the opening phase, gained pace for a brief moment during time trouble after Ju Wenjun broke in the centre with 35...e4. However, several piece exchanges followed, and the game eventually ended in a draw.

The last classical game of the match will be played on Saturday, while the playoff, if necessary, is scheduled to take place on Sunday.

All games


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.