Women’s World Chess Championship Goes Down To The Wire

Women's World Chess Championship Goes Down To The Wire


Challenger GM Lei Tingjie briefly threatened to take over in game 10 of the 2023 FIDE Women’s World Championship, but defending champion GM Ju Wenjun “took back” a questionable move and soon even had a nominal advantage before the game fizzled out into a draw. 

The match is tied 5-5 and, whatever happens, all 12 classical games will now be played. After Thursday’s final rest day, Lei has White in game 11, which starts on Friday, July 21, at 3:00 a.m. ET / 09:00 CEST. 

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

When the players were asked what they do each day, they both managed to make the world championship match itself feel like an interruption to an already busy schedule!   

The match is drawing to a close, with the price of any mistake now incredibly high. That was one explanation for the careful draw we saw in game 10, though once again, there was no quick draw, and no absence of tension.  

Game 10: Ju Wenjun ½-½ Lei Tingjie

Ju had managed to play a new first move for three games in a row, but that sequence finally ended in game 10, when she repeated the 1.Nf3 that had given her a win in game eight. That gave Lei the chance to deviate first, as she did with 1…Nf6 instead of the 1…d5 of the previous game. 

Players tend to be of two schools for how they point their knights—Ju’s knight points to the side, Lei’s directly at her opponent.

The move could hardly have come as a great shock to Ju, but she nevertheless paused for over four minutes to decide what approach to take, before replying 2.c4.

Lei once again made all her moves almost instantly, while Ju also sped up, and after 11 moves we found ourselves with a position that was first seen exactly 50 years ago in a USSR Championship game featuring the ninth World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian. It was also featured in a 1988 game between the seventh World Chess Champion Vasily Smyslov and one of the greatest players never to become world champion, GM Viktor Korchnoi.

Ju was dodging the latest opening theory, where Lei had shown herself to be exceptionally well-prepared, and looked to have good chances of getting a small edge she could work with. 

All changed when Ju moved her knight from d2 to f3, and Lei took advantage of the weakening of the e4-square to play 14…Ne4!

Suddenly it’s not all about slow maneuvering, with 15…Qf6! one strong option against any slow move by White, taking advantage of the undefended bishop on b2 and hinting at bringing the queen to h6. There are also ideas of a kingside attack, while the knight on e4 might even sacrifice itself on f2. Our commentators were looking at such ideas, with Kosteniuk recalling that her father repeatedly recalled a phrase of the legendary chess wit Siegbert Tarrasch: “Before the endgame, the gods have placed the middlegame.”

Before the endgame, the gods have placed the middlegame.

—Siegbert Tarrasch

It was a moment of potential danger, and Ju realized it, since she sank into a 24-minute think. After that, she did one of the most difficult things in chess; she retraced her steps, moving the knight back from f3 to d2, acknowledging her mistake. Ju commented: “I feel with this I’m fine and maybe we’ll just see what she will play. The position is overall fine for both sides.”

Ju has looked much more at home in the second half of the match, despite moving from her home city of Shanghai. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Lei spent 20 minutes before going for 15…Nxd4 16.Bxd4 Re6, hinting heavily at a kingside attack with the swinging rook. If Ju here played passively she could very quickly get into trouble, but she took another radical and good decision, 17.f4! 

Lei could see her chances slipping away, and decided to force matters with 17…Bc5!?, but the simplifications that followed left only White with any slim chances of a win. The players were unsure about the position after 20.Qxd5.

Lei commented: “Probably I should have played 20…Bc6 instead of 20…Rxe3. I think it’s an easy draw.”

After Lei captured the e3-pawn, Ju was able to play 21.Bc4, attacking the f7-pawn, and with 21…Re7 22.Qxb7 Ju had picked up an extra pawn. 

It was more a nuisance than a serious threat, however, and after a couple of fast and confident moves by Lei—22…Bb5! 23.Qd5 Rd7!, it became clear that the pressure on the white pieces would easily compensate for the pawn. 

By move 32 Ju had given back the extra pawn, and long before the end it was clear that the game was continuing more because neither player wanted to offer a draw than for any other burning need. The players’ faces said it all.

A draw was finally reached on move 47, after the players began repeating moves.

GM Rafael Leitao has annotated the game below.

That means the score is tied at 5-5 going into Thursday’s final rest day. Then we know that whatever the result of Friday’s game, we’ll also get a 12th classical game on Saturday. 

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 1 ½ ½

Lei Tingjie 2554 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½


It now couldn’t be closer, with both players having White once in the last two games. If the score ends tied 6-6, we’ll have tiebreaks on Sunday, starting with four 25-minute games, where the players get an extra 10 seconds each move.

So this weekend we’ll find out if Ju will become a four-time women’s world champion, or if Lei will become the 18th women’s world champion in history. Lei talked about dreams when asked what advice she would give to young female players trying to make their way in the chess world: 

“I think first of all you need passion to play chess. I think this is very important, and then if you want to play better chess, just focus on training and do whatever you want. Don’t think about other people, just try to chase your dreams and your goals!”

For the second time this year, a world championship match is going down to the wire. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Lei will have the white pieces in a classical game for the last time in the match on Friday, when the action resumes.  

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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