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:


  • 5 weeks ago


    I am 23 years old, fide master about 2340, slightly desperate with the idea that I'm not good in anything else and even at chess just way below what I had to be in order to compete for decent prizes in open tournaments. I earn  something with city "sponsorship" (or what you get for representing a city in a team tournament, which is quite normal here in Brazil) and a little bit with private classes, but anyway hardly enough to make a living for it. That's why I'm so concerned with this matter! I see now that most of my friends were much smarter by turning their attentions into poker, feels like it's too late for me now.

  • 10 months ago


    When they make money, do they make it hourly? Or only when they win or participate?

  • 11 months ago


    They don 't make money at all. 

  • 15 months ago


  • 21 months ago




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


    Well, you could steer a kid in the right direction. Take openings. Control the center and develop your pieces... That would be unpaid though Embarassed Foot in Mouth


    OTOH, the greatest real world need is for young kids qho are often total beginners. You could be a good coach but a mediocre player. Making it interesting for them matters a lot!

  • 21 months ago


  • 21 months ago


    Thanks for the artile, well written and informative.

    Well, I'm making $ 1,000 a month and will spend like $ 200 once to buy boards and a demo board and a few books for kids. Not sure if I can pass on the cost - but then, my "expertise" is that of a beginner.


    The aim would be to get kids to play. Kids who learn something else...

    I SE Asia, making a few grand a month would allow one an okay standard of living. (Anyone listening? Check out Halong Bay Cool)


  • 22 months ago


    Iguess you missed one important source of income . Most celebs that have a huge following on social media can monetize is it in many ways.

    Money is made in spectator sports that are very suitable for TV.

    I think in rapid chess is done so quick for even experts they would have hard time following move for move real time. that is the problem.

    Like in most other games only a hand few make the top bucks

    Now I am glad that I chose to go to Medical school!


  • 24 months ago


    Thanks for this article. This is nice and informative article. But in the media we do not get any information about chess. They are busy with other game like football, cricket etc. If media broadcast news as like as other game, people may be informed about chess especially in Bnagladesh. 

  • 2 years ago


    Nice article

  • 2 years ago

    NM Dale

    Coaching chess is sometimes done as an extra activity and sometimes it is done in a professional business kind of way.

    Just like coaching piano or golf or a martial art.

    If you actually end up opening a dojo to teach classes of students instead of just 1 student at a time that is way more work but it is possible.

    I think chess coaching might have more group class possibilities than piano typically.

    I think a chess coach who actually wants to do oodles of work will make about the same as a martial art dojo owner although I don`t know how much that is.

  • 2 years ago


    Lots of ways to make money playing online chess. Chess parks over all the world let people play chess for money and use handicaps and wagers. Some online sites already exist to let people play chess for money but most are very old. Newer ones you can see now that have some wagering on chess are

  • 2 years ago


  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years 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.

  • 3 years 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. 

  • 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

  • 4 years 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.

  • 4 years 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

  • 4 years ago


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

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