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Second to none

“If I’m dying of hunger then only I’ll go to Vlady (Vladimir Kramnik) and say ‘Vlady, give me this job’.” This was Russian Grandmaster Evgeny Bareev’s answer to the question as to whether he would become a ‘second’ again, reports B Shrikant.

other Updated: Oct 26, 2008 23:43 IST
B Shrikant

“If I’m dying of hunger then only I’ll go to Vlady (Vladimir Kramnik) and say ‘Vlady, give me this job’.” This was Russian Grandmaster Evgeny Bareev’s answer to the question as to whether he would become a ‘second’ again. A second is a trainer in chess terms who researches on a particular attack or defensive strategy to come up with new ideas to help his employer win the match.

Bareev helped Kramnik triumph over the legendary Garry Kasparov in 2000 Classical World Championship final. He researched on the Berlin Defence that helped Kramnik stall Kasparov and nullify his advantage.

Bareev’s statement makes the job of a second one of the most hated in chess world. So the question arises: Is a second like a modern-day slave (a very highly-paid one) who is in the firing line in case the player bungles in the game? Why do top chess players agree to work for others?

Chess experts claim the relation between a player and his second is not that of a master and subject but that of an employee and employer. They agree it is a high-tension job and the seconds lose a lot, physically and emotionally, before and during the match. And they do get the blame for mistakes.

Vladimir Kramnik is reported to have fired a second on the spot when the Russian lost badly.

Seconds, mostly are either upcoming players or those who have reached a plateau in their career. Established stars too take up the job, like in case of Leko, who is working for Kramnik here, and Rustam Kasimdzhanov of Uzbekistan, who is with Anand.

“I can’t say why top players agree to become seconds,” says Frederic Friedel, editor of Chessbase magazine, who runs a company that produces chess software.

“May be it is the charm of working with a fellow top player, discussing and preparing together which attracts them,” adds Friedel.

But it is also a fact that seconds don't have much freedom to act during the match and go by the whims of the player with whom they are contracted. Like in Bonn, not one second of Anand has ever been seen at the venue while Leko visited the venue only once.

Though it is a tough relation, it is also a fact that a second gains a lot by working with a star player, not only monetarily. He can use the ideas prepared by them jointly against other players, in case it was not used in the match for which it was prepared. Possibly it is this that attracts them and the money bags are just bonus.