Wal­ter S. Browne, 66, was a dom­i­nant U.S. chess player in the era af­ter Bobby Fis­cher.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MARTIN WEIL martin.weil@wash­post.com

Wal­ter S. Browne, who dropped out of high school to em­bark on a leg­endary ca­reer in com­pet­i­tive chess that made him an Amer­i­can cham­pion sev­eral times over, died June 24 in Las Ve­gas. He was 66.

His death was widely re­ported in chess publi­ca­tions. On its Web site, the Las Ve­gas In­ter­na­tional Chess Fes­ti­val said Mr. Browne had just played in the 50th an­niver­sary of the Na­tional Open. He went to spend the night at the home of a friend, who told the fes­ti­val that Mr. Browne died sud­denly in his sleep. No cause of death was given.

On the Chess.com Web site, Mr. Browne was de­scribed as “per­haps the most dom­i­nant U.S. player” af­ter the era of Bobby Fis­cher, the famed chess master of the 1960s and 1970s. The wearer of a mus­tache rem­i­nis­cent of a western gunfighter, Mr. Browne was also a pro­fes­sional poker player.

A charis­matic, pas­sion­ate fig­ure at the chess­board and away from it, Mr. Browne won six U.S. Chess Cham­pi­onships be­tween 1974 and 1983. He won more U.S. cham­pi­onships than any play­ers other than Fis­cher and Sammy Re­shevsky.

Mr. Browne was also cred­ited with 11 vic­to­ries at the Na­tional Open, three at the Amer­i­can Open and three at the World Open. He twice held the U.S. Open cham­pi­onship, in 1971 and 1972.

“If Bobby Fis­cher is the god of chess, I’m the devil,” Mr. Browne told Sports Il­lus­trated in 1976.

As a chess grand­mas­ter, Mr. Browne be­longed to a rar­efied fra­ter­nity whose mem­bers were char­ac­ter­ized by prodi­gious in­tel­lec­tual pow­ers, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to cal­cu­late far into the fu­ture the con­se­quences of any move or coun­ter­move of the game’s rooks and pawns, its bish­ops and knights.

Be­yond his Amer­i­can suc­cesses, Mr. Browne had many in­ter­na­tional vic­to­ries in the 1970s and 1980s. He won or tied for first place in tour­na­ments in Italy, Canada, Ice­land, Chile and In­done­sia.

Mr. Browne dis­played a fix­ity of pur­pose and a de­gree of self-as­sur­ance that some­times put peo­ple off. A 1976 pro­file in Sports Il­lus­trated quoted him as say­ing that he had “this drive to win at all costs short of phys­i­cal vi­o­lence. I got this ag­gres­sion that never quits.”

But he was also known for gen­eros­ity and good hu­mor, and his self-con­fi­dence ex­tended to his belief in his abil­ity to avoid let­ting the game stunt or warp his per­son­al­ity.

“It’s not a ques­tion of do I want to be world cham­pion or do I want to be happy,” he told Sports Il­lus­trated. “I will be both. I re­al­ized all the dan­gers long ago.”

De­scrib­ing him­self as the posses­sor of a height­ened sense of self-aware­ness, he said he had “the abil­ity to zero in with­out be­ing nar­row.”

Wal­ter Shawn Browne was born Jan. 10, 1949, in Syd­ney, the son of an Aus­tralian mother and an Amer­i­can fa­ther who was in the ex­port-im­port busi­ness. The fam­ily moved to theUnited States when Mr. Browne was a boy, and he once de­scribed him­self as fond of football, dodge­ball and base­ball as a child on Long Is­land.

But chess also at­tracted him, and af­ter the fam­ily moved to Brook­lyn, Mr. Browne fre­quented chess clubs there and in Man­hat­tan.

In ad­di­tion, he was fas­ci­nated by poker and, while still a teenager, was mak­ing more than mere pocket change from the card game.

Mr. Browne dropped out of Eras­mus Hall High School — the same Brook­lyn public school that Fis­cher had left be­fore grad­u­at­ing — say­ing, “I don’t have time for chess, poker and school.”

Mr. Browne sup­ported him­self by play­ing poker and by trav­el­ing the coun­try, fac­ing all com­ers in si­mul­ta­ne­ous play on nu­mer­ous chess­boards.

In 1969, Mr. Browne won the Aus­tralian na­tional cham­pi­onship, then tied for first place at an in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment in Manila, earn­ing the ti­tle of in­ter­na­tional master.

He then be­came a last-minute sub­sti­tute at an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in Puerto Rico. In a con­fronta­tion with the cel­e­brated Soviet world cham­pion Boris Spassky, Mr. Browne set­tled for a draw.

“I made him work so hard that he couldn’t eat his supper that night,” Mr. Browne said.

His per­for­mance helped Mr. Browne earn the ti­tle of grand­mas­ter. Af­ter that, he was in­creas­ingly in de­mand, and one tri­umph fol­lowed another. He pub­lished a memoir fo­cus­ing on his chess vic­to­ries in 2012.

Ac­cord­ing to Chess.com, sur­vivors in­clude his wife, Raquel Browne; a sis­ter; and two broth­ers.


Wal­ter S. Browne, whose tal­ents tran­scended both chess and poker, com­petes dur­ing the U.S. Chess Cham­pi­onship in 1975.

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