Tan Zhongyi takes the lead in the six-game Candidates final after defeating Lei Tingjie in one of the most exciting games of the year.
Primarily remembered today for his formulation of an atomic theory of the universe, the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus left many quotes for history. “Boldness is the beginning of an action, but fortune controls how it ends” is one of them, very appropriate to understand what happened today in the first game of the Women’s Candidates Final in Chongqing, China.
The action began punctually at 3 pm local time with the ceremonial first move, performed by Du Xueyong, Deputy Director of Chongqing Sports Bureau, accompanied by FIDE Vice-President and former Women’s World Champion Xie Jun.
Playing with White, Tan Zhongyi opened with 1.c4, the English Opening, one of her two main weapons. Hardly a surprise for Lei Tingjie, she quickly replied with 1…e5, against which Tan Zhongyi blitzed out 2.d3, a secondary line which, according to my database, she had never played before in her career.
Already on move six, the position was completely new, a rare occurrence nowadays. Customary in English Openings, Tan Zhongyi went for the kingside fianchetto, followed by the typical queenside pawn expansion with a3 and b4. Lei Tingjie defended with precision, obtaining a very promising middlegame position.
Around move twenty, with both players under fifteen minutes to reach the 40-move time control, Tan Zhongyi boldlyopted for a very risky and unbalanced idea, allowing her opponent two strongly connected passed pawns in exchange for active piece play and her own passer on d5. Soon, a second pawn had to be sacrificed to maintain the initiative.
Although the computers were indicating a decisive material advantage for Lei Tingjie, her king was considerably exposed – in addition, she was getting very low on time.
On move thirty, Lei Tingjie could have scored first blood if she had found 30…c4! (instead of 30…Qe6? played in the game): however, the lines are very difficult to calculate with only seconds on the clock.
Tan Zhongyi won a piece but still had to deal with her opponent’s advanced passed pawn. She missed a win on move thirty-five (35.e4! instead of 35.Qe8, with a decisive advantage), but luck was on her side today.
With less than thirty seconds on her clock and five moves to go for the time control, Lei Tingjie blundered with 36…f4? and was forced to resign a couple of moves later, after Tan Zhongyi correctly spotted 37.e3! followed by the exchange of queens on d3.
Commentating the match from the venue, GM Alik Gershon witnessed the meltdown live.
“What a blow for Lei Tingjie. Until the very last moment, she had a draw with 36…Qb1. This has been a very upsetting game for her” were Gershon’s final words.
Chief Arbiter Panagiotis Nikolopoulos retrieved the scoresheets from the players, certifying a win for White in the first game of the match.
Excited after her victory, Tan Zhongyi attended the press conference, while a disappointed Lei Tingjie retired to her chambers to regroup for tomorrow’s second game, in which she will be playing with White.