Chess is one of the world’s most popular and well-known pastimes, played by people from all walks of life, young and old, all over the world.
While most people play it casually, it has a complex structure and hierarchy when it comes to its competitive side. Most people will have heard of the obscene amounts of money being raked in by the elite professionals in sports such as football, golf, basketball, tennis, and so on, but how many people know how much chess players make?
The question is an important one, especially for people who might be considering playing chess at a professional level. Aside from basic curiosity, knowing how much a pro-level player can expect to earn might be the deciding factor for a young talent contemplating the choice between going in for an office job and striving to become a chess pro.
A straight answer to this question might be quite complicated because it is affected by various factors such as the player’s skill level, geographical location, playing background, personal marketing skills, and more. Still, there are plenty of examples from which to draw reasonable conclusions.
In this piece, we’ll explore the average earnings chess professionals can expect at different stages in their careers, the various earning avenues available to chess pros, and some of the notable top earners in the chess arena.
Let’s jump right in.
How Much Chess Pros Earn
The best way to get an idea of how much chess players earn is to consider them according to their various categories or levels. Just like any other sport where you might have divisions, levels, and other differentiations, we can separate into seven general groups; Elite Grandmasters (EG), Grandmasters (GM), International Masters (IM), FIDE Masters, Candidate Masters, and experts with 200+ ratings.
The FIDE rating scale is the system that tells us how skilled and accomplished a player is. Grandmasters have a rating of over 2700, and they may be less than 50 such players in the whole world. At the lower end of the rating scale, even people with a rating of 1600 are skilled enough to charge for their tutoring services and earn money through their chess abilities.
The Elite Grandmaster category represents the world’s best chess players, making it a very small pool of players. At this level, players can earn impressive amounts of money through prize winnings and exhibition matches alone, not to mention sponsorships, book deals, and more.
At world championship levels, where the Elite GMs battle it out for the title of the world’s best chess player, the first-place prize money typically reaches $1 million and beyond, and this amount can easily be earned again across the year from smaller matches and appearances organized by the World Chess Federation.
Elite GMs can earn anywhere between $50,000 and $500,000 each year from playing alone, and the reason for the wide disparity between these figures is that this class includes world champions as well as players who have just achieved a 2700 FIDE rank.
While few Elite GMs might need to take up one-to-one coaching, they can earn over $100 per hour for their efforts, netting them more than $10,000 each month should they choose to do it as a full-time job.
Players at this level also enjoy significant earnings from brand endorsement deals offered to them by different companies. GM Hikaru Nakamura, for example, is a brand ambassador for Red Bull, while GM Anish Giri represents Optiver. Aside from being exceptionally talented at the game of chess, you will need to have a good reputation and sufficient social and marketing skills to get the best deals possible.
At this level, most of the earnings for chess pros will come from coaching activities. While some GMs who rate below 2700 make their living playing full-time chess, it isn’t easy to consistently attain paid positions at enough tournaments and events to make a good living. In most cases, 2600 GMs work on ‘condition’ terms, with their travel, accommodation, meals, and expenses paid to attend events.
Between 2500 and 2600, GMs can potentially earn between $1,000 and $3,000 each month through playing. While this might not be a sustainable living wage in developed nations, it can be a comfortable wage for people living in places with lower living costs. At any rate, the level of compensation offered to GMs will vary depending on the country in question, with those with a strong chess culture generally earning more than those in countries without one.
A full-time GM coach can charge between $30 and $100 for their coaching services, and many choose to supplement their earnings by formulating chess opening courses and rewriting existing chess books and content.
The next rank of chess experts is known as International Master, and these mostly rely on coaching to make ends meet since the competition at this level is extremely high and the earning opportunities significantly scarcer. In most cases, IMs who choose to play full-time chess will earn about $500 to $1,200 each month, and event organizers may only offer to pay their expenses when inviting them to participate in events.
As coaches, International Masters may charge between $20 and $75 per hour, with only rare exceptions being able to charge up to $100 for an hour of their time.
Next on the rating scale are FIDE Masters. These are generally below the threshold required to make a living by playing chess, so they make money through coaching or working for chess clubs and organizations. At this level, playing opportunities are few and far between, and FIDE Masters who tried to survive on chess playing alone would only make about $300 to $800 each month.
FIDE Masters can charge between $15 and $40 every hour, earning them between $1,500 and $5,000 per month. Most beginners and players with FIDE ratings below 1200 will choose to have FIDE Masters or International Masters s their chess tutors. This, in part, is because there isn’t a great deal of difference between FIDE Masters, International Masters, and players with 2200+ ratings. A more reliable money-maker for these players will be to coach others.
At this level of the chess ladder, you cannot expect to earn money directly through playing chess. This is virtually impossible for anyone with a DIFE rating below 2300. Even so, there will still be potential earning opportunities from coaching activities. Candidate Masters may charge anywhere between $10 and $20 for an hour of training, potentially netting them $1,000 to $3,000 each month if they work full-time.
FIDE Rating 2000 – 2200 Players
Anyone who crosses the 2000 mark in FIDE ratings is an excellent chess player, even though they might not be ready to participate in and win tournaments just yet. Only 3 percent of ranked chess players around the world have surpassed the 2000 mark, making them special talents, whichever way you look at it.
As far as earnings are concerned, these players have similar prospects to Candidate Masters, as long as they are willing to market themselves efficiently and work hard at establishing a good reputation as a tutor. On average, players in this bracket can earn between $800 and $2,500 per month.
How Chess Players Earn Money
If you have the skills, intelligence, and ambition, there are various ways you can make money as a chess professional. While some of these are more tilted towards the business side of the equation rather than the chess side of things, they all depend on the same foundation – how skilled you are at the game of chess. The amount of money you can earn through these methods varies from one to another, but there’s nothing preventing players from taking up more than one avenue.
Organized chess competitions, tournaments, and leagues present the opportunity for professionals to match their skills against one another and advance through the global ranking systems. One of the most important income earners for chess pros, especially those at elite levels, is the money they make from competition winnings. For example, a world chess championship winner will usually earn around $1-2 million.
This, of course, is at the very top of the game. High-profile competitions such as the Linares Chess Open offer prizes of anywhere between $100,000 to $500,000. An event that might be won by a 2500+ Grandmaster might offer prize money of up to $5,000.
At the end of the day, prize money sizes will depend on the profile of players involved, sponsorship partners, public interest, host country, and so on, so there’s no sure way to standardize it.
Appearance Fees for Chess Players
Like in any other sport, the chess world has celebrities and fans who follow their every move. As a way to raise the profile and attendance of a chess event, organizers may arrange to have a notable chess pro appear at their event.
On more modest occasions, a chess pro might agree to show up to an event on ‘condition’ terms, meaning that they will not be paid in cash but will have all their travel, meals, and accommodation costs paid for by the host. Essentially, the chess pro will get a free vacation wherever the event is being held, which isn’t a bad deal, whichever way you care to look at it.
Playing for Chess Clubs to earn money
Chess clubs exist as a place to help train chess beginners, provide practice opportunities to continuing players, and as a means of introducing chess to the wider public. They also provide a good framework of facilitators and facilities that make it possible to host events, competitions, and exhibitions. To enhance a club’s reputation and attract more members, many clubs participate in chess competitions against other clubs.
Club members might be selected to represent their respective clubs at such competitions, for which they will often be paid in cash, depending on the club’s size, the competition’s profile, and the skill level involved.
Stipends and Scholarships for chess players
Talented chess players may find themselves eligible for scholarship burses offered by clubs, foundations, and government programs. Players representing their countries or states may receive stipends to help care for their living expenses.
This, however, is only a reality in a certain number of countries with strong national chess programs, such as the United States, Russia, India, and so on, or those who send teams to compete in the Olympics.
Chess coaching and Tutoring for money
This is another popular avenue for chess experts to earn money. Whether they carry out online, in-person, or correspondence coaching classes to people hoping to learn the game from them, chess pros can earn quite handsomely.
An online GM tutor may charge anywhere from $20 to $50 for an hour of instruction, while renowned pros may charge up to $100 per hour and more. To get the best payment as a coach, you will need to work on aggressively marketing yourself to potential clients, as there is stiff competition in this arena thanks to the internet.
Here’s a quick list of the average hourly rates for online chess coaching according to the FIDE rating of the tutors offering them:
- 2700 and above: $100+
- 2600 to 2700: $60 -125
- 2500 to 2600: $30 – 100
- 2400 to 2500: $20 – 50
- 2200 to 2400: $15 – 40
- 2000 to 2200: $10 – 30
- 1600 to 2000: $5 – 20
- 1600 and below: $5 – 10
Filling Organizational Roles
Every chess club or organization will need certain staff members or officials to help organize events, officiate tournaments, act as referees, and fill a host of other associated roles.
These positions are best filled by people with the skills and experience to execute such duties effectively.
Writing Books and Blogs on Chess
Successful chess pros will have no shortage of people interested in hearing what they have to say. By writing books on the game of chess offering strategies, training methods, interesting chess anecdotes, or even their general life stories, many chess legends have been able to make plenty of money. The internet has allowed chess pros to reach much wider audiences with their digital chess content than they would have through blogging and setting up websites.
Being Chess Seconds
Professional chess players need seconds to help them develop their game. Chess seconds are training partners that play sparring matches and help pros develop new strategies, identify their weaknesses, and strengthen their overall performance. Depending on the chess pro involved, chess seconds can earn good wages.
Notable Earners in the Chess World
The richest chess players in the world have accumulated their wealth not only through their championship winnings playing chess but through endorsements, sponsorships, book deals, training seminars, and so on. The richest reported chess player at the moment is Hikaru Nakamura, with a reported net worth of $50 million. Magnus Carlsen follows with a reported wealth of between $25 to $30 million, and Vishwanathan Anand comes in next with about $15 million earned through chess and chess-related enterprises.
Even though chess players today barely rely on World Chess Championship prize winnings to make a decent living, it will be useful to note how the prizes have evolved and grown throughout the years. (Winners are in Bold type)
- 1935: Alexander Alekhine vs. Max Euwe: Prize Money – $10,000
- 1966: Boris Spassky vs. Tigran Petrosian: Prize Money – $20,000
- 1972: Boris Spassky vs. Bobby Fischer: Prize Money – $250,000
- 1978: Viktor Korchnoi vs. Anatoly Karpov: Prize Money – $560,000
- 1990: Anatoly Karpov vs. Garry Kasparov: Prize Money – $3,000,000
- 1995: Vishwanathan Anand vs. Garry Kasparov: Prize Money – $1,500,000
- 2000: Vladimir Kramnik vs. Garry Kasparov: Prize Money – $2,000,000
- 2006: Veselin Topalov vs. Vladimir Kramnik: Prrize Money – $1,000,000
- 2008: Vishwanathan Anand vs. Vladimir Kramnik: Prize Money – $1,900,000
- 2010: Veselin Topalov vs. Vishwanathan Anand: Prize Money – $2,800,000
- 2013: Vishwanathan Anand vs. Magnus Carlsen: Prize Money – $2,500,000
As we can see, the prize money associated with the highest prize in the chess world has been steadily increasing as the years go by, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that it will continue to do so as the game of chess spreads to new audiences and players.
Final Thoughts – How much money chess players can make
If you’re hoping to make a career out of playing chess and participating in chess-related ventures. It’s clear to see that it is a viable option.
No matter where you live in the world, the internet and its global connections have made it possible to make money from your chess skills in various effective ways. If you have the talent, drive, and ambition to take up the challenge of becoming a world-class chess player, then, by all means, go for it.
If, on the other hand, you want to grow as a chess player for all its associated benefits (discipline, mental acuity, strategic thinking, etc.), then you will still have a lot to gain from your journey. Whatever your ambition, if the chess bug calls you, don’t be afraid to answer; you never know where your path may lead you.
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