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