Ju Defends Title In Round Twelve


Download our printable bulletin of round 12 here.

For the first time since the 2010 World Championship match between GM Viswanathan Anand and GM Veselin Topalov in 2010 — and the first time ever in a Women's World Championship — a tie was broken in the final classical game. 


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The champion enters (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


GM Ju Wenjun successfully defended her title for the third consecutive match, beating GM Lei Tingjie 6½ - 5½ in a match she never led before this round. 

In a narrative that will be familiar to many chess players across all levels, the story of the match began as one about opening preparation but ended up being more about stamina and mental resolve. Lei and Ju both had top grandmasters working as their seconds, but Azerbaijani GM Teimour Radjabov seemed to have Lei prepared a few moves further in almost every opening she played than Ju and Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna were expecting. 


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The challenger impressed throughout the match with her preparation (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


Nevertheless, Lei landed only one decisive blow in the first half of the match. With a two-day break and a change of scenery, Ju emerged with a new game plan. As Black, she started hopping around in openings, and as White, she stopped trying to fight for theoretical lines in the Queen's Gambit altogether. This latter strategy proved particularly successful, scoring two decisive results in her final three games with the white pieces. 

Round twelve was a perfect encapsulation of the dynamics of this match. Once the position left theoretical waters, Ju's plan was clearly to just "get a game" as she successfully managed in her eighth-round victory. As Ju grew more patient and comfortable in the position, Lei had the opposite reaction, grasping for the most concrete variations at multiple points in the game when flexibility would have been more prudent. 


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Comfort with uncertainty: the mark of a true champion (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


When there was something to do, in other words, Lei reliably figured out what it was and executed it. But once Ju was able to change the character of the match to one that was less concrete, Lei never regained her footing. Match experience likely played a major role here, too, as it is difficult under pressure (such as a lead in a world championship match) to not try and clarify things as quickly as possible. But Ju had been here before, and she showed why she's still the player to beat.

Replay the final game here with annotations from WGM Tatev Abrahamyan: 



Next up for Ju Wenjun is the FIDE World Cup — beginning just one week from today — where she will await the winner of the first-round match between Slovak IM Eva Repkova and Uzbekistani WGM Nilufar Yakubbaeva. Lei is not competing in this event. 

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