The fourth of July is upon us, and Americans get set to celebrate their identity as a nation. And it would be remiss of me not to conclude our tribute to the redoubtable Walter Shawn Browne (who died last week at the age of 66) on this very patriotic of holidays, by not acknowledging his contribution to the US Championship with his six title wins - a haul that earned him the sobriquet he revelled in, that of ‘Mr. Six-Time’.
Walter S. Browne won six titles, just two less than joint record-holders Bobby Fischer and Sammy Reshevsky - but arguably, some would say, he could easily have equalled (or perhaps even bettered) the record, had he not decided in his formative years to go back to the country of his birth to first become the Australian Champion!
In 1966, Walter became the US Junior Champion and a bright future in US Chess was predicted for him. But with the impetuousness of youth, he was eager and very ambitious, and invitations to top tournaments were not coming his way as quickly as he wanted them to come. He couldn’t qualify for the Interzonals - the first rung in the ladder for a crack at becoming a world title challenger - so he returned to Australia, and in 1969 became the Australian Champion.
He played for Australia in two Olympiads through the early 1970s, but opted to return again to the United States - and Chicago 1974 proved to be the first of six US Championship titles for Walter S. Browne. By the time of this game that guaranteed him his first title, he had already accumulated five wins and no losses and so had some distance from his closest rivals. However, very typical for Walter, this did not stop him from going further ahead with a win against Arthur Bisguier, a veteran of the US Championship.
And at the time it was played, 13…c6 was still main-line theory and in fact, according to Walter, in his autobiography The Stress of Chess…and its Infinite Finesse, Bisguier was “yawning out the moves.” This position is supposed to be a quiet line often leading to a draw. But Walter suddenly sank into deep thought, and after 45 minutes one of the GM spectators commented that “It’s as if this position has never occurred before. It’s like he’s looking for a forced win!”
Little did he know….
Walter S. Browne - Arthur Bisguier
US Championship 1974, (9)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Be7 7.0-0 Nc6 8.c4 Nb4 9.cxd5 Nxd3 10.Qxd3 Qxd5 11.Re1 Bf5 12.Nc3 Nxc3 13.Qxc3 c6? 14.Bh6!! If Bisguier was 'yawning' through the game beforehand, then this shock had to be a wake-up call for him. Amazingly, Walter found this refutation of this line over-the-board after a 45min think, and not some sort of fancy deep home-preparation. Although in his book, he did describe it as the "novelty of my life." 14...Rg8 The bishop sacrifice from nowhere doesn't win outright, but it makes life very hard for Black and must have come as a real shock. And indeed, Bisguier - who had quickly been flicking his moves out until now - thought for nearly an hour before he realised he couldn't take the bishop, as: 14...gxh6 15.Re5 Qd7 16.Rae1 Be6 17.d5! cxd5 (17...Bxd5? 18.Rxe7+! Qxe7 19.Qxh8+ Kd7 20.Rxe7+ Kxe7 21.Qxa8 easily wins.) 18.Rxe6! fxe6 19.Qxh8+ Bf8 20.Qf6 and Black can resign here. 15.Re5 Qd7 16.Rae1 Be6 17.Ng5! 0-0-0 So why not simply exchange the knight? Well, the reason being that Black will have a chronic dark-square weakness around his king: 17...Bxg5 18.Bxg5 h6 19.Bh4 g5 20.Bg3 0-0-0 21.d5! Bxd5 22.Re7 Qg4 23.Qe5; and 17...gxh6 still can't be played: 18.Nxe6 fxe6 19.Rxe6 Rg7 20.d5 Kf8 21.Qxg7+! 18.Nxf7! Bxf7 19.Rxe7 Qxd4 20.Rxf7 Qxc3 21.bxc3 gxh6 22.Rb1! After all that brilliance it seems unfair that all White has to show for it now is a forced rook ending - but even here, Walter has command of the situation, making the most of his rook on the seventh. And 22. Rb1 is deadlier than 22.Rxh7, as now White's rooks combine, forcing down to a won rook and pawn ending. 22...Rg5 23.h4! Walter first makes 'luft' for his king, avoiding any potential back-rank mates. 23...Rb5 24.Rxb5 cxb5 25.Rxh7 Rd1+ 26.Kh2 Rd2 27.Rxh6 Rxa2 28.h5! The h-pawn is unstoppable. 28...Rxf2 29.Rh8+ Kc7 30.h6 Kb6 31.Kh3 a5 32.g4 b4 33.cxb4 axb4 34.Re8! Rf1 35.Kg2 Rf7 36.g5 Rf5 37.h7 Rxg5+ 38.Kf3 Rh5 39.h8Q Rxh8 40.Rxh8 1-0
RIP Walter Shawn Browne - The world is certainly a little less "interesting" with your passing!