General Jan 4, 2020 | 8:44 PMby Colin McGourty

Ju Wenjun-Goryachkina starts in Shanghai

Aleksandra Goryachkina has the white pieces against Ju Wenjun on Sunday as the 2020 Women’s World Championship match begins. The first half of the match is being played in Shanghai, China, before the venue switches to Vladivostok, Russia for the conclusion. Reigning Champion and women’s world no. 2 Ju Wenjun is marginally higher rated, but Goryachkina can be expected to put up a fierce fight after demolishing the field in the Candidates Tournament.

Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina at the opening ceremony in Shanghai | photo: Haohao Zhang, official website

Let’s get straight down to the details:

Where can I watch?

You can find the games from the 2020 Women’s World Chess Championship match below – click on a result or evaluation to open the game with computer analysis and video commentary:

We’re expecting commentary in English from English Grandmaster Nigel Short and Chinese Women’s Grandmaster Zhang Xiaowen.

Given past controversies, Nigel Short is an interesting choice as a commentator on the Women's World Championship match | photo: Haohao Zhang, official website 

Who are the participants?

28-year-old Women’s World Champion and 2-time Chinese Women’s Champion Ju Wenjun is the women’s world no. 2, with her inactive compatriot Hou Yifan the only higher-rated woman. Her current rating is 2584, while her peak rating of 2604 makes her one of just five women ever to cross 2600 on the official rating list.

Women's no. 2 and already a 2-time World Champion, Ju Wenjun | photo: Haohao Zhang, official website

21-year-old challenger and Russian Grandmaster Aleksandra Goryachkina is currently just six points behind at her peak career rating of 2578, making her the women’s world no. 4. In junior events she was all but unstoppable, winning gold at the World Under 10, U14 and U18 Championships as well as twice at the World Junior Girls Championship (U20). She won the Russian Women’s Championship as a 16-year-old in 2015 and repeated that result two years later before slowing down a bit… until now!   

Aleksandra Goryachkina looked destined to be a World Champion from an early age and now has her chance | photo: Haohao Zhang, official website

How did they qualify?

Ju Wenjun is playing as the reigning Women’s World Champion, a title she remarkably won twice in 2018. She first beat her compatriot Tan Zhongyi 5.5:4.5 in a World Championship match in May in China and then was forced to defend her title, with no privileges, in a 64-player knockout World Championship in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia in November.

She made it look easy for most of the way, reaching the final against Kateryna Lagno without needing tiebreaks. The final was tougher, but Ju Wenjun managed to win on demand with Black in the fourth classical game to force tiebreaks before finally emerging triumphant by winning the two 10-minute rapid games.

Aleksandra Goryachkina qualified by winning the 2019 Women’s Candidates Tournament held in May-June in Kazan, though “winning” doesn’t really cover how she crushed an all-star field!

With five rounds to go she had 7.5/9 and led 2nd placed Kateryna Lagno by an enormous 2.5 points, with four draws and a last round defeat doing nothing to lessen her achievement. Holding a Candidates Tournament was a key move in the newly-elected FIDE administration’s aim of making the women’s World Championship cycle comparable to the open cycle, with the World Championship title in future only to be decided by matches.

Aleksandra Goryachkina won the 2019 Candidates ahead of Anna Muzychuk and Kateryna Lagno | photo: FIDE, fwct2019.com

A curiosity, however, is that Aleksandra had originally missed out on qualification and only played in the Candidates Tournament as a replacement for women’s no. 1 Hou Yifan, who decided not to take part while she studies at Oxford University.

What’s the format?

The Women’s World Championship match has grown from 10 classical games in 2018 to 12 games now, almost catching the “open” match, except that Magnus will now play up to 14 classical games later this year. The time control is the FIDE standard 90 minutes for 40 moves, then 30 minutes to the end of the game, with a 30-second increment from move 1, though that’s also shorter than used in the overall World Championship events. No draw offers are allowed before move 40. 

Aleksandra Goryachkina drew the white pieces for Game 1 | photo: Haohao Zhang, official website

The first player to 6.5 points wins, but if it finishes in a 6:6 tie we’ll see a tiebreak such as the ones we saw in Magnus Carlsen’s matches in New York in 2016 and London in 2018 i.e. four 25+10 rapid games followed, if necessary, by up to five pairs of 5+3 blitz games. If that still hasn’t separated the players we’d get the dreaded Armageddon, where White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4 but a draw makes Black the Women’s World Champion.

Where and when are they playing?

A short hop over North Korea separates the venues | source: Google Maps

The 2018 Women's World Championship match was split between two Chinese cities, while this time round it's going to be split between China and Russia. The first six games take place in Shanghai, China, before the players then fly to Vladivostok, Russia for the remaining games. The games are played with a rest day on every third day:

SHANGHAI, CHINA

5 January: Game 1
6 January: Game 2
Rest day
8 January: Game 3
9 January: Game 4
Rest day
11 January: Game 5
12 January: Game 6

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA

16 January: Game 7
17 January: Game 8
Rest day
19 January: Game 9
20 January: Game 10
Rest day
22 January: Game 11
23 January: Game 12
24 January: Tiebreaks

The bad news for many chess fans will be the time zones, with each game beginning at 15:30 local time. For Shanghai that works out as 08:30 CET and as 06:30 for Vladivostok. The schedule on our broadcast page adapts automatically to show the start time in your own time zone.  

What’s at stake?

Apart from a place in chess history, the prize fund for the match has grown from 200,000 euros in 2018 to 500,000 in 2020, with the money split 60:40 between the winner and the loser (i.e. 300k and 200k) if the match ends in the classical games. If there’s a tiebreak the split is 55:45.

Who’s going to win?

This one we can’t answer, with both players looking in good form in their latest events. In the Skolkovo FIDE Women’s Grand Prix the players finished tied for second place behind Humpy Koneru, while in the Monaco Grand Prix, which Ju Wenjun didn’t play, Goryachkina looked set to take gold before she lost in the final round and had to settle for a 3-way tie for first.

Aleksandra Goryachkina won the Russian Championship at the age of 16 - can she claim the world title at the age of 21? | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

What’s certain is that both players will have had the full weight of their powerful chess federations behind them. That may be significant for Goryachkina in particular, since growing up away from the main Russian chess centres of Moscow and St. Petersburg she had largely been a lone wolf when it came to opening preparation and coaching work. She has the drive that only striving to reach a life goal for the first time can give you, but on the other hand, Ju Wenjun is the player with all the experience of high stakes matches.  

Once again, you can follow all the games live here on chess24, while we’ll also have recaps from a new member of the chess24 team, WIM Ayelén Martínez!

See also:


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