Chess talent Jessie Gilbert dies at 19

7/27/2006 – Another shock for the chess world: Jessie Gilbert of Croydon, England, who won the Women’s World Amateur Championship in 1999 at the age of 11, fell from the eighth floor window of a hotel in Pardubice, Czech Republic, where she was taking part in a tournament. The circumstances of her death are still not clear.

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Jessie Gilbert, 1987–2006

The BBC and Times are reporting that the 19-year-old English chess player Jessie Gilbert from Croydon, Surrey, has died. On Wednesday morning at 3:15 a.m. she fell from an eighth floor window of a hotel in Pardubice, Czech Republic, where she was taking part in a tournament.

Nobody knows precisely what happened. The Czech police investigating her death say that they have been told by her friends that she was a sleepwalker and had tried to harm herself twice before, once with a knife. Inspector David Kakrda said that that Ms Gilbert was alone at the time of her death. He told Times Online that the police could not exclude the possibility that she fell out of the window, but that would require a certain energy to climb over the sill. He said investigators had found a lot of medication, some of which turned out to be anti-depressants which had been prescribed in her name. "We think she may have had psychological problems," said Inspector Kakrda.

Organiser Jiri Petruzalek said that it appeared Ms Gilbert had committed suicide, but could not confirm this until the post-mortem had been carried out. "But everything points to it being suicide," said Petruzalek. There are no signs of anyone else being involved or an accident. 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."

Fellow British players in the tournament abandoned their games as a mark of respect for Jessie, who was much loved and an exceptionally talented chess player.


Jessie Gilbert at the Chess Olympiad in Turin [Photo Pufichek]

Andrew Martin's Chess Academy website recently carried a portrait of Jessie, who in 1999 Jessie made the headlines, when she played in and won the Women’s World Amateur Championship at Hastings. At eleven she became possibly the youngest person to win a senior world championship in any competitive arena. Against opposition from 13 countries, she acquired the Women’s World Chess Federation Master title and an automatic rating of 2050, both age records for a British female chess player.

To recognise her achievement the Brain Trust charity, in concert with the Swedish health care and education giant Bure, awarded Jessie a £4,000 chess scholarship to America, where she studied with Edmar Mednis, the New York grandmaster, for a week.

Jessie talked to Andrew about her love of chess: "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!"


Jessie Gilbert (right) playing against Petra Schuurman of the Netherlands at the Gibtelecom Chess Festival on January 28 this year. The game was drawn. [Photo Chess City]

Recently Jessie played eleven games on board two for England at the Turin Olympiad, scoring a creditable 5.5 points.

News reports



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