It is amazing.
There he was, a child lost in the concrete anonymity of Brooklyn, solitary,
restless, different. And then he cultivated a demanding friend: chess.
Obsessed, he would stay up half the night replaying the games of the masters,
scorning school and withdrawing deeper into himself. Distressed by his
isolation, his protective, foreign-born mother introduced him to the famed
Manhattan Chess Club where he became renowned for his killer instinct. A
sometimes petulant prodigy, he was given to gloating about "destroying the
weakies" when he won and scattering the pieces off the board when he
At 16, declaring
that "teachers are stupid," he quit Erasmus Hall High School and became
a chess vagabond. He toured the world, winning tournament after tournament,
complaining about playing conditions and accusing the Russians of conspiring
against him. And then, after settling in California, he mounted an all-out
assault to wrest the world chess title away from the vaunted Soviet
What's that? You
heard it all before? But that is the amazing thing: you have not. Though the
stated facts of their careers are exactly the same, the prodigal son of
Brooklyn referred to is not Grandmaster Robert James Fischer but Grandmaster
Walter Shawn Browne.
Amazing and, yes,
perhaps consciously imitative in some respects.
Still, for all
the eerie parallels, the differences between the two Erasmus Hall dropouts are
just as striking. For one thing, at 26, Browne is far more outgoing than the
celebrated bachelor recluse of South Pasadena, overbearing but nonetheless an
engaging person. For another, as he proudly notes, "I have some advantages
that Bobby Fischer doesn't." Browne has a stabilizing helpmate. His wife
Racquel, a clinical psychologist from Argentina, says, "Shawnees a leetle
beet crazy, but so am I. So eet works out."
And though he
parrots Fischer in saying, "Chess is not like life; chess is life,"
Browne ventures beyond the tight little world of 64 squares. He pursues the
same sports that Bobby does to keep in playing shape ("I can beat four out
of five people in Ping-Pong," says Browne, "nine out of 10 in
tennis"), but he is also a universal gamesman, the only person ever to
compete at the highest levels in chess as well as three other serious tests of
man's cerebral skills. "I can beat 97 out of 100 experts in Scrabble,"
Browne says, "98 of 100 in backgammon and 99.9 of 100 in poker. At hi-lo,
table-limit poker, I'm the best in the world." Looking down on that world
from the $65,000 mountaintop villa he purchased in Berkeley, Calif, with help
from his poker winnings, he adds, "Amarillo Slim is a patzer compared with
some of the guys I play with."
And, oh yes,
there is one other critical distinction between the Brooklyn wonder boys.
Browne has not won the world chess championship—yet. Except for Fischer, whose
powers are deemed so transcendental in chess circles as to preclude drawing
comparisons, Browne is the U.S.'s strongest threat to win back the world title
that Bobby forfeited to Russia's Anatoly Karpov last year.
refusal to defend his championship because FIDE (Féderation Internationale des
Echecs, the game's governing body) would not agree to all of his myriad
requests, Browne says, "If Bobby had insisted on 80 of his 100 demands,
he'd be all right. If he'd insisted on 90, he'd be unreasonable. But the fact
that he insisted on all 100 makes him kind of crazy. When my turn comes, I'll
He has no doubt
at all that his turn will come eventually. This summer, in fact, he took a step
toward that goal by winning the U.S. championship for the second straight year.
That qualified him to compete this summer in the FIDE Interzonals with three
dozen world-class players, the next plateau in the three-year playoff cycle for
the world championship. If Browne survives that trial, he will then join seven
other aspirants in the Candidates' Matches in 1977, a cutthroat series to
determine who wins the right to challenge Karpov in 1978.