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The Last Competitors Standing: Tan Strikes First vs. Lei
The final kicks off decisively with the bold Tan seizing the early lead. Photo: Liu Yi/FIDE.

The Last Competitors Standing: Tan Strikes First vs. Lei

NM_Vanessa
| 43 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Tan Zhongyi defeated GM Lei Tingjie in game one of the final of the FIDE Women's Candidates Tournament 2022-2023 on Wednesday. Tan played enterprisingly from start to finish, sacrificing two pawns to create complex problems for Lei, who overlooked opportunities in time trouble. 

Game two is on Thursday, March 30, 2023, starting at 12 a.m. Pacific / 9:00 CET.

How to watch?
You can watch the 2022-2023 FIDE Women's Candidates Tournament on our Twitch channel. Games from the event can be viewed on our events page.

Live broadcast of the event, hosted by GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, WGM Keti Tsatsalashvili, and GM Daniel Naroditsky.

As the 2022-2023 Women's Candidates Tournament culminates in one final match, Lei and Tan are the last competitors standing. They've dueled against many of the strongest women in the world for two years to get here. Now, they finally meet. For each, just one more player stands between her and the opportunity to play for the women's world championship.

The opening ceremony. Photo: Liu Yi/FIDE.

Throughout her career, Tan has earned nearly every title available in elite women's chess. She is the 16th women's world champion, holding the title from 2017-2018. She won a gold medal for her individual performance as board four at the 2016 Olympiad. As an aspiring prodigy, she picked up three world youth championship titles. More recently, she became the 2022 Women's World Rapid Champion. 

Tan excels at knowing when to play solid, pragmatic chess, and when to launch a fearless attack. She has sharp tactical awareness and doesn't hesitate to sacrifice material to gain the initiative. 

On her way to the final, Tan knocked out two fierce competitors, GMs Kateryna Lagno and Aleksandra Goryachkina, to win Pool B. The 31-year-old grandmaster is one step away from the chance to reclaim her crown from the player who seized it from her five years ago, GM Ju Wenjun

Tan after winning the Pool B semifinal. Photo: Timur Sattarov/FIDE.

Five years younger, Lei is a newer face at the elite level, but she's already racked up a number of achievements.

Lei is currently the sixth highest-ranked woman in the world and third among Chinese women. To reach the final, she finished at the top of Pool A by defeating both Muzychuk sisters―known for being a powerful duo for decades―GMs Mariya and Anna Muzychuk.

Lei can thrive in complicated and strategic positions alike, often finding chances to build up a siege against the enemy king—while it was her strategic prowess that triumphed in the last game of her previously deadlocked semifinal match against Anna Muzychuk.

At age 20, she nearly gained her first world title when she won silver at the 2016 Women's World Rapid Championship. She competed as a part of the gold-medalist Chinese women's team at the 2018 Olympiad and the 2016 Asian Nations Cup. 

In 2017, the year Lei became a grandmaster, she finished half a point ahead of Tan to clinch first at the 6th Chinese Women's Masters. 

Lei at the opening ceremony. Photo: Liu Yi/FIDE.

Between these two skilled grandmasters, who is the favorite?

Lei has the higher rating, yet Tan has a slight edge in their head-to-head score. Often alternating between being teammates for China in international tournaments and competitive rivals in individual events, the players have gained an understanding of each other's playing styles, strengths, and weaknesses, making this a potentially tense matchup. 

The 12th women's world champion, Kosteniuk, shared her insights on the dynamics of the match: 

“It’s hard to pick a favorite. Personally, I believe it's Lei Tingjie—she’s younger, and she’s more talented. 

But Tan Zhongyi has a very important factor in her play: experience. She’s already played a world championship match against Ju Wenjun back in 2018. 

That helps a lot to handle the pressure and to know what to expect because a match is not a tournament. You are facing one single opponent day after day. Every single minute of your performance, it’s just one face in front of you. 

It’s going to be very tough for Lei psychologically. She’s less experienced, but then again, determination might be a key factor for the match.” 

Every single minute of your performance, it’s just one face in front of you. 

-Alexandra Kosteniuk on match play vs. tournaments

With her first White of the match, Tan approached the game with great ambition. She played an unexpected variation of the English, sacrificed a pawn early in the game to accelerate her queenside play, and then sacrificed another―an advanced passed pawn―to draw Lei's king out. 

Tan's enterprising play paid off. As her clock ticked down to the last seconds in time trouble, Lei blundered, allowing Tan's queen to capture a critical pawn and create threats against most of the remaining black pieces. 

Despite this, Lei fought on and had chances to hold the game until her last mistake, 36...f4?

The second world champion, GM Emanuel Lasker, said: "The hardest game to win is a won game." Challenge your own ability to convert a winning position. White to move. How did Tan finish off the game?

Enjoy the full game annotated in-depth by GM Rafael Leitao

Tan has taken the lead, capitalizing on the critical moments of the first game. But a match is a longer story, and round one is simply the opening act. How will the narrative develop?

The true mark of a champion is not perfect play but resilience. Is this the start of a lead that Tan will build up, game by game? Or does Lei have a plot twist up her sleeve? What approach will she choose for her first try at the white pieces? 

The 2022-23 Women's Candidates Tournament is an elite event featuring eight top female players, who compete in a knockout format for a share of the €250,000 prize fund and the right to play in the Women's World Championship match against Women's World Champion Ju Wenjun.

The final is a six-game match between GMs Lei Tingjie and Tan Zhongyi from March 29-April 5. The prize fund is 110,000 euros. The time control is 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting from move one. A draw offer before move 40 is not allowed.


Previous coverage:

NM_Vanessa
NM Vanessa West

Vanessa West is a National Master, a chess teacher, and a writer for Chess.com. In 2017, they won the Chess Journalist of the Year award.

You can follow them on X: Vanessa__West

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