The Saint Louis Arch Bishops have advanced to territory never seen before: The U.S. Chess League Semifinals!
On Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. local, the two-seed Arch Bishops will face off against the 2013 USCL defending champion Miami Sharks, in a semifinal fight that features two Grandmaster vs. Grandmaster matchups. On Board One, Saint Louis GM Wesley So -- undefeated this season, with an 8/9 score -- will command the white pieces against Miami GM Julio Becerra. The Sharks' veteran has turned in an average 2014 season so far, scoring 6.5/11, but is no stranger to the high pressure of playoff chess: During Miami's championship run last season, Becerra scored 2.5/3 including the Winning Game of the Championship Week.
On Board 2, GM Le Quang Liem has turned in an equally successful 2014 season as his teammate So, and will defend against Sharks GM Renier Gonzalez. Miami's second GM has played just four games this season and didn't turn in his first victory until last week -- though, like Becerra, Gonzalez seems to know when to turn up the dial. Last season, he went 3/3 through the playoffs -- but tonight, he'll face an uphill climb rated 250 points below Liem.
With rating advantages on the top-two boards, Saint Louis gives the balance back on the bottom two. Both Arch Bishops' National Masters Matthew Larson and Spencer Finegold enter their Semifinal matchups as rating underdogs -- a position that serves them both just fine.
On Board 3, Larson has gotten hot at the right time, scoring 3.5 in his last four games, including a win as an underdog in last week's quarterfinal win over New Jersey. He faces an 80-point deficit against Miami NM Federico Gonzalez. And Finegold seems to only be able to perform as an underdog: After winning three straight games as a severe underdog on Saint Louis' fourth board, the National Master lost his first game of the season last week against New Jersey expert Ethan Klein -- the only inferior-rated opponent Finegold has seen. Tonight he finds comfort again, looking uphill while his rating is down, taking on NM Carlos Gaston Andretta on Board 4.
The Semifinal action begins at 6:30 p.m. and will once again be streamed live, with commentary from GM Yasser Seirawan. And be sure to tune in: As the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis prepares for its upcoming Showdown in Saint Louis and simultaneous GM/IM norm events -- you never know what special guest may drop in with Yasser for a bit of analysis!
Let's go Saint Louis!