Becoming a Chess Pro: Cons and Pros

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Sep 27, 2011

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.


  • 2 years ago



  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

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

    Account 1, Account 2, Account 3

  • 5 years ago


    can't help thinking of the world's best amateur English GM Luke McShane. Wouldn't it be nice to be a 2600+ Grandmaster, play top events like Wijk aan Zee, London and the Olympiads and have a big fat pay cheque from working in the financial sector of the City of London? Money mouth

    The essential question anyone must ask is if they have what it takes. I really wanted to become a GM as a young boy but one experience of the British U-18 Championship quickly revealed the large number of far stronger and more talented players about. Michael Adams wasn't even playing the U-18; the then 2400 IM was in the British Championship proper! I chose the right course; chess as a hobby and University studies with a view to a job as my life.

    A serious injury left me prematurely retired. I now have the opportunity to play chess whenever I want - and it beats sitting about doing nothing! - as I have the free time and a modest pension to support my chess activities. I think that is a pure luxury compared to pro players whose life and that of their family can sometimes depend on winning opens against equally strong and talented players. (An old joke, with a grain of truth, is the end of the Eastern bloc was a nightmare for Western players because all the players from the ex-USSR suddenly had freedom to play in the West!)

  • 5 years ago


    Natalia, can I ask you a question?... Are you a risk-taker chess player? Or you just sacrifice material depending upon the position? The way you play your game has impressed me very much. How I wish I can share your awesome chess talent some day. LOL!

  • 5 years ago


    Forgot to mention very nice sacrafice thats what seperates you, from lesser players like myself even if i had played it, i would not have been able to bring home the win.

  • 5 years ago


    Thankyou a very good and interesting take, It also confirms what i already knew I am not cut out to be a top level player but one that plays only for pleasure and one that can strive to improve.

  • 5 years ago


    Very nice
  • 5 years ago


    very interesting article...thank u natalia

  • 5 years ago


    Nice article Natalia! your the best.

  • 5 years ago


    Hi Natalia, can I serve as your chess second?  I won't charge you anything.  Laughing

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for clarifying Natalia, and fish_food thanks for your comments - I am glad that someone shares my views.

    Now I see that what Natalia was trying to convey is being a pure pro chess player only. Well - in my view - this is the least promising chess road to take - I think a player should always diversify (into other chess related activities - writing, organising, teaching etc..) this way the "lean years" are avoided - and the example of fish_food's IM acquaitence becomes rarer. Had this IM decided to coach a bit, or write for a chess magazine or contribute to a book - he could have done better during those years when he was not yet strong enough.

    Also, when a player gets older and becomes maybe less competitive, it is great to fall back on writing or coaching (and if you have done this before, previous experience helps.)

    I think my arguement is that while as Natalia said it is possible to be a pure pro player - I think it is not very desireable for those people who really understand the world of chess. Amateurs who dream might say - wow I wanna be a pro player! But someone who has been in the chess world for a long time will know that in diversifying activities - you retain the advantages of the chess world, and reduce the disadvantages. Maybe the only drawback is if you are aspiring to be amongst the world's top players - then YES you need to be only a player.

    As an example I will take myself - a 2000 player - I travel the world for tournaments and play at least 6 tournaments abroad a year. (normally about 9) - apart from that I play local tournaments. Now - in addition - I am an organiser, a teacher at a local private school (for chess), and I write in a newspaper with a weekly chess column.

    Since I am an organiser and have contacts - I normally get better deals when I go to play tournaments. Since I am a teacher some students come along with me, and pay for my assistance - which means tournaments are self sustaining financially. I always have my school salary, and my weekly column income.

    Therefore, I think I am enjoying all the pro's of chess without much cons:)

  • 5 years ago


    Maybe it's better to be a chess con than a chess pro.

  • 5 years ago


    Great article. Like how you pointed out pros and cons. 

  • 5 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    As a lot of the comments seem to dwell on the subjects of earning money by coaching chess professionally or writing books, I would like to remind the readers that earlier I have published an article Making money in chess. Those interested in alternative ways of making a living by practicing chess-related activities should check it out.

    P.S. I should have probably titled the column "Becoming a Professional Chess Player" to avoid ambiguity.

  • 5 years ago


    i know of some amateur players that are really good...coaching can make some money too :D

  • 5 years ago


    Thanks for the insights. Where I live financial problems and being a chess player go hand in hand, it's really really hard to make a living out of chess. Even the top players here have to make a living out of something else. The beauty of the game is not fully appreciated. Fierce competition also makes it hard to get to the top, and even if you get there, there's no safety net to ensure you'll succeed. Playing chess Its a beautifully tough life indeed.

  • 5 years ago


    I'm pretty certain Natalia is speaking about a Chess Professional strictly in the sense of a playing pro. That's because a lof of people who are new, or are not informed about the state of things, want to know how they can become a professional chess player. Of course she knows that a lot of people make their money by coaching, writing, etc. I am a chess professional, since all of my earnings come from chess, but I am a teaching professional. That's not what newbies ask about!

    I happen to really enjoy coaching. But if I could choose (if I was 2650 Elo), I would much prefer to play tournaments and leagues professionally, have only a few students, and get to travel to through Europe and Asia often.

  • 5 years ago


    Zuud08 -- Your points are well taken and valid.

    I have tried to indicate the articles view, while well motivated, is naive on key points...your points I agree with.

    ...much depends on the economics of the country you reside you point out, you don't have to win tourneys ( and you would starve in America if that was your only source of income) I won't embarass anybody on this site,hence no names, but I know of a US IM, back in the day, who would scrounge in garbage cans during a tournament for food. Now of course he is more successful, but that is taking the concept of "lean years" to the extreme.
    There are many GMs and IMs, vastly stronger than the author of this article, that make their money outside of chess. That is a clue. Joel Benjamin, for example is a school teacher...

  • 5 years ago


    One more thing. Chess players life is shorter.  Play 6 blitz games will take 1 hour.

  • 5 years ago


    no one has answered to my previous comment - strangely it seems that you all have a very 2D undeveloped perspective of the subject - I am disappointed - I will repeat and it would be nice if the author herself shares her views on this:

    Interesting article - but I think it is evident that she is seeing things from a WGM perspective - not entirely objective - maybe what Natalia missed is that one does not have to be a GM to be a Chess professional. There are several FM players who become chess instructors and do very well financially... What I am saying is that chess proffessional does NOT mean making money from winning tournaments (or being paid to participate in them), but rather - making a living from chess in a braoder sense...

    A chess book writer is a chess professional. A 2300 player who teaches chess at a school and gets a salary is a chess professional. A 2100 player teaching in the chess in schools program to beginners as his main job is also a chess professional! More over, an amateur chess player who becomes a tournament organiser is also a chess professional...

    Ultimately, what I'm saying is that there is much more to chess than being a GM - actually nowadays even if you are a GM - it is still hard to win enough money etc... because there are many other GM's. I think a chess player should diversify and combine chess and teaching, writing, organising, or any other skill he may have.

Back to Top

Post your reply: