Ju Wenjun Wins 4th Women's World Championship Title

Ju Wenjun Wins 4th Women's World Championship Title

| 72 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ju Wenjun has won a wild final game of the 2023 FIDE Women's World Championship to claim her fourth title with a 6.5-5.5 victory over GM Lei Tingjie. The 17th women's world champion, who has held the title since 2018, also picks up the €300,000 ($334,000) winner's prize, while Lei takes €200,000. 

 How to watch the 2023 FIDE Women's World Chess Championship
You can watch our 2023 FIDE Women's World Chess Championship broadcast on our Twitch and YouTube channels. You can also find all the details here on our live events platform.

The broadcast was hosted by WGM Jennifer Shahade and IM Jovanka Houska

Lei has been a breath of fresh air in her first world championship challenge, and, especially after taking the lead in a fantastic first half of the event, looked to have every chance of becoming the 18th women's world champion. Ju struck back in the second half, however, and showed all her class in the final game to retain her title. She becomes just the sixth player to win the title four times or more.  

Women's World Champions

# Player Dates Wins Years Won
1 Vera Menchik 1927-44 8 1927, 1930, 1931, 1933, 1935, 1937 (2), 1939 
2 Lyudmila Rudenko 1950-53 1 1950
3 Elisaveta Bykova 1953-56, 1958-62 3 1953, 1958, 1959
4 Olga Rubtsova 1956-58 1 1956
5 Nona Gaprindashvili 1962-78 5 1962, 1965, 1969, 1972, 1975
6 Maia Chiburdanidze 1978-91 5 1978, 1981, 1984, 1986, 1988
7 Xie Jun 1991-96, 1999-2001 4 1991, 1993, 1999, 2000
8 Susan Polgar 1996-99 1 1996
9 Zhu Chen 2001-04 1 2001
10 Antoaneta Stefanova 2004-06 1 2004
11 Xu Yuhua 2006-08 1 2006
12 Alexandra Kosteniuk 2008-10 1 2008
13 Hou Yifan 2010-12, 2013-15, 2016-17 4 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016
14 Anna Ushenina 2012-13 1 2012
15 Mariya Muzychuk 2015-16 1 2015
16 Tan Zhongyi 2017-18 1 2017
17 Ju Wenjun 2018-present 4 2018 (2), 2020, 2023

Read more: All The Women's World Chess Champions

Ju has now won the title three times in a match and once in a 64-player knockout.

Year Result Opponent/Tournament
2018 W Tan Zhongyi
2018 W Kateryna Lagno/64-player knockout
2020 W Aleksandra Goryachkina
2023 W Lei Tingjie

Most pre-game predictions this time were of a quiet final classical game, with the players regrouping for playoffs on Sunday. Perhaps we should have known better, however, since all of Ju's title matches went to a final classical game that featured enthralling drama.

When Ju needed only a draw in the final game to win the title for the first time in 2018, she built up a completely winning position with the white pieces against GM Tan Zhongyi, before settling for the draw that gave her the crown.

Ju Wenjun knows all there is to know about decisive final games. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Then in the four-game final of the second world championship in 2018, this time a 64-player knockout, Ju found herself needing to beat GM Kateryna Lagno on demand with the black pieces to force a playoff—and she did!

While those two games went perfectly for Ju, in the final game of the 2020 match against GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, she needed only a draw with the black pieces, but instead fell to defeat, and had to defend her title in a playoff.

From that we can conclude:

  1. Few players in world chess are more experienced than Ju at facing such all-or-nothing final games.
  2. We shouldn't expect a quiet draw!

What followed was a thriller, where the evaluation swung from side to side, until the pendulum stopped.

Game 12: Ju Wenjun 1-0 Lei Tingjie

Just as in the penultimate game, where Ju returned to her first choice in the match with Black of 1...e5, here she returned to the 1.d4 that she'd played in the first three games. After 1...d5 she sprung the first minor surprise with 2.Nf3, however, instead of her previous 2.c4. It was a quiet opening, but not for long, as the players soon went down the rabbit hole of some incredibly complicated and dangerous opening theory.

By move 13, Ju had two connected passed pawns on the queenside, while Lei had a passed c-pawn of her own, and forces massed in the center of the board. It was a big moment, since Lei could go for 13...g5!?

If the pawn is taken, Black can capture on h2 as well as get a half-open g-file on which to attack. The computer still recommends the capture, however, and Ju noted afterward that she'd looked at these positions with her team, which included not only the previously-revealed GM Pentala Harikrishna, but also world number-23 Chinese GM Wei Yi. Ju explained: "There are many choices for Black, and I was just ready to play any positions in this line."

Lei blinked, choosing 13...0-0 after an 18-minute think, but that didn't mean a quiet game. The rocky period of play that followed saw the hopes of both players rise and fall. 

First Lei seemed to have gone astray, and White's pawns were set to dominate, but on move 18, instead of moving her attacked rook, Ju decided to give up the rook for two minor pieces with 18.Bxf6!?, later explaining she wanted to keep the position complicated and wasn't sure how to evaluate the position after the computer's preferred 18.Ra2. 

After 18...Nxa1 19.Bxa1 Qxa5 Ju's once proud queenside pawns were a memory, but, just when the commentators were assuming she was putting her faith in a kingside attack, she went for 20.Qc3!?, threatening checkmate on g7 and offering an exchange of queens.

In hindsight, Lei reacted too fast, perhaps breathing a sigh of relief at getting queens off the board. She immediately took on c3 instead of defending against checkmate with 20...Bf8 or 20...f6, when Ju might have been forced to swap off queens in less favorable conditions.

The game remained balanced, however, until Lei took a decision that may have cost her the world championship title: 22...e5? 

Undermining White's pieces and the defender of the b5-pawn is, of course, desirable, but when the dust had settled, it turned out it was the black d5-pawn that had been fatally weakened. Lei said she had foreseen what would happen in the game: "But I didn’t take it seriously, so I think overall 22...e5? was a big mistake for this game. At that point probably I should play carefully."

Ju correctly replied 23.Nf5! and after 23...Bf8 there was almost the last crucial moment.

Ju spent 10 minutes here, in a position where all but one move would have allowed Lei to take over again. In the end, however, Ju correctly played 24.Bxe5!, giving up her b-pawn to 24...Rxb5 but leaving Black's d5-pawn crippled. 

The door briefly seemed to have opened for Lei to become world champion, but in the end Ju slammed it shut. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

The moment that Ju pointed to in the press conference is move 27, which she felt Lei might have overlooked.

27.Nb1! was a quiet move that made all the difference, since when the knight then jumped to c3, it was clear that Ju had got everything she could hope for—with total positional domination.

Ju described the position as "very difficult to defend." She skillfully maneuvered her pieces to eliminate Black's d-pawn, when it all became about pushing her own d-pawn up the board to victory.

It had reached d7, and been given a guard of honor, when Lei finally conceded defeat.

Ju explained why she didn't show the emotions GM Ding Liren had done in winning the overall title for China: "I was very focused until the very end, so at the finish I thought, ok, White wins, and that’s it!"

GM Rafael Leitao has annotated the game below.

So a thrilling match ended in disappointment for the challenger but a deserved continuation to the reign of the now four-time champion, who won two games in the second half of the match.

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 1 6.5
Lei Tingjie 2554 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 5.5

In the post-game press conference, Ju described herself as "excited and relieved at the same time." She was asked how it had differed from her previous matches:

"Actually, I think each time is very special for me, and I feel this time it was a really, really good quality of chess games, and I think both players were playing very well. I feel it’s lucky for me!"

Ju Wenjun can finally relax and smile. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Lei, though disappointed, described the end of the match as a "release," adding: "For me, ok, I lost a game, I lost a match, but there are a lot of things to look forward to, and I will still play chess."

She revealed she'd been helped not only by GM Teimour Radjabov, who was spotted earlier in the match, but also her boyfriend, Taiwanese GM Raymond Song. She also said the match had taught her some lessons.

"I think the biggest part is how you can control yourself under such pressure, and also I learned some spirit from my opponent, just fight for every game and fight until the end, such things like this."

Lei Tingjie won fans around the chess world during the match. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Ju returned that compliment about fighting spirit, and indeed both players lived up to their pre-match promise to fight in every game. Lei said her immediate plans were to "eat some tasty food" and "take a long rest after this match because I want to spend more time with my family."

Ju, meanwhile, is due to be in action in just over a week when she is the top seed for the FIDE Women's World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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, faced the challenger, GM Lei Tingjie, to see who would be crowned world champion. The championship started on July 5 and boasted a €500,000 prize fund.

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Colin McGourty

Colin McGourty led news at Chess24 from its launch until it merged with a decade later. An amateur player, he got into chess writing when he set up the website Chess in Translation after previously studying Slavic languages and literature in St. Andrews, Odesa, Oxford, and Krakow.

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