How to Become a Chess Professional in 4 Steps (With or Without a Title)

How to Become a Chess Professional in 4 Steps (With or Without a Title)

Sep 21, 2014, 7:50 PM |

Quick introduction:  

As titles go, I have none, nor do I expect to gain a title in the near future.  I used to call myself a chess expert which was a very true way to describe me, but not according to any national or international rating systems.  I've only played in a handful of tournaments since I began playing chess competitively back in 2003.  I suppose I could suggest that I've always lived in a rural community away from chess tournaments, or maybe that my community was the black hole of chess ratings (where everyone was extremely under rated) but that is unquantifiable.  

Probably my greatest tournament success was a trip to Berlin Germany to play in the Unicorn open where I had a performance rating of 2111.  Though I've only won 3 of the 17 tournament's I've ever entered, I placed top 3 (pts) in over 1/2 of them.  My greatest defeat was most certainly the world open in Philadelphia, US in 2004 where I scored 1/2 point of 9.    

I'm writing this post because I have considered myself a chess professional from the day that I played my first chess tournament - that is to say - for several years I derived my entire income from the game of chess.  More specifically, from 2003-2007 I built a steady stream of income teaching young students how to play chess in a progressive town in southern Indiana.  

Why am I writing this?

I believe that my endeavors during those five years were worthy, and I would like to help others get involved that are interested in such a career.  To that end, I've spent  almost ten years(!) putting together a book on teaching chess in a classroom setting - geared toward the chess teaching novice or any teaching professional who has never played, but would still like to add it to their class activities.  

The most obvious truth about chess instruction that has not yet been assimilated in chess culture is that there are hundreds of beginner students for every one student that reaches the moment where they even have a chess rating.   In other words - even if you know nothing about chess - but can teach beginning concepts in an entertaining or engaging way - you have access to 100x more students than the grand masters who teach tournament players.  There are not enough "great chess players" to handle the amount of students waiting to be taught.



The 4 steps of becoming a chess professional:

Step 1: Develop a repetoire of lessons for a large class (20-30 students) that involve the very basics of chess instruction.   If you are already a teaching professional, this should be as simple as picking up a book of lessons like the one above.  If you are a chess player it is MUCH more difficult.  You may need to learn classroom management and teaching skills.  Teaching is a performance art and VERY different than knowing how chess works.  I recommend trial by fire - just go do it.  But first, prepare yourself for how bad you will be at first and try to stick to the mantra:  I do (demonstrate), we do (class together), you all do (partners or whole class without you), you do(individual activity).

Step 2: Develop feeder programs.  The key to always having a strong studio of students (where the majority of your income will come from) is a large feeder program.  The most likely way to develop a feeder program is by partnering with a local school PTO to offer chess as an after school program.  The main igredients to a good feeder program are you - putting the lessons from step 1 in front of as many potential studio students as possible.  

Step 3: Invite interested students to visit local youth chess tournaments.  This is the most critical step in the formula.  Each student that visits a tournament is much more likely to want to know more about chess strategy.  Go with them.  Set up a table from your feeder program (club level).  Get to know the parents. etc.

Step 4: Invite interested students to join your studio and study chess with you.  When getting started: this can be as simple as coffee shop meetings weekly with the student.  Coming up with office space is costly - and eats into your income.  Don't do it until your studio is large enough to support it.  

One on one lessons are much different than class setting lessons.  The key to running a revolving studio for beginners is to come up with a stock set of topics to cover with the students.  If you are not a chess player, buy a book of chess strategy and prepare lessons based on the content.  For example: If you have 10 stock lessons, you will most likely teach about 10 lessons to each student you recruit into your studio.  If you have 4 lessons - students are only likely to take 4 lessons before moving on.

Never go into a student's home.  Never invite a student into your home.  Always meet in a public place.  Be safe.


Economics of it all:

Let's face it - chess professionals will never make the big bucks.  However, chess is a very specialized field and you will have very little competition within your own feeder program.  This generally allows any chess professional - regardless of rating or ability at the board - to charge $25 an hour or greater.

The money generally comes from: 

1. Studio Income - usually weekly

2. Feeder Program Income - once per semester usually

3. A yearly or bi-yearly un-rated or rated (if you are involved in your national federation) tournament for all of your feeder programs.

4. Special summer programs condensed into several hours a day for a week.

Time committment:

- Feeder Programs - 2-3 hours per program weekly. (includes transit time/prep time/student dismissal time)  Make sure the students pay a nominal fee to reduce the liklihood that parents will use you as an after school daycare.

- Studio Time -  One hour each week per student in your studio.  Hopefully you will get this number up to 20-25 hours. (keep in mind you are only able to do studio work on after-school hours or weekends)

-Tournament set-up - This is intensive - usually starting about 60 days in advance by ironing out a location and preparing invites for your feeder programs.  Volunteers help in a big way.  This can be simple - just you - or complex involving snack sales, lunch sales, chess book sales, etc.

-Summer programs - It is possible to use the daytime hours in the summer to run small programs - 4 to 10 students at a time.  This is very flexible and totally up to you.

Good luck!