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Making Money in Chess

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Sep 21, 2010

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! Smile

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:


  • 3 months ago


    I would say Igor Smirnov is the smartest chess Professional, I believe he has made so much money selling his Chess Secrets!!SmileSmile

  • 3 months ago


    you all are shudai

  • 8 months ago


    Stumbled on this from 3 years ago!  

    I guess it is apparent that great chess players seem to be terrible at making money.  :)

    If you want stats on money in chess, you'll have to dive in and look for the 1300-1900 players that have gone on to create chess software, programs at their local schools, websites, etc.  It seems to me that these folks would really be the ones making decent supplemental money in the game.

  • 8 months ago


    the way i see it the only way for chess to have more money in it is if betting gets into it. 

    say X is playing Y - 100 people bet on it - at predetermined odds. When X wins not only do the people who put money on X win (at the expense of those who bet on Y) but also X gets a part of the money

    if I know right this happens in Boxing a lot. 

  • 10 months ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

    Account 1, Account 2, Account 3

  • 11 months ago


    Chess is at the rock bottom of all money making games!

    World chess Champion can earn as much as last grade Football, Tennis or Cricket player! Thats all!

  • 13 months ago


    I think many people, including many GMs, have a rather childish attitude toward chess. They love it so much that they do not consider themselves professionals. The situation will change only if they learn how to protect their interests. If you are a professional player, you have to earn enough money in order to support your family and to cover all the expenses.

  • 14 months ago


    before 1974 the chess players of the western world were also "not so happy" with what they earned ... we need the new messiah who will change the stagnant situation that we have today and the game of chess will again be in demand

  • 15 months ago


    What about beginner level players, how much they make or should I ask how much they loose?

  • 2 years ago


    This article is simply not true. I know few top 50 players and none of them earns 100 k. In current EUROPEAN CH. First prize is like 15 k euro. Its not much. In how many tournaments you have prize like that? This article is from cosmos. Prizes in tournaments are lower and lower with every year and you must be veeeeery good player to earn 100k. Not much 2700 players can. Just few.

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    What sort of strength would you need to be a coach. would this be just im and gm who could do this?

  • 4 years ago


    nice game

  • 4 years ago


    Excellent article! Thanks for revealing us the information

  • 4 years ago


    nice game Ms. Natalia!

  • 4 years ago


    Always interesting articles.Thank you !No pochemu vse stali takimi merkantilnemi?How much money top players earn?!but how famous they are!How happy must they be!

  • 4 years ago


    Chess.com says it has 2.3 millions members. This number is probably as Paul said an indication of how many "accounts" are open. There are many dormant accounts. I've noticed also that members who open multiple accounts had their accounts closed recently.

    To recoup membership with players active on Chess.com, note that about 310,000 members are ranked players "online" i.e turned-based (many with non-paying membership) for standard chess + 14,000 playing chess360 with some of them being already counted in the 310,000 + a few 1,000 playing "live" chess. And I agree with Natalia that probably no less than 1,000 members read actively the best Forums/articles, other viewers being just curious.  

    So 315,000 active members is probably what Chess.com reality is, but they have to manage a mass transit of more than 2 millions accounts most of them not paying any fee. This mass, however could be attractive to potential advertisers on the site and to their shop online. Chess.com has not an easy job, that they do amazingly well in fact and with a passion for good chess, pro and amateurSmile

  • 4 years ago



    Also, this "over 2 mln people" at Chess.com is strongly overrated.

    The guys that run the website certainly know the real numbers. The total number is most likely everyone that has ever created an id to play a game. As a regular columnist I would think you could find out this information by simply asking nicely. Those who are active members I would agree are a much smaller percentage.

    The site appears to use Google Analytics to track usage information and this is a very powerful tool. Be certain they know exactly who their audience is. For a general look at site traffic for chess. com see this the link below. It gives a nice overview of the reach of the site in terms of % of hits vs. the entire internet. The site is quite impressive (Rank around 2000 worldwide) and the last couple of years shows traffic more than doubling.

    I would be very curious if the site published something about all members vs. regular members, etc. (Hint). While I think you are correct in that there are not 2 million active members, I think that there are many who come here to lurk and read the articles, and to play some chess, and never comment or join communities, etc. People who like chess but are simply far too busy to put too much time into it.

    For me personally I have little time to dedicate to chess but used to play long ago, and internet and sites like this have opened up the possibility to play chess as time permits. I know you don't consider correspondence chess to be "real" chess, but for me it is about the only way I can find time for a serious game (spend a few minutes a day considering 1 move).

    Have some hope...the website is not as big as the total number says but the total number of casual users is probably a bit higher than you would think (me for instance). I have been on this site for about 9 months and love all the content but you would never know I was here simply because I have never posted anything before.


    Best Regards,

    Paul Odle

  • 4 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    @ millvillage I am not very knowledgeable about FIDE's financial regulations.

    As to donations - they are not very efficient from what I've heard from website owners and know from personal experience. Also, this "over 2 mln people" at Chess.com is strongly overrated. Haven't you noticed that at the forum you meet the same people each day; the daily column gets just a few thousand views (sic! views, not even people). If there had really been over 2 mln people here, views would have been at least in the hundred thousands. In my opinion, the real population is at least 10 times less, and many people visit Chess.com very rarely.

  • 4 years ago


    Fun to read and great information. Keep it up! :)

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