Chess world mourns tragic death of young female star
By Grainger Laffan in Prague and Adam Fresco
The British chess world was in shock today after one of its rising female stars died in a fall from an eighth floor balcony during the world’s biggest tournament.
Jessie Gilbert, 19, was found dead yesterday morning outside the Hotel Labe in Pardubice, in the west of the Czech Republic.
A spokeswoman from the English Chess Federation said that Ms Gilbert was a leading British player who had the potential to be one of the best in the world.
Dana Dolanova, a Czech police spokeswoman, said officers were investigating the incident and that a post-mortem examination will be carried out.
Jiri Petruzalek of the Ave Kontakt agency, which is organising the Czech Open tournament said that it appeared Ms Gilbert had committed suicide.
He said: “There is obviously still an official investigation going on and nothing will be confirmed until the post-mortem is carried out.
“But everything points to it being suicide. There are no signs of anyone else being involved or an accident.
“This is a massive tragedy and we are all in complete shock. She was so young and talented. Everyone keeps asking me what happened and how something like this could have happened.
“She was playing quite well, certainly up to her usual standards, and there was no hint that something like this was about to happen. No one noticed anything strange in her behaviour or manner while she was here.
“It’s cast a shadow over the tournament and all the players are feeling it. They’re shocked and sad. They’ve lost a fellow colleague.”
Ms Gilbert, from Croydon, Surrey, was about to go to Oxford in October to study medicine but had been playing chess since an early age.
She recently talked about her love of chess on a website: “I started playing chess at the age of 8 and quickly became hooked on the game.
“Since then I have always played as much as I can alongside school studies. I have played in a wide variety of events including having been given many opportunities to represent the country abroad. I have also always enjoyed coaching chess, both in group and individual contexts.
“I am currently taking a year out to play and study chess and am particularly working towards attaining a Women’s International Master title.
“I will be starting medical school at Oxford in October 2006 but plan to continue actively participating in the chess world!”
When Ms Gilbert was 11 she won the Women’s World Amateur Championship, beating adult players, the youngest ever British winner. Against opposition from 13 countries, she also acquired the Women’s World Chess Federation Master title.
To recognise her achievement, the Brain Trust charity awarded Jessie a £4,000 chess scholarship to America, where she studied with Edmar Mednis, the New York grandmaster, for a week.
Ray Keene, Times Chess Correspondent, helped arrang the scholarship. He said today: “She was with him for a couple of weeks and she did really well and he was very impressed with her.
“She was considered a rising star in the chess world. It is such a shock, she was a good chess player who was doing well in tournaments.”
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