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Sue Maroroa Jones (1991-2023)
WIM Sue Maroroa Jones hailed from from Ōtahuhu, Auckland. Photo: Helen Milligan/Facebook.

Sue Maroroa Jones (1991-2023)

CHESScom
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UPDATE: friends of Sue Maroroa Jones's family have asked us to include a link to a donations page set up to help support them at this very difficult time. Please click here if you want to make a donation.

On the morning of Thursday, May 11, the chess world woke up to the unbearably sad news of the untimely death of 32-year-old WIM Sue Maroroa Jones, who represented New Zealand and England on the international stage.

In a heartbreaking announcement on Facebook, her husband, GM Gawain Jones, wrote: "It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we announce that my beautiful wife, Sue Maroroa Jones, has passed away. An incredible and cherished mother of Samaria and baby Daniel, beloved daughter of the late Temu Maroroa and Suee Lee Maroroa, and wonderful sister of Andrew Maroroa, she leaves behind a loving family who will miss her greatly.

"Please send your personal memories of Sue to MaroroaJones@gmail.com. It would mean a great deal to me and the family during this difficult time. Thank you for keeping the Maroroa Jones family in your thoughts. On behalf of the family, EI TE TI - EI TE TA EI TE TITI MAROROA WIN EI TE TITI MAROROA LOSE."

Sue Maroroa and Gawain Jones first met in 2008. Photo: Helen Milligan

Sue’s tragic death came just days after the birth of her and Gawain’s second child, Daniel, following post-natal complications from the birth.

Sue Yuchan Maroroa Jones was born to a Cook Islander father and Chinese-Malaysian mother in Auckland, New Zealand, on March 4, 1991. She died in Sheffield, England, on May 10, 2023, shortly after the birth of her second child, Daniel. The family is awaiting a coroner's report to establish the cause of death.

Sue represented New Zealand in five Olympiads (2002-2012) and England once, in 2014—which was also the year of her best individual performance: an International Master norm in the British 4NCL, which included a fine attacking win over GM Mark Hebden.

In recent years, Sue focused more on supporting and managing Gawain’s career, and for the last two years, was the devoted mother of their daughter, Samaria. A kind-hearted, generous spirit away from the board, over the board Sue was a tenacious attacking player who relied on her natural talent rather than theoretical book knowledge.

Sue and Gawain met at the 2008 Dresden Olympiad, where Sue was representing New Zealand, and Gawain was representing England. Rupert Jones, the founder of the Chessable White Rose squad in the British 4NCL, which counted both Sue and Gawain as regulars over the years, recalls the early days of their romance: “I first met Sue at the Dresden Olympiad in 2008.

“For Gawain and Sue it was love at first sight. Then, by chance, Sue was on my train from Dresden to Berlin (after the Olympiad). We had a long chat in the dining car—she knew that I had known Gawain for 11 years.”

When Sue returned to New Zealand, Gawain followed, and soon came the news that the English GM and the New Zealand international were planning to marry. At the time of their engagement, Sue told the Stuff.nz news service that she and Gawain had decided against a chess-themed wedding: "We went to a friend's wedding and the groom had a chess problem on top of his cake," Sue said. "They spent about half an hour debating it."

In 2012, Sue and Gawain were married and set up a home in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Sue’s journey in chess started in Auckland at the age of 10. In a tribute to the New Zealand Chess Federation: one of Sue’s good friends, Bill Forster, the president of Wellington Chess Club, recalls: “Sue made an impact on the New Zealand chess community very early. She came from a family of keen players, playing first at the Papatoetoe club, then Howick and Auckland Chess Center… Starting out at age 10, she showed such promise that she was selected for the New Zealand Women’s Olympiad team for Bled 2002 only a year later.”

Sue also represented New Zealand at the World Under-14 Girls Championship in France in 2005 and the World Under-18 Girls in Vietnam in 2008. In 2006, Sue won the New Zealand Women's Championship, and in 2008, she became the first female player to win the New Zealand Junior Chess Championship, finishing equal first to share the title with Mario Krstev and Andy Chen.

Sue was awarded the title of woman candidate master in 2005 for her result of 5/9 at the 34th Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Spain, in 2004. In 2007, she was awarded the title of woman FIDE master for her result of 6/9 at the 2007 Oceania Women's Zonal Chess Championship in Fiji. Her third-place finish, again scoring 6/9, at the 2009 Oceania Women's Zonal Chess Championship in Queensland, Australia, earned her the woman international master title.

Sue's best result was in 2010 when she scored 6/9, without any losses, in the 39th Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Prior to moving to Sheffield, Sue was playing club chess in London and was for a number of years the strongest player at Hammersmith Chess Club in West London.

Her good friend from Hammersmith Chess Club, Chris Skulte, was one of the close friends who traveled to Sheffield this weekend to be with Gawain and his family. After Sue and Gawain got married, Forster says she "increasingly concentrated on supporting Gawain’s chess career, managing the details so he could just focus on the chess."

This was a role Sue excelled in, Forster says. “Team managers looking to secure Gawain’s services to improve their team’s chances in the cut-throat European leagues would hope to settle matters with the easy-going Gawain, but they’d always be told, 'You’ll have to talk to Sue' instead, presaging a much tougher and more hard-nosed negotiation!”

Sue with her daughter Samaria
Sue with her daughter Samaria. Photo: Helen Milligan/Facebook.

Sue’s enterprising approach to life extended beyond chess—to rugby. She played as a backrower for Sheffield Ladies RUFC for five seasons before the birth of her first child, Samaria.

Emily Glendinning, of Sheffield RUFC, wrote in a tribute to Sue this weekend: “Typical of any New Zealander, Sue was passionate about rugby. She was a determined back rower who loved causing a nuisance at the breakdown. As the Development Officer and Captain of the Roses, Sue helped grow the women’s section by being an incredibly welcoming and friendly face to all newcomers. She was never without a smile (and a tin of delicious home baking!) Sue formed lasting friendships with her team mates and will be greatly missed by everyone."

Sue Maroroa Jones also played rugby for Sheffield RUFC. Photo: Emily Glendenning.
Sue Maroroa Jones also played rugby for Sheffield RUFC. Photo: Emily Glendenning.

The same fierce competitive edge was evident in Sue’s chess, Forster says. Sue was "an intuitive player, eschewing deep study but excelling at attack, tactics, and fast time controls," Forster says.

Typical of Sue’s fighting spirit was her performance at the 2019 Reykjavik Open. Forster recalls: "She was there to support top-seed Gawain, but almost as an afterthought, she chose to play as well." He added: "Almost casually, she racked up 6/9 gaining 40 FIDE Elo points to a career-high of 2168, and shared the top Women's prize with Dinara Saduakassova and emerging star Vaishali Rameshbabu. It's incredibly sad to realise now that this was Sue’s last FIDE-rated event."

In a 2008 interview with New Zealand Chess magazine, Sue said: "I would love to say that I'll be around forever. But I'm not sure what the future will hold. I have good friends from overseas who are professionals and it would be unfortunate not to see them. But I'm not sure if in the immediate future I'll be able to have enough time to get as good as I would need to be to represent New Zealand with all the little girls coming up!"

In a tribute to Sue posted on the New Zealand Chess Federation’s website, Forster summed up: "Sue remained more than good enough to the end of her life. Her destiny was with one of those overseas professionals. She did us proud."

This obituary was written by FM Tim Wall.

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