John Braley 1944-2017

John BraleyNational Master John Braley of Seattle died on February 7th at the age of 72 after a long illness.

Best known for winning three Washington State Championship invitational titles including a 7-0 performance in 1971, Braley was not only a strong player but occupied many administrative positions in the Washington Chess Federation and the Seattle Chess Club. He also performed important duties for the Washington Chess Letter in the early 1960s and later edited its successor publication Northwest Chess in the 1980s.The issues Braley produced are remembered as some of the best in the history of this magazine which has appeared monthly since November 1947.

Braley started playing at the age of 14 and quickly became one of the best players in Washington which he credited in part to regularly visiting Olaf Ulvestad’s Chess Center. He played in his first state championship in 1961, but didn’t compete in another until his victory in 1971. Such layoffs were common for Braley who went long periods without playing in a 30-year career that stretched from the late 1950s to the late 1980s. This didn’t stop him from winning many important tournaments in the Pacific Northwest including the Paul Keres Memorial and Washington Open.

John Braley influenced many of the Seattle-Tacoma area chess players who came up in the early 1980s including future International Master Eric Tangborn, current Washington State Attorney General and two-time Washington State Champion Bob Ferguson and 1989 U.S. Women’s Champion Alexey Root who shares her memories of John.

“I rented a second-floor room in a house that John Braley lived in and managed, at 4715 9th Ave. NE, Seattle. John occupied the entire basement and those of us who rented rooms lived on the first and second floors. He had photos from Northwest Chess on one of the walls. John knew chess history, history in general, music, and the best places to go in Seattle. When I knew John, he didn’t wear shoes but kept a pair of slip-ons in his bag in case he entered a place that required footwear. He maintained a long, dark beard. I won’t ever forget his intense eyes and soft-spoken voice. He was an interesting and unique person.”

Braley was known for his Jekyll and Hyde treatment of the openings, beginning tournaments with quiet, non-theoretical variations that led to long positional games with lots of maneuvering and later switching to hyper-aggressive play in the final rounds.

He explained his strategy as follows:

I usually felt most comfortable with semi-open positions; but my priority in the opening was mainly to avoid lines I thought my opponents knew. This often led to openings with little initial contact and long, difficult games. I would be tired by the 5th round. To deal with that I prepared a few high-contact, tricky openings for late rounds with the idea that maybe by the time I had to start working, the game was already decided. 

Here is an example of his aggressive side from his first Washington State Championship victory.


  1. Knew him well as he prepared for the ’71 championship. The last couple of weeks before he ran around Green Lake each day, to deal with the stress and endurance needed.

  2. Back in the 70s I met John several times at tournaments in Seattle and Vancouver BC. On one occasion I asked him why he did not wear shoes. Very simple, he said. One summer years previously, he had lost his only pair of shoes — through either theft or forgetfulness. He did not have enough money to replace them, so he decided to go without for the Summer. When Fall arrived, his feet had hardened so much that he was able to endure both rough surfaces and the cold, so he just kept going. Fall turned into Winter, and so on. I asked him how it was in the snow. Here he admitted that he kept a pair of boots on hand for that situation. Nice man and a great player and I am happy to have known him at least a little.

  3. I loved John with all my heart. He showed me how to give the kitty half Nelson. My life has been a real hardship since 1984, when I last saw him. I wrote a couple of years ago to the chess club about the death of someone we both admired ,Richard Kirsten. John used to say I did beauty and the beast. I did not know if I was beauty or the beast. My ability to continue my life knowing any old friends began with the rape and harassment of the owner of the then Crusible bookstore down the street from where John played pinball.I am finally able to even talk and he’s gone. I will ring the cast iron bell from Kirsten’s for him.

  4. I loved John with all heart he showed me the kitty half nelson I was finaly able to write him though the Chess club a few years back. A
    man we both admired had passed, Richard Kirsten.I have not seen John since 1984.he was always in my heart.

  5. John and I played chess in Magnolia when we were 14 and starting high school (1957). I could hold my own for about a year. John was always a friend. I just learned he died. Glad this page was here.

  6. Ah, sad to hear. I also lived for a time in the basement of what we called “crazy house”, not too far from the Last Exit coffee house. A gentle soul, and yes, barefoot.

Leave a Comment

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Announcements

  • US Chess Press