Ju Wenjun Misses Win In Game 7 Of Women’s World Chess Championship

Ju Wenjun Misses Win In Game 7 Of Women's World Chess Championship


Defending Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun counterattacked and emerged two pawns up with a winning position as the second half of the 2023 FIDE Women’s World Championship began. As time ran out, however, she took a safe option that allowed GM Lei Tingjie to escape in the endgame and maintain a 4-3 lead with five games to go. 

Game eight, when Ju will have the white pieces, starts on Sunday, July 16, at 3:00 a.m. ET / 09:00 CEST. 

 How to watch the 2023 FIDE Women’s World Chess Championship

Game seven took place in a new city, Lei’s hometown of Chongqing, but the change of scenery almost worked in Ju’s favor. She explained: “Actually, I feel it’s a new beginning, and I’m quite enjoying Chongqing so far.”

Pre-game handshake
Lei and Ju were back at the board after a two-day break. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

The new beginning extended to her opening of the game, when she came up with a new first move.

Game 7: Lei Tingjie ½-½ Ju Wenjun

For the fourth time in the match, Lei opened with 1.e4, but this time, instead of 1…e5, Ju switched to the Caro-Kann, 1…c6.

It was a surprise, since Ju had almost never played that, but Lei pointed out that the one game Ju had played it in the opening was a recent one, in the Chinese League: “She played it probably two weeks ago, three weeks ago, and she never played the Caro-Kann, so you can expect it!”

Sure enough, Lei once again looked the more confident in the opening, with Ju spending 17 minutes as early as move 11, while Lei blitzed out an opening novelty (12.0-0) without any pause for thought. As so often in such cases of deep preparation, however, when Lei did start to think, she began to go astray.

15.Nxd7! Nxd7 16.d5! would have posed serious problems for Ju, who would have needed to give up a pawn for murky compensation. Instead 15.Bf4!? was a decent move, and the one expected by our commentators, but after 15…Rad8 16.Rd3!? matters were suddenly getting out of control.       

After 16…Nxe5! 17.dxe5 the move 18…Rxd3!? could have led to wild complications, with Polgar and Houska enjoying the chaos.

Instead Ju went for the more modest 17…Nh7, but in strategic terms this was dynamite. After thinking for 28 minutes, Lei chose to give up the h4-pawn to plant her knight on d6.

Initially it seems Black’s extra pawn was more than enough compensation for White’s pieces, but both players struggled to find the best path in this complicated middlegame. After exchanging positional inaccuracies, it was perhaps Black who could be happier with the resulting position, since Ju acquired an open b-file, but Lei was still slightly better until she lashed out with 29.g4?!

Lei confessed afterward: “During the game I thought g4 looks so attractive, and I say, OK, probably this was the only chance I could play g4 in this match, so I didn’t think about it a lot. I just said, ‘g4, let’s go!'”

I just said, ‘g4, let’s go!’

Lei Tingjie

Lei said she had underestimated Black’s counterplay, and Ju agreed, pointing out that after g4: “White must go for some attack on the kingside, but it’s very difficult for White to have some threats… and after that, I feel my position is quite pleasant to play.”

Ju Wenjun
After the game, Ju kept repeating the word “focus” about how she’s approaching the match. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

It felt like Ju, in a difficult match, finally had momentum on her side. 

The arrows our commentators drew on the board proved prophetic, as the rook came to b2, and the queen from a5 to c3, then to d3. When Ju was first tempted by an exchange of queens, she correctly dodged it, instead picking up another pawn.

Two pawns down and with her king in danger, Lei realized that she had no choice but to go for the complications of 35.f5! 

Both players were very short on time. Suddenly there were too many options for serious analysis, with different ways to capture on f5, and several pieces that could be put on g5 at different times.

Ju opted for 35…exf5 36.gxf5 gxf5 (36…Ng5! is even better) 37.Qxf5, and we got the critical position of the whole game. 

The best move, it turns out, is 37…Nf8!, planning 38…Ng6, and the black king is safe. The extra pawns would likely bring victory.

Ju had other options, however, such as 37…Ng5!?, and she noted the best moves were “not easy to find at the board” and that going for the sharper options would be “a brave decision.” Instead she went for the safest move, 37…Qe6?!, provoking a sigh from our commentators. 

While a gamble in the last game won Ju’s Chinese colleague GM Ding Liren the world championship title, Ju might look back on this moment as when her title slipped away—if she fails to hit back in the coming games.

The decision is understandable, since even after 38.Qxe6 fxe6 39.Rd7! the endgame still looks promising for Black, who retained a two-pawn advantage after the time control was reached. 

The position after 44.Ra6.

44…h5! might have posed more problems than 44…Kf7 in the game, though to win Black needs either fantastic precision or a blunder from her opponent, and most likely a combination of both.

Lei Tingjie
Lei said she felt dizzy after the endgame. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Instead, despite both players getting down to seconds and Lei admitting, “I feel dizzy right now!” in the post-game press conference, the position remained balanced until Lei was able to use a small trick to end the five-hour game.

64.Nxe5! Rxh6 65.Nf7+ and, with just knights about to be left on the board, the players shook hands on a draw.

GM Rafael Leitao has annotated the game below.

That means that Ju fell just short of leveling the scores, and Lei retains a one-point lead with five games to go. 

Fed Name Rtg 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 Score
Ju Wenjun 2564 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½

Lei Tingjie 2554 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½

We’re reaching the stage when Ju has no margin for error. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Ju will have the white pieces when the action continues on Sunday.

The 2023 FIDE Women’s World Championship (FWWC) is the most important women’s over-the-board event of the year. The defending women’s world champion, GM Ju Wenjun, faces the challenger, GM Lei Tingjie, to see who will be crowned world champion. The championship started on July 5 and boasts a €500,000 prize fund.

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