Game 12: Anatomy of a must-win

Aleksandra Goryachkina wins the 12th game of the World Championship match, leaving the score 6-6. The title will be decided on rapid tie-breaks tomorrow.

"The person that said winning isn’t everything, never won anything"—Mia Hamm

1- Take your opponent out of their comfort zone

Aleksandra Goryachkina's (playing white) choice to open the game with 1.d4 d5. 2.Nc3 was strategically brilliant. In just two moves, she managed to completely take the world champion Ju Wenjun out of her match preparation. Ju spent 17 minutes contemplating her reply. At the same time, Goryachkina knew that she is likely to get the type of position that favored her style—positional and strategic, proving that one doesn’t have to go for hand-to-hand combat in a must-win.

In fact, black spent about 40 minutes on her first 10 moves. Goryachkina's ability to make her opponent work this much just out of the gate proved critical later in the game.


2- Be yourself

While Ju was spending time and energy figuring out what to do in an opening she has not played before, Goryachkina kept her cool. She was not precise, but she did not need to be. Ju's quasi-aggressive 10..Ne4 and 11..f5 could have been refuted by Goryachkina with more precise play. It was not, and by move 20 white's advantage appeared to have evaporated.

Pundits were down on Goryachkina's chances to exert any kind of pressure. Despite being low on time, it looked as if Ju's upcoming moves would be more straightforward and logical: Being short on time would not be a factor.


3- Anxiety Attack

Despite objective equality on the board, Ju's nervous play appeared to catch up to her. She seemed adrift, not being sure what to do with her pieces. Black's sequence Qh5, Qg6, Qe4, h6 and Qh7 allowed white to consolidate and begin to probe Ju's position with 27.e4!

Once again, white did not need to be precise, as black continued to drift with 28...Rc8 and 30..e3. It is worth noting that by move 28, both players were down to 12 minutes left until the time control, but their body language and play could not have been more different.

It became clear that the next ten moves will decide the game.


4- Make time control and convert

Ju looked exhausted and was not putting up much resistance. Black allowed exchanging all minor pieces, leaving Ju in a completely lost passive end game. Goryachkina converted with trademark calm and efficiency.

Tie-breaks and stray observations:

  • Given today's performance, one wonders if Ju regrets not pushing harder with white in game 11.
  • Ju has the 2nd highest rapid rating in the world. Goryachkina's rating is quite low, but she hasn't played rapid in a while.
  • Having defeated the World Champion three times in twelve games, Goryachkina will not lack confidence in tie-breaks.
  • Six decisive games in a twelve game match has to be a record of some kind for modern era.


The first ceremonial moves in the 12th game of the Women's World Championship Match were made by Anton Voloshko, Vice-Governor of Primorsky Region, and Nikita Anisimov, Far Eastern Federal University President.

Text: Michael Friedman
Photos: Eteri Kublashvili & Michael Friedman
Photos in high resolution are available for the press at our official Flickr account.