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By William H. Benson

Bobby Fischer and Steve Jobs


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. Fischer’s passion was chess, but Jobs’ was computers and marketing. Chess experts now consider Fischer one of the three greatest chess players ever, and Jobs revolutionized the personal computer industry.

A certain level of mystery surrounds both Jobs’ and Fischer’s births.

Fischer 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 him. Since then, it is speculated that Paul Nemenyi, a Hungarian-Jewish physicist then living in the United States, was his father, but Regina never confirmed that, and Paul was not involved in the family. Thus, Regina raised Fischer and his older sister, Joan, as a single parent while she 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. It was there she gave birth to a boy and placed him up for adoption. Paul and Clara Jobs adopted Joanne’s boy and raised him in and around Cupertino, a San Francisco suburb.

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

At 16 Bobby dropped out of Erasmus Hall High School, saying, “You don’t learn anything in school.” Jobs’ grade point average at Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif., was 2.65, meaning he received Bs and Cs. For a year, he attended Reed College in Portland, Ore., but dropped out because his parents could not afford it. Instead, he travelled around India for seven months.

Formal education failed to interest either Fischer or Jobs.

Fischer found his passion when just a child. In March of 1949, when he was 6, he and Joan bought a chess set at the candy store. He 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 Oct. 17, 1956, Fischer 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 17, Fischer 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 13 against a formidable opponent, matches the finest on record among chess prodigies.” A year later, at age 14, he won the U.S. Championship.

After Jobs 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 Jobs became a multi-millionaire at 25. A California dreamer converted himself into a businessman.

Throughout his playing career, Fischer 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.” Fischer had learned to read Latvian, evidence of his deep commitment to winning chess.

In 1972, in Reykjavik, Iceland, 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. Instead, he surprised everyone and retired from competitive chess playing for the next 20 years. He flitted about the world, a fugitive from America.

In 2006, Fischer 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 as well as Fischer. For his endgames, he liked to combine a rook with bishops and a pawn to force a checkmate.

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


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