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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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Browne says, "I know every two-, three-, four-and most five-letter words in Funk & Wagnalls. And I know a lot of tricky words, too, like ouistiti. It's a form of monkey. But my alltime favorite is rotl. I don't know what it means— you don't have to, you know—but the beauty is that the plural of rotl is artal. Isn't that great?"

Great, too, is his concern about the future. Not the winning but the wearing. "People say I'm too tense, that I won't be able to keep up the pace," says Browne, "but that's not true. The reason a lot of players have trouble with their digestion and so on is because they keep the tension inside. Well, I let it out. Yes, the toll of the role of No. 1 will be great. It is going to take a lot of energy to get through the serious strain of it all, but I think I can do it."

"Energy!" exclaims Racquel. "Poof! The energy thees guy has, eet ees crazy. The other players are so quiet, so passive. But Shawn, the way he walks, plunk, plunk, plunk! Nobody can keep up weeth heem. I am like Japanese woman all the time, chasing behind heem. He ees very pushy. He talks very loud. He always shut up everybody. He has drive. He has chareesma. He ees alive. He says, 'I am here! I am Walter Browne!' He is a special case, no?"

Yes, indeed. Still, what will be the toll of the role? Browne is all too aware that Paul Morphy became a recluse, suffered from acute paranoia and abandoned competitive chess forever at age 22. He knows, too, that the mental strains caused by Harry Nelson Pillsbury's feats of simultaneous play were said to have contributed to his premature death at 33. He has read about the erratic behavior of world champions Wilhelm Steinitz (1886-94) and Alexander Alekhine (1927-35) and how both died in poverty. And he has heard the sad lament of world champion Emanuel Lasker (1894-1921), "In life we are all duffers."

And that is why Browne is bent on maintaining "a very healthy attitude toward life." Racquel, who specialized in treating schizophrenics in Argentina, insists on it, saying, "The American chess players are the most crazy because they have to do eet all themselves. That ees why Bobby Fishair cannot handle success. He has got conflicts. He needs love, Bobby Fishair. I must get heem Latin girl friend." As for Walter, her therapy is strictly shock. "Eef you get paranoid, Shawn," she warns, "I weel cut off your head!"

Late one autumn night, while sipping a glass of vintage red from his amply stocked wine cellar, Browne observed, "For me it's not a question of do I want to be world champion or do I want to be happy? I will be both. I realized all the dangers long ago. It's like taking a voyage from which you may never return. Think of Columbus. Everyone warned him about sea monsters and all that, but he succeeded and he came back. And so will I, because I have a heightened sense of awareness, the ability to zero in without being narrow. With Fischer, on the other hand, it is all chess. Diversification may be his downfall."

Then, stepping onto his terrace and surveying the twinkling expanse of San Francisco Bay, Browne said, "People think Bobby is untouchable, but I can touch him. I think it's possible to beat him. When the time and the money are right—it will take a million, maybe a million five up front—I'm going to challenge Bobby to a match and smoke him out. The one time we played I had him beaten, but then on the 98th move I tried to win too artistically, and he lucked out with a draw." He laughed. "Now they call him Lucky Bobby."

Browne continued, "Think about asking a Little Leaguer if he could be as good as Babe Ruth. That's what it is like to be a chess player with someone like Bobby around. But in this case I think I can beat him, I really do. Look, everybody has always been putting me down. All those school counselors kept saying that 99% of the time when a kid drops out of school it doesn't work. They said I wasn't that one in 100. Well, the kid made it and now I can laugh back."

Growing more animated, he said, "The most important thing in life is to do what you want to do. I love chess. And I'm good enough to make a living at it. How many people can say they do exactly what they want and get paid for it, too?

"I'm going to cultivate my own school of learning. I could be another Leonardo da Vinci. I want to do everything. I'm reading a lot now. Books like The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I want to find out about everything that was bad and great. I want the straight stuff. I'm going to buy musical instruments. Drums! I'm going to play the drums! I'm going to do everything in my life. I feel I've got a thousand, a million lives inside me. I'm gonna be a lot more than a chess champion. When I'm 70 I'm gonna look back and say, whatever else I was, I was really alive!"

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