Ju Wenjun Wins Game 8 To Tie World Championship Match
Ju Wenjun has shown she won't give up her title without a fight. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

Ju Wenjun Wins Game 8 To Tie World Championship Match

| 37 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Ju Wenjun is back! The Women's World Champion outplayed challenger GM Lei Tingjie in a complex middlegame and then ground out an endgame win to level the scores at 4-4 going into the final four games of the 2023 FIDE Women's World Championship

Game nine, when Lei will have the white pieces, starts on Tuesday, July 18, 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 Judit Polgar and IM Jovanka Houska

Seen from the outside, it felt as though Ju's frustration must have been growing by the day, as she missed chance after chance to take the lead and then level the score. Lei looked fresh and highly motivated, while Ju gave the impression she didn't want to be there, but this is a case where looks may be deceptive. At the press conference after game eight, Ju made a point she had made before during the match:

"I just do what I can, and actually the result I’m satisfied with, as long as I tried. Then it’s fine."

Ju Wenjun Lei Tingjie
Both players now look confident in their chess with very few outright blunders played. Photo: Stev Bonhage/FIDE.

That calm approach may have helped her finally convert one of her chances.

Game 8: Ju Wenjun 1-0 Lei Tingjie

A day earlier, Ju said it felt like a "new beginning" to play the second half of the match in Chongqing, and she played a new move, 1...c6, with the black pieces. In game eight, it was time for a switch with White as well, as instead of the 1.d4 of her first three games, Ju now turned to 1.Nf3.

Soon she was playing a double fianchetto system (with pawns on b3 and g3) that had served her well in a previous moment of need—helping her hit back immediately after falling behind to GM Aleksandra Goryachkina in the 2020 Women's World Championship match. 

Polgar explained that it is all about avoiding deep theoretical discussions.

At first, it seemed to be a mixed success because Lei once again moved fast, while Ju took an almost 20-minute think on move six. In her defense, however, the position was completely new!

Lei Tingjie
You couldn't fault Lei's focus! Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

The game developed very slowly, but perhaps that lulled chess fans and even Lei into a false sense of security. A handful of questionable positional decisions (12...a5!?, 14...Rfd8!?, 15...dxc4!?, 18...Bg6!?) and suddenly Black's position was critical. Polgar, commentating as 19.Qb3! appeared on the board, felt Ju had got everything she could have dreamed of.

In fact, 19.d5! was a powerful alternative, based on some tricky tactics with a potential back-rank checkmate. When it was pointed out to Lei, she commented: "As you said, she can play d5, so probably I deserve to lose!"

Lei certainly wasn't going to go down without a fight, however, and just when Ju seemed to have an unassailable static advantage, Lei broke open the position with the pawn sacrifice 21...a4!, a move that was also the computer's top choice.

The point was to follow up 22.Qxa4 with 22...b5! and a whirlwind of exchanges that saw two pawns, two rooks, two knights, and also the two queens leave the board.

Ju had a sting in the tail, however, with 28.d5!, exploiting the undefended bishop on e7, ensuring that Lei couldn't relax just yet.  

A few moves later, and the computer evaluation was climbing in White's favor, though it was far from easy.

Ju explained afterward that she looked at 32.Ne1! but was unsure how to proceed after 32...Bd1. Continuing to chase the bishop with 33.Rd3! looks to be the way, but emerging with an advantage requires finding more only moves.

Instead, after 17 minutes, Ju went for 32.Nd4!?, explaining: "I spent some time, but I didn’t see anything very concrete, so I decided to play Nd4. I thought with that, I have some chances."

On another day, we might be writing about how Ju's excessive caution let another chance slip away, but instead it looked like a champion's wise pragmatism. By the time both players reached move 40 and got an extra 30 minutes on their clocks, White was again a pawn up, and the only question was whether Ju would squeeze out a win.

The position after Lei's 40...Rb5.

The players were asked about the endgame afterward, with Lei commenting: "I think the position is holdable for Black, but I played quite passively with time trouble. I didn’t play precisely, and I gave chances to my opponent."

Ju didn't disagree but noted: "It’s very difficult for Black to play, and I think she defended well, but it’s too difficult to defend the endgame." Polgar, who knows a thing or two about this, referred to two world chess champions when she pointed out: "I wouldn't like to have this endgame against Kramnik or Karpov!"

Ju Wenjun
Ju's hard work has paid off. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Shortly after that statement, Lei took an 18-minute think and decided to jettison another pawn with 42...Rb3?!

Lei had gone for that drastic option with no illusions:

"I think I spent like 20 minutes to give that pawn because if I keep that pawn, my pieces are very passive. Probably giving the pawn is not a good choice, but in a practical game, I think I have to give that pawn and free my pieces."

It didn't work out, with Ju soon clearly winning, though there was still time for one last twist. The vulnerable position of her rook on e7, defended only by the bishop, allowed Lei the surprising option of ...Rd4 in a position such as this one:

The rook can't be captured, and the f4-pawn is attacked. In fact, unless White wants to repeat moves for an instant draw, the pawn has to be given up, when Lei would almost certainly have been able to hold on. 

Lei noted that was hard to find in what was already a tough endgame, but, after that moment, Ju offered no more lifelines. She gradually improved her position until, with Lei in time trouble, it was time to deliver the winning blow. 

71.Rxg6! hxg6 72.h7 and Black resigned, since the h-pawn will queen and cost White a rook. 

GM Rafael Leitao has annotated the game below.

That means that Ju has now leveled the scores at 4-4, with everything to play for in the final four games. If the match ends tied, the players move to a playoff, which begins with a four-game rapid 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 4
Lei Tingjie 2554 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 4

How happy is Ju on a scale from 0-10? "I think it’s about eight because in general, it’s a positive number."

Lei Tingjie
Lei still had by far the bigger smile in the post-game press conference. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Ju has momentum on her side, but it was also clear from the post-game press conference that Lei has lost none of her positive spirit. We can expect a tense battle ahead, but first the players have a rest day on Monday, before Lei will then have the white pieces when the action resumes on Tuesday.

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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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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