After a near-disaster in Game 6, Ju (playing White) probably needed to have a game in which she would only be playing for two results — a win or a draw, with little chance of losing. With a 4.d3 Anti-Berlin variation of the Spanish Defense, Ju achieved just that — a very comfortable position with a sizable space advantage and minimum risk. Goryachkina (playing Black) was reduced to sitting back: however, her position didn't have any obvious glaring weaknesses.
Therefore, computer evaluations rarely moved past +0.50 for white. Nevertheless, it must have been extremely unpleasant for Goryachkina to be at the board for so long, maneuvering without any real counter-play. The challenger had to show a lot of character to defend a bland, slightly worse position without giving in. Such positions are often lost when a player on the passive side loses their patience. She defended extremely accurately, especially after the knights came off the board.
Goryachkina probably got some relief after Ju played 37.Nf5. With just four minutes on the clock, Ju could not work out all the complications that could have arisen from the more dynamic alternatives such as 37.h4. Despite 4 hours and 40 moves of steady domination, Ju never appeared to have a clear path to victory.
Games 4-7 were going to be a real test for the challenger. Despite only having one white and losing Game 4, she emerged from this stretch even, as have demonstrated her class, and readiness to be on the biggest stage.
There are still five games left in the match and it is a bit early to be thinking about play-offs. However, given how tight the games have been so far, it seems very likely for the match to go the full distance.
Wang Xue Chun, Deputy General Council of China in Vladivostok, made the first symbolic move of Game 7.
Text: Michael Friedman
Photos: Michael Friedman and Eteri Kublashvili
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