Being a sportsman is risky. The winner takes it all, while the loser is left in the dust. In women chess the situation is even more "egalitarian" - the elite players have hardly more chances of buying a limousine than the rest.
First of all, prizes in women tournaments are meager even by men chess tournament standards (not to mention other sports!). Supertournaments are virtually nonexistent, so female chess players can only bite their nails watching the happy winner of Linares get a 100 000 euro prize, while the chess champion and his challenger are sharing 6-7-figure prize funds. For comparison: the 1st prize in the last women world chess championship was only 60 000 USD.
Alexandra Kosteniuk, who won $60 k and the
Women Chess Champion title in 2008
However, who said that "the weak sex" can't compete with the strong? Leaving aside the question "why do women play chess worse than men?", we can state that even the women top-20 can't make much money playing in tournaments for men. It's impossible to get invited into an elite round robin (unless you're Judit Polgar), while in the open tournaments you'll have to compete with a pack of ambitious 2600 players aiming at the prize money. Special awards for women? You must be kidding! Usually there are only 1-3 of them per open, ranging from $1000 to $300. That's why there's no sense for women to participate in male tournaments other than in order to gain rating points and polish their chess skills.
Judith Polgar, the greatest women chess player of all
times, who even managed to beat Garry Kasparov!
Secondly, chess isn't popular enough among sponsors. Maria Sharapova, Tiger Woods and other sport celebrities gain a lion's share of their income (up to 90%) from advertising contracts. And how many contracts have elite women chess players signed so far? A pity indeed - women chess is exciting and, although it gets some moderate attention from the media, sponsors seem to be unimpressed. Hopefully, the situation is going to get better in the future.
Anyway, the one who keeps trying will always find a way. Some organizers offer strong grandmasters special conditions - free accomodation, coverage of traveling expenses, appearance fees. Women are descriminated here too comparing to men, but still. Some universities support their students who excel in sports. For example, the Saratov State Law Academy helps WGM Natalia Pogonina by paying for some of her chess trips, etc. You can also earn money giving lessons (the problem is that it requires a lot of time and leads to a decline of playing strength - that's why Natalia does not offer lessons), simuls or writing books. Once again, it doesn't have much to do with earning a lot of money.
WGM Natalia Pogonina: 2501 FIDE isn't the limit,
gimme-gimme, gimme more!
P.S. After rereading my post I have noticed that it is sort of gloomy. On the other hand, what I like most about Natalia is that she is very optimistic, merry and has a really strong character. She never complains (unlike me), but keeps moving towards new victories. A truly champion's spirit!
Article is courtesy of http://pogonina.com
WGM Natalia Pogonina's manager