Lei Tingjie’s King Escapes In Game 11 Before Final Showdown

Lei Tingjie's King Escapes In Game 11 Before Final Showdown


Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun attacked with the black pieces in Game 11 of the 2023 FIDE Women’s World Championship, but a creative king march saved the day for GM Lei Tingjie, leaving the scores tied at 5.5-5.5 going into the final classical game. 

Ju has White in that clash, which starts on Saturday, July 22, at 3:00 a.m. ET / 09:00 CEST / 12:30 IST.  

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The Women’s World Championship match must end Saturday or Sunday, and the players were asked if it had felt fast or slow. Ju noted that “time flies,” while Lei was already looking forward to a relaxing meal in a couple of days!

Before that, however, there’s the small matter of finishing the €500,000 match, potentially with a nail-biting playoff on Sunday. Game 11 was played under the sword of Damocles, with both players knowing a loss would put them in a desperate situation before the final game.    

Game 11: Lei Tingjie ½-½ Ju Wenjun

The match couldn’t be closer going into the final weekend. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Lei had one last chance to spring an opening move surprise, but instead, for a sixth time in a row, played 1.e4. In the previous two games with Black, Ju had varied, playing the Caro-Kann (1…c6) and then the Sicilian (1…c5), but this time she returned to her first choice in the match, 1…e5.

Lei went for the Italian (2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4) that had brought her a win in game five, but it was Ju who deviated first after 3…Nf6 4.d3 with 4…Be7, a more solid choice than her earlier 4…Bc5.

Ju plays a new move for the match, 4…Be7.

Lei stopped for a few minutes to ponder her options and was soon heading down a rarely-trodden path. When 9.Nd5 appeared on the board, our commentators felt a draw was highly likely, with two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Shahade speculating that both players may be content to steer the match towards a playoff on Sunday.

Ju stopped to think for over 21 minutes at this point, and, when she replied, it was clear she was in no mood to play passively with the black pieces. She set out to solve all her issues at once with 9…Bxd5!? 10.Bxd5 Nb4 11.Bb3 d5!?

The best option for White seems to have been to ignore that pawn push, for instance by castling (12.c3!?, meanwhile, runs into 12…dxe4!), but Lei exchanged pawns on d5, allowing Ju to achieve her goal of equalizing. 

Ju’s decision to return to 1…e5 worked out well. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

The game would turn into a tale of big pawn breaks by Ju, but first both players marshaled their forces symmetrically. They brought their rooks to the e-file and pushed their h-pawns two squares, and their g-pawns one. It was all about slow maneuvring, until Lei’s 22.Nd2?! was a little too slow. It gave a chance for Ju to get her bishop out of the way and then strike with 23…f5!, seizing space on the kingside.  

The players agreed that Black had the initiative. Lei commented: “I think the position was equal, but somehow I played quite passively. Probably the position is OK for me, but when she started to play f5 and Bf6, I think it’s a little bit unpleasant for White, and also my time is lower than hers.”

Ju added: “I feel in general after …f5 Black’s position is quite pleasant, but it is not easy to break this solid structure.” That structure would become a little less solid when, after a period in which both players were shuffling pieces, Lei took the risky, but silicon-approved, decision to play 29.f3!?

Ju felt that was an opportunity for Black, “maybe some chance to play f4, but the moment is important.” She never quite found that moment, while Lei had a plan: “I think moving the f-pawn in front of the kingside can always be dangerous. When I played 29.f3, I already saw some idea like 30.Qf2, 31.Kg2, 32.Rh1, 33.Kf1, so it’s hard to evaluate it. Probably Black has some chances, but it’s still quite interesting to play like this.”

The brilliant point of those at first confusing moves was to get the king out of Dodge towards the queenside, and Lei noted that she was inspired by a game young two-time World Blitz Champion IM Bibisara Assaubayeva won against GM Harika Dronavalli in this year’s FIDE Women’s Grand Prix in New Delhi. In that game, the white king made it all the way from g1 to a2 in just nine moves.

Lei’s king march wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it worked to perfection, since when the king reached d1, Ju needed to act fast.

Her reasoning for that critical decision was somewhat Lei-esque in its lackadaisically: “Somehow the king runs, and I felt, ok, maybe that’s enough for the day, so I just played 35…e4!

Ju had correctly calculated the line she played, following 36.fxe4 fxe4 37.Kc1 with 37…e3!, though after 38.Nxe3 there was a stunning option available, 38…Bg5!!, seemingly just giving up a piece. 

The point is that after 39.hxg5 Qxg5, the pin on e3 will ultimately regain the piece, and perhaps with interest. If White doesn’t give it freely, all kinds of bad things can happen, including: 40.Kd2 Rf8! 41.Qe1 Rxe3! 42.Rxe3 Nxe3 43.Qxe3 Rf2+! and the queen is lost. 

Ju said she’d seen the idea of 38…Bg5!!, but correctly noted, “It’s not so clear,” and in fact, against best play Black is only slightly better. It would have been incredibly brave to go for that with minutes on the clock, especially since Ju’s 38…Rhe8! was a solid and simple move that provoked mass simplifications. The key sting-in-the-tail was that after exchanges on e3, Black is able to pick up the pawn on a5, and the material is equal.

The position after Ju’s 42…Qxa5.

Going by the players’ past record, it felt as though we might still be in for a long game, but instead Ju was quickly able to force a draw by repetition by invading with her queen on the kingside and giving checks to the white king.

GM Rafael Leitao has annotated the game below.

That fascinating battle left the scores again tied, this time at 5.5-5.5, going into Saturday’s final classical game. 

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 ½

Lei Tingjie 2554 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½


Ju will have the white pieces, and if either player wins its instant glory, as they’ll have won the match and €300,000. If it’s a draw, the second world championship match this year will have gone to a playoff, which will take place on Sunday. Either way, we’ll have a winner this weekend.

Lei smiling and Ju looking pensive in the post-game press conferences has become almost a meme, but both players look about as comfortable as you can be with so much at stake. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

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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