Women's World Chess Championship: A Not-So-Boring Draw in Round One



Please download our printable bulletin of this article, featuring annotations by WGM Tatev Abrahamyan, or follow along here.


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Ju (L) and Lei were all smiles in the promo photos taken two days before the first game (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


Even those who (unfairly) claim all Berlin Defenses are boring must at least admit that each Berlin Defense is boring in its own unique way.

The first game of the 2023 Women’s World Chess Championship might have been a Berlin draw, but it still featured a surprise on the first move, a gambit of a central pawn, and a defending champion on the ropes in the middlegame. If this is what counts as a “boring” game between defending champion GM Ju Wenjun and challenger GM Lei Tingjie, then we’re in for quite a match.


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The scene at the start of the first game (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


Playing with the white pieces, Tingjie deviated from her queen’s pawn opening that served her well throughout the Candidates cycle, and Ju was ready with a Ruy Lopez defense. Tingjie’s choice to play into the main line of the Berlin at first suggested an unwillingness to take risks in the first game.

But, by move 13, she was in the sideline of a sideline of a gambit that had only been played once over the board before (successfully, I might add, last December by GM Jorden van Foreest over GM Alireza Firouzja). This appeared to be the move that took Ju out of her prep, but Lei continued to blitz out another half-dozen moves on her way to a comfortable position with full compensation for the sacrificed pawn.


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Lei's prep earned her a promising position out of the opening (courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


At this point, Ju elected to return the pawn to simplify the position, but White was clearly better at this point with the bishop pair and equal material. A few very subtle inaccuracies from Lei allowed Black to come closer to equalizing the position, and eventually Lei’s decision to swap down to a pure rook endgame cemented the game as a draw.


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Another day at the office for the defending champion, who had to suffer through some defense but "suffered successfully" (photo courtesy Stev Bonhage/FIDE)


Today’s guest annotator WGM Tatev Abrahamyan shares all the details below. Game two takes place at 2 a.m. CST on July 6, and we will have annotations by WGM Begim Tokhirjonova available shortly thereafter. Game three will be played after a rest day on Saturday, July 8, at the same time, with our annotations to follow here the next day.


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