Grandmaster Walter Browne died suddenly this week at the age of 66. The news came via the Las Vegas Chess Festival, where Browne was a regular guest and had participated in the 50th edition of the National Open, a tournament he won a record eleven times throughout his long career.
I had the opportunity to get to know Browne a bit while interviewing him for Chess Life Magazine about his autobiography The Stress of Chess (and its infinite finesse) (New In Chess, 2012). The interview appeared last December, but was a long time in the making, as I had over seven hours of phone conversations with Walter over a three month period. He was suffering from chronic vertigo and did not have enough energy to concentrate during certain times of the day. The nine hour time difference between us therefore made it hard to find a convenient time to talk, but more than that, he simply had a tremendous amount to say! He spoke at a furious pace, often flitting from one idea or story to the next. It was a challenge just to keep up!
Even after the magazine feature, and an additional online companion piece, there were still many subjects that had to be cut or only briefly touched on due to space constraints. Some of these were a touch controversial, and probably not suitable for a remembrance. But here's one short snippet, recorded on his 64th birthday, when he talked about the chess-like game he invented.
There's more on Browne's creation at www.FinessebyBrowne.com or in this video from Chess Life Online:
The Stress of Chess is chock full of fascinating and entertaining annotated games, but out of his thousands of games one stood out in Walter's mind. Here it is with his own annotations (reprinted with permission):
At this point in the US Championship I had +5 and at least a point lead on my competitors. Nevertheless I looked forward to a sharp struggle with the very solid former US Champ. He had given me some painful lessons in the 1960s! Arthur has a very solid repertoire and with White he was still very hard to beat in later years.
8. ♖e1 One of the most popular alternatives these days. 8... ♗g4 9. c4 ♘f6 10. ♘c3 ♗xf3 11. ♕xf3 ♘xd4 12. ♕d1 ♘e6 13. cxd5 ♘xd5 14. ♗b5+ c6 15. ♘xd5 cxb5 16. ♕b3 O-O 17. ♗e3 favors White, as in Leko-Gelfand, Nalchik 2009.
12... ♘xc3 Arthur was yawning out the moves... little did he know that a loud 4 AM wake-up call was near!
13... ♗e6! 14. ♖e5 (14. ♕xc7 ♗d6 15. ♕c2 O-O 16. ♗d2 ♗f5 17. ♕b3 ♕xb3 18. axb3 f6 was unclear, Hübner-Smyslov, Velden 1983) 14... ♕c6 (14... ♕d7 15. ♗g5! ♗xg5 16. ♘xg5 with a slight edge) 15. ♕e1 O-O-O 16. ♗g5 ♗xg5 17. ♘xg5 ♖he8 with full equality.
13... ♕d6⁈ 14. d5! ♔f8 15. ♗g5 f6 16. ♘d4 fxg5 17. ♘xf5 ♗f6 18. ♕c4 ♕d7 19. ♖e6 ♖d8 20. d6 cxd6 21. ♘xd6 and White wins. For forty years the text move held sway as in a dull sleep, but suddenly the board rumbled!
14. ♗h6‼ After a 45-minute think, I confidently offered my bishop. My adversary has the two bishops and a better pawn structure so I had to react sharply. The passive
14... ♖g8 Arthur took 45 minutes on this compromising decision as he will only be able to castle on the queenside, yet the alternatives were worse.
17. ♘g5‼ The natural follow-up of my original plan didn't work:
17... O-O-O Arthur must have felt reassured here as his king looks safe and he has pressure on the d-pawn. Additionally, White's bishop looks kaput. Massive exchanges on e6 lead nowhere. Surely Walter's folly is over! After:
17... ♗xg5 18. ♗xg5 besides being unable to castle, Black has to deal with a looming threat of d4-d5 and a timely sac on e6: 18... h6 19. ♗h4 g5 20. ♗g3 and now: 20... O-O-O (20... ♔f8 21. ♖xe6! fxe6 22. d5 cxd5 23. ♕f6+ ♕f7 24. ♗d6+ is crushing; 20... ♖g6 21. ♖c5 O-O-O 22. ♕a5 f5 23. ♗e5 and White's domination of the dark squares around the black king spells his doom;) 21. d5 ♗xd5 22. ♖e7+−
17... gxh6 18. ♘xe6 fxe6 19. ♖xe6 or 19... O-O-O (19... ♖g7 20. d5! ♔f8 21. ♕xg7+! ♔xg7 22. ♖xe7+ ♕xe7 23. ♖xe7+ ♔f6 24. d6 ♖e8 25. ♖xh7 transposing to a won rook ending) 20. ♖xe7 ♕xd4 21. ♕h3+ ♖d7 22. ♖xh7 should win.
18. ♘xf7! Suddenly another piece offer and this time it can't be refused!
20... gxh6 21. ♕b3 ♕b6 22. ♕xb6 axb6 23. g3 ♖d7 24. ♖ee7 ♖xe7 25. ♖xe7 ♖d8 was a better defensive try, though after 26. ♖xh7! ♖d2 27. b3 ♖xa2 28. ♖xh6 ♖b2 29. h4 ♖xb3 30. h5 ♖b5 31. g4 ♔d7 32. ♖g6 the white pawns are too quick.
23. h4! Creating luft with tempo.
About this game he told me:
For me it was the best game I ever played. I would say if there was a selection of the top 100 games in the century, it should be in the book.
There are 100 other games in his own book, as well as stories of travel, tournaments and characters encountered in his long career, lamentably cut short.
Browne's last tournament game was played in round 4 of the National Open just last weekend (he took two byes in the final rounds). I caught up with his opponent, 12-year old Hans Niemann, by phone while he was in a car en route to the Washington D.C. International. He was the top-rated 11-year-old in the country, and remains among the top three at 12. Browne had recently befriended Niemann and his family and despite being put under pressure in the middlegame, the veteran managed to snag the full point after his young opponent blundered shortly before the time control. Browne finished his career with a win!
1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘f3 b6 4. g3 ♗a6 5. ♕a4 ♗b7 6. ♗g2 c5 7. dxc5 bxc5 8. O-O ♗e7 9. ♘c3 O-O 10. ♖d1 d6 11. ♗f4 ♕b6 12. ♖ab1 ♗c6 13. ♕c2 ♖d8 14. e4 ♕b7 15. ♘e1 h6 16. a3 a5 17. ♕e2 a4 18. e5 dxe5 19. ♖xd8+ ♗xd8 20. ♗xe5 ♗xg2 21. ♘xg2 ♘c6 22. ♘b5 ♘xe5 23. ♕xe5 ♘e4 24. ♘d6 ♘xd6 25. ♕xd6 ♕e4 26. ♖d1 ♗f6 27. ♕xc5 ♗xb2 28. ♘e3 h5 29. ♖d7 g6 30. ♕e7 ♖f8 31. ♕b4 ♗d4 32. c5 e5 33. ♕xa4 ♖b8 34. ♘f1 ♗xf2+ 35. ♔xf2 ♕xa4
During the recent Norway Chess supertournament another US Champion, Yasser Seirawan, talked about his friend:
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