The Saint Louis Arch Bishops advanced to the Semifinals with a win over the Las Vegas Desert Rats on Tuesday, November 10, with a score of 3-1. The Arch Bishops received draw odds for the match but it didn’t come into play as they won the match cleanly and moved onto the semifinals where only four teams remain.
The game between FM Elliott Liu (LV) and NM Spencer Finegold (STL) on board three was the first to finish. Liu was slightly better out of the opening on the White side of a Ruy Lopez. He capitalized on a few middlegame inaccuracies by Black such as 15. … Nc4? and 18. … c5? and his powerful center and raking bishops created the opportunity for a strong kingside attack.
The game was lost after 21. … Nf4?, but White would have had to find the continuation 21. … Rxe6! 22. Rxe6 Nf4! 23. Rxg6+ fxg6 to stay alive and even then Black is struggling. Liu, the 2015 MVP, finished his inaugural season with an incredible score of 10/10.
Board two was the second game to finish. GM Varuzhan Akobian (STL) took his game with IM Dionisio Aldama (LV) very seriously and, despite being almost 200 points higher-rated than his opponent, he prepared three consecutive days before his game. His confidence and inspirational attitude before each match has been an integral part of the Arch Bishop’s success over the past three years and this match was no different.
Akobian had the White side of a King’s Indian with 5. Bg5, an opening he has analyzed in the past on the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis’ Youtube channel that you can watch here. White emerged with a very pleasant position out of the opening and the game heated up after the move 24. Nxf7! In the resulting endgame, White had two pawns for the exchange and formidable pawn majority on the kingside. Akobian demonstrated good technique in the endgame and pushed his majority past Black’s breaking point.
With the score tied at 1-1, the Arch Bishops were looking for one more point to seal the victory. GM Illya Nyzhnyk (STL) had the Black side of Semi-Slav featuring the very unorthodox 6. a4 against GM Kayden Troff (LV) on board one. Nyzhnyk achieved a desirable position out of the opening and the blocked queenside left White devoid of counterplay.
Black could easily afford to sacrifice an exchange on d5 for move 40 to obtain a dominant knight in a closed position. His long term plan of infiltrating on the light-squares with his king was remarkable. Without any hope of counterplay, White’s position deteriorated slowly and the Desert Rats’ season came to an end with wins for Saint Louis on the top two boards.
With the victory in hand, the result of the game between NM Nicholas Rosenthal (STL) and NM Eric Moskow (LV) was inconsequential to the result of the match but Rosenthal continued to play on for a few more minutes to win from a good position he had worked all night to achieve.
Rosenthal was on the White side of a Closed Sicilian in which White sacrificed a pawn with 27. e5! to attain strong piece play. White never recovered his material, but his position was easier to play. Black lost the thread after 43. … Rc8?, allowing White to double his rooks on the seventh rank to detriment effect.
Rosenthal has been a vital asset to the Arch Bishops and now boasts an impressive score of 7/8 points for the year year. The strength of board four has improved tremendously this season for Saint Louis with the addition of Rosenthal compared to the 2014 season in which the team collectively scored a lousy 4.5/14 points on board four throughout the year.
The Arch Bishops face a tough challenge in the upcoming semifinals on Wednesday, November 18, against their division rival Dallas Destiny. Dallas will receive draw odds based on their regular season performance.