Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time being my son’s second so I thought I’d offer a few guidelines for the less experienced. I think I’m quite good at the job because my son likes me to go to tournaments with him. And he tends to do a bit better when I’m there.
The first thing to remember is that it’s not about you, it’s all about the player you’re looking after. So you have to put your own hopes and desires on the back burner and try to make their lives easier during the often difficult experience of playing tournament chess.
Under no circumstances should you be critical or judgemental, just commiserate with losses and share the joy of success. Now and then you might have to put an optimistic slant on things for the sake of motivation (“OK, you lost your first three, but a good run from here can get you up to 50% in this REALLY strong tournament”). But this has to be done delicately.
One of the major jobs for a second of a young player is to make sure they have the right sort of food and drink and that it’s ready for them when they want it. If the games are being scored then bring a couple of pens but resist the temptation to go through the games during the tournament. Also note that with multiple games in a day you should suggest getting some fresh air between the rounds and visit the toilet BEFORE a game.
What about some chess advice during tournaments? The best bet is just to avoid giving any as it can be confusing, can easily perceived as criticism and is usually rather useless. Players normally try their best and usually have to learn things for themselves. Blunders can happen but you can’t stop them by telling someone not to blunder! I also have my doubts about the efficacy of ordering them to slow down; most young players do need to slow down but will generally do so as they start to see more.
So are strong players of little use when it comes to seconding youngsters? Pretty much, except in one important regard. If you offer non judgemental companionship and clearly identify with what they’re feeling (“I’ve made far worse blunders than that!”) then I think it can be very reassuring. The super-efficient mum may be great with sandwiches but unless they’ve also played competitive chess then they won’t really understand.