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USCL Week 8: Arch Bishops Shuffle Lineup for Pivotal Division Matchup

Veteran Saint Louis GM Ben Finegold will make his first start of the 2014 USCL season against the Atlanta Kings on Wednesday night.

A weekend in Vegas is always a great way to relax and blow off some steam, but now it’s back to the grind for Grandmaster Wesley So.

Two days after taking down the Millionaire Open and its $100,000 prize, chess’ hottest professional athlete is back to work -- leading the Saint Louis Arch Bishops in their United States Chess League playoff push. Tonight, So and the first-place Arch Bishops face a pivotal division matchup with the Atlanta Kings (3.5-3.5), who trail Saint Louis (4.5-2.5) by a lone match point in the hotly contested Southern Division. With just three games left on the season, both squads are desperate for results from tonight: Atlanta, to keep pace down the home stretch; and Saint Louis to gain breathing room -- especially after a win last night by Miami, pulling the Sharks even in the win column.

Tonight’s match between Saint Louis and Atlanta begins at 7:00 p.m. local time, and will be streamed live with commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan.

With eyes on the postseason, Saint Louis will be testing some lineup versatility against the Kings in the hopes of earning some expanded eligibility. For the first time this season, Saint Louis is moving away from its top-heavy strategy of So and Le Quang Liem -- two 2700+ players on the top-two board, and a sacrificial lamb on Board 4 -- as scheduling issues left the Arch Bishops without several of its lower-rated players Wednesday night. As a result, Saint Louis heads into week 8 with its first traditionally balanced approach.

The presumption of a win from So (2751) on Board 1 will stay familiar, as the super-GM holds a 200-point rating advantage and takes the white pieces against Atlanta GM Alonso Zapata (2555). But on Board 2, Saint Louis veteran GM Ben Finegold (2591) will make his first start of the 2014 season against FM Daniel Gurevich (2393).

The move from Le Liem to Finegold saves 200 points from Saint Louis’ lineup rating cap, allowing the Arch Bishops bottom boards to gain strength. On Board 3, another Saint Louis veteran FM Doug Eckert (2281) also makes his first 2014 start against Atlanta NM Richard Francisco (2382), and NM Matthew Larson (2251) -- who has played well two weeks in a row on Board 3 -- now faces his first even-matched opponent of the season on Board 4, against Kings’ NM Leo Martinez (2266).

Saint Louis’ general manager Alex Marler says if tonight’s match goes well, the squad may look to use both Finegold and Eckert again in the season’s final two weeks -- both players will earn eligibility for playoffs after playing a second regular season game.

“This is the first time we’ve used this lineup, and we were able to just barely make the rating average,” Marler said. “Finegold has had really good results in years past, and Eckert has been improving a lot. Larson is on Board 4 now -- that’s a pretty strong Board 4 for us. We might be playing these guys again in a possible playoff game, this lineup seems pretty strong.”

Tonight's match begins at 7:00 p.m. local. Live spectators may join GM Yasser Seirawan's live commentary of the games at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, or tune in online