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That is why the lions tended to follow a familiar game plan: play for quick, energy-conserving draws against one another and go for the kill against the others. The martyrs, though, had their own survival tactics: play a tactical waiting game until the lion shows the first signs of what Commons calls "the fatigue out," and then pour it on. Against Grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek, a Czech refugee who had not lost a game for eight months before the championship, Rogoff says, "I messed around for 30 moves until he began to tire and then I crushed him in the next 10 moves."
By mid-tournament a startling trend was already in the making. As Grandmaster Robert Byrne aptly observed, "The GMs need a Futurity Program, too." With one point awarded for a win, one-half for a draw, the final results begged for a headline: MARTYRS DEVOUR LIONS 40½-37½. In the stratified world of chess that was roughly the equivalent of the Erasmus Hall High Jayvees defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Though clearly the star of the youthful lineup, Browne is the lonesome end of chess, a player who by nature and temperament is out there by himself somewhere. Or, as he once summed it up, "If Bobby Fischer is the God of chess, I'm the Devil." Tarjan says, "Browne tries to be a good sport, but basically he's a maniac at the board." "He comes at you like a train," says Rogoff. "He plays to kill, to smash you. The rest of us aren't interested in karate chopping the board in half, but you can never be sure with Walter." What the players are certain of is the aptness of Browne's nickname. They call him the Savage.
In the tournament's penultimate round, Browne attacked with everything but a spear. Unshaven, scowling, twitching his Mongol mustache and shaking his long dark mane, he looked like some kind of tribal hit man masquerading in flared jeans and floral shirt. In contrast to the tranquil setting, a subterranean retreat on the Oberlin University campus called the Late Study Area, Browne was writhing, groaning, shuffling, sighing and drumming his way through a classic endgame struggle with Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier, a defensive Houdini.
As he pondered, Browne shook his right leg to the beat of some inner fury. He hovered hawk-like over the board, his nose almost touching the pieces. And when he drew back, inhaled deeply and prepared to strike, he looked as if he might just as likely toss a punch as push a pawn.
At one point Browne bolted out of his chair, careened into the hallway, shouldered through the men's room, shook down a passerby for a quarter, assaulted a coffee machine and barged back to the board. Then, crash! He slammed his rook down. Bang! He pounded the button on his time clock. Snap! He shattered the point on his pencil while recording the move. And splash, plop, clatter! He knocked his coffee cup, scorepad and several stray pieces to the floor.
Bisguier, serene in the eye of Browne's hurricane, occasionally strolled off, pausing like a tourist to inspect some of the other games in progress. During one amble he drifted into a seat among the spectators (nine in all) and dozed off until—crash bang!—it was his turn to move again.
Finally, after 70 moves and seven hours of infighting, over two days, Browne rose and directed an obscene gesture at Bisguier, which was his way of saying that he was yielding to a draw. Then off they went to an adjoining "postmortem room" to rehash the game. Chomping on a doughnut, Browne rumbled his reactions in tones that are a curious cross of Balkan and Brooklynese, a kind of hyper Akim Tamiroff. "Ya gotta find these cute moves," he said, rapidly shifting the pieces with both hands like a shell-game operator. "Ah! There was one I missed."
As the skull session wore on for more than two hours, one passing grandmaster after another reached in and shuffled the pieces into new variations. Browne interrupted, "Let me show you one I worked out in my sleep. Pawn, check, pawn, pawn, gobble, push, push, gobble, push, bomp, bomp! That's it! Or is it? Who knows, maybe there wasn't a win there."
Like the chessmen he deploys, Browne moves in confounding patterns. The scenes blur: now he is quietly retiring to his Oberlin Inn room with his chess books and a wastecan filled with iced beer to prepare for his final game against Commons; now he is furiously charging across the Oberlin quadrangle, late as usual and roaring, "Can't let this guy get cocky with a time advantage"; now, just 15 minutes after drawing with Commons, he is losing to him on the tennis court; now he is checking out of the inn, slapping the newspaper and exclaiming, "Why do they have Rogoff's picture? What did he do?" And now he is off, walking lopsided, with his tennis racket in one hand and a huge bulging suitcase in the other, headed for the Cleveland airport and an exhibition in Westfield, N.J.