Women’s world chess champion GM Ju Wenjun and GM Lei Tingje, her Chinese compatriot and challenger in the 12-game title match now underway in Shanghai, are well matched.
Almost too well matched.
Separated by just a few ratings points and boasting equally strong tactical and technical skills, Ju and Lei struggled to secure any sizable advantage in the first four games played. The challenger was finally able to break through with a nice win in Tuesday’s Game 5 to seize an early 3-2 lead.
Lei, whose preparation for the match so far has been top-notch, again surprised the champ in the early play of Game 5 with a Giuoco Piano, getting a small but clear initiative that eventually results in good pressure on the queenside and the advantage of the bishop pair. White’s dominance of the d5-square, occupied serially by a bishop and a rook has Ju playing defense for virtually the entire game.
White’s pressure pays off with perhaps the first significant error by either player in the match: 44. Qe2 g6 45. e5! Qa8? (after a long thought, Black walks right into a nasty pin; the engines say 45…Rd7 is Black’s best hope of keeping things from getting worse) 46. Qf3! f5 47. Rd7 Ra7 48. Qxa8+ Rxa8 49. e6! Rxa4 50. Rb7 Ra8 51. Rxb6 c4 52. Rc6 Bd8 53. b6, and Black’s pushed-back pieces can’t put up any real resistance.
White picks up a full piece on 55. Rc8 Rb3+ 56. Ke2 Rxb6 (Ke7 57. Bg5+ is no help) 57. Rxd8+, and after 64. Re7+ Rxe7 65. Bxe7, the rooks are off and the endgame is an elementary win; Ju resigned.
New Orleans unknown Paul Morphy famously introduced himself to the chess world by winning the inaugural American Chess Congress in 1857. The ninth and final tournament in the Congress series was held exactly 100 years ago next month in the New Jersey resort town of Lake Hopatcong.
Frank Marshall, one of Morphy’s great successors and the reigning U.S. champ for decades, tied for first at the 1923 event, but his co-winner, Belarus-born emigre Abraham Kupchik, deserves to be better known. Kupchik was one of the strongest players on the American interwar chess scene, Manhattan Chess Club champ a record 13 times and a key contributor to the 1935 U.S. gold medal-winning Olympiad squad.
He lost his game to Marshall at Lake Hopatcong, but Kupchik scored a number of fine wins in the event, displaying a keen tactical eye. One of his best-known combinations came against D.C.-based master Vladimir Sournin (who deserves a column of his own one of these days.) Black does well in the early skirmishing in this Four Knights Game, but fails to respond adequately when Kupchik opens up the play in the center.
Thus: 22. Rf1 Ne7 23. d4 b5?! (White’s two bishops are about to come alive; better was 23…exd4 24. Bxd4 a3 25. bxa3 Rxa3 with counterplay) 24. dxe5 fxe5 25. Rad1 Rf6 26. exd5 Bxd5? (walking into a one-two punch; Black is still in it after 26…cxd5 27. Qd2 Rh8) 27. Qg4 (White’s pieces are already claiming superior squares, with 28. Nh5+ the immediate threat) Be6 28. Qh4 Rh8 (see diagram; 28…g5 29. Nh5+ Kf7 30. Qe4 Rf5 31. Ng3 wins material, and White is also better after 28…Ng8 29. Ne4 g5 30. Qh5 Bf5 31. h4 Bxe4 32. Bxe4 Qf7 33. Qxf7+ Kxf7 34. hxg5 hxg5 38. Bxg5), setting the stage for a nice combination.
White’s forces are superbly deployed while Black is barely holding things together, so it’s no surprise there are tactics in the air. Kupchik doesn’t miss: 29. Rxd6! (drawing the queen to the fateful square) Qxd6 30. Qxf6+! Kxf6 31. Ne4+ Kg7 32. Nxd6 Bxa2 33. Re1 and Kupchik collects a pawn for a piece.
Any lingering survival hopes are snuffed out after 49. Rxd6 Rb6 52. Nd2+ Kc5 51. Rd3 and the Black b-pawn will fall. Sournin resigned.
(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)
Lei-Ju, FIDE Women’s World Championship, Game 5, Shanghai, July 2023
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. O-O d6 6. c3 a5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. Re1 Ba7 9. h3 Be6 10. Bc2 h6 11. d4 exd4 12. Nxd4 Bd7 13. Be3 Ne5 14. Nd2 c5 15. N4f3 Bc6 16. Nxe5 dxe5 17. a4 Qe7 18. Qe2 Rfd8 19. Red1 Bb8 20. Qc4 b6 21. b4 axb4 22. cxb4 Bd6 23. b5 Bd7 24. Qc3 Be6 25. Nc4 Bxc4 26. Qxc4 Ne8 27. Bb3 Nc7 28. Qc2 Ne6 29. Bd5 Rab8 30. Bxe6 Qxe6 31. Rd5 Be7 32. Rad1 Rxd5 33. Rxd5 Ra8 34. Bd2 Kf8 35. Bc3 f6 36. Qb3 Qc8 37. Qc4 Qe8 38. g3 Qc8 39. Kg2 Qe8 40. h4 h5 41. Bd2 Rb8 42. f4 exf4 43. Bxf4 Rb7 44. Qe2 g6 45. e5 Qa8 46. Qf3 f5 47. Rd7 Ra7 48. Qxa8+ Rxa8 49. e6 Rxa4 50. Rb7 Ra8 51. Rxb6 c4 52. Rc6 Bd8 53. b6 Ra2+ 54. Kf3 Rb2 55. Rc8 Rb3+ 56. Ke2 Rxb6 57. Rxd8+ Ke7 58. Rc8 Rxe6+ 59. Kd2 Re4 60. Kc3 Kf7 61. Rxc4 Re8 62. Rc7+ Kf6 63. Bg5+ Ke5 64. Re7+ Rxe7 65. Bxe7 Black resigns.
Kupchik-Sournin, 9th American Chess Congress, Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, August 1923
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Nd4 5. Ba4 Nxf3+ 6. Qxf3 Bb4 7. O-O O-O 8. d3 c6 9. Bg5 Be7 10. Bb3 d6 11. Nd1 a5 12. c3 h6 13. Bc1 d5 14. Ne3 a4 15. Bc2 g6 16. h3 Kg7 17. Re1 Be6 18. Nf1 Qc7 19. Ng3 Ng8 20. Qe2 Bd6 21. Be3 f6 22. Rf1 Ne7 23. d4 b5 24. dxe5 fxe5 25. Rad1 Rf6 26. exd5 Bxd5 27. Qg4 Be6 28. Qh4 Rh8 29. Rxd6 Qxd6 30. Qxf6+ Kxf6 31. Ne4+ Kg7 32. Nxd6 Bxa2 33. Re1 Nd5 34. Bc5 Kf6 35. c4 bxc4 36. Bxa4 Nf4 37. Ra1 Bb3 38. Bxb3 cxb3 39. Ra6 Ke6 40. Ba3 Ne2+ 41. Kh2 Nd4 42. Ne4 Rb8 43. f3 Kd5 44. Ra7 Nb5 45. Rd7+ Ke6 46. Re7+ Kd5 47. Bd6 Nxd6 48. Rd7 Kc4 49. Rxd6 Rb6 50. Nd2+ Kc5 51. Rd3 Black resigns.
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