Ju Grabs Pawn In Game 3 But Can't Break Deadlock
Lei Tingjie withstood heavy pressure in game three. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Ju Grabs Pawn In Game 3 But Can't Break Deadlock

| 12 | Chess Event Coverage

Women's World Champion GM Ju Wenjun was surprised in the opening but pounced on the chance to grab a central pawn, leaving challenger GM Lei Tingjie on the ropes in game three of the 2023 FIDE Women's World Championship in Shanghai. Lei held firm, however, and made a draw that leaves the score tied at 1.5-1.5.

Game four, when Ju will have the white pieces, starts on Sunday, July 9, at 3:00 a.m. ET / 09:00 CEST. 

   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 GM Daniel Naroditsky and IM Jovanka Houska

Unlike the Nepomniachtchi-Ding World Championship match, neither player is showing signs of succumbing to the pressure in Shanghai. Ju has been there before, three times, and commented: "Okay, this is a very big tournament, but I just try to focus. Also, when I start to play, I will just not think about others."

Lei Tingjie
Lei was in good spirits after surviving a tough game! Screenshot: FIDE.

Lei, as the challenger, feels she has nothing to lose, and also seems to have the perfect approach: "For me, I think life is good, so I have a chance to play this match… I try to grab this chance, but also I try to enjoy playing chess!"

Game 3: Lei Tingjie ½-½ Ju Wenjun 

Lei Tingjie Ju Wenjun
For the first time in the match, it was Ju Wenjun who had the chances. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

The big question at the start of game three was whether Lei's 1.e4 in the first game of the match had been a one-off try. Would she now return to her more familiar 1.d4? No! Once again we got the "best-by-test" 1.e4, and soon the Berlin Defence, but this time Lei opted for the Anti-Berlin with 4.d3. She'd come armed with a rare idea in that line as well, with 6.Bg5 over 10 times less common than castling kingside.  

Ju was clearly caught off-guard, and sank into a 20-minute think, before taking the double-edged decision to play 6...d6!?. That meant the c5-bishop could no longer return to e7 to "solve" the pin of the f6-knight.

Lei seemed to be riding a wave of momentum as she then exchanged bishops on c6 and pushed her d-pawn.

White's central pawns made a powerful impression, but as so often in chess, they were also a potential weakness. Two questionable moves, 12.Bf4!? (12.Bh4), 13.Qc2!? (13.Re1), and suddenly Ju had the chance to grab a pawn.

She snatched the opportunity with 13...Nxe4!, though after 14.Nxe4 Bf5! 15.Rfe1 d5! 16.Ne5! the position was unclear.

In fact, Lei revealed afterward that she hadn't blundered the knight capture on e4, but had foreseen this line when Ju played 11...h6. She soon understood, however, that her approach may have been too optimistic: "I considered 16.Ne5 and I saw the bishop on b6, and probably it was very interesting, but after, I realized that I underestimated Black’s counterplay on the kingside."

Giving back the pawn immediately with 16...dxe4!? would have been very interesting, but Ju opted for the more solid 16...Bxe4, after which she had time to defend the c6-pawn while also massing her forces for a kingside assault. 

Both players were soon getting dangerously low on time, with Lei's 19.Kh1!? a logical, but potentially weakening, move. Naroditsky explained the rationale behind it.

Lei admitted she was worried about the immediate 19...h5! here, while after 19...a5!? she felt the worst was over and White should be ok.  

Ju Wenjun
Low on time, Ju Wenjun couldn't find a way to turn the screw. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

"I think maybe Black has some chance, but it’s a very complicated position," was Ju's overall assessment of the game, and the clock situation made it less and less likely that she'd go for a bold attempt at attacking the white king. The key plans involved giving up the c6-pawn to move the black queen to a more active square—even a8!—but Ju got down to under 10 minutes before opting for a move Naroditsky had flagged as almost a draw offer: 23...c5!?

Sure enough, mass exchanges followed, and it looked as though the only remaining hurdle for the players was how to make a draw when you can't offer a draw before move 40. It turns out there is an established grandmaster technique!

The surprise, however, is that Ju, who had more time on her clock, began to shun all draw offers, applying some pressure to her young opponent. The clever 42.Ke3!? could have backfired.  

Lei's point is that 42...Rxa5 wins a pawn, but then 43.Ra1! forces an exchange of rooks into a dead-drawn opposite-colored bishop endgame.

Ju instead went for 42...Ra2, hinting at delivering checkmate with a later ...g5 (to cover the f4-square) and Re2#. In a bullet game, it might have worked, but Lei had plenty of time to navigate the tricks, so ultimately the game did end in a draw, with a repetition of moves on move 49.

GM Rafael Leitao has annotated the game below.

That means the players remain locked together, now at 1.5-1.5, with nine classical games remaining.

Fed Name Rtg 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 Score
Ju Wenjun 2564 ½ ½ ½ 1.5
Lei Tingjie 2554 ½ ½ ½ 1.5

The battle continues on Sunday, when Ju has the white pieces in game four.

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 starts on July 5 and boasts 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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