Lei Tingjie wins the FIDE Women’s Candidates

Lei Tingjie wins the FIDE Women's Candidates


Lei Tingjie has beaten Tan Zhongyi with a game to spare to earn a Women’s World Championship match against her Chinese compatriot Ju Wenjun this July. 26-year-old Lei Tingjie lost the first game of the FIDE Women’s Candidates Final, but then stormed back to win three of the next four and clinch a 3.5:1.5 victory.

When Lei Tingjie blundered in a winning position and lost the first game of the 6-game FIDE Women’s Candidates Final to Tan Zhongyi she looked to be in trouble. Tan Zhongyi is five years older and had the experience of playing a World Championship match. Would she be able to shut things down and hold on to her advantage? No! Instead Lei Tingjie stormed straight back and went on to dominate the match.

Game 2 was crucial, as Lei Tingjie showed she wasn’t all about tactics by grinding out a brilliant win in an endgame where she had the advantage of the bishop pair. The final mistake only came on move 71, with Lei Tingjie wrapping up victory eight moves later.

Game 3 would prove to be the only draw of the match, with Lei Tingjie reviving an opening line with a dubious reputation with the novelty 13…Rb8! and getting a promising middlegame position. Tan Zhongyi also played well, however, and the draw was a logical outcome.

Lei Tingjie then took the lead for the first time in Game 4, after the rest day, with a dominant performance, though there was one slip. For one move only 28…fxe4! was close to winning for Tan Zhongyi, with the point that after 29.fxe4 Rxf1+ 30.Bxf1 Nxd5! White has to acquiesce to losing a pawn.

31.exd5? runs into 31…e4! and e.g. 32.Rd1 Qe3+! 33.Kh1 Rf2! and White is busted. Needless to say, however, that was far from easy to spot.

Instead after 28…Nc8 Lei Tingjie had an edge that oscillated between large and winning, with 42…Nxe4 the last mistake — though by that point only acrobatics such as 42…Qb4! 43.Nxg7 Rxb3! 44.Qxe5 Qxe4+ could save Black.

In the game after 43.Qc2! Qe1?! 44.Re2! Tan Zhongyi was losing a piece and ultimately the game.

That meant Game 5 was Tan Zhongyi’s last chance to hit back with the white pieces, and she went for the Colle Zukertort system often used by players trying simply “to get a game”.

It backfired after a loose move 12, however, and as White’s pieces got into a tangle on the queenside, Lei Tingjie launched an attack on the kingside.

Soon the writing was on the wall for White, and Lei Tingjie even missed some quicker kills, with 20…g3!, planning to follow up with h4, a powerful option.

20…0-0 was only a temporary reprieve, however, as soon the black kingside pawns began to roll down the board until Tan Zhongyi hit out in desperation with 33.Nxd5!?

After 33…Rxg4 it turned out the plan was not resignation but 34.Rxe4!?, which was in some ways a brilliant try. After 34…Rxg1+ 35.Rxg1 Black has only one winning move.

35…Qxe4? would run into 36.Nf6+ and the position is suddenly level, but Lei Tingjie had foreseen 35…Qxf2+!, getting the queen out of Dodge and threatening mate on h2, and White is truly busted.

Tan Zhongyi tried 36.Bf4, perhaps praying for 36…Rc2?? 37.Nf6+! and it’s White who gives checkmate, but it allowed a number of beautiful wins. 36…Rc1! was the most clinical, but the queen sacrifice 36…Qg2+! was hard to resist if you saw it… and Lei Tingjie did!

After 37…Rxg2 38.hxg2+ 38.Kg1 Bxf4 Tan Zhongyi resigned.

You can’t capture the bishop on f4 without allowing Rc1+ and Black queening a pawn, so Tan Zhongyi is simply a piece down, with her position in ruins.

That means that Lei Tingjie will play her first Women’s World Championship match, July 5-25, against the Women’s World Championship since 2018, Ju Wenjun.

Lei Tingjie set things up nicely, since with her 3rd win against Tan Zhongyi she reached a career best rating, climbed to women’s world no. 5, and is now live rated above her World Championship opponent.

Not bad for a week’s work!

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