Walter Browne, a fearless attacker and indomitable competitor who dominated the American chess scene in the years after world champion Bobby Fischer retired from the game, died suddenly in his sleep Wednesday at the age of 66.
Browne, who nearly beat Fischer in an epic 99-move draw in their one across-the-board encounter, was a six-time U.S. champion between 1974 and 1983, the most national titles after Fischer’s 11 and the eight won by Sammy Reshevsky. The Australian-born grandmaster, whose parent moved to New York in 1953 when he was a boy, played in two dozen U.S. title tournaments, twice won the U.S. Open, and was a three-winner of the World Open, one of the country’s strongest annual open events.
He was the U.S. junior champion in 1971 and at the time of his death, was the reigning U.S. senior champion, having won that title in September 2014. Browne was also a professional poker player while maintaining an active chess career for more than five decades.
His death was first reported on the tournament website of the National Open, a Las Vegas Swiss-style open tournament that Browne had won 11 times in his career.
At his peak in the 1970s and early 1980s, he won a number of strong international events, and played for both the U.S. squad and his native Australia in six Olympiads, the biennial world team competition. His ability to navigate complex positions with just seconds left on his time clock was legendary.
The world’s top players, including world champion Magnus Carlsen, observed a moment of silence before the final round of a major tournament now being played in Carlsen’s home country of Norway, and messages of shock and sadness filled a number of chess blogs Thursday.
An aggressive and uncompromising competitor, Browne published an autobiography/greatest games collection in 2012 entitled, “The Stress of Chess … and Its Infinite Finesse.”
He described his playing philosophy in the book thus: “I want to compete whatever the risk, seek the truth whatever the price, and create no matter the challenge.”