International Chess Master, Jovanka Houska

Welcome to my Wonderful Women interview series which does excatly what it says on the tin…celebrates all the amazing, inspiring wonderful women in the world!

This week, I’m speaking to Jovanka Houska, an international chess master who is the current British Women’s Champion and one of the world’s leading female players. She has won many tournaments and is a prolific author of books about chess too.

Jovanka is also co-author with James Essinger’s The Mating Game, a racy, romantic novel (suitable for over 16s) about Ivana Jones’ romantic adventures in the jet-setting chessworld.

In January 2017, she will be commentating at the upcoming Gibraltar Chess Tournament.

In 2009, Jovanka married her husband Arne and moved from London to live amongst the fjords and rain in Bergen, Norway.

Describe a typical day for you?

Life is usually split between travelling and playing in chess competitions or working from home in Norway. Wherever I am, I try to establish a routine – I get up early to do Kino MacGregor’s Be Strong Yoga programme followed by Amanda Bisk’s 20 minute HIIT workout. It’s tough but it starts the day off on a high!

After tidying my office, I usually spend the morning preparing chess lessons and booking plane tickets and hotels. At times, I feel like a travel agent! I then chat with my good friend and co-author James Essinger to discuss our chess novel “The Mating Game”. James usually leaves me the funniest voice messages it makes working with him easy 🙂

In the afternoon, I fit between 2-4 hours of chess study this normally involves reading books or organising work on my laptop. Evenings are either set aside for chess lessons or just time with my husband. When we feel energetic we will go for a run or walk; although its more usual for us to chill and catch up on some TV series on Netflix!

I have a very different work routine when I am at competitions, I try to limit any chess work to one and a half hours.

Instead, I prefer to calm my mind by meditating, listening to positive affirmations\binaural beats and going for brisk walks. To play well, you need to be cool, objective and logical and this is so much easier to do when you have a positive mindset – there is much less nervous energy.

Yoga has taught me how to handle moments of unbearable tension by actively breathing deeply and calmly facing the fear – it’s an ongoing personal journey though!

Once the game has finished, whatever the result, I will do my HIIT workout I love that sense of achievement I get after every session. Then it’s dinner and winding down with some of my best chess friends.

 

What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

When I was a child, I would dream of winning the World Junior Chess Championships, I was utterly obsessed, I just knew that I could do it. When I finally won the European Junior Championship in 2000 – I couldn’t stop smiling for months.

I am also extremely proud of publishing my chess books and my collaboration with James on the chess novel The Mating Game. I have to admit it’s been very scary having your hard work judged and scrutinised so openly, but a lot of my love and energy have gone into these projects.

 

What’s in your handbag?

My husband always complains that I carry waaaaaay too much stuff, but I simply won’t leave the house without my phones and my lip glosses. My favourite lip balm is one I bought at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland – their products are amazing!

 

What are your ambitions in life?

To create as much positive energy as possible.

This all sounds very trivial but a few years ago I was suffering from an undiagnosed underactive thyroid, I had no energy, even just thinking demanded a lot of effort. Expanding on this, it’s my dream to be more environmentally responsible- I do as much as I can- but I know full well it’s possible to do more – I want to leave a positive legacy.

 

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?

Be part of a team.

I spent years working at chess by myself and honestly it was just boring. Always work with people who have a positive influence on you and don’t get emotional about criticism!

 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I still see myself involved in the chess world but perhaps in a different way. The Mating Game book will be released has been released now and I will be trying my hand at chess commentary at the Gibraltar Chess Festival. I look forward to these changes.

I would also love to establish an academy with a fun structured educational program framed in a very fun social environment.

 

What advice would you give a budding chess player?

Don’t be afraid to fail! Even if you lose a game in the most painful way, try and learn to use it as inspiration.

 

Finally, happiness is…

Anything that involves sunshine, flowers, good food and great company!

 

You can order a copy of The Mating Game here.

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