Lower-rated Arch Bishops secure draw
Week five was shaping up to be a tough one for the Arch Bishops. With GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Yury Shulman off to the Olympiad, our board three, GM Ben Finegold, was bumped up a couple seats and some bench players had to fill in behind him. Instead of our usual rating average of 2500+ we were down to a mere 2345 and, for the first time, lower rated than our opponents. With a little luck though, we were able to wade through the beginning of our Nakamura/Shulman-less stretch and hold a draw (white won on every board!).
Despite normally starting on board three, GM Finegold played up two boards and was still higher rated than his adversary IM Saljivus Bercys. This was, however, the only board on which the Dallas Destiny was deficient, making it a must-win for Saint Louis. Finegold, with White for the first time in a USCL game, opened with his now usual 1.e4 and Bercys played an unusual French line with 5...Nh6 in the advanced variation. White side-stepped theory rather early but maintained a small edge. The middlegame was complex and double-edged. Black had two bishops and more center pawns, but white had more space and a better pawn structure. Finegold played a little too cautiously and let his advantage slip away until move 18 when black gave up a pawn for little compensation. To add to his troubles, Bercys decided to sacrifice an exchange but had no attack, or really anything, for it. After some shaky defense by White, Black would have been able to equalize with 24...Rf7 but played the inferior ...Qg4 and was back to losing. This time Finegold never let the win out of sight by eliminating every last one of Black's counterchances.
After such a magnificent performance last week, we all had high hopes for IM Michael Brooks playing black against similarly rated IM Julio Sadorra. The game started with 1.d4, and I was already wondering what kind of King's Indian Defense our board two would win. Brooks decided to play a quieter Bogo-Indian defense but mixed in a dubious pawn sacrifice on move nine. After getting subsequently crushed on the queenside, Black seemed to be uncoordinated and passive (let alone down material). Hope sprung eternal, however, and Sadorra got too aggressive on the kingside with his 20.f4. Black managed to fight back to equality by winning his pawn back on move 25. After some suspicious queen maneuvers, Black blundered with 28...Rb3 and saw White creep in along the a-file and run his passed d-pawn to a victory.
The real surprise of this match came on board three. FM Doug Eckert was White against a younger and higher-rated opponent in NM Tyler Hughes. In our first match-up against the Destiny, Hughes lost with Black in a King's Indian Defense against Shulman and was hoping to mop up against our weakened Arch Bishop team on board three. The game started as another King's Indian but a different variation. Eckert played the calmer fianchetto line and had a minimal advantage out of the opening. It seemed around the early middlegame that Black was even playing for an advantage gaining space on the queenside. Hughes erred on his 22nd move allowing Eckert a strong central pawn break with 23. e5!, but Eckert misplayed it and let Black off the hook. Instead of trading rooks on the d-file, Eckert could have had an almost winning position with 24. Bxc5!. The resulting game position seemed rather dry, both sides had a queen, two minor pieces and five evenly distributed pawns. Both sides moved around a bit trying to weaken the other (not without each player committing a few minor mistakes) until Hughes played the unfortunate 36...g4 simply hanging a pawn, instead of 36...gxh4 which could have ensured a draw. The real shocking blunder on move 40 speaks for itself. I assume the blunder was due to time trouble, but Black was simply lost anyway.
Board four had another newcomer to our team, NM and board member here at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis Jim Voelker. He had a tough pairing black against WFM Zorigt Bayaraa considering she was 99 points higher rated. Our board four had lost all but one game this season (thanks to Yours Truly) and unfortunately the trend continued. The game started as a strange Catalan where White had already played Nc3 losing some flexibility. White still maintained a pull with a large center and no weaknesses, but things started to get out of hand with Voelker's dubious counterstrike 13...c5. White ended up with a passed d-pawn and considerably more space, but Black wasn't lost yet. Bayaraa played a bit inaccurately with 17.Ng5 and let black come close to equalizing. The WFM decided to complicate matters and played for an attack on the kingside while black was fiddling around with queenside counterplay. Eventually Voelker also had a strong passer that White had to worry about until he blundered with his 29th and 30th moves allowing White to choose between capturing the passed pawn, or letting her Queen penetrate on the 7th rank. She chose the former (although the latter was much stronger) and obtained a strong position. The Destiny's fourth board cashed in with 35.Bxf7+! clearing the way for her d-pawn and ended up with a Queen for a Knight.