Each World title match has its own history, built up by the confrontation between the opponents’ mutual strength and hidden weaknesses. After losing his Candidates’ match to Tal in 1965, Larsen laconically commented “We all are wiser afterwards”. He added that after the match he knew how he could have defeated the former World Champion, but, to all probabilities, Tal had also learned a lot from their encounter…
Paraphrasing a joke made by an old friend during one of our table tennis games, there are moments in each match when one of the players could say “If I play five more games like this, I will win the match!”
Before the start of the last women World Championship I considered Goryachkina to be a clear favorite, even though I liked Ju Wenjun’s style a lot more. The World champion has a rounded up way of playing, involving harmonious development, regrouping and re-regrouping for indefinite time. But her main weakness is a lack of resoluteness when it comes to take critical decisions, as if she would aim at leaving the opponents to “beat themselves”. In most cases, they actually do that… The challenger’s personality seems much stronger, but at the same time I could not identify any concrete technical qualities which would make her games appealing.
When the match started, none of the players seemed to have got a clue to which is the best way to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses. Ju Wenjun tried breaking the Berlin defense in a series of games, but she did not get any shadow of advantage in any of these games, and even got into trouble in at least one of them. The crucial decision was switching to Reti sidelines involving a later d2–d4, which offer Black comfortable play, but seem to leave Goryachkina without clear reference points about how to conduct her middlegame play. At the same time, even when she got suspicious positions Ju Wenjun’s orientation during the maneuvering phase was each time better. This was the case in the play-off rapid games and the 9th game below.
Ju Wenjun (2584) – Goryachkina (2578) [A06]
Women World Championship Shanghai/Vladivostok (game 9), 2020
1.Nf3 d5 2.b3 c5 3.e3 a6 4.Bb2 Nc6 5.d4 Nf6 6.Nbd2 cxd4 7.exd4 g6 8.a3 Bg7 9.Bd3
White played a reversed Queen’s Indian, obviously without pretentions about an opening advantage. Moreover, the premature a2–a3 and Nbd2 will cause some problems after Black’s next move.
There was nothing wrong with 9…0–0 10.0–0 White’s hopes to build up an attack after Ne5 are not very realistic: 10…Bf5!? 11.Bxf5 gxf5 Switching to the hanging pawns structure is likely to cause some problems on light squares: 12.c4 Na5.
10…Bh3!? 11.Ng5 Bd7 12.Ngf3 Qb6 would have caused problems, too.
11.Ne5 Nxe5 12.dxe5 d4
This looks like premature commitment. 12…Qc7 13.f4 f6 was more flexible, yielding Black the initiative in the centre.
13.f4 f6 14.Qe2 fxe5 15.fxe5 Bh6 16.0–0–0 Be3 17.Rhf1
Even though we are far from the endgame yet, Goryachkina’s weakness mentioned in my previous article, Brief thought on the Women World Championship match 2020, regarding the art of exchanging pieces, is revealed again. I remember my post mortem analysis with Kortschnoj after our game at the 2000 Olympiad. After the opening we reached a position with my bishop on g2 and his one on d5. Kortschnoj briefly mentioned it as an obvious fact that I should have played Bxd5 and not let him take on g2. This is not a general rule, of course, but in that case it would have been better to avoid exposing my king. In the game e are examining now it will be the black queen which will land onto a bad position after her last move.
17…Rxf1! 18.Rxf1 Bh3 19.Re1 Qd7 offers Black more harmonious development than in the game.
18.Rxf8+ Qxf8 19.Kb1
True to her style, Ju Wenjun keeps maneuvering, missing a good moment for concrete action: 19.Be4! White not only attacks b7 but also threatens Bxd4 followed by Qc4+. 19…Qc8 20.Kb1 Bg4 21.Nf3 White is well regrouped, the pawn on d4 is weak and the knight on h5 does not reach in time the blocking e6–square.
19…b5 20.Nf1 Bg1
It goes without saying that Black’s coordination is far from optimal.
A very interesting decision, aiming at clearing space for White’s pieces, but also weakening the own king’s position.
But the simple 21.Qe4 might have been better.
21…bxa4 22.bxa4 Qc8 23.Bc4+ Kh8 24.e6 Nf6
This move and a3–a4 make me think that in this game Ju Wenjun went a bit out of her comfort zone, which eventually turned a good practical decision. White’s bishops’ pressure against the kingside will me quite unpleasant, at least optically.
25…Bxd4 26.Bxd4 Qb7+ 27.Ka2 Rd8 28.Bb2 Rb8 29.Bb3
Suddenly, the threat g3–g4 is very strong.
A very uninspired attempt at simplifying (and one of the worst in this match), causing Black to lose coordination.
29…h5 was a better way to prevent g3–g4. 30.Qe5!? Bxf1 31.Qf4 Threatening Qh6+. 31…Kh7 32.Qxf1 Qc6 White’s position remains pleasant but it is hard to see how she can make progress.
Ju Wenjun plays for the immediate and more obvious double threat, but even stronger would have been 30.Qc4! Qxf1 31.Qc7 Re8 32.Qd7 wins.
30…Re8 allows a mating combination: 31.Qxf6+ exf6 32.Bxf6+ Kg8 33.e7+.
30…Rf8 offers White a wide choice of winning moves, the most natural being 31.Ne3!? followed by g3–g4–g5.
31.cxb3 Qc6 32.Nd2 Bxe6 33.Ka3
The endgame is better for White as the pawn on a6 is vulnerable and the queenside majority is more dangerous than the central pawn anyway.
33…Kg8 34.Nf3 Qd5 35.Qb8+ Kg7 36.Ne5 Qc5+ 37.Qb4 Qxb4+ 38.Kxb4 Kf8 39.Nc4 Ne4 40.Bd4 Ke8 41.Ka5 Nd6 42.Nd2 Bc8 43.Kb6 Kd8 44.Be5 Kd7 45.Bf4 g5 46.Bxg5 e5 47.Be3 Ke6 48.Kc7 Bd7 49.Bc5 Nf5 50.Kb6 Kd5 51.Nb1 e4 52.Nc3+ Ke5 53.Kxa6 e3 54.a5 Nd4 55.b4 Bg4 56.Kb6 e2 57.Bxd4+ Kxd4 58.Nxe2+ Bxe2 59.a6 Bf3 60.a7 h5 61.b5 Kc4 62.h3 Kd5