01 Jul

The Stress Of Chess

We continue our tribute to Walter S. Browne, who died suddenly last week in Las Vegas at the age of 66.  He was a leading player during the 1970s and 80s, and one of the truly more colourful and combative grandmasters on the chess scene - and this shone through like a beacon in his wonderfully enjoyable, no-holds barred 2012 chess autobiography, The Stress of Chess…and its Infinite Finesse.


And indeed, I should declare an interest here, as I played matchmaker between author and publishers New in Chess. As the press officer/tournament organiser for several U.S. Championships (when it was sponsored and run by America’s Foundation for Chess), I got to know Walter extremely well and knew he had been working on his book for some time, but didn’t as yet have a publisher. I soon put Allard Hoogland of New in Chess in contact with Walter and the rest, as they say, is history: the remarkable memoirs of the Australian-born and Brooklyn-raised six-time U.S. Champion who befriended Bobby Fischer, while also mastering poker, backgammon and Scrabble. And with 432 pages and 101 wonderful game annotations and many anecdotes from ‘Mr Six-Time’, this is a book that if you haven’t yet read then you should, as Walter was a remarkable character with a story to tell - and what stories!

He reveals that his great great-grandfather was Sir Charles Russell, the Lord Chief Justice in Gladstone’s British government of 1896-1900, who was similarly skilled at chess and cards. By age 14, his parents “were so concerned about my obsession for chess they sent me to see a ‘shrink,’” he wrote. That lasted six sessions, until his parents realised the psychiatrist spent most of the time being paid for free chess lessons!

Then there’s also the famous tale of compulsive gamer Walter playing chess and poker for 2.5 days straight, until he blundered away his queen in a crucial tournament game to sleep deprivation; and there’s also the time he played chess with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. But don’t let me tell you it all - go buy the book and find out for yourself all about the life and times of the indefatigable chess, poker and gaming professional Walter Shawn Browne.

In the forward to The Stress of Chess, Seattle’s Yasser Seirawan, the four-time U.S. Champion and former world Top 10 player, remarked about Walter: “He is a living cauldron of moving, boiling, seething energy…It is a vast understatement to call him a hard worker at the board. He never stops.” And this is such a true statement, because Walter, at his peak, would almost try to forensically see through all and every possibility at the board.

A classic example being his short, sharp refutation of English GM Tony Miles’s then-trendy opening system, in a famous game from the 1978 Tilburg Tournament in the Netherlands. In it, without any home preparation, Walter pioneered a new way to play against Miles’ favourite pet-line - christened the English Defence, in honour of his (and other leading English players of the day) many successes with it - that had been scoring well for him up to this game. “I wanted to refute his set-up, but I had not planned to sacrifice a rook before the game!” Walter wrote.

Walter S. Browne -Tony Miles
Tilburg 1978
English Defence
1.c4 b6 2.d4 e6 3.e4 Bb7 4.Bd3 f5 5.exf5 Bxg2 6.Qh5+ g6 7.fxg6 Bg7 This is the only move, as after 7...Nf6? 8.g7+ Nxh5 9.gxh8Q Bxh1 10.Qxh7 Qh4 (10...Nf6 11.Bg6#) 11.Qg6+ Kd8 12.Bg5+ and wins. 8.gxh7+ Kf8 All this, up to now, had been well-known theory - and Miles had been scoring well here. And after 8...Kf8 9.hxg8Q+ Kxg8 10.Qg6 Bxh1 11.Bg5 Qf8 12.Ne2 Nc6 , and Black is doing fine. But after Walter had thought about the position for an hour here, he uncorked a move that overnight turned the assessment of this variation upside down. 9.Ne2!! Bxh1 10.Bg5 Nf6 11.Qh4 Nc6 12.Nf4 White has just two pawns for the rook, but Black's pieces are badly tied down and the cheeky interloping pawn on h7 remains on the board. 12...Kf7? This turns out to be the fatal error. We can't do justice to here to all the ins and out in of the position, but Walter's analysis, backed by later computer scrutiny, shows that Black's best chance to defend was the highly complex 12...Nxd4 13.Ng6+ Ke8 14.Qxd4 (14.Nxh8? Nf3+!) 14...Rxh7 15.Ne5! Rh3! 16.Bg6+ Kf8 17.Nc3 d6 18.0-0-0 this was the point where Walter's over-the-board analysis - which started with 9 Ne2 - came to an end) 18...Bb7 (Also 18...dxe5 19.Qxd8+ Rxd8 20.Rxd8+ Ke7 21.Rg8 Bh6 22.f4! Bc6 is also holding.) 19.Kb1 Qe7 20.f4 , with a long struggle ahead for both sides. 13.Bg6+ Ke7 14.Nh5 Qf8 15.Nd2 With Black all tied up in knots, Walter calmly completes his development. 15...e5 Worse would have been 15...d5 16.0-0-0 Be4 17.Nxe4 dxe4 18.d5 ripping a hole right through Black's defences. 16.0-0-0 Nxd4 No better is 16...Bg2 17.dxe5 Nxe5 18.Re1 Kd6 19.Nxf6 Nxg6 20.Qg3+ winning. 17.Rxh1 Ne6 18.f4! As in so many Walter Browne games, the attack comes in like a tsunami, with many tactical finesses. 18...d6 If 18...Nxg5 19.Qxg5 Bh6 20.Qxe5+ wins. 19.Ne4 Nxg5 20.Qxg5 Bh6 Now we see the big point of 18.f4! - it was both a prophylactic and attacking move, as it crucially prevented the possibility of the queen, knight and king being skewered down the h6-c1 diagonal. And if 20...exf4 21.Nexf6 Bxf6 22.Re1+ wins easily. 21.Qh4 Bg7 22.fxe5 dxe5 23.Rf1 Something has got to give, as all of White's forces are targeted on the pinned knight on f6. 23...Kd7 24.Nexf6+ Bxf6 25.Nxf6+ Kc8 26.Be4 c6 27.Qh3+ Kb7 28.Bxc6+! 1-0 And Black resigned, as all roads lead to a forced mate here: 28.Bxc6+! Kxc6 (28...Ka6 29.Rf3! b5 30.cxb5+ Kb6 31.Nd5+ Kc5 32.Rc3+ Kd4 (32...Kd6 33.Qd7#) 33.Qe3#) 29.Qd7+ Kc5 30.Qd5+ Kb4 31.Qb5#.

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