Chess prodigy who died in fall from balcony may have been sleepwalking

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The Independent Online

The British chess community was in shock last night over the death of one its brightest young female prospects, who died after falling from the eighth-floor balcony of a hotel room in the Czech Republic.

Although investigations by local police are ongoing, it is believed that the death of Jessie Gilbert, 19, may have been due to sleepwalking, a condition she suffered from since a child.

Miss Gilbert, from Guildford, Surrey, was found dead on the pavement outside the Hotel Labe, in Pardubice, early on Wednesday morning where she had been taking part in the Czech Open tournament, one of the biggest of its kind. She is believed to have died during the night.

A serious player since she was eight, she was considered a rising star among the chess world. Miss Gilbert was among the top half-dozen British female players, winning the World Women's Amateur Championship at 12, one of the youngest to win such a title, and had played in several other international competitions. She was on a gap year and was due to go to Oxford in the autumn to study medicine; her mother is a retired doctor. She has three sisters.

There appears to be no suggestion of foul play. Suicide or accidental causes have not been ruled out, but it is understood that Miss Gilbert suffered from sleepwalking and could simply have wandered out on to the balcony in her sleep.

One senior British chess figure who knew her well said: "She suffered from it from an early age. Her mother used to warn everybody." Others who knew her said drinking or drug abuse was unlikely: "She was a very serious, soberly dressed person, not what you would call a party girl at all."

Officials from the British Embassy in Prague travelled to Pardubice on Wednesday to help local investigators and arrange for her body to be flown home. Dr Jan Mazuck, one of the organisers of the Czech Open, described her death as a tragedy, adding: "I had to inform all the players yesterday morning. It was a horrible thing for all of us."

Leading figures in the British chess world last night paid tribute to Miss Gilbert. Brian Smith, an England chess selector and manager of the Wood Green team for which she played, said: "I can't believe it was suicide, she had everything to live for. She was our friend and team colleague and loved to play the game. She was both the youngest and the most promising of our players. We will miss her dreadfully." The English Chess Federation said in a statement: "Her friendly personality endeared her to all ages in the chess community and she will be much missed." Andrew Martin, who runs a chess coaching academy, said: "I coached her for many years. It is a colossal shock."

Miss Gilbert had recently represented Britain at the European Individual Women's Championships in Turkey in April and at the chess Olympiads in Turin in May and June. Although still officially a junior internationally, she had represented England every year at the World or European Girls' Championships since she was 12. On the website of Mr Martin's academy, she spoke of her hopes for the future: "I am taking a year out to study chess and am working towards attaining a Women's International Master title. I will be starting medical school at Oxford in Octoberbut plan to continue participating in the chess world!"

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