Gisbert Jacoby former ChessBase CEO, 1943-2018

by André Schulz
3/8/2018 – Gisbert Jacoby was a chess aficionado and multiple Hamburg champion. As a national coach of the Hamburg Chess Federation, he later promoted many Hamburg talents. From 1988 to 1999, Jacoby was a Managing Director of ChessBase and set the course for the development of the young company. He was friendly with chess luminaries such as Garry Kasparov and Judit Polgar. Last Thursday he died in Hamburg.

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Hamburg chess has lost a great personality

As a student of the Hamburg school "Johanneum" Eppendorf, Jacoby belonged to the chess group SKJE. Later, he moved to the Hamburg chess club, for which he played in the 1970s in the then four-part Bundesliga competitions. Several times he was able to win the Hamburg Individual Championship and become Hamburg Champion. After leaving school, Gisbert Jacoby began studying theology and education, but most of all he studied chess. He then honed his pedagogical skills as a chess coach of the Hamburger Bundesliga team and as a national coach of the Hamburg Chess Federation. Hamburg produced a number of talents at that time, thanks in no small measure to Jacoby's chess training. Once a week there was a "young Hamburg chess talent" event.

With his good contacts, Jacoby occasionally secured prominent guest speakers, including Robert Hübner, one of the world's best players in the 1970s and 1980s, and Garry Kasparov, whose best time was yet to come.

Gisbert Jacoby with Garry Kasparov

Gisbert Jacoby playing backgammon with Garry Kasparov

Judit Polgar, Gisbert Jacoby, Vlastimil Hort

Training with Judit Polgar

Later on, Matthias Wahls celebrated the greatest successes of all talents, becoming a grandmaster supported by Jacoby as a private trainer. His chess students also included the football player Felix Magath, midfield engine for the team HSV, which won the European Cup in 1983. Magath bridged a long injury break by improving his chess game. Jacoby could teach him the secrets of the game, but what Magath learned from Jacoby about chess, he later successfully applied as a football trainer.

Jacoby's contacts also came from his collaboration with the news magazine Der Spiegel. With the successes of Robert Hübner, the magazine had found interest in chess and reported on the sport regularly. The publishing house even brought out its own chess book, in which Gisbert Jacoby had played a major role. From then on, Jacoby and Hübner had a long-standing friendship until the end of his life. Jacoby brought Hübner to the Bundesliga team of the Hamburg SK and supported him in its candidate quarterfinal match against Vassily Smyslov, in 1983, and the subsequent World Cup tournaments of the GMA. Both shared an interest in chess history.

In the mid-1980s, the Bonn physics student Matthias Wüllenweber invented a chess database, ChessBase, on his Atari, and was looking for partners. In Hamburg, he found in Jacoby someone who offered a wide access to current games and to the games of chess history. As a chess coach, Jacoby had built his own chess library, had collected textbooks, opening monographs and tournament books in a large collection that took several rooms in his apartment. Jacoby became one of the partners of ChessBase GmbH, founded in Hamburg, where he was responsible for the "data", procurement, preparation and publication of games and teaching materials.

As head of the "Data department", Jacoby launched a series of forward-looking projects that still form part of the foundation of the company today. He founded ChessBase Magazine and was responsible for its content and editorial direction over many years. Robert Hübner was one of the authors with a regular column. In addition, Jacoby was responsible for publishing a series of opening monographs. The series lives on today as Fritztrainer series in video format. With the help of his inexhaustible stock of tournament books, Jacoby also created digital tournament bulletins in the ChessBase database format with the games of historical tournaments. From the current games of ChessBase Magazine and the games of the historical tournaments, we find the basic stem of what we know today as Mega Database. Today, all chess fans in the world use this unique collection of games as a matter of course, but in the pioneering early days, it took a bit of effort to get all these games and transfer them to the database. It is largely thanks to Gisbert Jacoby that this happened.

Gisbert Jacoby

Gisbert Jacoby recording at the Chessbase Studio

Gisbert Jacoby was a very present figure in Hamburg chess for decades but still remained a mystery to some. Maybe that was because he did not tell much about himself, even though he was well-versed in many topics, not only chess. So it could be that a conversation with him might develop in an unexpected direction. Jacoby had a strong observational sense and had a lot of wit. When he was in a conversational mood, he took the time to present a story from all angles, and with the ancillary and enriching details. That was time-consuming but never boring. And most of his stories were extremely funny too, peppered with humorous punchlines, made all the more entertaining note through his lively performance. He liked to approach things in chess and in life with great analytical acuity and tried to penetrate all matters to the best of his ability. His keen intellect was of great value in judging business, but also in chess.

The first time I met Gisbert Jacoby was in 1978 — without knowing it. We had qualified with the Godesberg chess club for the final round of the youth club championship in Hamburg. This was a great adventure, also because it was the end of the so-called "century winter" over northern Germany and Hamburg. There were several strong Hamburg teams. A team was coached by a coach who, despite his obvious physical presence, demonstrated great manoeuvrability in hitting the table. In addition, he had helpers write down the openings of the players of the other teams. We did not know such a high degree of professionalism in Godesberg.

Only 15 years later I met Gisbert Jacoby personally. He was now managing director of ChessBase. As a boss, he always showed himself generous to the employees and rewarded their achievements by involving them in the firm's economic success. He was interested in one's personal affairs, was always helpful, and thus created a family atmosphere. Gisbert had a big heart. In his work at ChessBase, besides business, he himself always cared about the game itself — the chess.

After leaving the company as a managing director, I still met him regularly. We played together in a team in Matthias Bierman-Ratjens chess club in Hamburger Mittelweg. At the end of the season, each player demonstrated one of his games. The level of the performance was very different. Some players did not know why they had won their game. However, Jacoby's lecture was always a didactic treat that opened the listeners' eyes to hitherto unknown nuances of chess. I learned a lot from Gisbert. Last Thursday, his heart stopped beating. Gisbert Jacoby was 74 years old. He will be missed.

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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