Chess can be super inspiring to watch and play but can you make a career out of playing chess? Is it possible to earn enough to live on by chess alone or do you need to take up another job? After all, many musicians and actors have to work as waiters or shop keepers is this the way that chess operates, or can professionals enjoy the luxury of focusing on their game?
Do chess grandmasters have other jobs? Other than playing chess, grandmasters do have other jobs. The vast majority of chess grandmasters can’t afford to concentrate on playing chess full-time because it simply isn’t well-rewarded enough to do so. The most common way for a grandmaster to supplement their income is to coach chess. Chess coaching can be well paid, and it helps keep the grandmaster’s game in shape too.
There are other jobs grandmasters have too so let’s take a look at that now.
How Much Will A Grandmaster Earn From Playing Chess
This is almost an impossible figure to quantify. Why? Well, firstly, the prizes paid for winning (or placing) in professional chess tournaments vary hugely from place to place. For example, the strongest (arguably) tournament in Latin America is the Carlos Torre Repetto Memoriam tournament.
It is played over 9 rounds and if you are the winner? You get paid about $2,000 (it’s 50,000 Pesos to be precise but this can vary in dollar amounts substantially). That’s at least 2 weeks work for $2,000 and only if you win, all the other players are going home with much less.
Head over to the US, however, and the National Open pays $8,000 to the winner, the US Open Championship over $5,000 and the St Louis Classic is happy to pay out $12,000 to the winner!
Secondly, those at the very top tier of chess the “super grandmasters” don’t spend much time at tournaments like these, though. Their lives are somewhat easier because they get invited to “invitational” events that have much larger prize pots.
The FIDE Candidate Tournaments, for example, which are the “play-offs” for the right to challenge for the World Championship title have over $550,000 (the prize here is actually 500,000 Euro) and this will be split between about 50 players (though not equally, the winner takes a much larger slice than the player in 50th place).
Are There Any Grandmasters That Just Play Chess For A Living?
Yes, but only that tier of super grandmasters, in general, there are grandmasters in developing nations that are prepared to play chess constantly even for tiny rewards, but this is not the norm. The truth is that playing chess for a full-time living, except possibly as a very young person, is not an option for the majority of players even those that play at the highest levels of the game.
This is, of course, because chess doesn’t attract the same kind of crowds, fans, etc. as sports like tennis or football. If the game were to become massively popular worldwide as a spectator sport then it seems likely that player earnings would rise.
Of course, when a “match” between two players can last several weeks (as in the case of the world championship) it’s always going to be very hard to attract an audience, because most people have jobs of their own to go to. Even test cricket, which lasts just 5 days, despite its global popularity finds it hard to attract an audience because of its length.
Why Is Coaching The Best Way To Keep A Grandmaster Earning?
If someone has a grandmaster rating, then the most likely source of additional income is going to be coaching. A grandmaster can expect to earn from $20 to $500 an hour for this service! This, of course, depends both on their ranking, the wealth of their students and where they are in the world.
A coaching session typically lasts an hour a day and a grandmaster may have many different students. A grandmaster who makes $100 an hour coaching who works 20 hours a week part-time, can make $8,000 a month which is nearly $100,000 a year! That doesn’t include any money they win from playing chess.
Chess players tend to enjoy coaching jobs because they pay well, and they allow them to continue to think about and often play chess while they are working which counts as training for their own games. Those that gain a good reputation for delivering improvements in their student’s games are likely to end up with a long queue of students for their services.
What Other Jobs Do Grandmasters Do?
The world going online has helped a lot of chess players pick up some extra cash and Magnus Carlsen, Hakaru Nakamura and many others are working as Twitch streamers commenting on and playing chess online. This is likely to become a massive growth opportunity for grandmasters in the future.
Chess is a popular sport. There are millions of players worldwide that don’t have the time to go to a tournament but who would love to have the chance to interact with one of the game’s greatest players and to watch them play and learn from them but who can’t afford $500/hour to hire a world champion!
There are other grandmasters who are employed by the big chess sites like Chess.com and Lichess to offer professional commentary on live matches around the world.
Chess Books And Brands
Of course, many grandmasters will also write chess books. These can be very popular and tend to be “greatest hits” compilations of the grandmaster’s own games, so, they’re not too hard for them to put together.
Some players, like Magnus Carlsen, do become brands in their own right and he has his own app, a clothing company and much more but they are the exception and not the rule.
Sadly, unlike other sports most chess players can’t attract very much in the way of endorsements and sponsorship. There’s not a lot of TV coverage for chess and this makes it hard to pull in advertisers.
In the UK, many British top players do have other professions – Paul Motwani is a schoolteacher, Matthew Sadler a computer programmer and Luke McShane is a stockbroker! The Peruvian GM, Julio Granda Zuniga, is a farmer!
When Russia Was The USSR – The Working Grandmaster?
The Russians, when Russia was the Soviet Union, used to insist that their grandmasters adopted a career in order to show how much harder they worked than their Western counterparts. In a nation that belonged to the workers it was unthinkable that the highest status individuals would not have jobs.
So, Spassky had a job as an engineer, Taimanov was a musician and Tal was employed as a sports journalist. However, apart from Tal who wrote about umm… his own chess tournaments, most didn’t really work at all though Taimanov was the other big exception he was a truly famous musician.
Sadly, for Taimanov, his whole life pretty much came to an end when he lost to Fischer and his music career went with it. The government was positive that he had thrown the match and thus, they wanted to punish him for his indolence, and they did, until the end of his days.
Do chess grandmasters have other jobs? Yes, though not as many as you might expect. The vast majority will choose to coach chess because this can be very well rewarded thanks to the grandmaster’s status (the best coaches can pick up $500 an hour) but also because it helps them to train their own skills as they work. Thus, a coaching grandmaster is, sort of, still working as a chess grandmaster.
Other grandmasters do work, though, and, in particular, British grandmasters are well-known for carrying out a variety of other paid work across a broad range of activities. The Russians, as we saw, were once famous for having a “second job” but this was really so that the Soviet Union could indulge in politicking with the West. It’s not likely that most Russian grandmasters worked too hard on their second jobs under the USSR.