Select Page

Bobby Fischer and Steve Jobs

Bobby Fischer and Steve Jobs

by William H. Benson

October 22, 2015

     Hollywood just released two biographical movies. The first was on Bobby Fischer entitled Pawn Sacrifice, and the other was on Steve Jobs, entitled Steve Jobs. Bobby’s passion was chess, but Steve’s was computers and marketing. Chess experts now consider Bobby one of the three greatest chess players ever, and Steve revolutionized the personal computer industry.

     A certain level of mystery surrounds both Bobby and Steve’s birth.

      Bobby was the older, born in March 1943 in Chicago. His mother, Regina Fischer, was separated from her husband, Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, at the time she gave birth to Bobby. Since then, it is speculated that Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian-Jewish physicist then living in the United States, was Bobby’s father, but Regina never confirmed that, and Paul was not involved in the family. Thus, Regina raised Bobby and his older sister, Joan, as a single parent, who worked as a nurse in New York City. 

     Steve was born in February 1955, in San Francisco. His biological father was Abdulfattah Jandali, a native of Homs, Syria, who had studied economics and political science at the University of Wisconsin. It was there that he met Joanne Schieble, daughter of a Wisconsin farmer.

     After Joanne became pregnant in 1954, she fled Syria and moved to California where she gave birth to a boy and placed him up for adoption there. Paul and Clara Jobs adopted Joanne’s boy and raised him in and around Cupertino, a San Francisco suburb.

     Bobby grew up in New York City, on the east coast, and Steve in San Francisco, on the west coast.

     At sixteen Bobby dropped out of Erasmus Hall High School, saying, “You don’t learn anything in school.” Steve’s GPA at Homestead High School in Cupertino, California was 2.65, meaning he received B’s and C’s. For a year, he attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, but dropped out because his parents could not afford it. Instead, he travelled around India for seven months.

     Formal education failed to interest either Bobby or Steve.              

     Bobby found his passion when just a child. In March of 1949, when he was six, he and Joan bought a chess set at the candy store, and Bobby taught himself the game by reading books on chess. He then began playing in New York City’s chess clubs, where the best players recognized his talent.

     On October 17, 1956, Bobby won the “brilliancy prize” for his innovative play against Donald Byrne, in what Hans Kmoch of the Chess Review called “The Game of the Century.” On move number seventeen, Bobby dared to sacrifice his queen, but went on to defeat Byrne by a crushing offense.

     Kmoch said, “The following game, a stunning masterpiece of combination play performed by a boy of thirteen against a formidable opponent, matches the finest on record among chess prodigies.” A year later, when still fourteen, he won the U.S. Championship.

    After Steve returned from India, he teamed up with an electronics geek named Steve Wozniak to market Wozniak’s computer projects. Whereas Wozniak was interested in design and technology, Jobs promoted and marketed the company that the two created. It was wildly successful, and Steve Jobs became a multi-millionaire at twenty-five.A California dreamer converted himself into a businessman.

     Throughout his playing career, Bobby wanted to take his chess skills to the next higher level, and so he never stopped reading. He taught himself Russian and other European languages in order to read the chess periodicals. A Latvian player once asked Bobby, “What do you think of the playing style of Larissa Volpert?” He replied, “She’s too cautious. But you have another girl, Dmitrieva. Her games do appeal to me.” Bobby had learned to read Latvian, evidence of his deep commitment to winning chess.     

     In 1972, in Reykjavik, Iceland, Bobby Fischer won the World Chess Championship when he defeated the Russian chess champion, Boris Spassky. Bobby turned down all endorsement offers which would have made him rich, but instead, he surprised everyone and retired from competitive chess playing for the next twenty years. He flitted about the world, a fugitive from America.

     In 2006, Bobby said that the openings in chess are crucial and that players “today have so many examples of what to do from this position, and that is why I don’t like chess any more. It is all memorization and prearrangement.” Few had studied and memorized though as well as had Bobby Fischer. For his endgames, he liked to combine a rook with bishops and a pawn to force a checkmate.

     Bobby Fischer died on January 17, 2008, at the age of 64, in Reykjavik, of renal failure following a urinary tract blockage, and after he had refused medical treatment. In October of 2003, doctors diagnosis pancreatic cancer in Steve Jobs. He received the best treatment, but he too passed away on October 5, 2011, at the age of 56. Bobby and Steve’s endgame had arrived too soon.

     Daring, smart, intense, driven, ambitious, and almost superhuman, these two American men dared to imagine and dream at a level that few others could ever hope to see nor achieve. Enjoy the movies.