A BRILLIANT teenage chess player who was competing in the Czech Republic has fallen eight floors to her death from a hotel room window.
Jessie Gilbert, 19, was an occasional sleepwalker but police believe that she was also suffering from depression. Although she left no note, medication for depression was found in her room.
Family friends last night described her as a kind high-achiever who had had a very bright future.
Many chess experts believed that she had the potential to be one of the best female players in the world.
Miss Gilbert, who lived with her parents in Woldingham, Surrey, was coming to the end of a gap year devoted to playing and studying chess and was due to start a medical degree at Oxford University in October.
She was competing in the Czech Open in Pardubice, the biggest chess tournament in Europe, and closing in on the ranking points that would have enabled her to realise a long-cherished ambition: becoming a Women’s International Master.
Miss Gilbert’s body was found outside the Hotel Labe by a hotel worker at about 4.30am on Wednesday. Captain David Kakrda, an investigating detective, told The Times that there was no suggestion of any criminal wrongdoing and that her death appeared to be either an accident or suicide.
“Nobody else was involved,” he said. “We were told by her friends that she was a sleepwalker, but there are certain leads that could lead to another conclusion. We have information that there had been an attempt or two [at suicide] before. We found medication in her room.”
Her room-mate, a 14-year-old girl who had been a close friend for many years, woke in the middle of the night and noticed that Miss Gilbert was not in her bed.
A minute’s silence was held in Miss Gilbert’s memory at the tournament. Some British players flew home yesterday.
Miss Gilbert, who studied at Croydon High School, began playing chess when she was 8. She won the Women’s World Amateur Championship when 11, beating adult players to became the youngest British winner. Against opposition from 13 countries, she also won the Women’s World Chess Federation Master title.
Since she was 12, Miss Gilbert had represented England every year at World or European Girls’ Championships and, in 2001, won the bronze medal in the European Girls’ Under-14 Championship.
This year she represented England at the World Chess Olympiad in Turin and was the eighth ranked English female player. A statement issued through a solicitor on behalf of her family said: “Miss Gilbert was much loved and an exceptionally talented chess player.”
A close friend of the family, who was with Miss Gilbert in Pardubice, said: “It’s tragic for the family and for those of us who are their friends. It is a huge loss. She was a lovely girl and the kindest person.”
Another friend said: “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare and the family are devastated.”
The Rev Howard Curtis, president of the Coulsdon Chess Club in Surrey, which Miss Gilbert had helped to win the county league and cup double this season, said: “She was a lovely girl who had everything but never lorded it over anyone. She is going to be very much missed.
“I think she could have achieved anything she took up but she chose chess and we were delighted. She was very competitive but always played in a good spirit.”
Margaret Bamforth, a psychiatrist, said that people of Miss Gilbert’s age were vulnerable to mental health problems when away from home. “Suicide is a problem for university students and this is a similar situation.
“When they are away from their usual supports and in stressful situations, being asked to perform at a high level, some young people find it difficult to cope,” she said.