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Making All the Right Moves
Ray Kennedy
January 12, 1976
Walter Browne is briefly motionless, not the normal state for this go-go grandmaster who feels he can beat anybody at anything—and the Russians at chess
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January 12, 1976

Making All The Right Moves

Walter Browne is briefly motionless, not the normal state for this go-go grandmaster who feels he can beat anybody at anything—and the Russians at chess

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"I've got the talent," says Browne. "All I need to do is persevere. And I will, because I'm concentrating all my energies on becoming world champion. I have this fantastic discipline to study chess six, eight, 10 hours a day, this drive to win at all costs short of physical violence. I got this aggression that never quits, this feeling of terrific power. I feel this big hot thing like the sun inside me. I'm not bragging. I really feel as if I can beat anybody at anything!"

While waiting to overpower the world, Browne spent two months last fall polishing off the entire United States of America, purple mountain by fruited plain, town by town, pawn by pawn. More than a promotional tour, it was an organizational tour de force that he conceived as "a new kind of fun game." Called a "simul" in the trade, the format was standard if exhausting grandmaster exhibition fare: for a $225 guarantee, one night's lodging and $7.50 for each additional player over the 30-board minimum, Browne gave a lecture and then took on all comers. What made this road show extraordinary was that he was in effect playing one unending series of simuls, driving up to 13 hours a day, hopscotching across the country like some knight-errant in quest of a self-mate.

From upper Oregon to lower Florida, Massachusetts Bay to the Mexican border, Browne played in YMCAs, motels, universities, factories, shopping malls, VFW halls and a prison. By his calculation, $15,000, 15,000 miles, 2,000 games, 60 days, 50 cities and 40 states add up to an "inhuman feat."

By Racquel's reckoning it was "loco completo." Het sentiments are understandable; she was doing the driving. "My husbond weel get to be world chompion," she said shortly before their departure, "but he weel not get his driver's license." Unhearing, Browne kept enthusing about the throngs that would turn out to play him. "It's their chance to do a very personal thing," he said, "like throwing a football with Joe Namath."

Strategy? "I'm going to trick 'em, trap 'em," he said. "If I don't get 'em in the opening, I'll get 'em in the middle, and if not in the middle, then I'll get 'em in the end. And if not in the end, then they will have passed a test of the highest order." Stamina? "If I don't hold up, I will kill my wife." "Eef you play bockgommon when we get to New York," Racquel countered, "I weel keel you."

And so at noon on a Friday in the middle of October—tennis rackets, chess books and snow chains stowed in their burgundy BMW sedan—off they went. "When we get back," Browne promised, "I will have played more people in two months than the average tournament player would meet in 200 years."

And that was just for starters. Coming up: Inhuman Feat No. 2, an attempt to break the world record for simultaneous play set by Argentina's Miguel Najdorf when he took on 250 opponents in São Paulo, Brazil in 1950. Browne says, "I'm going to play at least 260 people—just 251 would look bad." Figuring that it will take 18 to 22 hours, he adds, "It's not a question of can I do it but how well, how fast I do it. Talk about the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. People don't know what that is compared to what I'm going to do. It will be the marathon of marathons! A fantastic event! A spectacle!"

Browne already lays claim to two other world marks. In 1971 in Adelaide, Australia, he played and defeated 29 challengers in 45 minutes. "Forty-five minutes!" he exclaims. "You know how fast that is? About a minute and a half a game! And some of the games went to 50, 60 moves. This combination has never happened before and will never happen again. It's almost physically impossible. If I'd stopped to take a drink of water, it was all over."

At Manhattan's Chess City two years ago Browne played 106 opponents, including a Columbia University computer called the Ostrich, and won 94 games, drew nine and lost three. "That is probably the best score ever for that many people," he says, "and the record without doubt is that I finished in seven hours, 20 minutes." (Browne had the computer beaten in just 15 moves. "Tell your Ostrich to read Nimzovich," he sniffed, referring to the father of the hypermodern school of chess.)

"We're not talking about ticktacktoe here, you know," Browne concludes. "We're talking about the most profound game ever created. That's why there is not a computer alive that can beat me. They lack imagination."

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