Fully recharged after their well-deserved rest day, Lei Tingjie and Tan Zhongyi returned to the playing venue in Chongqing this afternoon for the second half of their six-game match.
Tied 1.5-1.5 on the scoreboard, the three final games will decide which of the two Chinese Grand Masters advances to the next stage of the cycle: challenging the current Women's World Champion Ju Wenjun, for the title in July.
Playing with Black, Tan Zhongyi deviated from the second game of the match with 3…Nf6 instead of 3…dxc4, a solid choice for this game. Lei Tingjie brought the trendy Catalan Opening to the table, a decision that caught her opponent off-guard, as she explained in her postgame interview.
Following seventeen moves of well-known theory, the first key moment of the game came on move eighteen when Tan Zhongyi created some weaknesses in her position by advancing 18…f5.
According to the engines, Black is seriously worse after this move, as it weakens her kingside considerably. Tan Zhongyi explained that the structure was slightly unfamiliar to her and that she wanted to consolidate her central knight on d5.
A few moves later, 21.f4 might have been a slightly better move than 21.Na5, preventing Black's counterplay in the center, but even so, White still kept the upper hand. However, Tan Zhongyi gradually fought back into the game, generating enough initiative on the kingside to compensate for her opponent's queenside domination.
The second key moment could have turned the tables completely. Lei Tingjie blundered with 28.b3? but Tan Zhongyi's reply 28…Nc8 was no good. Instead, she could have played 28…fxe4 29.fxe4 Rxf1 30.Bxf1 and now the masterstroke 30…Nxd5! sacrificing a piece that can't be accepted.
The knight can't be captured with the rook due to 31…Qe3+ winning, while 31.exd5 runs into 31…e4! and Black is winning wherever the rook moves to. It's hard to say what Tan Zhongyi missed in this line – she had more than 50 minutes on the clock and only spent 4 minutes on her decision. In any case, in her postgame interview, she regretted not having played this move.
Lei Tingjie didn't give her a second chance. She started piling up the pressure, and when Tan Zhongyi ventured her rook into Lei's position to win a pawn, she struck hard and fast at her opponent's king, building up a decisive attack that eventually forced her opponent to resign.
In her postgame interview, Lei Tingjie said that today's game was very complicated. She mentioned that she saw Tan's missed tactical opportunity and was very nervous. Finally, she explained that she was very lucky to win in the end.
After answering the questions, Lei dashed off to dinner: she was so nervous during the game that she forgot to drink water for four and a half hours, and now she was very hungry!
Both players will return tomorrow for the fifth game. Tan Zhongyi will be playing with White for the final time, in a must-win situation.
You can follow all the games with with top-notch commentary by GM Alik Gershon and WIM QiuMengjie on the FIDE YouTube Channel.
Text: IM Michael Rahal
Photo: Liu Yi
Official website: womenscandidates.fide.com/
The 2023 FIDE Women's Candidates Final is being disputed in Chongqing (China) from March 27th to April 6th. Chinese Grandmasters Lei Tingjie and Tan Zhongyi face each other in a six-game classical chess match. The winner will receive 60.000 euros and the right to challenge the current Women’s World Champion Ju Wenjun for the title in July.
Strategically positioned as a gateway to China’s west, Chongqing is China’s major modernized manufacturing base, a financial center, and an international transport hub in Western China.
Home to more than 32 million people, it was an obvious choice for hosting the event as both players were born in the city.
In addition, it’s an important center of chess activity in the country, abode to many important chess clubs and academies. A fun fact - both Lei Tingjie and Tan Zhongyi are teammates at the Chongqing Sports Lottery Chess Club.