Junior chess in South Africa has always been a joy to behold, and Africa Chess Media recently caught up with WIM Jesse February, to learn more about her and her views. Do enjoy the interview.
Hello Jesse February, do you mind telling us about yourself?
My name is Jesse February and I am 21 years old. I am currently a student at the University of South Africa. With my free time I coach chess at different schools and privately in Port Elizabeth. I enjoy writing, reading and taking the odd picture.
Can you tell us about your childhood and how you met chess?
I had a great childhood. I took an interest in many things: piano, ballet, karate and even swimming. I was 8 years old when I started playing chess. As a kid, I was really busy, hyper and playful. One day, my mom sat me down and taught me how the pieces moved. She thought maybe it would keep me occupied as well as out of trouble for a bit. Little did my mom know that the game would become my next obsession and beyond that, my passion for the next 13 years.
Kindly take us through your chess journey. Your trials and successes?
It has been a long road with chess. I started playing for my region back in 2006. It was an uphill battle from there. It was my dream for years to represent my country. It wasn’t until 2014 that I received my junior South African colors. It was also my first chance to see the world.
My international debut was at the Commonwealth in 2014, which held in Glasgow, Scotland. I was 17 and I knew then, that my passion for chess would never be altered.
From there, I kept setting new goals. By the end of 2014 I was awarded my Woman Fide Master title and by 2016, I achieved the Women International Master title at the 2016 Zonal Championship, which held in Mauritius, after which I received my senior colors.
My debut at the Senior National Championship was 2014. That is when I met some of the top players in South Africa. Nobody knew who I was. I needed to make a name for myself, and I did my best at the time to place 4th, which was one position shy of making the Olympiad team. I did not expect to make it, but I was still distraught that I missed the cut. The next Closed Championship, I was back and achieved 3rd I finally made the team!
My first Olympiad was in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2016.
In 2017 I worked hard. In July 2017, I finished 3rd in the female section of the African Individual Chess Championship and at the end of the year, I was able to finish in 1st position at the National Championship. That is currently my career highlight.
A few months ago, at the Batumi Chess Olympiad, I played Board 1 for the Women’s team.
And I held the junior title from 2015-2017, when I stopped being a Junior.
In recent times, you were working on a movie project. Can you take us through it?
Yes, at the beginning of this year I was approached by a potential director, Ramon Thomas who was interested in picking up where he left off with a project he had started on his own back in 2013. He was interested in telling my story in the form of a documentary/film.
We started a crowd-funding campaign using my name which he pioneered.
Filming started shortly after but moved incredibly slowly.
Unfortunately when the funding came through, he took the money, withdrew from the project and ran. It left me rather demotivated and I was clueless about how to move forth.
However, I didn’t lose hope. I took matters into my own hands and found a film-maker who was willing to help me start over. We have recently started filming again and I hope this time things work out.
How many continental events have you participated in and how did you fair in them?
So far I have participated in 5 African events.
2013 – African Youth: Port Elizabeth, South Africa – 4th
2014 – African Youth: Monastir, Tunisia – 3rd – WFM title
2016 – African Zonals: Le Morne, Mauritius – 1st – WIM title
2017 – African Individual Chess Championship – 3rd (tied first) – WGM norm
2018 – African Zonals: Maputo, Mozambique – 2nd
Do you have a trainer? How do you train?
I am currently working with someone, yes.
On my own I focus on theory and tactics mostly, and with guidance, I do a lot of middle game studies and visualization.
Do you mind sharing your 5 year vision with us?
I don’t really have a 5 year vision, but I do have a set number of goals I want to achieve.
It’s something I usually keep to myself but in the long run I just aim to play better chess and of course continuously make a name in the chess world.
I believe you have watched the movie “Queen of Katwe”, right? What do you make of the movie?
Yes, it is one of my favourite chess stories! I have watched the movie quite a number of times. I enjoy the storyline; I think it’s rather inspiring and motivating in many ways.
It’s quite funny, because this year at the Olympiad in Batumi we were paired against Uganda in the last round. I was privileged enough to meet and play against Phiona Mutesi herself. It was a great but short-lived game. It was a weird line in the French I was trying out, worth seeing! Game here.
At the Batumi Chess Olympiad, what was the experience like? Did you make any friends?
Yes, I met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. I really enjoy the Olympiad. It’s the world stage and the aura always brings out the best chess in me!
The on-going World Chess Championship Match, who do you think would win?
I think Carlsen is an easy favorite. Of course he is more experienced in these conditions, because he has played 3 World Championships before this. But Caruana is holding his own, anything can happen.
Carlsen or Caruana? And why?
Definitely Caruana. Always inclined to support the underdog!
South Africa is fast becoming the heart of youth chess in Africa, with the rise of U8 Caleb Levitan and a few others. What would you say the South Africans are doing differently compared to others?
I haven’t had my nose in junior chess for a while. It is great to hear that youth chess is budding. I really hope it continues this way. There are many passionate coaches in South Africa who really care about their students. This plays a big role in nurturing these young players. There are so many talented chess players in South Africa. I think with the right channels and assistance many of them can go very far.
A reporter mentioned that there was a rift between the black and white South Africans at the Olympiad. How true is this and what do you think about it?
Fake news is everywhere these days. This is the first I hear of this and I can assure you, if this was true, a bigger scene would have been made. I do not condone statements that aren’t factually based.
A parting word for the South Africans and young kids out there?
Chess is a great game. It’s easy, coming from a chess player, sure, but it definitely has its benefits. It is a way to make friends, connections, see places, and the world.
It has helped me in so many aspects of my life and most of all it has made me who I am today.