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    Wednesday
    Jun242015

    Walter Browne, 1949-2015, RIP

    Walter Browne was one of the strongest players in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, a remarkable personality and a great fighter at the board. He was still battling in chess and had been making a bit of a comeback after some years with indifferent results. He hadn't looked particularly well in recent years, but it was still a shock to learn today that he had died this afternoon in Las Vegas at the age of 66.

    In the early 1970s Browne was one of the youngest grandmasters in the world (perhaps the second youngest, after Anatoly Karpov) and seemed to be headed for world-class status. He did reach 2590 at one point in his career (but not the 2682 erroneously given on the Wikipedia page) and did so at a time when that was something special, though he never got too close to the absolute summit. Nevertheless, his accomplishments were considerable, including six U.S. championship titles and numerous victories in international and major U.S. open events.

    Among his scalps you'll find a veritable who's who of chess in the '70s and '80s: Enrique Mecking, Samuel Reshevsky, Svetozar Gligoric, Lubomir Kavalek, Andras Adorjan, Jan Timman, Pal Benko, Bent Larsen, Vasily Smyslov, Zoltan Ribli, Mikhail Tal, Yasser Seirawan, Robert Byrne, Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Anthony Miles, Miguel Najdorf, Eugenio Torre, Vlastimil Hort, Viktor Korchnoi, Lajos Portisch, Ulf Andersson, Nigel Short, Lev Polugaevsky, Sergey Dolmatov, Gata Kamsky...the list goes on and on. For those unfamiliar with some or all of the foregoing, the list includes two world champions and 19 players who were "only" Candidates, including three (losing) world championship finalists. He also drew all five games he played against Boris Spassky and the only game he played against Bobby Fischer - and Fischer only drew that game by a hair.

    Going down several levels, he also faced a far less notable player - yours truly - in a couple of games, winning the first and drawing the second. Though he was an extremely competitive person, as anyone who ever watched him play can attest, I was treated with respect, and equal respect, in both games. He wasn't arrogant when he beat me and wasn't a bad sport when I drew. It was an honor for me to have the chance to play him, a player I had read about and looked up to from when I was a young boy, years before I entered my first tournament.

    He deserves a fuller tribute on here, and I'm sure he'll receive many laudatory articles around the web and in chess magazines in the days and weeks to come. For now, here are a couple of links, to the first announcement of his passing and to his ChessGames.com page.

    To his family and friends I offer my condolences. Rest in peace, Walter Shawn Browne.

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    Reader Comments (12)

    I suspect that 2682 was his peak USCF rating, which is typically about a hundred points higher than the peak FIDE rating.

    June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChris Falter

    Just hearing of this for the first time here. This is shocking. Never met the man, (and I envy your playing some chess with him) but he was a force of nature, especially as a young player. I'd love to hear any reader accounts of playing him.

    June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMikeO

    It was an honor for me to have the chance to play him, a player I had read about and looked up to from when I was a young boy, years before I entered my first tournament.

    Same here, although I probably wasn't quite as young. And I only played him in a simul (it was Najdorf, of course).

    A fascinating person.

    June 25, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterhylen

    Played him in a simul in late 1970's. He was all kinetic energy, muttering to himself, rapidly moving from board to board. Thought I had a great attack going on the black side of a French Defense....until he proved otherwise :)

    June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Cleaver

    Just double-checked his USCF rating history; he peaked at 2652 in February and April of 1995.

    June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChris Falter

    Are you sure he was the world's youngest grandmaster at one point ? I recall the now-defunct Inside Chess mentioning in a 1992
    issue that the "class of 1970" had only two people who were awarded the GM title that year----Browne and someone named Karpov.

    But Karpov was two years younger than Browne.

    [DM: Right you are. I saw this somewhere else too, and have changed the post. Thank you for the correction!]

    At any rate, Browne's premature passing is a genuine shock, especially for a 40-year USCF member such as myself.

    June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHoward S Sample

    Of course we older Dutchies remember Browne for his participation in many Dutch tournaments. He won Hoogovens 1974 and in 1980 (in the absence of Soviets, but still). His last one was already in 1983.
    What I find a bit puzzling is that he played relatively few tournaments, compared with Timman, Portisch, Larsen and Seirawan.

    [DM: Part of the answer is that he switched to poker to make a better living.]

    June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMNb

    As someone just a year older than Walter Browne, I have many fond, and a few not so fond, memories of him. His moving back to Australia ( I believe he was born there) to avoid the draft is an example of his so not admirable behavior. There were also allegations of drug use (stimulants) to enhance his play. However, he certainly gave USA chess a great boost back in the 1970's and 1980's. I think he held or tie the record for most USA championships at one time.

    [DM: Not quite. He won six, which is very impressive, but Reshevsky won seven and Fischer eight.]

    But his flaky behavior and unpredictable results never made him successor to Fischer we hoped for. I saw him once in Las Vegas at the National Open in the late 1990's. He looked old for his age and not well kept. But he worked as hard as anyone at the tournament and played some very good chess. He also was very respectful of anyone he played.
    I do hope he rests in peace and any shortcomings are off set by his positive attributes and the joy he brought to chess fans.

    June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLarry L.

    I saw everything Dennis and the commenters mention here. Browne was very gracious to me after his shock Round 2 loss with White against 1...b6 caused him to withdraw from the 1975 Atlantic Open; we spent twenty minutes analyzing afterward. I never ran across him again but we were friends on FB. I remain devastated by the news and offer my condolences to his nearest.

    June 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth Regan

    So him going to Vietnam to shoot Vietnamese would have been more 'positive' and 'admirable', Larry L? Or not avoiding being forced to do so? I can't let that assumption go unchallenged. Because it's depressing and appalling, to a person not blinded by murderous US militaristic propaganda. Maybe the fault was in yourselves.

    [DM: The only options on the Vietnam war are to reject it or to be the blind follower of murderous military propaganda? That's helpful. Anyway, if the two of you are willing and interested in continuing the debate by email, you can both let me know. Send me your email addresses via the contact link, and if you both do so I'll forward you the other person's address in private. You can have at it, but not here, please, either for or against the war.]

    June 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAdamP

    I also have read he went back to Australia as it was quicker to achieve GM status as a citizen there?

    August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDick Arnold

    I read decades ago that Walter had returned to Australia for the express reason of more easily achieving the GM title. I saw Walter play vs Paul Keres final game and saw him in 4 or 5 other tourneys in the 1980s. He impressed me with his great nervous energy and his respectful disposition for his opponents. God bless you Walter and family. I will miss you. I loved your games.

    August 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGilbert Sommerfeld

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