Women World Chess Championship
Shanghai / Vladivostok
Jan. 5–24, 2020
Ju Wenjun CHN 2584, 3 wins 6 draws 3 losses, 6.0/12
Aleksandra Goryachkina RUS 2578, 3 wins 6 draws 3 losses, 6.0/12
Ju Wenjun defeated Goryachkina 2.5-1.5
Regular Match — 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 30 minutes play-to-finish, with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1
Tie-breaks — 25 minutes for the entire game with 10 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1
The 2020 FIDE Women’s World Chess Championship was a 12-game match between Chinese reigning champion Ju Wenjun and Russian challenger Aleksandra Goryachkina, who won the 2019 FIDE Women’s Candidates Tournament. The first six games was played in Ju Wenjun’s hometown of Shanghai, China and the remaining games in Vladivostok, Russia. The prize fund: 500,000 euros, split 60:40, or 55:45 in case of a playoff.
Ju Wenjun (born Jan. 31, 1991, which makes her 28 years of age) was the favorite to win. She is a native of Shanghai and rated 2584, just slightly higher than her challenger’s 2578. If the match goes into rapid tie-breaks Wenjun would have the edge as she is a monster at speed chess, having won the World Rapid Chess Championship in 2017 Riyadh as well as the same championship the next year in St. Petersburg. She did not participate in the 2019 edition held last December, which actually struck me as odd as what better way to stir up the creative juices than 5 days of rapid/blitz chess?
Aleksandra Goryachkina (born Sept. 28, 1998 in Orsk, Russia) is from a chess family — her father, Yuri, is a FIDE Master and her first coach. Her mother is a Candidate Master in chess as well. Outside of chessplaying, Aleksandra is very involved in teaching. Her father is the president of a chess school in Salekhard where she frequently gives master classes.
I thought it strange that the second half of the match was held in Vladivostok because whereas the Chinese defending champion was born and grew up in Shanghai, her Russian challenger’s hometown is Orsk, which is just South of the Urals on the European side of Russia. Vladivostok is on the other side of Russia, the Far East side, on the Sea of Japan not far from Russia’s borders with China and North Korea. It is the home port of the Russian Pacific Fleet.
To illustrate how far that is from Goryachkina’s home, if she went to Moscow to take a train ride to Vladivostok, this is the longest journey you can make on a single train: the longest of the three trans-Siberian routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, covers 9,258 kilometers and takes seven days.
Contrast this with the distance between Shanghai and Vladivostok which is “only” 1,600 kilometers.
At any rate when the match started in Shanghai it was Ju Wenjun who appeared to be out-of-form and tentative while her challenger pushed hard for the win. They started with 3 hard-fought draws (games took 97, 40 and 85 moves — no short handshakes!) and then Ju Wenjun broke through in game 4 to take the lead. Goryachkina said that she lost the thread of the game but couldn’t quite pinpoint where — her position just kept getting worse and she couldn’t recover.
Ju, Wenjun (2584) — Goryachkina, Aleksandra (2578) [D16]
Wch Women 2020 Shanghai / Vladivostok (4.1), 09.01.2020
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 e6 6.e3 c5 7.Bxc4 cxd4 8.exd4 Nc6 9.0–0 Be7
By transposition we have a Queen’s Gambit position in which White’s extra move a4 only weakens his queenside. Usually a4 is only a reaction to a6, and here Black can do without a6 altogether. Recent practice confirms she has good chances to achieve equality.
Releases the tension in the position some might say too early. However, it appears that Ju’s strategy is to avoid risk and wait for Goryachkina to make a mistake.
10…exd5 11.Nxd5 Nxd5 12.Bxd5 0–0 13.Be3 Bf5 14.Qb3 Nb4 15.Rfd1 Qa5 16.Ne5 Nxd5 17.Rxd5 Qa6 18.Nd7 Be6 19.Nxf8 Kxf8?!
Black’s problems later can be traced to this king move. I will show you later.
20.Qb5 Bxd5 21.Qxd5 Rd8 22.Qe4
See? The h7 pawn is attacked and 22…g6 23.Bh6+ won’t do.
22…h6 23.g3 b6 24.Rc1 f6?
Goryachkina was afraid of White’s Qh7+Rc7 attack, but actually the simple 24…Bf6! was more than adequate. If White pushes through with the Qh7+Rc7 plan then: 25.Qh7 (25.Rc7? right away is a blunder because of 25…Rd1+ 26.Kg2 Qf1+ 27.Kf3 Qh1+ and White loses her queen after 28.Kf4 Bg5+ 29.Ke5 f6+ 30.Kf5 g6+ etc) 25…Qd3! and now White has to exchange queens, otherwise 26.Qh8+? Ke7 27.Rc7+ Ke6 the queen on a8 is trapped.
25.Kg2 Rc8 26.Rxc8+ Qxc8 27.Qd5 Ke8 28.h4! Qd7 29.Qg8+ Bf8 30.Qc4 h5
Preventing white’s h4–h5. Ju Wenjun for the first time has the advantage out of the opening and the accuracy with which she executes the winning technique is impressive.
Getting out of possible checks on the long diagonal.
31…Be7 32.b3 Kf8 33.Qc2 Bd6 34.Qe4 Bc5
Goes against the rule that when you are up, swap pieces, when you are down, swap pawns.
35.Bxc5+ bxc5 36.a5!
Bringing the pawn to a6 to ensure that she always has the threat of Qb7.
36…Qe7 37.Qa8+ Kf7 38.a6 g6 39.Qd5+ Kg7 40.Qb7 Kf8 41.Kg2!
With the long diagonal firmly under her control Ju now brings her king up the board.
41…Ke8 42.Qa8+ Kf7 43.Qd5+ Kg7 44.Kf3 Kf8 45.Qb7 Ke8 46.Qd5?!
The pawn endgame after: 46.Qxe7+! Kxe7 47.g4! is won for White. No matter, Wenjun must have realized the same thing after she made her move, for now she tries to “rewind” and get the same position.
46…Kf8 47.Kf4 Qc7+ 48.Ke3 Qc8 49.Qb7 Qd8 50.Kf3 Qe7 <D>
POSITION AFTER 50…QE7
Rewind accomplished. This time Ju does not hesitate.
51.Qxe7+! Kxe7 52.g4 Kd6 53.gxh5 gxh5 54.Ke4 Kc6 55.f4 Kb5 56.Kd5!
White needs to be precise. 56.Kf5? would have thrown away the win: 56…Kb4! 57.Kxf6 Kxb3 58.Kg6 c4 59.f5 c3 60.f6 c2 61.f7 c1Q 62.f8Q it looks like a draw.
The drawing method I showed you in the previous move does not work now: 56…Kb4 57.Kc6 f5 58.Kd6 Kb5 59.Kc7! Kb4 (59…Kxa6 60.Kc6) 60.Kc6.
57.Kd6 Kb6 58.Kd7!
The Black King is forced out of action.
58…Ka5 59.Kc7 Kxa6 60.Kc6 Ka5 61.Kxc5 Ka6 62.b4 Kb7 63.Kd5 1–0
Goryachkina struck back in game 5 to equalize the score. In game 6 Goryachkina again got a big advantage with calm and measured play but, as in games 1 and 3, she was not able to build on her advantage and after the 1st time control the worst was behind Ju and a draw was agreed on the 105th (!) move.
The match then took a 3-day break. The common wisdom is that if the match is tied going into the Vladivostok half then the momentum would shift to Goryachkina. That was not what happened.
In game 7 for the first time it was Ju who got a very comfortable position from the opening and Goryachkina was reduced to sitting back and waiting for her Chinese foe to break through. Aleksandra defended extremely well and held the draw in 67 moves.
Wenjun had problems with Black throughout the match and game 8 was a disaster — she went into an inferior line and Goryachkina pounced on it to win in 45 moves to go one up.
With her back against the wall Ju Wenjun went into game 9 wearing a black jacket with “whatever” embroidered on the back and she went for broke, playing in a very risky style which paid off when Goryachkina went astray in approaching time trouble. Once again the match was tied.
In Game 10 Ju Wenjun won again to grab the lead for the second time in the match. Aleksandra equalized out of the opening but mis-assessed her position and erred through an unjustified winning attempt.
The roles were reversed as it was Goryachkina who was now behind and needed at least one win in the final two games to draw level. Game 11 was drawn and, in the last game of the match, in a win-or-go-home situation, Aleksandra unleashed the Jobava Attack and, after an eventful game where both sides fought hard, took advantage of a blunder by Ju to win and tie the match and force tie-breaks.
The tie-breaks were played the next day. This was a 4-game match at 25 minutes each with 10 second increment after every move. Ju won 1 and drew 3 to finally close out the match and retain her title as women’s world champion, although even here in the faster time controls Goryachkina proved herself to be a tough customer and had her winning chances as well.
This was a roller-coaster of a match and both sides should be commended for fighting to the end in every game. At the end, the difference between the two came down to the so-called killer instinct. Excellent opening preparation gave Goryachkina a big advantage in at least 4 of the games but, in the face of continuous resourceful defense she just couldn’t nail down the full point. In the case of Ju Wenjun once she got the advantage more often than not that was it.
We will continue this interesting story on Thursday.
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.