What is a second in chess?

When it comes to the world of chess, we’re not merely talking about a game; we’re delving into a realm of strategy, intelligence, and timeless battles of the mind. The chessboard isn’t just an inanimate battlefield; it’s where grandmasters wage wars with wit and cunning. However, chess is not just about moving wooden pieces on a checkered board; it’s a game of time, and this is where the concept of a “second” becomes paramount.

So, what is a second in chess, and why is this role so crucial in the realm of kings and queens? We’re about to embark on a journey through the fascinating universe of chess, unraveling the secrets behind the enigmatic role of a second.

What is a second in chess
A Chess Opening Showdown or Caro Kann vs London System

Chess as a Game of Time

Before we explore the role of a chess second, let’s set the stage. Chess isn’t just about making moves; it’s about managing time effectively. The clock is an ever-present adversary, and every decision a player makes is bound by its relentless ticking. As a chess game progresses, players experience distinct phases: the opening, middlegame, and endgame, each with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

The pivotal element that adds suspense and urgency to chess is the chess clock. Each player’s moves are timed, which intensifies the experience, transforming it into a thrilling race against time. In this high-stakes environment, where every move can be a game-changer, a chess second steps onto the stage to provide crucial support.

Defining a Second in Chess

A chess second is like the steadfast sidekick to the chess player’s protagonist. Picture this: the chess player is the hero in a gripping drama, and the second is the trusted advisor, offering wisdom, guidance, and unwavering support.

Historically, a chess second was the right hand of a chess player, responsible for assisting in all aspects of their preparation and play. This concept dates back to the origins of competitive chess, where seconds played an indispensable role in helping their masters succeed. The responsibilities of a second are multifaceted, encompassing opening preparation, strategy analysis, psychological support, and much more.

To illustrate this concept further, let’s take a look at a classic example from chess history. In the 1972 World Chess Championship match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer, Fischer’s second, William Lombardy, played a pivotal role in helping Fischer secure victory. Lombardy’s contributions ranged from aiding in opening preparation to offering moral support during the intense match.

Preparing for a Chess Game

Before the chessboard battle commences, players and their seconds engage in an intricate dance of preparation. One of the most critical aspects of this preparation is opening theory. Opening preparation is akin to arming oneself for battle. A chess second is the equivalent of a diligent quartermaster, ensuring that the player is well-equipped for the challenges ahead.

Opening preparation involves studying well-established sequences of moves and variations, known as “opening theory.” A second delves into the archives, meticulously studying an opponent’s games and strategies, unearthing potential weaknesses to exploit. This process is akin to a detective piecing together clues to solve a complex case.

In the modern age, technology plays a vital role in this process. Chess databases, engines, and online resources are readily available, aiding seconds in their quest for the perfect opening strategy. Think of these tools as the modern-day weapons of chess preparation, assisting players and their seconds in their quest for victory.

During the Game

As the chess clock starts ticking, the second stands as a vigilant sentinel by the player’s side. But they’re not mere observers; they’re active contributors to the game. Think of them as the “wingman” in this mind-boggling battle of wits.

Seconds provide real-time analysis, offering suggestions, pointing out potential threats, and even assisting with time management. It’s akin to having a brilliant co-pilot who helps navigate the intricate chessboard terrain. Their expertise can be the difference between a winning move and a blunder.

Moreover, a second’s role transcends the purely strategic. They’re also there to boost the player’s morale, provide psychological support, and help the player stay focused and determined throughout the game. It’s not just about analyzing moves; it’s about maintaining the right mindset.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at the iconic match between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in the 1984 World Chess Championship. Karpov’s second, grandmaster Lev Psakhis, played a pivotal role in Karpov’s success by providing psychological support during a grueling and highly contentious match.

Post-Game Analysis

The battle is over, the dust has settled, and now it’s time to analyze the aftermath. This is where the second’s contributions continue to shine. Together, the player and their second review the game, dissecting each move, and identifying the critical moments that determined victory or defeat. This post-game analysis is essential for improvement and future success.

In the grand scheme of a chess player’s journey, the second plays a significant part in their growth and development. The insights gained from analyzing games, whether victories or defeats, provide valuable lessons that help players evolve.

Prominent Chess Seconds

To appreciate the significance of seconds in chess, it’s enlightening to explore real-world examples. Numerous renowned chess players have benefited from the guidance of their seconds. The impact of these partnerships can be seen in iconic games and memorable victories.

Consider the iconic duo of Garry Kasparov and Yuri Dokhoian. Their collaboration showcased how a second’s support can elevate a player to the pinnacle of chess greatness. In their matches against Anatoly Karpov, Dokhoian’s contributions were instrumental in helping Kasparov clinch the World Chess Championship title.

Modern Trends in Chess Seconds

In the modern era, the role of a second has evolved in tandem with the digital age. Technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI) engines, has become an integral part of chess preparation. Players and their seconds now use AI engines to explore and refine opening strategies, analyze games, and gain valuable insights into their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. This digital assistant doesn’t replace the second’s role but rather enhances it.

Professional second services have also emerged, offering players access to a dedicated team of experts who assist in every facet of their chess journey. These services provide comprehensive support, from opening preparation to tournament strategy, allowing players to focus on their game.

However, the increasing reliance on technology raises ethical considerations. Striking a balance between human analysis and computer-aided decisions is a challenge that the chess community grapples with. The role of seconds is evolving, but their importance remains undeniably crucial.


In the world of chess, where every move can be a turning point, a chess second is the unsung hero who plays a pivotal role in a player’s success. From opening preparation to post-game analysis, the second’s influence is immeasurable. As technology continues to shape the landscape of chess, the role of seconds evolves, but their significance remains unwavering.

So, the next time you watch a thrilling chess match, remember that behind every grandmaster is a dedicated second, working tirelessly to sharpen their skills and guide them to victory. Now that you know what a second in chess is and the vital role they play, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for the complex and fascinating world of chess, where strategy, intelligence, and time intersect to create a masterpiece on the 64 squares of the chessboard.


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