Exclusive Interview | 'Jesse February' : Africa's Chess Champion

We at "The Philox" are honored to have had the opportunity to interview South Africa's No.1 chess player 'Jesse February' and share her journey and insights with our readers (especially in her favourite month 'February' :).

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Published on - 15 February, 2023

Jesse February is a remarkable chess player from South Africa who holds the title of Woman International Master. She continues to be an influential figure in the world of chess. Her achievements serve as an inspiration to young girls who aspire to pursue a career in chess. She represented the team of South Africa during Chess Olympiad, 2022 in Chennai. We are honored to have had the opportunity to interview South Africa's No.1 chess player and share her journey and insights with our readers (especially in her favourite month 'February' :).

Q1.  In India, even though there are around 80 GM’s, people do not consider chess as a career option. Chess is still not considered to be a lucrative career option in India and many parts of the world. How cooperative were your friends and family with your decision of Chess as a career option? If not chess, what would be your alternative as a career?

I have been playing chess for well over 17 years now. From my experience, chess in general has a reputation for being one of the least financially supported sports world-wide (especially women's chess). Over the years I have traveled quite a bit, visiting a total of 20 countries so far including India which I've visited 4 times already. I'd say I'm fully immersed in the chess culture by now. During my travels, I have met and befriended many chess players with whom I've had countless conversations. The Grandmasters from India I had spoken to about their financial support would mention sponsors from huge petrol companies and most recently a big financial firm (there's an article: https://www.chess.com/news/view/arjun-erigaisi-signs-huge-sponsorship-deal-with-quantbox). I suppose being a chess player in India cannot be easy. Climbing the ranks while young seems imperative and only really receiving recognition once achieving a Grandmaster norm or title. Then again I'm not incredibly clued up on how true that is. 

I was raised by a single mother who worked 3 jobs to make sure I could play in national competitions, go to university and eventually travel abroad. I had to raise funds through newspaper articles and hosting fun tournaments. It wasn't easy and still isn't. Our national federation doesn't offer us any sort of support unfortunately. I fear it's like that in many countries too, even countries that are known to produce great players! Nigel Short, Mickey Adams are anomalies. Now, I'm able to make a living off of chess by coaching, streaming on Twitch, working as a marketing designer for a Software company (not chess related), doing promotional work etc... I've somehow defeated the odds by becoming a chess professional full-time in South Africa. We have some full-time chess coaches, but no full-time chess players. If I wasn't a chess player, I'd probably be an accountant. Not a happy one, haha.

Q2. Amongst the shining Indian Prodigies (Nihal, Prag, Arjun and Gukesh) which one would be your choice for each format of Chess i.e. Classic, Rapid and Blitz?

I wish I knew a bit more about the players and their playing styles, so unfortunately my prediction would probably be slightly inaccurate.

Nihal: Rapid

Prag: Blitz

Arjun: Classical

Gukesh: Classical

Q3  Can you share your thoughts on the Indian women chess players, Koneru Humpy and Harika Dronavalli?

I have had the great pleasure of meeting some of the finest female chess players of India:

Humpy Koneru, Harika Dronavalli, Padmini Rout, Tania Sachdev and Divya Deshmukh (who I've played against). They're a huge inspiration to all players, not just young females. I do feel as though it's important for female chess players to have their idols. It's a male dominating sport and the more female 'heroes' we have in the game the higher the chance that might change.

Q4. Have you ever met Magnus Carlsen, Vishy Anand or any other Chess Tycoon? What was your interaction with these Super GM’s was like?

I have met both Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand. I will attach a photo below. This photo was taken right before he wished my opponent and I good luck for our games during the first round of the World Olympiad in Chennai last year. I met his wife and son at that tournament too.

Both interactions were great. They're wonderful and down to earth people. It was an incredible experience to meet personalities I have only watched and read about since the age of 16.

Q5. You visited India for the Chess Olympiad last year. In one of the interviews you mentioned, you loved the food and people here. Do you plan to visit India again soon for a Chess tournament or to explore food options? 

As mentioned, I have been to India 4 times. I've visited Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. I really like the country, the culture, the food and the people! In 2017 I spent a month sightseeing and playing tournaments. I enjoyed the hikes, the time we visited the Elephanta Caves and of course the walks on the coast. It was the first time I fell in love with curry.

Q6. You have collaborated with Adhiban Baskaran in one of your streams. Do you plan to collaborate with famous Indian Chess streamers like Samay Raina or Sagar Shah?

I have collaborated with multiple Indian chess personalities such as GM Pentala Harikrishna, GM Srinath Narayanan, IM/WGM Soumya Swaminathan and IM Tania Sachdev. I met Samay at the Olympiad.

Q7. What was your reaction to Magnus Carlsen's reply when you asked for chess-related pick-up lines on Twitter?" If there were to be competition b/w Magnus and Anish Giri of wittiness whom do you think will have the upper hand?

I was actually on a road trip from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town when I received the notification on my phone about the tweet. It was buzzing so much. I'm really happy I wasn't driving at the time. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it was quote-tweeted. I laughed a bit at the absurdity. 

I'd have to say Magnus would probably win a chess competition, but perhaps a Twitter competition would be a different story.

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Our team at 'The Philox' expresses heartfelt gratitude to 'Jesse February' for accepting the invitation for this interview despite her hectic schedule.

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