Emotional Players

by Amy Coughlin, 2005

It was the that last match of the tournament on the first board. On a blunder, a strong player unexpectedly found himself in a very tight position, with mate just two moves away. The much weaker player, a 7-year-old, who just happened to be my son, didn’t recognize his advantage and threw it away on the next move. In fact, he gave the other player a chance for his own mate-in-two.

The stronger player, in what I am sure was a flood of relief, began giggling uncontrollably. My son began crying because the other player was “laughing at him.” The more he cried, the harder it became for the other player to control the giggling. There was a crowd of 75 people standing around, waiting for this one last match to finish, so they could get their awards and go home to dinner. As the tournament director, I needed to step in quickly and restore order, without showing any hint of favoritism or frustration – and without increasing the already embarrassing attention the two boys were receiving.

And, then, there were all those people who just wanted the match to be over.

I quickly asked both players to step away from the table to regain their composure. It took a few minutes. The outcome of the match was fairly certain, and several people said so — loudly. My son returned to the table and resigned. Much to the frustration of some other parents. One came to me after awards and said that I should have adjudicated the game, based on the obvious outcome and the emotional well-being of the players.

I disagreed, citing USCF rules regarding “emergency” adjudication and my own personal commitment to insisting that players — even 7-year-olds — should determine the outcome of their own games. What do you think? Should we alter or modify the rules to accommodate the emotions of the under-12 crowd?

Sudhakar Kudva Commented: 2005-03-30
I happen to believe in the “players own the outcome of their own games” rule. I write it on all my tournament flyers so there are no surprises. Having watched hundreds of kids play tournament chess, I think this is rule is harder on the parents and coaches than the players. Eventually players mature and learn to exhibit proper behavior in the kinds of situation Amy encountered. Those who are brought up on this expectation tend to do better in higher level competition, so I feel parents and coaches need to take this as a given and make it part of their youngster’s training. Amy’s creative way to have players take “time out” to regain composure is worthy of note.

Theresa Herren Commented: 2006-02-26
It is so difficult to see children get so emotional over a game! As coaches, we try so hard to instill good sportsmanship, but it’s very hard for young children to be good losers, and just as hard to be gracious winners. But if we take away the opportunities to experience both situations, we are not helping them grow and develop emotionally. I think that the opportunity given these two children to gain their composure was commendable. I’m sure both players will be the better for it in the long run.