Employing impressive technique in today’s second game, Lei Tingjie relentlessly jumped back into the match, and with four games to go, the Women’s Candidates Final is once again completely open.
After nearly six hours of play and seventy gruelling moves, with everything pointing towards a draw, a last-minute mistake by Tan Zhongyi in severe time trouble put the 1-1 result on the scoreboard.
The second game of the match began as usual at 3 pm local in Chongqing. Trailing her opponent by a full point on the scoreboard, the onus was on Lei Tingjie to showcase her skills with the White pieces.
She opened the game with 1.d4, and both players went for the fashionable Queen’s Gambit. On move three, Tan Zhongyi opted for 3…dxc4, and a few moves down the line, the position transposed into one of the most exciting lines of the Semi-Slav defence, in which White sacrifices a pawn for the initiative.
According to my database, Lei Tingjie usually plays it safe in the opening – therefore, maybe she was slightly surprised by this turn of events. One can never know for sure, but there is a possibility that both players ended up in a position somewhat unknown to them in their wish to sidestep their opponent’s preparation.
The first major deviation from theory was played by Tan Zhongyi. Her choice 7…Qb6 is fairly unknown at the top level, whereas 7…a5 would lead to the trendy Noteboom variation. Sensing the danger, she intelligently gave back her extra pawn to finish her development and castle.
A few moves later, after an inaccuracy by her opponent, Lei Tingjie missed a golden opportunity to strike first with 21.Nxb4 Qxb4 followed by 22.Qc2.
According to the engines, the threats on b4, f6, and e6 would have offered White excellent chances to bring home the full point.
Nonetheless, Lei Tingjie continued pressing her small positional advantage: two bishops and a slightly favourable pawn structure gave her a decent edge in the late middlegame and early stages of the endgame.
Although Tan Zhongyi displayed excellent defensive skills, Lei Tingjie pushed on, understanding that her opportunity might arrive in time trouble.
Finally, they reached an opposite-colour bishop endgame, which is generally well-known for its drawing tendency.
Fate struck on move seventy-one. Tan Zhongyi could have held the draw with 7….Be8, but instead, she played 71…Bg4? and after White’s 72.Kg6! was forced to exchange her h-pawn for the opponent’s f-pawn allowing Lei Tingjieto win the game by advancing her two connected passed pawns.
Commentating live from the venue, GM Alik Gershon summarized the situation fantastically: “Very impressive technique by Lei. Slightly unfortunate for Tan, but this is how you can lose these types of positions. White can make many small mistakes and still have chances, while Black can’t make any mistakes because she can lose immediately.”
Co-commentator WIM Qiu Mengjie agreed: “If White makes a mistake, she will always have the draw at hand.”
The third game of the match will be disputed tomorrow, March 31st. Tan Zhongyi will play with the White pieces.