Ding Liren winning the FIDE World Championship 2023 reminds fans that China is a chess powerhouse. Perhaps the first time a Chinese player captured the world’s attention was October 29, 1991. That’s when Xie Jun (family name Xie) won the Women’s World Chess Championship.
China and Chess
Xie was Women’s World Chess Champion from 1991 to 1996 and again from 1999 to 2001. Xie was the first of six Chinese-born Women’s World Chess Champions. From July 5–15, 2023, the current champion Ju Wenjun and her challenger, Lei Tingjie, will play for the 2023 Women’s World Chess Championship. That match will take place in China, as both women are Chinese.
The Chinese Women’s Olympiad Team won gold medals in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2016, and 2018. The Chinese Olympiad Team won gold medals in 2014 and 2018.
Xie Jun visits Astana
On April 27, Xie visited the FIDE World Championship 2023 match between Ding Liren from China and Ian Nepomniachtchi from Russia. The match was held from April 7 to May 1 in Astana, Kazakhstan.
When Xie was interviewed for the FIDE YouTube channel, Nepomniachtchi had just lost Game 12, an up-and-down game. Speaking generally about chess, Xie said, “mistakes are part of the game.” At the end of a high-pressure match, she continued, mistakes happen. Xie noted that those who watch the games and make suggestions are not under the same pressure as the match participants. She added that an up-and-down game, like Game 12, can unsettle both its winner and loser. Xie advised Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren to “take good rest, eat well, show your best. Then, maybe you get luck.”
Most Memorable Game
Asked about her own most memorable game, Xie picked the last game of her first Women’s World Chess Championship match. That last game was Game 15, played on October 29, 1991.
Xie needed a draw in Game 15 to win the match against Women’s World Chess Champion Maia Chiburdanidze. The next day, October 30, was Xie’s 21st birthday. During Game 15, she recalled, “I wanted the draw so much I didn’t see how to win.”
Xie drew and became the Women’s World Chess Champion. Yet Game 15 bothered her. She could hardly sleep that night, “thinking about the game like a movie in my head.” The next morning, while everyone was wishing her a happy birthday and congratulating her on the championship, she was thinking that she missed a win. Despite the disappointment of not winning that game, she now thinks, “I was so lucky I was there.”
Chess Champion from China
Game 15 is thoroughly annotated in Chess Champion from China: The Life and Games of Xie Jun. Winning ideas are most obvious at move 27 and at move 51. On move 27, Xie could play the more aggressive (and better) 27. Qa7+ with the idea of 28. Rf7. On move 51, Xie calculated the draw with 51. Rb1. But winning is 51. h6!
In addition to Game 15, 39 other games from various stages of Xie’s chess career are annotated by Xie. The book additionally includes 12 puzzle positions from Xie’s games.
I recommend Chess Champion from China: The Life and Games of Xie Jun for its annotated games and puzzles and for its descriptions of tournament sites and competitors. Xie often critiqued tournament sites. For example, the hotel assigned to players participating in the 1990 Women’s Interzonal at Genting Highlands, Malaysia, was being renovated. There were constant construction noises. Many players, she noted, moved to another hotel. I can attest that her description is correct, as I also participated in that Interzonal. My husband and I moved to the quieter hotel. It had other quirks, but that’s a story for another time.
In contrast to her complaints about tournament sites, Xie is complimentary about her opponents. For example, about Nona Gaprindashvili, one of Xie’s predecessors as Women’s World Chess Champion, she wrote, “Nona has always impressed me for her fighting chess and she was one of my great examples when I was a junior.”
Gambit Publications first published Chess Champion from China: The Life and Games of Xie Jun in 1998. In 2022, Gambit Publications reissued Xie’s book as a paperback. It is 224 pages long and retails for $22.95. Besides being Xie’s own chess story, her book gives insights into China’s rise to chess eminence.