Ju Wenjun to face Kateryna Lagno in WWC final!

2018 Women’s World Chess Championship
November 8th-28th, 2018 (Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia)
FINAL (Ju Wenjun vs. Kateryna Lagno)
Drum Coverage

The final for the Women’s World Chess Championship comes down to two players… defending champion Ju Wenjun of China (2568) and challenger Kateryna Lagno of Russia (2556). Both have traveled very different paths to get to this point. Ju has had a very smooth tournament truly demonstrating her superiority over the field. They both defeated Mariya Muzychuk and Alexandra Kosteniuk respectively. Both received medals and qualified for the new Candidates tournament in 2019.

Ju has not had to play a tiebreak the entire tournament while Lagno has to endure three tiebreaks including a brutal nine-game match with Natalija Pogonina. Interestingly enough, the same scenario occurred last year when Anna Muzychuk waltzed through the field and was the higher rated only to lose to Tan Zhongyi. Ju will be the heavy favorite to keep her title after winning it only six months ago.

Tomorrow is a rest day, but Monday both players will settle in for a thrilling match. No one will doubt that Lagno will be ready, but what will be interesting is how much stamina she will have left. Ju will certainly try to play her typically long positional games to tire her. The final is four classical games followed by the tiebreaks.

All Games from 2018 Women’s Chess Championship

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  1. 2018 Women’s World Chess Championship
    Final, Game 1 (19 November 2018)


    In the women’s knockout, games tend to be more decisive. This is partly due to the type of risks often seen during quicker time controls. The opening was very complicated with many tactical themes. After Ju Wenjun built up a sizable advantage, the tension was released with the trade of queens. It appeared that Ju could play on without any risk since she was better and the fact that Kateryna Lagno had already played three tiebreaks. Fatigue could have been a factor. A draw after 38 moves should be welcome to the Russian side. Tomorrow will be a big test for both.

    Official Site: https://ugra2018.fide.com/
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    Games from 2018 Women’s Chess Championship (Final, Game 1)

  2. 2018 Women’s World Chess Championship
    Final, Game 2 (20 November 2018)

    Lagno beats Ju… breaks out into lead 1½-½

    Ju Wenjun before Game Two. The world champion will need a more serious posture to keep her crown.

    Ju Wenjun must be reeling after her first loss of the tournament. She is in danger of going into the history books as the world champion with the shortest reign. With this being the last knockout to determine the world champion, it would be a huge disappointment if she didn’t solidify the crown. She has two more games to make it happen.

    There was an observation made by Alexandra Kosteniuk who was commentating with Alexander Morozevich. Kosteniuk made the comment that Ju has played very cautiously and lacks energy in her play. In fact, Kosteniuk mentioned that she was not impressed with Ju’s play in their encounter despite Ju winning the match.

    Kosteniuk also mentioned the battles Lagno had in dealing with motherhood and other personal matters. One could sense the lack of objectivity in support of her compatriot. Kosteniuk added that Ju’s play against lower-rated players amounts to waiting for opponents to make mistakes and pouncing on them.

    Of course there is more to Ju’s play, but she has played a bit cautiously in later stages of the tournament… as her opposition has gotten stronger. Perhaps the pressure of maintaining the title has affected her.

    In the first game, Ju developed an advantage, but did not press and even took a draw with the white pieces when she still had a better position. That means she is either overconfident, or not confident enough. Today, she faced a Catalan and the queens came off by move eight. Lagno donated a pawn to nab the two bishops.

    It was apparent that this was a good decision since the position was ideal for the bishop’s long-range power. In addition, black had an issue to solve with her c8-bishop. The Catalan bishop was bearing down on the black queenside with no good way for Ju to close the diagonal. Instead she offered the pawn back to neutralize the pressure.

    After 15…Be6 white recovered the pawn with 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Bxe5. At this point, the position was a bit imbalanced, but appeared to have dynamic equality. If white could claim an edge it would be that Black was saddled with an inferior bishop and a vulnerable d-file.

    The white rook roamed the board with devastating effect. Notice its activity from moves 30.Rh1! to 45.Rb5. Total demolition.

    Lagno’s g4! was an alert move attempting to constrict the black bishop even more. However, the pawns were liquidated on the kingside and it appeared that the game was headed for a draw. However, white’s active rook swung around the entire board probing black’s camp as Ju sat and waited.

    Finally, black lost a pawn providing key squares for the white bishop. Ju position collapsed. With the white king now joining in on the attack, black’s rook became overloaded, and another pawn was lost after 49.Rxa7. This would provide a clear path for the a-pawn and the active white king was depriving the black pieces of key squares they needed to deal with the sprinting a-pawn. Too late.

    The white pawn has now replaced the black pawn on a7 and with a dominant bishop, active rook and king, black was helpless. Finally, 58…Bc6 couldn’t help as the black king looked from afar. After 59.Rb6, Ju resigned in lieu of 59…Rc8 60.Rxc6. Lagno was indeed happy and there was an overall good mood from the commentators. Ju would have to come roaring back with a sense of urgency.

    Official Site: https://ugra2018.fide.com/
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    Games from 2018 Women’s Chess Championship (Final, Game 2)

    Interview with Kateryna Lagno

    Video by ugra2018.fide.com

  3. 2018 Women’s World Chess Championship
    Final, Game 3 (21 November 2018)

    Ju presses for win… Lagno desperately holds!

    Ju Wenjun came back with a vengeance in today’s match-up against Kateryna Lagno. In fact, she had a totally winning position at various points of the game, but stumbled when the game reached a critical point allowing the Russian player counterplay.

    The game was very exciting with many tactical themes, however, Ju failed to close the deal. With only on more game to defend her championship, she will have to simply get a game she can create chances. She has shown she can get good positions, but Lagno has shown she can defend. It will be a tough assignment for the world champion.

    Ju Wenjun preparing while Kateryna Lagno lurks in the shadows. Photo by ugra2018.fide.com.

    Ju Wenjun waits intently while Kateryna Lagno lurks in the shadows.
    Photo by ugra2018.fide.com.

    In today’s game it was a bruising battles with many tosses and turns. Ju played an aggressive line against the King’s Indian Defense (KID) with 5.Bd3!? This line has been played at the elite level, but far less that the normal lines with 5.Nf3 and 6.Be2, the Saemisch with 5.f3 and even the Averbakh variation with 5.Be2 and 6.Bg5.

    All of these lines have been tested thoroughly and are featured among top tournaments. White has scored well nearly putting the defense out of vogue. Players like Hikaru Nakamura have kept it going. Alexander Moiseenko seems to be one of the top practioners of 5.Bd3 against the KID and it would become apparent why Ju chose this line. Just as we thought we would see 20 moves of mainline theory, Lagno decided to steer the game into a Benoni after 7…e6.

    There were a number of games with this text move, but one that stood out was Tigran Petrosian versus Bobby Fischer in the 1970 Herceg Novi blitz tournament. The future world champion would prove victorious in a game in which there were three exchange sacrifices (see game). He won the tournament with a 19-3 (+17 -1 =4). Of course, this isn’t blitz, but the display was impressive. Lahno would try to get the same success.

    Ju essayed 13.h4!? a new move played with great effect. The attack was on!

    The game followed Moissenko-Bacrot in 2013, but diverted when Lagno played 10…g5?! The move is rather bold, but risky. Ju deviated from that game and played 13.h4!? Wow. Of course Lahno felt that accepting the exchange with 13…Bxa1 was too risky as white would have plenty of compensation.

    As the game wore on, it was clear that white has a type of advantage and black would need to patch up her kingside. Ju thought fore 30 minutes before playing 20.Be2, also suggested by engines. She was conjuring up a plan after 20…Qd7, but perhaps missed the chance to throw 21.fxg4 hxg4 22.Ne6! on the board. Unfortunately, she opted for a maneuver designed to remove more defenders from the wrecked kingside. Ju played energetically with 24.e5, but missed a follow-up with 26.d6!

    White still had chances, but Lagno attempted successfully to complicate matters. There were still inaccuracies, but white still had the advantage up until trading queens. This would make it difficult to win with opposite-color bishop ending. Of course, the opposite-color bishop ending Lahno won yesterday was very different.

    Lagno moved to complicate matters by pushing her own pawns. Thrilling battle. Whose pawns would reign supreme? There was one last chance for Ju to get the full point, but she missed that chance too. On 45…e3 46.Rxb3 Ke4 47.Kg2! e2 white could have uncorked 48.Rb7!! Instead she played 48.Rb4+ and after a few moves, black was able to develop a fortress. Another disappointing result for Ju. Lagno will attempt to hold the lead tomorrow and become the new women’s world champion in Russia. It should be an exciting battle!

    Official Site: https://ugra2018.fide.com/
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    Game from 2018 Women’s Chess Championship (Final, Game 3)

  4. 2018 Women’s World Chess Championship
    Final, Game 4 (22 November 2018)

    Ju gets the equalizer… match goes to tiebreaks!

    Kateryna Lagno appeared listless in Game 4.

    In stunning fashion, Ju Wenjun equalized the her match with a thrilling victory over Kateryna Lagno. At the brink of losing her title, she roared back by trotting out the Sicilian instead of the French. The game followed Caruana-Carlsen when white played 6.b4!? but the Russia took an unusual approach with 7.a3!? Was this idea to THEN play b4? No… she continued with 7.Nc3 and they proceeded with a normal game.

    Ju decided to go all out and struck with 11…f5 12.exf5 gxf5. With the open g-file, she formed an Alekhine’s gun and loaded up on the g3-square. Lagno’s pieces were bystanders and did nothing to protect the monarch. The beginning of the end was 28…Bc8 29.Qh5?? Rxg3+! when white is mated. Absolute disaster!

    Arbiter looks on after the devastating 32...Rg2+. Photo by ugra2018.fide.com.

    Arbiter looks on after the devastating 32…Rg2+
    Photos by ugra2018.fide.com

    Game from 2018 Women’s Chess Championship (Final, Game 4)

    Official Site: https://ugra2018.fide.com/
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  5. 2018 Women’s World Chess Championship
    Final, Tiebreaks (23 November 2018)

    China wins again!
    Ju Wenjun win tiebreak match… defends title!

    Ju Wenjun beaming with championship trophy.
    Photo by ugra2018.fide.com

    For Ju Wenjun, she maintained the title with the class and dignity befitting of a champion and never showed any sign of giving up. While her relaxed body posture before her first game wreaked of overconfidence, the loss forced her to steady herself and she got the equalizer against Kateryna Lagno in the last classical game.

    In the tiebreaks the rapid games were competitive with the first game being fought out of a Queen’s Gambit Accepted. This game had none of the twists an turns of the previous and ended in a peaceful draw. The second was similar in a Catalan variation. The game was very placid and by move 20 the game had clarified to another equal ending. No separation in the rapid, so onto the 10’+10″ blitz games.

    After two uninspiring games, Lagno would have one more chance and opted for a Reti Opening. This game went and Lagno got a slight pull in the position, but not the type imbalance to give her a chance for a win. She then started to take chances and in an equal ending overlook a simple tactic and lost a pawn after 23.Bf1? after which 23…Nd1! wins a pawn. Ju ushered her queenside pawns up the board and one of the bishops had to fall on the sword. Ju would enjoy her first lead of the match.

    Lagno’s 34…Qg6 tosses the queen.

    In the second blitz game, Lagno opted for the Modern Defense which is extremely difficult to play since black cedes the center. Following the script, Ju seized the center and tried to increase pressure to constrict black’s mobility. Lagno played solidly, but in the end had a lapse of attention and dropped her queen in one move with 34…Qg6?? after which Ju snapped it off with 35.Nxg6. Shocking. Fatigue had claimed another victim.

    Kateryna Lagno showed the ultimate fighter experience. She battled in her 4th tiebreak against a formidable defending champion and had her on the brink of elimination. The extra games finally took their toll as she lost both 10’+10″ games. The match ended when she hung her queen in one move. The only way of explaining this could be fatigue. Lagno played a total of 29 games.

    Ju was congratulated and successfully defended her title. One of the effects of her retaining the title was to provide continuity for the cycle. How can one explain a champion holding the title for only six months? Before the tournament, it was announced the the women’s cycle would include a Candidate’s tournament in which the four semifinalists will qualify. There would also be a Grand Prix series and the World Cup would now be a qualifier. This is the same as the Open cycle.

    Video byugra2018.fide.com

    Official Site: https://ugra2018.fide.com/
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    Game from 2018 Women’s Chess Championship (Final, Tiebreaks)

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