A grandmaster with a combination of tournament winnings, club/country representations, coaching, info products, and the likes on average earn about 18,634.232 USD/yr.
A super grandmaster on average can accumulate 350,686.872 USD/yr., from tournament winnings, appearance fees, and sponsorships.
Being the top player in any pursuit of interest is desired for the status and financial capability that comes with the skill. But chess to be specific; can it really bring a large sum of money even just enough to make a living?
It seems that supergrandmasters earn a lot of money while regular grandmasters earn below the minimum wage on average. It’s really hard to determine something like this but I have chisen my method.
This article will be an estimate on how much grandmasters (and supergrandmasters) earn rather than a declarative statement. As someone who have been in the chess world for a while now I think this is fairly accurate.
I think you will find my calculations rather interesting, but first I have to explain something:
Players in any specific industry be it soccer, basketball or chess would have varying levels of success with their earnings. After all, there’s no singular statistic that can indicate the multiple ways every individual can make their income streams.
There are too many factors, including how active the chess player is, whether they have any sponsorship deals, coaching, books, and the likes.
All of which can influence the result of their total earnings, here are the categories we need to consider in order to answer this question:
Money in chess
Creativity is the limit when concerning earnings with chess, but we will mostly focus on the popular ones since those are the most relevant. The following are the most common ways these individuals make money:
- Prize money- the number of winnings a player can attain after ranking well in tournaments.
- Club representation- the miscellaneous talent fee for being a representative of a chess club.
- Country representation- support by specific governments to qualified chess players.
- Appearance fee- compensation for presence in weaker tournaments.
- Scholarships and stipends- private scholarships and financial aids.
- Sponsorship- endorsement cut to be affiliated with certain products.
- Private Coaching- teaching lower-rated players online and offline.
- Info products- E-books, books, audio, chess courses, and the likes.
- Chess second- payoff to help strong players analyze lines and prepare for special matchups.
If we’re talking about making money with chess in general, then there are tons of strategies to go about it. However, as a player becomes more highly titled in the chess community, the more limited they become to the methods they can apply.
Which brings us to the next point.
Earning money with hustling, exhibitions, and betting are some of the most disgraceful activities a grandmaster can be associated with. Even with exhibitions, there’s a lot of criticisms that may arise for exploiting weaker players out of their cash.
Other ways like selling chess merchandise, being an arbiter, or appearing on TVs / being a model, are things that have nothing to do with being a grandmaster.
We’re only going after the most common ways they are likely to earn in order to properly answer this question, let’s first talk about the regular grandmaster.
A regular grandmaster as I define here is an official titled player usually but not limited to a 2500 rating, and has acquired the norms. These are your regular gm’s not the top of the world status yet, which doesn’t have the privilege to win tons of tournament prizes.
This group has special quirks when determining their expected income, let’s go one by one shall we?
Prize fund (Regular Grandmaster)
Again, there are too many variables that can influence a grandmaster’s prize winnings making determination quite difficult. However, an estimation of the average is possible to conclude by taking common tournaments all over the world and their prize funds.
Here are such tournaments a lot of grandmaster can qualify in:
|Chess Tournament||Prize fund|
|Najdorf International||16,366.56 USD|
|Balkan Grand Prix||11,807.30 USD|
|Italian Chess Championship||21,744.14 USD|
|Margaryan memorial||4,118.11 USD|
|Biel grandmaster||33,085.40 USD|
|Banjaluka International||6,429.72 USD|
|Bronstein Memorial||10,000 USD|
|Magistral Ciutat de Barcelona||8,810.70 USD|
|Spice cup||15,500 USD|
|Gorenje Valvejo||5,257.79 USD|
I took 10 tournaments since an active grandmaster regularly participates in about 6-10 tourneys per year. I think this also gives the benefit of diversity since we’ll likely hit the actual average beyond the bounds of geological differences.
Again, the geography, economic condition, and sometimes even politics can influence the ceiling of the prizes and is therefore dynamic, different data may lead to another answer.
But for this estimation we’ll just go with the popular ones and take the average.
Average winnings (Regular GM)
After adding the acquired 10 tournament prizes the total amount reached 133,119.72 USD, a somewhat depressing number (the prizes will be distributed among the winners and there are instances where a player doesn’t win anything).
The usual number of participants in tournaments is around 12, so we’ll multiply that 10 = 120 and divide it by 133,119.72 and we have 1,109.331 USD as the average earning per tournament per player in a month.
These are really privileged competitions even at this level, the normal sum (per year) should be lower.
The data (from the given 10 tournaments) got an average of 1,109.331 USD, this total for now is what we’ll consider being about the amount a regular GM can make in a year (from tournaments) since not everyone can win and it should equal out throughout the year.
The prize fund after all is distributed between the first place and the runner-ups, no single participant can acquire all the incentives.
1,109.331 multiply by 12 (to make it a year) is 13,311.732
Total: 13,311.732 USD
Being paid to play in specific clubs as a grandmaster is a legitimate way to earn money, however only a few have the privilege to do that.
And even if given such opportunity, the pay is usually not sufficient to have a desirable income (we’re talking about 50-150 USD a year).
These are usually not highly sought chess clubs that have a lot of cash stacks, and since such fees are inconsistent throughout the year the estimate is fairly reasonable.
Total: 13,311.732 +150= 13,461.732 USD
Most governments don’t have a way to give monetary incentives to chess players, only going so far as to pay for trips and accommodation.
However for those who do (like the European League) can only splurge out 100-200 euro per tournament per player, frankly a pretty good number.
So let’s say we have 5 tourneys (conservative estimate), then we can have a total of 1,000 euro maximum per year which we need to add:
Total: 13,461.732 + 1,172.26 (1000 euro) = 14,633.992 USD
Now this one constitutes most of the income a grandmaster can opt for and is why you see a lot of chess grandmaster coaching online/offline.
A grandmaster on average can make about $60 per hour (depending on no. of students), and do it for 5 hours in about two days a week without getting exhausted.
However, if such grandmaster is also active in tournaments dealing with preparations and playing, about 12 times coaching days per year is actually quite good.
$60 x 5 hours = 300 × 12 weeks = 3,600 USD
Total: 14,633.992 + 3,600 = 18,233.992 USD
This is another big one for the same reason as chess coaching, only being a little bit more passive but still time extensive (it takes time to write).
Both chess books/ e-books usually cost around 15 to 20 dollars, and 5-6 sales on a new one (in a year) is probably what you should expect.
$20 × 6 = 120 total, let’s add that:
Total: 18,233.992 + 120 = 18,353.992 USD
Not every grandmaster can have a duty of being a chess second, however, those that do have a pretty nice compensation (once a year is actually pretty good).
$4,000 USD is what you can expect from this income stream, although it can even overshoot 30,000 USD.
But $4,000 is a decent estimation! Let’s add that to the equation.
Total: 18,353.992 + 4,000 = 22,353.992 USD
Proceeds of minority
As you may have noticed not every earning strategy mentioned earlier has been calculated, things like appearance fee, sponsorship, and stipends are not usual on this level.
After all, there is less traction to people within this status (although they are great) but is still not monetizable as the super grandmasters.
That set our total which is really optimistic and requires some hard work to achieve:
Total: Estimated Grandmaster earnings: 22,353.992 USD/yr (although work demanding) which is roughly 1,862.833 per month.
I say that this is slightly larger than usual since a grandmaster usually cannot be a second, an e-book writer, a coach, and a player at the same time.
But for those who do this is pretty achievable but is still an estimate, some will underperform some will overperform.
Now let’s go to the peak ranks of those at the top of the game, super grandmasters.
A super grandmaster as I categorize here is those belonging to the top 20 of the world including the world champion, those at the top of the hierarchy.
Let’s go over it shall we?
These are some of the most common events that these people can participate in (along with the prize funds):
|Chess Tournament||Prize Fund|
|Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz||250,000 USD|
|Sinquefield Cup||300,000 USD|
|Bilbao Masters||468,188 USD|
|Gashimov Memorial||117,042 USD|
|Isle of Man||461,879.98 USD|
|Altibox Norway Chess||142,760.74 USD|
|Tal Memorial||150,000 USD|
|Alekhine Memorial||116,998 USD|
|World Blitz Championship||350,000 USD|
|Your Next Move Leuven (GCT)||150,000 USD|
An outstanding amount! way better than our previous example, further demonstrating the difference.
I didn’t include the classical world championship here since not everyone can engage in that, although I include the world blitz championship here (since there’s a championship league even at the first one).
Average winnings (Super grandmaster)
After adding all the given tournament prizes, the amount reached a heart-pounding 2,506,868.72 USD! definitely on heaven in contrast to earlier.
The average per player (using the formula from earlier)(2,506,868.72 divided by 120= 20,890.573 times 12= 250,686.872) is 250,686.872 USD/yr a combination of first and runner-up prizes.
This is what the media always put in the limelight, but always remember that these are at the top of the food chain, their pay will of course be really high.
Total: 250,686.872 USD
This one is pretty tricky for me to research since both organizers and the players usually conceal the appearance agreement.
After scouring the whole internet the best I could find is about 10,000 – 20,000 USD as the average, although even I would be doubtful and think that it is higher.
More star-studded players can of course negotiate the increase of the appearance fees, but we’re only going after the average.
Total: 250,686.872 +20,000 = 270,686.872 USD
Now, every super grandmaster does not have the luxury to be capable of signing a contract with a specific sponsor, and those who do, don’t usually disclose it.
Magnus Carlsen for example is sponsored by dutch fashion company G-Star Raw, Norwegian bank Arctic Security, law firm Simon Vogt Wiig, Microsoft Norway, and many more, totaling an estimated 2 million USD a year.
But he’s a world champion, and pretty advertiser-friendly adding to that, a regular one should pay about 50,000 to 100,000 USD a year. Of course, it will vary depending on the company and the reputation of the player, where some don’t even have sponsors.
Total: 250,686.872 + 100,000= 350,686.872 USD
Proceeds of the minority
There are definitely limitations to the ways someone at the top can earn a living, where most things we’ve talked about earlier are not that applicable.
Earnings from the representation of small clubs, writing books/e-books, coaching, are all things a super grandmaster can’t do, simply because they can’t afford it.
They need to focus their efforts on the majority of the results (prize winnings) so they don’t have time to invest in those other things.
That brings the average to about:
Total: 350,686.872 USD/yr. (although very performance-based, can under and overperform) which is roughly 29,223.906 USD per month.
Making money with chess is a nightmare for most people, even for grandmasters that have spent their lives mastering the craft. There are paths that have opened fortunately to help these players make a living, especially with the boom of the internet.
Most of the money is definitely concentrated on the top, you need a little improvisation to earn decently in this field. I hope you enjoyed being with me, sleep well and play chess.