You are here

Arch Bishops Clinch Playoff Berth with Debut Performance from Illya Nyzhnyk

arch bishops, st. louis, chess, champion, grandmaster

The Saint Louis Arch Bishops clinched a seat in the 2015 United States Chess League (USCL) playoffs with a win over the Arizona Scorpions Wednesday, October 21, thanks to a very strong recent addition to their roster. The Arch Bishops welcomed Grandmaster Illya Nyzhnyk as the new board one to an already dangerous lineup.

The Ukrainian Grandmaster is a member of the Webster University chess team and he took a half point bye in the 2015 Spice Cup to be available to participate in last night’s victory. Nyzhnyk had the White pieces against Rogelio Barcenilla, an opponent he has faced in previous matches.

Nyzhnyk emerged from the opening with a pleasant advantage and the game got really exciting after the sacrificial 27. Rxg7+! Black was suddenly losing and facing an uphill battle, but he defended very well and managed to obtain enough counterplay to hold a draw. Board one was the last game to finish and Nyzhnyk was happy to take the draw and secure the victory for his team. “It was actually a very good game until I started playing like I knew I was going to win,” Nyzhnyk said after the game. “It’s never over ‘til it’s over.”

Var Akobian found himself in an unusual spot this week while on board two. For the first time this year, Akobian was not on the top board because he is lower rated than Nyzhnyk by 4 points. When asked about what it’s like to be on board two he replied, “It’s not that different. It’s going to be tough competition even on board two.”

Akobian’s game against Mark Ginsberg featured a French Winawer with the slightly unusual move 4. Nge2. White sacrificed his e-pawn straight out of the opening and he never managed to win it back or obtain any form of compensation for the pawn.

Akobian was proud of the move 38. … g5!, giving his knight the uncontested d5-square and making it easier to push his passed b-pawn. “For some reason he just gave me a pawn in the opening,” Akobian said after the game. “It was a relatively easy game because my opponent misplayed the opening.”

For the second week in a row, Spencer Finegold beat a higher rated opponent while on board three. This time, his opponent was Pedram Atoufi. Atoufi achieved a better position out of the opening with the Black pieces, but Finegold pulled several clever tactical tricks from his sleeve and turned the game around.

19. Nc4 was the start of the turnaround -- blocking the c-file and securing the bishop pair. Finegold was later forced to sacrifice the exchange, but his two bishops gave him plenty of compensation. 28. Bh3! was another cheeky move that provoked the losing move 28. … f5?. White’s bishops were devastating after Black voluntarily opened the kingside and Finegold quickly finished the game with a strong attack.  “I knew after he played … f5 that I would win the game,” Finegold said while watching his teammates finish their games.

Shawn Swindell played his second game of the year, making him eligible for the playoffs. Swindell is also a member of the Webster University chess team and is currently only one point away from earning the title of National Master.

Swindell had a tough matchup against WFM Ramya Inapuri but he managed to achieve a very pleasant position out of the opening. After the move 14. … g5 he already had a crushing positional advantage but he was unable to keep up with the plot and his advantage slowly slipped away. His position worsen significantly after 20. … h5?, allowing White to play h4 and secure the f4 square for her knight. The game had an anticlimactic finish after 34. … Rh8??, which simply blundered away both of the rooks. Swindell admitted after the game that he thought the king was off the back rank when he played his final move.

The Arch Bishops have a crucial matchup against Dallas Destiny coming up October 28 in the final round of the regular season. A win for either team would guarantee first place in the Western Division and give a huge advantage to the winning team heading into the playoffs.

To follow the Arch Bishops, go to the USCL website at