Nathan Melnikov (third from bottom on the right ride of the table) and his Wildkit teammates play against Glenbrook South at the state chess finals in February. Credit: Ken Lewandowski

Nathan Melnikov is another of several multitalented senior members of the ETHS chess team. He was a reserve player on Evanston’s Illinois High School Association State Chess team as a freshman but advanced to become one of the team’s top players during his junior and senior years.

Melnikov was a midfielder on the ETHS varsity boys soccer team this year. Credit: Ethsboyssoccer Instagram

Often one of the last team members to finish, Melnikov has become skilled at outplaying opponents in the late stages of his games, when both players are running low on time.

Melnikov’s years as an ETHS soccer player have followed a similar progression. After playing on the freshman, sophomore and JV teams, he made this year’s varsity soccer squad. Playing midfield, he showed the same tenacity and endurance on the soccer pitch that he displays at the chessboard.

Melnikov played Board 3 for the Wildkits at this year’s State Chess Finals and scored a critical win in the team’s closest match, in Round 5 against Glenbrook South. The team’s narrow victory, 34.5-33.5, would have turned into a loss if he had lost or drawn his game.

White: Andy Ordway, Glenbrook South
Black: Nathan Melnikov, ETHS

1e4 c5 2Nf3 d6 3Bb5+ Bd7 4B:d7+ Nxd7 50-0 Ngf6 6Qe2 e6 7c3 Be7 8d4 0-0 9Rd1 Qc7 10e5

Black to move

10…Ne8 After this move white has more space for his pieces and a slight advantage. A more active plan for black would be 10…dxe5 11dxe5 Nd5 12c4 Nb4, with a roughly even position. Black’s knight on b4 will be able to relocate to c6, pressuring white’s pawn on e5.

11Bf4 Rd8 12Na3 a6 13Nc4 d5 14Ncd2 b5 15a4 c4 16axb5 axb6 17Rdb1 b4

White to move

18Bg5?! White should be probing black’s kingside with pawns, not by exchanging bishops. White would have an advantage after 18h4!? Rb8 19Re1 Rb6 20h5 h6 21Qe3. White can pressure black’s weakened kingside and black, with no good counterattacking plan, has to play defense.

18…Nb6 19cxb4 Bxg5! 20Nxg5 Qe7 This move, attacking white’s unprotected knight on g5 and pawn on b4, gives black time to reorganize his pieces and equalize the game. 

21Qe3 Nc7 22Ra7?! Ra8! 23Rba1 Rxa7 Black could have played 24…Qxb4 since 25Rxc7?? would lose to 25…Rxa1+.

24Rxa7 Ra8

White to move

25Rxa8?! Nbxa8 The game would remain even after 25Rb7, attacking both black knights. If 25…Ra1+ 26Nf1, and black’s king is no safer than white’s

White to move

26Qa3?? Low on time, white blunders. This move protects white’s pawn on b4 but unprotects his knight on g5.

26…Qxg5 27Qe3? Qxe3 28fxe3 Black will be able to win this game by getting his extra knight into play.

28…Nb6 29Kf2 Kf8 30Ke2 Nb5 31Nb1 Ke7 32Kd2 Kd7 33Nc3 0-1 White ran out of time while making his 33rd move.

White to move

Black, with an extra knight, is in a winning position anyway.

Keith Holzmueller is coach of the ETHS chess team.

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...

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