The Saint Louis Arch Bishops are the 2014 U.S. Chess League champions!
On Wednesday, December 3, the Arch Bishops lineup of GM Wesley So, GM Varuzhan Akobian, NM Matt Larson and NM Spencer Finegold defeated that of the Dallas Destiny in the USCL Championship match, winning the first national title in franchise history. Saint Louis squeaked by the Destiny in a gauntlet overtime of Blitz chess after the four-board regulation match tied 2-2, marking the second-consecutive overtime win for the Arch Bishops. The Miami Sharks had forced Saint Louis down to its last player standing -- Wesley So -- in the semifinal.
Both Saint Louis Grandmasters notched full-point wins in the championship’s Classically timed games, with So defeating Dallas GM Conrad Holt and Akobian knocking down the strong IM Jeffrey Xiong on the top two boards. The Arch Bishops couldn’t find the resources on the lower boards to finish the match in regulation, however, as Finegold first fell Dallas' Karthik Ramachandran and Larson lost a long struggle for a half-point to Francisco Guadalupe II on board 3. The Classical 2-2 tie sent the match to a gauntlet-style Blitz playoff, where the loser of a head-to-head match between the Board 4 players was eliminated, and the winner moved on to face Board 3.
Despite the Classical loss, Finegold redeemed himself well in the playoff, knocking out two Dallas players from the gauntlet. The Arch Bishops’ fourth board defeated Dallas’ No. 4 Ramachandran in the speedy finale, eliminating him from the playoffs, then mustered up a come-from-behind draw against Guadalupe. The draw eliminated both players.
Xiong evened the remaining players after defeating and eliminating Larson -- but then Akobian handled the rest. Saint Louis’ second board knocked out both remaining Destiny players, Xiong and Holt, to earn the Arch Bishops their first-ever USCL championship.
It marked the end of a wonderful “rookie” season for So, who earned the 2014 USCL MVP in his first-ever season in the league. So went undefeated through 11 games, scoring 10 points thanks to only two draws. His season performance rating finished at an astounding 2915, with four of his games -- including his final game against Holt -- nominated as USCL highlight matches of the week.
Akobian, too, turned in a fine season. Akobian had produced three consecutive wins for the Arch Bishops in the early season, but had remained on the bench for the latter portion after another Saint Louis GM Le Quang Liem began to put together a solid season of his own. Liem, who also went undefeated with 6.5/8 on Saint Louis' second board, played to a 2810 performance -- but was suddenly unavailable for the USCL finals, out of the country for the match. Akobian stepped right back into his role of reliability. His win over Holt in the finals, along with his subsequent two Blitz victories to ice the championship, kept Akobian’s 2014 season flawless. It was his second USCL championship, earning his first with the Seattle Sluggers in 2012.
Despite such glowing standout performances by a few, the 2014 USCL Championship did not come without a pure team effort from all Saint Louis Arch Bishop members. GM Ben Finegold, WGM Anna Sharevich, FM Doug Eckert, Jacob Wilkins, Julian Proleiko and General Manager Alex Marler also contributed to the squad’s success throughout the season.