Ju Wenjun scores clutch win, defends World Championship title

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/22/2023 – Ju Wenjun won the twelfth and final classical game of her match against Lei Tingjie to successfully defend the Women’s World Championship title. This is Ju’s fourth victory in a fight for the biggest title in women’s chess. The 32-year-old from Shanghai grabbed the women’s crown for the first time in 2018 and is set to continue her reign for at least one more year. | Photos: Stev Bonhage / FIDE

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Four world-title victories

Two Chinese players have recorded the biggest successes in Women’s World Championship cycles since the turn of the century: Hou Yifan and Ju Wenjun.

With her 6½-5½ victory over Lei Tingjie, Ju has triumphed in battles for the title no fewer than four times, much like Hou, who collected her four triumphs between 2010 and 2016. Despite having given up classical chess almost completely, Hou is still the highest-rated woman player in the world, but her leaving the Women’s World Championship cycle allowed for a new queen to ascend.

Ju is, in fact, the second-highest rated woman player in the world, as her 2568 live rating is a notch above that of Aleksandra Goryachkina, Humpy Koneru, Kateryna Lagno and her last challenger, Lei Tingjie — all formidable players who have failed to outperform the 32-year-old from Shanghai.

The fact that Ju has already beat Tan Zhongyi, Goryachkina and now Lei speaks volumes about her ability to deal with high-pressure situations. The one time she won the title in a knockout tournament, back in 2018, she was trailing Lagno by a point going into the final classical game of their match — Ju won the game on demand and went on to outscore her opponent in playoffs. In 2020, she also beat Goryachkina in rapid tiebreakers, right after the Russian star had herself won game 12 on demand.

Now, in the all-Chinese confrontation against Lei, we got to see another match going down to the wire, with an exciting final classical game tipping the balance in the defending champion’s favour. Talk about entertainment value at the very highest level!

Lei Tingjie

Lei Tingjie proved to be a remarkable challenger | Photo: Stev Bonhage

Clutch win

Game 12 was by no means a boring affair. Instead of signing a quick draw and taking the match to rapid playoffs (where the fact that there are more games lessens the damage provoked by single mistakes), the Chinese duo entered a double-edged opening variation.

With connected passers on the queenside for White, and Black having a strong pawn centre and the more solid structure, it seemed increasingly likely that the game would end decisively. Ju’s decision to get two minor pieces for a rook and a pawn (one of the dangerous passers) further sharpened the position.

The queens were already off the board when Lei erred strategically with 22...e5. From that point on, Ju showed her class and went on to get the 62-move win that allowed her to keep the women’s world champion crown!

Women's World Chess Championship 2023

Ju Wenjun took home this beautiful trophy | Photo: Stev Bonhage

All games


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.