I have been playing chess professionally from my childhood, and most of my friends are also pros. Quite often amateurs send me emotional messages stating they are willing to start training intensively in order to become a grandmaster, and even move to Russia to ensure best results!
Let’s try to objectively review the pros and cons of such intentions.
Why is being a professional chess player great?
• Strong character. To turn into a skilled chess player, you will have to work a lot not only on your chess, but on psychology. Become hard-working, persistent, self-confident, patient, accurate, objective; improve your memory and analytical skills, as well as develop other important personal qualities.
• Free schedule. This doesn’t mean that you can afford to do nothing at all. However, you won’t have to go to the office each day and put up with your boss’ demands.
• Sightseeing. As a rule, most pros travel a lot. Those who don’t like to spend too much time in one place and love new impressions would likely appreciate the so-called chess tourism.
• Professional longevity. Unlike in most other sports, one can play chess at top level even at 40+. The upcoming WC match between Anand (42) and Gelfand (43) is a bright proof. Older grandmasters are not in contention for the title, but they can still remain eminent figures on the chess landscape. 80-year old Viktor Korchnoi, who is still playing quite actively and well, is the best example.
• Financial problems. Most chess players don’t have regular earnings, neither do they make much money. When you are young and successful and (possibly) supported by your parents or college, things may look bright. If something goes wrong, life can become tough. Of course, as I have already mentioned, you can keep playing as long as you’re alive. Often it’s a forced step to take, as chess players don’t have pensions or retirement programs. Neither are they (with a few exceptions) as financially successful as top soccer, basketball or hockey stars, who can save up millions during their prime years.
• Severe competition. It’s very hard to reach a level at which you can play chess for a living. Normally it takes decades, and you have to start very early. Otherwise, it’s very hard to catch up.
- Health issues. Professional sports are often dangerous for one’s health, and chess is no exception. Eyes, back and state of mind suffer most. This is connected with the tension during games and having to spend lots of time in front of the PC or otb. One has to monitor the state of one’s health, pay attention to physical training, proper nutrition, etc.
If you are a parent who is considering choosing chess as a career for your kid, try not to force matters. Let her try. If she is interested, has outstanding results, wants to keep on training, you can go ahead and support her. Try to avoid making the kid play chess if she doesn’t like it. Don’t attempt to self-realize via her successes in chess if you love the game, but haven’t become a strong player for some reason.
A different advice goes to adults who would like to switch to being a chess pro. So far by “chess professional” we implied a person who plays chess for a living. However, this is not the only possible definition. For example, one can talk about “professional attitude towards something” or “professionalism”, i.e. diligently and regularly studying chess and improving one’s game. Don’t rush. If you fall in love with chess, don’t quit your job right away and offer all your money to a chess coach. Start off by playing tournaments for some time during vacations. This will put your feelings towards chess to a test, and help estimate your potential. Before becoming a chess professional it’s advisable to become financially secure and come up with a backup plan. If you can afford taking risks and know that you can always “rewind”, the venture of chess professionalism would be much safer for you and your family.
Today’s game will feature my confrontation from the Russian Superfinal’11 with Alisa Galliamova, two-times runner-up at the Women’s World Chess Championship and one of the most experienced, professional and strongest female players in the world.
A video analysis of the game.