People often ask me whether they will be able to become a grandmaster. Another question that derives from it is: “How much will I be making?” Young guys are especially pragmatic, so for many of them the choice between getting a job in the office and becoming a chess pro is quite acute.
First of all, let’s classify the main legal means of earning money in chess:
1) Prize money. By far the most obvious one. The winner of the world championship typically gets $1-2 mln. (1,300,000 euros for Anand in 2010). By winning a top event (e.g. Linares) one gets something like 100,000 euros. Anything above $50k usually refers to a prestigious round robin. Top open events normally have a first prize of about $20k (one needs to perform way above 2700 to win them). A typical event won by a 2500+ GM has a first prize of below $5k. Of course, there are exceptions (like the U-something tournaments that are quite popular in the US). However, this is very uncommon in other countries.
2) Playing for clubs. Probably the main income of pre-elite grandmasters who are paid $5-20k for competing for a certain club.
3) Appearance fees – works for top pros who are paid to “show up” at a certain event, thus boosting its prestige. A more modest and closely related term is “conditions” – usually coverage of hotel/travelling expenses, a small fee (few hundred bucks) at best.
4) Scholarships and stipends. Bright chess-playing students may get some special burses. Members of national teams also often have a special wage. However, even in Russia the official member of the Russian Olympic team’s salary has been symbolic up to this point (let’s hope the situation is going to become better in the future). In many other countries they don’t have any special privileges at all.
5) Sponsorships – to obtain those you basically have to prove that you either are already an established pro with a strong brand (and, preferably, good looks), or are highly likely to become one. Then some companies may be willing to invest in being associated with you and ask for your endorsement.
6) Coaching – not connected with being a professional player, but also quite popular. On the Internet IMs and GMs charge about $20-50 per hour, “stars” request more (up to $100 and even more). Of course, there are exceptions, i.e. crazy IMs from poor countries willing to work for food, or lucky guys who have found a customer willing to make them a millionaire.
7) Being a chess second – assisting eminent players at their home lab. Playing sparring matches, preparing novelties, pinpointing opponents’ weaknesses.
8) Performances – simuls, exhibition matches and other events of this type.
9) Literature – writing books & columns.
10) Organizational work – being an arbiter, tournament director, etc.
11) Selling chess merchandise – that was especially popular in the post-Soviet world when people would be travelling around the world with heavy bags of rare chess books and equipment and selling it at the events where they played. Nowadays this looks less dramatic, but still works.
12) Hustling – some people make money by beating other guys in blitz or bullet. You can see a lot of chess hustlers at parks or at chess clubs.
13) Betting – winning (or losing) money by correctly predicting the outcomes of chess matches, etc.. Also prop betting, e.g. “bet you $X that I will make it to 2100 in a year?!”.
Now (without disclosing any personal information of my chess friends) let’s quickly estimate what level one should have in chess to earn a certain amount. We are talking about the “average” player of each level. For example, one 2700+ GM may participate in 20 events per year, while the other – only in 5. We will be considering the median. The same holds for other means of earning.
$10 mln/year – no one
Over $1 mln/year – top-3 in the world
Over $200k – top-10
Over $100k – top-50
Players close to the bottom of the top-100 are very unlikely to earn over $100k, for most the figure would be about $50-70k.
The point of this article is to suggest new ideas of how to earn in chess to people who are already involved in it professionally of semi-professionally, and to address the question “how much do chess players make?” Each person has his/her own idea of what “enough” is, so for someone $100k/year sounds like a lot of money, while others would scoff at the notion of not being able to earn $10 mln/year by playing chess. Also, no matter whether one considers himself to be a pro or not, it doesn’t deprive anyone of the chance to enjoy chess!
Now, before someone accuses me of talking about general things without offering chess food for thought (“I don’t care how much they earn, teach me something about chess itself”), let’s go over one of my latest games from the Russia-China match: