What to Expect as a Chess Professional: Prize Money and Beyond

As a would-be chess professional, you may be wondering what to expect when it comes to earning potential from chess. You might have an idea of the different prizes that one can win in tournaments and competitions as well as other ways to earn money from playing chess competitively.

Chess players can make money playing competitions and tournaments, with coaching services, YoutTube channels, streaming, and commentating on chess games on Twitch. Chess players can even make money by writing about the sport they are an expert in.

In this article, we will explore the various expectations for earning one might have, depending on the level of chess player they are. We will also touch on how much money can be earned outside of competition through books, coaching or broadcasting games live with commentary.

The game of chess has a long history as a gambling game and it still is today. But that’s not the only way you can play for money in chess, or win cash prizes. There are also tournaments with monetary prizes and professional players who earn their living just by playing games of chess! Let’s talk about how to get started earning some dough from this great board game!

How Much do Grand Masters make playing Chess?

How much money you can make as a grandmaster in chess is not actually reflective of chess ability, but more about business acumen and marketing. that said, Magnus Carlsen can earn half a million dollars from sponsorship alone, before $60k for an exhibition. Prize money doesn’t even register for his annual income with a max $110,000 on offer to win the World Championships. So that doesnt answer the question of how much a grandmaster does make, so let’s take a look.

An average chess grandmaster is going to make around $20,000-$50,000 a year based on income streams including, Coaching, Writing, Exhibitions and Prize-Money. There are new way for Grandmasters to create income on Twitch and YouTube these days.

This article is going to look into the various possible income streams for chess players and enthusiasts alike, and what differences your ability to play chess and official FIDE rating might have on your earning potential.

Play Competitive Chess

If you want to make a living from playing competitive chess, it might not be a great idea to live in the western world or have expensive taste. Whilst there is money to be made by playing competitive chess, the competitions with good prize money are few and far between, not to mention, fiercely competitive.

Factor in traveling expenses and things start to get a little tight on the profitability of trying to earn a living in this way. That is unless you can go and win the World Championship of Chess.

This is the prize money pool allocation from the competition from 2019

Stage ReachedPlayersPrize Money
Round 1 – last 12864$6000
Round 2 – Last 6432$10,000
Round 3 – Last 3216$16,000
Round 4 – Last 168$25,000
Round 5 – Last 84$35,000
4th Place1$50,000
3rd Place1$60,000
Runner-Up1$80,000
Winner1$110,000

A grand total of $1.6m to be played for and shared between the top 128 players making an appearance at the final. All will be grandmasters, but there are over 1700 rated Active Grandmaster in the world right now, so the vast majority are not going to get anywhere near this sort of available prize money.

There are many other chess tournaments available to enter and play, either at local level, or you may be better positioned to play in the many online tournaments that are organised on chess.com and various online resources.

Can You Earn a ‘Living’ Playing Chess?

It is very difficult to earn a full-time living in the US solely playing competitive chess, we will look at some options of how you can top up and use other income streams shortly.

What is decent living in the US these days? According to the BLS, at the end of 2019, that figure stood at $48,672, So you would be having to finish in the top 4 positions in this championship to match that.

So we can be pretty certain that playing competitive chess is not going to make any sort of living for a chess player, indeed, as we have seen the top prize for being the chess world champion would possibly only make 10-15% of Magnus Carlsens expecting annual income.

One would have to be inventive and business-minded, and in fact, there are many chess players and enthusiasts who are not far above average in playing skills but are able to use chess to make money.

Let’s dig in and see if we can shape your chess career

7 Ways to Make Money from Chess Outside of Playing

Thanks to the internet, earning money through chess is becoming easier today. Here are 7 ways outside of playing competitive chess that you can make money.

1. Streaming

Post pandemic, this has been one of the ways chess players are earning their living. Thanks to platforms like Youtube and Twitch, a lot of chess players have started their own streaming careers. Ad revenue, memberships, donations and contracts are the primary sources of revenue. The audience pays the streamer for their content. It’s similar to how professional gamers earn.

The biggest chess streamer in the world is GM Hikaru Nakamura, whose net worth runs in millions. In the modern era, it is one option you can consider.

2. YouTube

Apart from streaming, this is another way to make money. You don’t need to be a strong professional player for it. All you need is the skill to make chess interesting for the audience you serve. Once you have enough subscribers, you can sell them your products, affiliates, place ads etc. Youtube is undoubtedly the best platform for this.

Although streaming and creating videos is quite similar, there is a little difference. In streaming, you have to spend a lot of time in front of the live audience. On the other hand, recording videos takes very little time and you don’t necessarily have to be live.

The biggest chess Youtuber, Agadmator, is not even an advanced player. It’s the way he presents chess and his consistency, which is why he is so successful today. He earns well over an average grandmaster’s income, despite not being as good as them on the board.

Agadmator on Youtube

With over a million subscribers to his YouTube Channel and closing in on half a billion views, rising by over half a million a day Agadmator is the biggest Chess YouTuber on the planet.

It would probably be a conservative estimate that Agadmator is earning more than mby even the some of the top 20 chess players in the world with his analytical videos, given that you can earn between $3,400 and $40,000 per million views on youTube.

He will be at the lower end of that scale, but take half a million views a day at the bottom end of that figure and you’d be looking at $620,500 a year. The same as the the highest rated Grandmaster in 2020!! Not bad!

ChessBase India

ChessBase is the second-largest channel on YouTube based on subscribers but can usurp Agadmators puny 5.9m view best video, with footage of Magnus Carlsen offering a draw after just five moves. The video is only just over 90 seconds, so doesn’t have huge earning potential, but with over 43,000,000 views to date, you can be sure it has earned a few thousand dollars alone.

3. Earn Money Teaching Chess

Yes, coaching is actually where the money is. It’s possible to make a decent living through it. But you will need to attain a certain level before you do start training others.

It’s ironic that most of the chess players in the world are earning their living by teaching others and not playing the game themselves, simply because there is more money to be made in personal training than competitive chess.

Here are some examples of what you might expect to earn as a chess teacher

The following factors affect how much you can earn as a coach –

  • Your chess strength
  • Your communication skills
  • Your teaching skills
  • Your marketability

The stronger you are, the more you will be paid. At the same time, it’s also important to be able to communicate well with students and make learning easier for them.

Marketability is another factor that is often ignored. You have to realize that coaching is a business and take steps accordingly.

Keep in touch with the game regularly and try to update your knowledge. We have a dedicated article on how to become a chess coach if you want to learn more about this topic.

4. Betting on Chess

It is possible to gamble on games of chess at some online sportsbooks.

Chess betting is available but only advised if you really know what you are doing

All you have to do is make a prediction and wager on the winner of a game. These can be very one-sided affairs and often it is hard to make money with chess wagers. Much less be able to earn enough money to make a living from betting on chess.

There are also some chess sites and apps where you can play chess for money

5. Creating & Selling Courses

You can also sell courses and training tools. A lot of master-level players follow this strategy. It’s a great way to earn passive income. But before you create any courses for students or chess lessons, make sure you are qualified to give information.

If you are a beginner and selling a course to think like a grandmaster, then you are misguiding the viewers. Unfortunately, this is happening in the chess instruction world. You might make a quick buck, but you are also leading potential chess lovers, in the wrong direction and away from the game.

Please try to make a positive difference to the chess world with whatever you do.

6. Sell Chess Merchandise

It is very easy to buy and sell chess merchandise online these days. Starting off with buying and selling boards and chessmen, you may be able to build up a brand where you could even sell branded merchandise of your own.

There are already dozens of online chess websites that sell things required to play chess and you’d also be up against the likes of eBay and Amazon which is never easy, but if you can find yourself a little corner of the chess world online, there are certainly some opportunities.

Collectors sets, chess clocks, memorabilia are all ideas.

7. Writing About Chess

This is a blog about chess and I am writing an article for which I am being paid. So as a 2277 rated chess player, whilst traveling and playing tournaments is difficult right now, I have found a way to bring in some extra income by writing for Chess blogs like this one, chess magazines, and for myself.

If, like me, you know a lot about chess and are in the chess community, you should be able to scour your network to find opportunities for writing about the sport that you love.

Other ways to make money from chess

Chess and other skills – When you have additional skills and can combine it with chess, you will often find a way to make a living.

For example, I wrote this is using my writing skills and FIDE rated [2277] chess knowledge to serve the community. Similarly, you could be a video editor, graphic designer, or have any other useful skill. Find a way to use it to serve the chess world.

The Better the Player the Better the Opportunities

This would seem to stand to reason, but there are some YouTubers in the chess community who may not be quite as good at chess as many other players as discussed, but they have the ability to be great YouTuber. That is a different business in itself.

So the better the play also means the better in business, the better in marketing or selling oneself for money, the better the opportunities.

Of course, someone who sells chess sets, does not have to be an expert player of the game to make a good business from selling material.

But let’s see how each level of player might be best suited to making money from chess. Whichever way that might be.

If, however, you are able to communicate your expertise, and your authority from your better chess ratings or title if you have one, you will probably attract a bigger audience, and command higher fees for coaching or personal appearances etc.

How much you Can Earn Directly from Chess Depending on your ability

This section looks at possible earnings from chess alone. That is playing and coaching, or writing about the game. I have already suggested that the average salary in the US, is towards $50,000 and you may be surprised in contrast to many other international sports, that only the very few, and maybe not even as many as 20 professional grandmasters can earn that level from chess playing an coaching alone!

Table of how much chess players can earn from chess alone

Get ready to be shocked at how much more you earn than chess players with huge ratings figures compared with yours.

Player StatusEarning Potential per Annum
Top Elite$500,000+
Grandmasters$50,000
Masters$30,000
Advanced Players$20,000
Intermediate$10,000
Chess player earnings from chess alone [estimated]

So let’s take a look with the knowledge that if you are already earning $30-$50k a year, you’ll not be looking to become a full-time professional chess player for some time – if ever.

Grandmasters

A grandmaster title is the highest title in chess. The players who earn this title are some of the strongest chess players in the world and hence earn the most in chess.

A quick disclaimer – With a rating of 2277 I an not a GM (Yet – it’s a work in progress!). But I am an expert player who has interacted with a lot of chess grandmasters in tournaments. The answers given below are only estimations, based on observation. Don’t take these figures literally.

Elite Players

Let’s start with the absolute top players in the world. Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakmura are undoubtedly the top earners in the chess world. We assume most of Hikaru’s income comes from streaming. On the other hand, Magnus has different companies, like chess24, PlayMagnus Group, which are a source of his income.

Other elite chess players in the world earn anywhere upto $500,000 in a year. However, there might be only 10 players in the world who could be hitting this figure.

Others earn less than this, but after the rise of the digital economy, many more will enter this club.

Normal Grandmasters

A normal grandmaster earns money through either coaching, tournaments prizes or streaming. How much they earn depends on their strength and experience. Through coaching, some grandmasters charge upto $40/hr, while others could charge upto $80/hr and higher. Also the location of where they are based matters. Those from poorer countries usually charge less than those from richer countries.

Also grandmasters play tournaments and can earn a good prize money after winning it. But the competition level is high and everything depends on performance. Around $15,000-20,000/year would be the average earning through this method. Ofcourse, grandmasters who are super strong and perform exceptionally well in tournaments might be earning more.

Some grandmasters also get appearance money to play tournaments. An ideal range would be $100 – $500 per tournament.

Apart from that, streaming, writing articles and books, selling courses are new methods of earning money for such players as discussed earlier.

Master Level Players

We are referring to players who are IM, FM, CM, WGM, WIM and WFM. These players earn less than grandmasters. For them, it’s difficult to win events where grandmasters compete and hence making money from top tournaments is tough.

They turn to chess coaching to earn money. Nowadays, a lot of them have also started streaming, while others write such articles! 🙂

Coaches are usually paid more than the others. A good range would be $20-$50 per hour. But some of them do earn more than grandmasters sometimes. This is where additional skills and marketability comes into picture.

A good range for these players would be around $2000-$3000 per month, depending on what they do.

Advanced Level Players

These players are those with an elo of 1500-2000. Winning big tournaments is extremely tough for these players. But these players could earn by performing well in category level events(below 2000, below 1800 etc). However a lot of them earn through chess coaching.

A good range would be $1000-$2000 per month. Some might earn more too.

Beginner and intermediate players

These players earn money through chess coaching. Without the necessary strength, winning chess tournaments is very difficult. Sometimes, they might have their own youtube channels and websites from where they earn. Another way these players earn is by selling affiliate products. A good range would be around $200-$1000 per month.

Earning Money Playing Chess Tournaments is Very Hard

As we have seen above there are limitations to what you can earn from your chess playing skills directly on the chessboard.

Earning money through playing and winning tournaments is possible but the prize money is not very high and if you have to travel to other states or countries, the likelihood of covering traveling expenses is low.

The stronger a player you are, the easier it is. But unless you are a Grandmaster, it is extremely difficult to make a living out of it.

The top open events in the world like Gibraltar, Isle of Man have a cash prize of up to $30,000 for the winner. It’s not easy to win such an event for more than one reason.

  1. In such tournaments, players from the world top 10 compete, including the world champion sometimes. There will be at least 6-7 players from the top 10 competing in these events. Would be able to beat these players?
  2. The players who compete in this event, work with a team that help them in their preparation. Would you be able to battle with these players without a team of your own? And if you do decide to go for a team, you’d have to invest money.

The moral of the story is that the better the prize money, the stronger the players who will participate.

Let’s see whether it’s possible to earn money through playing different types of tournaments

It is Easier to Win Smaller Prizes in Local Chess Competitions.

It is easier to earn money by playing local chess tournaments but there will be a limit to how much you will make.

The perks of playing such events are that you’ll face a weaker opposition and traveling would be easy, not to mention, cheaper.

On the other hand, the prize money would be less compared to international events.

Also, since you’d be facing a weaker opposition and improving your game would be tough.

There might be fewer norm tournaments in your country and hence your ability to progress through the ranks professionally will be hindered.

On the bright side, if you do well in such tournaments consistently, you can actually earn well. Also, people will take notice of your performance. This might open potential sponsorship deals. There are some grandmasters who earn money just by playing local events.

However in order to become a grandmaster or a master of any sort, you need international exposure.

Earning Money in International Chess Events is Possible but Not Easy

It is tougher to start earning money from chess in international events but once you get good at it, you can make good money. Unless you are a master, a GM preferably, it’s very difficult to make money through such events. Why?

International travel is expensive. Add accommodation and daily expenses of living in the city on top of it. These are the two biggest expenses for chess professionals. In most events, beginners and even advanced players have to pay an entry fee. All of this can become really expensive. Sometimes, a change in currency rates could hurt here.

In order to become a strong chess player, you have to go through this process. Everyone started at the bottom once, including the world champion, Magnus Carlsen.

Next, there are players who have been active for sometime on the international circuit.

Naturally, as you gain more exposure, your game improves. As a result, some of them become masters or strong experts. They are rated between 2200-2450.

These players get some concession in their entry fee, but they often have to bear accommodation and other expenses.

Maybe not International Masters, but certainly those with lower titles. This group often has to spend a lot of money to make progress. They have to play and perform well against grandmasters. All of this takes time, effort, and investment. This is yet again a vital phase, where investment is essential or gaining of sponsorship is vital.

Once a player progresses through these categories, and get a rating of 2500 or more with norms they become grandmasters. This is where the fun begins.

As a grandmaster, you will be invited to big events. There is no entry fee for such players.

Living expenses will be covered by the organizers. Grandmasters are real professionals who have dedicated a lot of time to perfecting their chess. Therefore, they are at a stage where they can win tournaments and do consistently well. As a result, making money becomes easier.

In the end, one can expect to make money from international events only after they’ve reached a certain level.

Earn Money Playing Online Chess

Post pandemic, the chess world has gone digital.

A lot of online tournaments are taking place, on a daily basis.

This has opened up a new avenue for chess players to earn money. A lot of top events in the world are being held online.

Apart from elite players and grandmasters, some strong masters are earning a decent income through it.

In such events your chess skills, mouse skills, and network connectivity, all matter.

In addition to what i might term real chess sites, and official online tournaments, there are some websites and chess apps cropping up where you can play for money.

But is it possible to earn a living?

Until and unless you are a strong online player, it is going to be difficult. Another factor to consider is cheating in these events.

Sure there are anti-cheating protocols, but catching a smart cheater is difficult. It can be a good side income for some players.

Conclusion

Chess is booming post pandemic. Also, thanks to the Queen’s Gambit, more people have begun to take interest in it. Making money in chess is becoming easier than previously thought. As chess spreads to a wider audience, more people will be able to make a decent living out of it. We hope you have become aware of the avenue through which one can earn in chess.

Similar Posts