Walter Browne

As a musician, I’m sadly aware of the short lives many of us lead due to the rather precarious lifestyle many of us have led. When I traded in my guitar for the chessboard, I somehow felt as if my chess playing and teaching cohorts would have a longer shelf life. Sadly, I was reminded last week that this isn’t always true. The passing of Grandmaster Walter Browne on June 24th hit me hard. The six time U.S. Chess Champion served as an inspiration to both myself and my students. Fortunately, his games live on and provide insightful lessons in improvement for chess players of all levels.

I knew his name from books and chess magazines but didn’t start using his games in my chess classes until I watched an Andrew Martin DVD that featured a game between Browne and Miguel Quinteros. The game, shown below, has Browne playing the white pieces. What stands out about this game is the elegant simplicity that Browne employs against Quinteros. While Quinteros breaks some key opening principles, Browne correctly applies those opening principles to develop a superior position early on.

What makes this game such a valuable teaching tool is its clarity regarding the use of game principles. One of the challenges of teaching chess is presenting your students with games that clearly demonstrate the concepts you’re trying to teach. A game in which principles are applied in too subtle or abstract a way can go over the heads of beginners. However, this game clearly shows correct use of the opening principles.

Browne starts with the simple 1. e4, gaining a foothold in the center while allowing his King-side Bishop and Queen access to the board. Quinteros plays 1…c5, the Sicilian Defense. Browne plays 2. Nf3, a move that develops an important minor piece towards the center of the board. Nothing fancy, just the application of the opening principles. Quinteros bolsters his c pawn with 2…d6.

Move three, 3. Bb5+ brings up a few important ideas for the beginner. This first of which is the quality of this check. If the black c pawn had still been on its starting square (c7), this check would have been silly since the black c pawn could simply block the check, forcing the Bishop to retreat at a cost of tempo. However, the c pawn cannot do this so black is forced to use either the Queen-side Knight or Bishop to block this check. Quinteros uses his Bishop, 3…Bd7, to block and the Bishops are traded off with 4. Bxd7…Qxd7. It’s important for the beginner to understand that this is a fairly even trade because both players are trading Bishops that control the same color squares so neither player will have a Bishop advantage (such as trading a Knight for a Bishop, leaving one player with the Bishop pair). Browne plays 5.c4 next and this can be difficult for the beginner to understand. I believe the idea here is to gain control of the d5 square as a possible outpost for the Queen-side Knight later on. This move follows the basic principle of controlling the center.

Quinteros now makes a fundamental mistake by bringing his Queen out early with 5…Qg4. However, this kind of move strikes fear into the heart of the beginning player! The beginner sees that the black Queen is forking both the pawn at e4 and the pawn at g2. If the pawn on e4 is captured, the white King is in check which could lead to an early trade of Queens. On the other hand, if the pawn on g2 is captured, then the h1 Rook will have to move and white will not be able to castle. No problem for Browne, he simply castles and allows the black Queen to pick off the e4 pawn. This brings up a critical point for beginners, don’t capture material unless it helps your position. Beginners love to capture material and don’t realize that doing so for the sole sake of capturing often does more harm than good. After white plays 6. 0-0, black grabs the pawn with 6…Qxe4. At this point, I ask my students to come up with a few possible moves for white before we continue the game. 7. Re1 and 7. d3 are often suggested.

It’s a good idea to ask students for move suggestions to get an idea of their understanding of the opening principles. Both the suggested moves show that students are understanding the folly of early Queen deployment in that they push the black Queen back. When then see the actual game move, 7. d4, they’re not sure what to make of it. This move opens things up for the white pieces. Browne isn’t afraid of giving up another pawn in exchange for attacking possibilities!

Quinteros plays 7…cxd4 and my beginning students expect the Knight on f3 to capture back. However, Browne now plays 8. Re1 gaining time on the black Queen while putting the Rook on an active square. Of course the Queen has to move, 8…Qc6 and only now does Browne take the pawn on d4 with 9. Nxd4. Why capture now? Because doing so allows the Knight to attack the black Queen while positioning itself on a strong square! Guess who is on the move again? Quinteros plays 9…Qxc4 grabbing another pawn while ignoring sound opening development. This game exemplifies the power of development! White’s pieces are coming out in force while black is forced to shuffle the Queen around sadly. Again, grabbing material isn’t a good idea. Browne plays 10. Na3, attacking the Queen yet again.

This last move brings up a point regarding opening principles. We first learn that pieces should be developed towards the center of the board during the opening. However, there are times when moving a piece to the edge of the board can override the principle of central development. This is an example of that. The Knight on a3 attacks the Queen, forcing it to move once again. The black Queen grovels up to c8 (10…Qc8) and now the party really starts for white!

Browne plays 11. Bf4, centralizing his remaining Bishop. I tell my students to keep an eye on the e7 pawn because it is pinning to the King due to the Rook on e1. Black plays 11…Qd7. I hope the poor black Queen has been wearing comfortable running shoes during her jog around the board! Move twelve, 12. Nab5, puts a second attacker on the d6 pawn. Black plays 12…e5. My beginning students think, wow black is forking the white Knight and Bishop. I remind them that the e pawn is still pinned to the black King so the fork’s a bust. Next, Browne makes a move that beginner’s find curious.

Beginners are taught to make fair trades, a minor piece for a minor piece, or trades that garner them material such as a pawn for a minor piece. However, the game’s next move, 13. Bxe5 surprises the novice player. The point here, is that when you’re ahead in development, you can trade down to build up an attack (and set a nasty trap). Quinteros captures back with 13…dxe5 and POW, Browne plays 14. Rxe5+! I suspect Quinteros was really feeling the heat at this point. Rather than being able to actively develop his minor pieces, Quinteros has to use one of them to block the check, 14…Be7. Now comes the trap!

Browne plays 15. Rd5. I stop the game and ask my students if this is a free piece for black. They quickly look at the position and concur that it is. Wrong answer! If black takes the Rook with the Queen, white has the crushing Nc7+, forking King, Queen and Rook (on a8). You have to think ahead in chess! Fortunately, Quinteros saw this and played, 15…Qc8. However, even avoiding the trap, black’s game is utterly lost in this position.

Browne, who was know to get into time trouble on occasion might have done so here only because he had so many great moves to choose from at this point. This is what comes from good development and applying the principles. He chose, 16. Nf5, threatening the e7 Bishop. Quinteros decided to tuck his King away with 16…Kf8. Browne takes the Bishop with 17. Ne7 and black captures back with the King, 17…Kxe7. After 18. Re5+, Quinteros throws in the towel as they say! Please note that Quinteros was a wonderful Grandmaster and I mean no offense in my commentary here, but not employing sound game principles can leave you in a bad way.

A very instructive game for beginners as well as an entertaining one. I can only imagine Walter Browne, with that trademark look on his face, glaring at the black pieces during this game. Browne is probably my favorite American player and will always be a staple of my teaching program. Wherever you are Walter, I hope all your poker hands are Royal Flushes! Thank you for all you’ve given us!

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).