In Memoriam: Walter Browne July 01 2015

Chess Grandmaster Walter Browne died June 24 at age 66.


When I was young, I played a lot of chess, and followed the careers of the players of my time – especially the Americans. Of course, there was Bobby Fischer, and, well, you only get one of those every century or so. But there was a crop of younger players, a few before and many after Fischer, who exploded through the seventies and spread out from the States to play all over the world. One was Ken Rogoff, the Harvard economist who appears on the talking-head shows (he’s bald now, but aren’t we all).

And then there was Walter Browne. He was a little older than the rest, and first met Fischer when they were both brash New York City kids about the time when Bobby had begun dominating big international events. In play, he came on as strong as Fischer – their one professional encounter was a hundred-move horns-locked draw – but, well, there was only one Fischer. Still, Browne stood a head and shoulder above the other young players of the time, and notched an impressive series of successes – both domestic and foreign – over the next forty or so years. He was a mad blitz player, and did a lot to popularize that style of play, and it’s safe to say that if there had been no Bobby Fischer, Walter Browne would have been the great American player over the last half century (a little funny, in that though raised a New Yorker, he was born in Australia).

I met him once, just recently, when he called me at the store and chided us for not carrying his Autobiography/100 Best Game collection , “The Stress of Chess.” Now, the internet has killed book sales, and particularly chess books, so I wasn’t too apologetic. But it turned out he was a local guy – lived right up in the Berkeley Hills – so I said, dang, I’m sorry about that, come on down and I’ll take a half dozen of those books right off your hands. He said fine, and a few days later he was in the store and I was talking with one of my childhood heroes. Now, chess isn’t that big in this country, so I think he was a little surprised at my fawning, but we chatted about the game, his life, and the new version of chess he was working on that he hoped would bust the grip of the computer. I bought one of the books myself, and he signed it special for me, and was gracious enough to sign the rest as well.

I gather he went to Vegas after that, and, at the age of sixty six, finished ninth in the 50th National Open. Probably played some cards, as well. Because, really, you don’t make that much money playing chess, even as well as he did, and Walter Browne also played a mean game of poker. I’m guessing you don’t get a house in the Berkeley Hills by just moving pawns and queens. And then he died at a friend’s house where he was staying.

Screamin’ Steen says Rest in Peace, Walter Browne. Thanks for your life and that part of it that touched mine.

Steen Jensen is a 30+ year veteran of the gaming industry. He's been Games of Berkeley's chief buyer for the past decade, and a chess player/fan all his life.


Picture credit: Chess champion Walter S. Browne in 1975. (John Kenney/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)