How Much Money Do Chess Professionals Make?

Money

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Many enthusiastic chess players wonder at some point in their career whether or not they can make a living from their hobby. This thought of earning money through passionately playing on the board tempts many.

Today, we report about different ways for chess players to earn money.

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Significant Amounts of Prize Money for Top-Professionals

It is no surprise at all that Magnus Carlsen should have it together financially. For only the last two World Championship titles he took home over two million US Dollars ($900,000 in 2014 and $1,500,000 in 2013. The runner-ups are rewarded with not much less than that – Visvanathan Anand still made $600,000 in 2014 and $900,000 in 2013 when losing the World Championship duels.

To qualify as Magnus Carlsen’s challenger chess players have to prove themselves through a set of hurdles: For starters, one must win the FIDE Grand Prix. Four Grand Prix tournaments are being held for the upcoming World Championship. Each of the sixteen participants must compete in three out of four events. The prize money fund for each tournament amounts to €120,000, €20,000 of which go to the victor. The right to participate in these tournaments is reserved exclusively for the world-class players, who make quite a salary with their performances. Within the last few weeks, Hikaru Nakamura won £20,000 at the Tradewise Gibraltar Open, Yanyi Yu was rewarded with $25,000 at the Qatar Masters Open, while Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri received $15,000 and $10,000 at the same event. Nevertheless, most of the top-class players don’t make a fortune with only participating in chess tournaments. Fabiano Caruana, number 2 in worldwide standings (right behind Magnus Carlsen) participated in a number of tournaments during the last twelve months: Grenke Chess Classic (4th), London Chess Classic (6th), Grand Prix (7th), Sinquefield Cup (1st, $100,000 prize money), Torneio Agosto (3rd), World Championship in Blitz Chess (36th) and Rapid Chess (2nd, $24,000), as well as the Zurich Chess Challenge (2nd). Participating in chess tournaments he made an average monthly salary of $10,000, in which the victory at the Sinquefield Cup weighs heavily.

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Open Tournaments as a Source of Income?

The world’s Top 20 does not only profit from prize money. Most tournament organizers decorate themselves with prestigious names and offer the professional players free participation, board & lodging. Many chess players in their early careers can only dream of such invitation. Along with travelling expenses, they usually pay high entry fees and board & lodging from their own pocket. Prize funds, if even existent, barely cover the incurred costs. The victor of the recent Amateur Chess Championship, with participants of ELO-ratings under 2,000 points, on the Greek island Evia won €1,000 prize money. Chess enthusiasts who have not made it to the “who-is-who” of chess yet may categorize this sport an expensive hobby rather than as a lucrative additional income. Competition is fierce at open tournaments, winning chances are low, and the risks of only becoming richer in experience are high.

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Alternative: Team Membership

To achieve a reliable extra income most professionals have no other option than joining a team (or many teams) in league games. Regardless of the game results players are paid for tournament participation. The salaries vary between clubs and professional level and amount to €150 to €500. The goal of most players is to participate in as many league games as possible – and they enjoy a very special privilege in this sport. In chess, players have the right to represent several different countries at a time. Only at the European Chess Club Cup players have to decide which country they would like to represent at the tournament. However, only the best of the best have this difficult decision to make.

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Having More Than One Career Pillar

Government support for chess is very limited in some countries (in Germany’s case chess was almost completely cut off), so that many players do not have the opportunity to focus on their chess career. Many young talents are forced to reduce their passion to a spare-time activity – next to high school, college, or job training. Below an ELO-rating of 2650 points it is close to impossible to earn more with chess than is invested in it. This is in distinct contrary to countries like China, Russia, or India where chess prodigies have all kinds of possibilities to receive intensive coaching.

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Expertise as an Additional Source of Income

As many countries don’t offer their chess talents sufficient sources of income in league membership and/or tournament participation, ‘All-rounders’ have better chances to make a living from their passion for chess. Enthusiasm for the sport can be profitable in neighboring businesses as well – Professionals pass on their expertise as coaches and built a second pillar in their pay-roll. There is always an option of publicizing books, eBooks, specialists’ articles, newspaper columns, blogs, instructional videos, and online comments to make additional income. Whoever has solid expertise and good game performance but isn’t exactly a prodigy must be creative today and always keep an eye open for innovative ideas and engagements. Undoubtedly, it is a time-consuming business to make money with chess.

written by Sarah, translated by Birthe