Ju Wenjun is women’s champ

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Ju Wenjun
Grandmaster Ju Wenjun

Khanty-Mansiysk is a city in the center of the Khanty-Mansi Okrug (an administrative unit providing autonomy to indigenous peoples of Northern Russia, in this case the Khanty and the Mansi people) located in Western Siberia. The city has around 100,000 inhabitants and its climate extreme — temperatures as low as -56 degrees and as high as 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

The region is also home to 70% of Russia’s developed oil fields, which explains why in recent years there has been a non-stop building frenzy. New hotels and shopping centers are springing up everywhere. It is very fortunate that the provincial and city administrators are chess supporters. They have become the no. 1 organizer in the world. To mention only the major events, there is the 2014 Candidates Tournament (won by Anand), numerous World Cups including in 2005 (winner — Levon Aronian), 2007 (Gata Kamsky won), 2009 (won by Boris Gelfand), 2011 (Peter Svidler was the victor) and this coming 2019.

The 2010 Chess Olympiad was held in Khanty-Mansiysk and the 2020 Olympiad has been awarded to them as well.

This year the Women’s World Championship Knockout (KO) also took place in Khanty-Mansiysk from Nov. 3-25. 64 women players from all over the world gathered there to compete for their share of the $450,000 prize fund. Winner gets $60,000, runner-up $30,000, semi-finalists $20,000, quarter-finals $12,000 and so on and so forth. Even losers in the first round go home with $3,750.

The rules were as follows:

Players are ranked according to their FIDE rating as of October 2018 from highest to lowest and then no. 1 plays no. 64, 2 plays 63, and so on. These are two-game matches (except for the finals, which is a four-game match) with a time control of 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, and then 30 minutes for the rest of the game; with 30 seconds added to their clocks after every move starting move 1 (commonly known as an increment).

In the event of a tie after the regular games, the following tie breaks were used, in order:

Two tie break games at a time limit of 25 minutes plus 10 second increment per move;

Two tie break games at a time limit of 10 minutes plus 10 seconds increment per move;

Two tie break games at a time limit of five minutes plus three second increment per move;

Armageddon game, at a time limit of five minutes for white, and four minutes for black, plus three seconds per move from move 61; with white having to win and black having to draw or win.

Starting from the Quarter-Finals, here are the results:

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk RUS 2543 vs. GM Anna Muzychuk UKR 2564, 2.5-1.5

GM Ju Wenjun CHN 2568 vs. WGM Gulnukhbegim Tokhirjonova UZB 2435, 1.5-0.5

GM Mariya Muzychuk UKR vs. IM Zhansaya Abdumalik KAZ 2473, 4.5-3.5

GM Kateryna Lagno RUS 2556 vs. GM Lei Tingjie CHN 2457, 2.0-0.0


GM Alexandra Kosteniuk RUS 2543 vs. GM Ju Wenjun CHN 2568, 0.5-1.5

GM Mariya Muzychuk UKR 2545 vs. GM Kateryna Lagno RUS 2556, 1.0-3.0


GM Ju Wenjun CHN 2568 vs. GM Kateryna Lagno RUS 2556, 5.0-3.0

Defending Champion and top seed Ju Wenjun successfully retained the title of Women’s World Champion. The first five rounds went smoothly for her

round 1 she blanked Australia’s WFM Kathryn Hardegen 1832 with 2.0-0.0.

round 2 a quick 1.5-0.5 over a tough customer, USA’s many-time champion GM Irina Krush 2434

round 3 she put away tournament sensation WGM Zhai Mo CHN 2352, 1.5-0.5

round 4 won over Uzbek WGM Gulnukhbegim Tokhirjonova 2435, 1.5-0.5

round 5 defeated former world champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk RUS 2543, 1.5-0.5

The Chinese GM finished off all her opponents in the first two games and never had to go to tiebreaks. The 6th round though was a different matter. She faced Kateryna Lagno in the 4-game finals and put the entire title defense in jeopardy by losing the 2nd game of the match.

Lagno, Kateryna (2556) — Ju, Wenjun (2568) [E04]
Women’s World Chess Championship 2018 Khanty-Mansiysk (6.2), 20.11.2018

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3

Kateryna Lagno, born 1989, was a child prodigy and won her first world championship (World Youth Under — 10) at the age of 10. She has been a lifelong 1.e4 player but suddenly unveiled the Catalan with 1.Nf3 and 2.g3 in her Finals match with Ju Wenjun. The only game she deviated, game 4 was a Sicilian Rossolimo and she lost. We will look at that later.

2…d5 3.Bg2 c5 4.0 — 0 Nc6 5.d4 e6 6.c4 dxc4 7.dxc5 Qxd1 8.Rxd1 Bxc5 9.Nfd2

White has given up a pawn but the Catalan bishop on g2 has strong influence on the queenside.

9…Na5 10.Na3 Bxa3 11.bxa3 0 — 0 12.Ne4 e5N 13.Bd2 Nxe4 14.Bxe4 Nc6 15.Bc3 Be6

Wenjun gives back the pawn to relieve the pressure.

16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Bxe5 Rfd8 18.Bc3 f6 19.f3 Kf7 20.Kf2 Rxd1 21.Rxd1 Rb8 22.g4 c5 23.h4 h6 24.a4 Ke7 25.a5 Rb7 26.Rg1 Rd7 27.g5 hxg5 28.hxg5 Kf7 29.gxf6 gxf6 30.Rh1 Kg7 31.Rb1 Kf7 32.Rb5 Rc7 33.Rb8 Re7 34.Rh8 Kg6 35.Rf8 Rf7 36.Rg8+ Kh7?

Careless, leaving her f6 — pawn undefended. Black should continue her blocking with 36…Rg7 37.Rd8 Rd7 38.Re8 Bf5 39.Rf8 Rf7, they will soon be shaking hands.

37.Rd8 Kg6

Black cannot play 37…Rd7 because her pawns on c5 and f6 are vulnerable and one of them will be lost to 38.Re8 Bf7 39.Rc8

38.Rd6 Re7 39.Rc6 Kf7 40.Rxc5 Rd7 41.Rc6 f5 42.Ke3 Re7 43.Kf4 Rd7 44.Rc5 Rd8 45.Rb5 Rd7 46.a6!

Fixing the weak pawn on a7, take note that it is on the same square as white’s bishop. It also prepares Rb7 after which the a7 — pawn will fall.

46…Kg6 47.Ke5 Re7 48.Rb7 Re8 49.Rxa7 Bf7+ 50.Kd4 Rxe2 51.a4 Re6 52.Kc5 Be8 53.Rg7+ Kh6 54.a7 Ra6 55.Re7 Rc6+ 56.Kb4 Rc8 57.Rb7 Ra8 58.Rb8 Bc6 59.Rb6 1 — 0

An excellently played game by Lagno.

With her back against the wall Ju Wenjun came back though to win the final classical game 4 with a direct mating attack.

Lagno, Kateryna (2556) — Ju, Wenjun (2568) [B31]
Women’s World Chess Championship Khanty-Mansiysk (6.4), 22.11.2018

If Lagno holds the draw here she is the new world champion. She therefore goes to her tried and true 1.e4.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6

Wenjun is an expert on the Black side of the Najdorf and up to now has always played 2…d6 but her opponent’s sudden switch to 1.e4 for this crucial last game (if Ju loses or draws) might mean that there is a prepared line waiting for her, so she plays something she hasn’t done before.

3.Bb5 g6 4.0 — 0 Bg7 5.Re1 e5

Lagno seemed to be surprised by this move, for she thought for more than 10 minutes before replying.

6.a3 Nge7 7.Nc3 0 — 0 8.Bc4 d6

We have a closed maneuvering game — exactly what Ju Wenjun wanted. With all pawns and pieces remaining on the board she has the opportunity to plan an attack and build up her forces.

9.d3 h6 10.Nd5 Kh7 11.c3 f5 12.exf5 gxf5 13.b4 Ng6 14.b5 Na5 15.Ba2 Be6 16.Qa4 b6 17.Bd2 Rg8 18.Rad1 Qd7 19.Nh4?

White should have tucked away her king with 19.Kh1.


Black does not give anything away but misses the killer move 19…c4! and White cannot capture on c4 because then her knight on h4 will be free. After 20.Nxg6 Bxd5 21.dxc4 Be6 (If Black wants to go for a brilliancy prize she may try 21…Bxg2 22.Kxg2 Qf7 recovering the knight, but the game is still far from over) 22.Nh4 Bf6 23.Nf3 Qb7 24.Re3 f4 Black’s attack is irresistible.

20.Nxg6 Rxg6 21.Qh4

Even on purely positional grounds Black’s 19…c4! would have been good as White’s queen would be cut off on a4. Now the queen gets back into the game and the fight continues.

21…Rag8 22.g3 Qf7 23.c4 Bf6 24.Nxf6+ Rxf6 25.f4 Rg4 26.Qh3 Rfg6 27.Rf1 Qg7 <D>



Lagno played this move quickly and did not realize what she had done, putting her king on the long diagonal and vulnerable to a check there. The only move, admittedly difficult to find, is 28.Qh5! and Black’s breakthrough with 28…Rxg3+ will not work because 29.hxg3 Rxg3+ 30.Kh2 and Black might have nothing better than perpetual check here, as White is threatening Rf1 — g1 herself to negate the pressure on the g-file.

28…Bc8! 29.Qh5 Bb7+ 30.Kg1 Rxg3+ 31.hxg3 Rxg3+ 32.Kf2 Rg2+ 0 — 1

In the Rapid tie break the first two games were drawn before Ju Wenjun won the final two (10 minute games) to keep the title.

Beginning 2010, the Women’s World Chess Championship has been held annually in alternating format. In even years a 64-player KO system would be used. In the odd years a classical match featuring only two players would be held. The end result was that we had a new world champion almost every year.

The new FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich announced during the event that he felt this discredited the championship title as a whole and that henceforth whoever is to become world champion has to win it in a match. Furthermore a Candidates’ tournament for the challenger will be created.

Well, 2019 will definitely be an interesting year for women’s chess.

We will look at the games of the other players in Khanty-Mansiysk 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 for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.