Reports May 18, 2018 | 2:14 PMby Colin McGourty

Ju Wenjun is the 17th Women’s World Champion

Ju Wenjun has beaten Tan Zhongyi 5.5:4.5 to become the new Women’s World Chess Champion. The Chinese grandmaster and women’s no. 2 dominated the 10th and final game of the match in Chongqing, though in the end she settled for the draw that was enough to give her the title. Tan Zhongyi can look back with pride at how she took the match the full distance after a terrible start, and she’ll get an early chance to regain the title in the World Championship knockout tournament scheduled for this November.

Ju Wenjun's 3.5/5 in the first half in Shanghai ultimately proved enough to take the title | photo: Gu Xiaobing, official website

The 2018 Women’s World Championship match is over, with Ju Wenjun taking the title from her compatriot and friend Tan Zhongyi. You can replay all the games using the selector below:

The final encounter found Tan Zhongyi in one of the toughest situations in chess – needing to win at all costs with the black pieces. She gave it everything, but as with Fabiano Caruana against Sergey Karjakin in the final round of the 2016 Candidates, or Vladimir Kramnik against Vassily Ivanchuk in 2013, her attempts to play aggressively backfired. 

All ready for the final showdown | photo: Chinese Chess Federation

She took the traditional must-win approach of playing the Modern/Pirc/Hippopotamus Defence and succeeded in keeping the game complex – all the pieces remained on the board until move 30.

Needing to win, Tan Zhongyi meets 1.d4 with 1...g6 | photo: Chinese Chess Federation

Alas, that was as far as her success stretched, as the writing was on the wall the moment she played a thematic move for the match, 19…g5?!

14…g5? had proven suicidal in Game 3 and had left Tan Zhongyi trailing by 2 points and wondering whether she’d reach the second half of the match in her home city with any hope whatsoever. In the next game, though, Ju Wenjun returned the favour by ruining her own position with 26…g5? and giving her opponent a first win. In the final game 19…g5 was an understandable attempt to make something happen, but when it was met by 20.h4! it was White who had all the attacking chances. Play continued 20…g4 21.Nh2 h5 22.Nh2 h5 23.f3 gxf3 23.Qxf3 Ng6 24.Bg5 f6 and this was one of the moments where Ju could have finished in style:

25.Bd3!! would have been a nice flourish, since 25…fxg5? is mate-in-5 after 26.Bc4+, with the queen taking on h5 with check. 

Ju Wenjun withstood the pressure of being one draw away from the World Championship | photo: Chinese Chess Federation

Who needs such complications in the final game of a World Championship match, though, and Ju’s 25.Qxh5 Ndf8 26.Be3 left her a pawn up in a comfortably winning position. Ju wasn’t in a maximalist mood, though, and showed herself willing to take a draw by repetition, while it was to Tan Zhongyi’s credit that she kept dodging those draws and playing on. The final game could be summed up in this position:

Wenjun could simply start taking pawns with 51.Qxb6, but instead decided to eliminate all risk by forcing off queens with 51.Ng7 – Black had no choice but to comply since anything other than 51…Qe7 or 51…Qf7 loses to 52.Nxh5 and the threat of mate on g7 stops Black from regaining the piece.

Tan Zhongyi fought on to the end, and could at least comfort herself that she "won" the second half of the match held in her home city of Chongqing | photo: Chinese Chess Federation

The ending a pawn up and with the bishop pair again promised White big winning chances, but by the end Ju Wenjun was happy to completely close the position and finally seal the draw that made her the World Chess Champion!

Despite the alternating knockout and match system in recent years, that makes 27-year-old Ju Wenjun just the 17th player to wear the Women’s World Chess Crown:

Her reign may be short, though, since the next Women’s World Chess Championship knockout is scheduled to be played in Khanty-Mansiysk from 1-25 November this year, when it will unfortunately clash with Carlsen-Caruana. Ju Wenjun will start the tournament as one of 64 players, with no privileges for the champion.

Ju Wenjun, the new Women's World Chess Champion | photo: Chinese Chess Federation

For now, though, she can enjoy having reached the pinnacle of her career. Congratulations to a very worthy champion! 

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