12 January 2012

Steve Jobs and Chess

Although I was never a huge fan of Steve Jobs, seeing in him as much P.T.Barnum as technological visionary, I could only admire his string of product successes in recent years. Whatever one might think of him, he was one of the most brilliant personalities of our time and his exploits will be remembered long after his premature death last year.

For Christmas, I received a copy of his biography by Walter Isaacson (Thanks, Mom!) and, working through it a short section or two at a time, have read a quarter of the 600 pages. I like biographies and Isaacson's book is one of the most readable examples I can remember. Jobs never struck me as the type of person who would be interested in chess -- I imagine him to have been in the 'waste of time' camp -- so I was suprised to find a reference early in the book (p.35).

[Jobs] and Kottke enjoyed playing a nineteenth-century German variant of chess called Kriegspiel, in which the players sit back-to-back; each has his own board and pieces and cannot see those of his opponent. A moderator informs them if a move they want to make is legal or illegal, and they have to try to figure out where their opponent's pieces are. "The wildest game I played with them was during a lashing rainstorm sitting by the fireside," recalled Holmes, who served as moderator. "They were tripping on acid. They were moving so fast I could barely keep up with them."

Kottke and Holmes were important enough to Jobs' early development to be listed in the three page cast of characters at the beginning of the book.

DANIEL KOTTKE. Jobs's closest friend at Reed [College], fellow pilgrim to India, early Apple employee. • ELIZABETH HOLMES. Daniel Kottke’s girlfriend at Reed and early Apple employee.

As much as I liked seeing the kriegspiel story, it rang slightly false. I can't imagine that anyone could play a decent game of chess while doing LSD. Kriegspiel, being a game of limited information (that I've never played), must be an order of magnitude more difficult. Whatever the truth, it's a good story. Are there any other stories involving Jobs and chess?

1 comment:

Robert Pearson said...

I don't have any other Jobs/chess stories, but in Dr. Colby's Secrets of a Grandpatzer book he does mention a game against a strong player where the opponent was on LSD. The tripping guy won. Colby, a clinical psychiatrsit and artifical intelligence expert at UCLA, also thought a drink of alcohol or two before a game might help with the nerves.