It employs the same 64 squares and 32 pieces everywhere it is played, so you might think there can be no home court advantage in chess.
Current world champion Magnus Carlsen, it should be remembered, first won the crown by defeating Indian GM Viswanathan Anand in a 12-game match in Chennai, where Anand has long been considered a national sporting hero. But most title matches over the decades wind up in neutral sites (hello, Reykjavik) in order to avoid giving one contestant an unfair rooting edge.
The theory is getting an unusual real-world test in the exciting FIDE women’s world championship, which has just reached the halfway point.
The first six games were played in Shanghai, home to reigning women’s world champ GM Ju Wenjun of China. But the play now shifts to Vladivostok, where Russian challenger GM Aleksandra Goryachkina should have a large cheering section. (Imagine the Lakers and Celtics playing the first half of Game 7 in Los Angeles, and then flying cross-country to Boston for the second half.)
The 21-year-old Goryachkina, whose strong play in the candidates tournament last year was a revelation, heads back to Mother Russia with the score knotted at 3-3. Both players are showing plenty of fight in the Shanghai half of the match, with three of the first six games going at least 85(!) moves.
Ju broke on top in Game 4 with some fine endgame play. In a Queen’s Gambit, things are close to equal after 26. Rxc8+ Qxc8 27. Qd5, but White has the edge owing to her powerfully centralized queen.
Black’s nervous decision to trade bishops — 34. Qe4 Bc5?! 35. Bxc5+ bxc5 36. a5!, fixing the Black a-pawn as a long-term weakness — results in a tricky queen-and-pawn ending that White manages superbly.
Black misses a chance to mobilize her king, and Ju picks just the right moment to switch to a winning pawn ending: 51. Qxe7+ Kxe7 52. g4! Kd6 53. gxh5 gxh5 54. Ke4 Kc6 55. f4 Kb5 56. Kd5! (the pawn race is a tie after 56. Kf5? Kb4 55. Kxf6 Kxb3 56. Kg6 c4 57. f5 c3, drawing) f5 57. Kd6 Kb6 58. Kd7! (neatly forcing Black’s hand) Ka5 59. Kc7! (ditto) Kxa6 60. Kc6, pinning the king to the a-file. In the final position, White’s king is off to collect the kingside pawns and Goryachkina gives up.
Goryachkina bounced right back in Game 5, playing an aggressive English Opening line, driving the Black king into the center of the board and pressuring Ju into an exchange sacrifice that doesn’t quite pay off. White breaks on top after 20. Ng5+ Kf5 21. h4 cxd4?! (Kg6 22. Bd3+ Kh6 23. dxc5 Rxc5 24. 0-0 Ng6 was playable) 22. Bd7+ Kxe5 23. Bxc8 Rxc8, and Black is already struggling to save the game.
Ju manages to get some real counterplay with her passed d-pawn, and just might have held the draw after 33. Rf3 Ne5 34. Rf4 (see diagram), when 34…Nc4! would have posed real problems for White; e.g. 35. Kf1 Ke5 36. Rf3 Nb2 37. Ke2 Nxd1 38. Kxd1 Rb2 39. Rh3 Rb1+ 40. Kxd2 Rb2+ 41. Ke3 Rb3+ 42. Ke2 Rxh3 43. gxh3 Ke4, with equality.
But after the timid 34…Nc6? 35. Kf1 Ke5 36. Rf3 Na5 37. Ke2 Nc4 38. Rh3!, Black will be stymied on the queenside as Goryachkina will eventually get her kingside pawns moving.
The finale finds Black’s army fatally far from the action: 47. Rc3 Nxa3 48. Rc5+ Kd6 (Kf6 49. Rxd2 Rxd2+ 50. Kxd2 Ke7 51. Kc3 Nb1+ 52. Kc2 Na3+ 52. Kb2 Kd6 54. f6 and wins) 49. f6! (the pawn queens if Black takes the rook) Nc2 50. Rc4 51. Rf4 Kd5, and Black resigns as the pawn can’t be stopped.
After another opening ceremony in Vladivostok, Game 7 of the match will be played Thursday.
Ju-Goryachkina, FIDE Women’s World Championship, Game 4, Shanghai, January 2020
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 e6 6. e3 c5 7. Bxc4 cxd4 8. exd4 Nc6 9. O-O Be7 10. d5 exd5 11. Nxd5 Nxd5 12. Bxd5 O-O 13. Be3 Bf5 14. Qb3 Nb4 15. Rfd1 Qa5 16. Ne5 Nxd5 17. Rxd5 Qa6 18. Nd7 Be6 19. Nxf8 Kxf8 20. Qb5 Bxd5 21. Qxd5 Rd8 22. Qe4 h6 23. g3 b6 24. Rc1 f6 25. Kg2 Rc8 26. Rxc8+ Qxc8 27. Qd5 Ke8 28. h4 Qd7 29. Qg8+ Bf8 30. Qc4 h5 31. Kh2 Be7 32. b3 Kf8 33. Qc2 Bd6 34. Qe4 Bc5 35. Bxc5+ bxc5 36. a5 Qe7 37. Qa8+ Kf7 38. a6 g6 39. Qd5+ Kg7 40. Qb7 Kf8 41. Kg2 Ke8 42. Qa8+ Kf7 43. Qd5+ Kg7 44. Kf3 Kf8 45. Qb7 Ke8 46. Qd5 Kf8 47. Kf4 Qc7+ 48. Ke3 Qc8 49. Qb7 Qd8 50. Kf3 Qe7 51. Qxe7+ Kxe7 52. g4 Kd6 53. gxh5 gxh5 54. Ke4 Kc6 55. f4 Kb5 56. Kd5 f5 57. Kd6 Kb6 58. Kd7 Ka5 59. Kc7 Kxa6 60. Kc6 Ka5 61. Kxc5 Ka6 62. b4 Kb7 63. Kd5 Black resigns.
Goryachkina-Ju, FIDE Women’s World Championship, Game 5, Shanghai, January 2020
1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. e4 d5 4. cxd5 exd5 5. e5 Ne4 6. Nf3 Bf5 7. d3 Nxc3 8. bxc3 c5 9. d4 Qa5 10. Bd2 Nc6 11. c4 Qd8 12. Qb3 Be4 13. Qxb7 Rc8 14. Bg5 Be7 15. Bxe7 Nxe7 16. Qb5+ Qd7 17. cxd5 Bxd5 18. Qxd7+ Kxd7 19. Bb5+ Ke6 20. Ng5+ Kf5 21. h4 cxd4 22. Bd7+ Kxe5 23. Bxc8 Rxc8 24. O-O Kd6 25. Rfe1 Rc2 26. a3 h6 27. Ne4+ Bxe4 28. Rxe4 Nc6 29. h5 g6 30. Rf4 gxh5 31. Rxf7 d3 32. Rd1 d2 33. Rf3 Ne5 34. Rf4 Nc6 35. Kf1 Ke5 36. Rf3 Na5 37. Ke2 Nc4 38. Rh3 Ra2 39. Rxh5+ Kd4 40. Rh4+ Kc5 41. Rh3 a5 42. f4 Kd5 43. Rf3 Ke6 44. g4 a4 45. Rh3 Kd5 46. f5 Ke5 47. Rc3 Nxa3 48. Rc5+ Kd6 49. f6 Nc2 50. Rc4 Na3 51. Rf4 Kd5 and Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.