The Women’s World Chess Championships would be decided on rapid tie-breaks after Russian Grandmaster stunned reigning champion Ju Wenjun in the final game of the 12-match series in Vladivostok today.
Wenjun needed just a draw in the final game to retain the title, but Goryachkina stunned the Chinese ace with a remarkable game to draw level with six points each.
Goryachkina, playing white chose to open the game with 1.d4 d5. 2.Nc3 that was strategically brilliant. In just two moves, she managed to completely take the world champion out of her match preparations.
Wenjun spent a good 17 minutes contemplating her reply. At the same time, Goryachkina knew that she was likely to get the type of position that favored her style—positional and strategic, proving that one doesn’t have to go for hand-to-hand combat in a must-win situation.
Wenjun spent about 40 minutes on her first 10 moves alone. Goryachkina’s ability to make her opponent work this much just out of the gate proved critical later in the game.
While Wenjun was spending time and energy figuring out what to do in an opening she has not played before, Goryachkina kept her cool. She was not precise, but she did not need to be. Wenjun’s quasi-aggressive 10..Ne4 and 11..f5 could have been refuted by Goryachkina with more precise play. It was not, and by move 20 white’s advantage appeared to have evaporated.
Pundits were down on Goryachkina’s chances to exert any kind of pressure. Despite being low on time, it looked as if Wenjun’s upcoming moves would be more straightforward and logical: Being short on time would not be a factor in normal circumstances.
Despite objective equality on the board, Wenjun’s nervous play appeared to catch up with her. She seemed adrift, unsure of what to do with her pieces. Black’s sequence Qh5, Qg6, Qe4, h6 and Qh7 allowed Goryachkina to consolidate and begin to probe her rival’s position with 27.e4!
Once again, white did not need to be precise, as black continued to drift with 28…Rc8 and 30..e3. It is worth noting that by move 28, both players were down to 12 minutes left until the time control, but their body language and play could not have been more different.
It became clear that the next ten moves would decide the game.
Wenjun looked exhausted and was not putting up much resistance. Black allowed exchanging all minor pieces, leaving Wenjun in a completely lost passive end game. Goryachkina converted with trademark calm and efficiency.
The tie breaks would be another mental battle between the duo. Wenjun with the second highest rapid rating in the world should start as the favourite. Goryachkina’s rating I the rapid game is much lower and she has not played rapid for some time. But having defeated the world champion three times in twelve matches, Goryachkina will not lack confidence in tie-breaks.