Is it Too Late For a 50+ Year Old to Master Chess?

Chess has a reputation for being an intellectual game. This is for a good reason, all of the skills that you will apply in chess will mostly be on the mental part and not on the physical one.

This makes some old people skittish about starting with chess, which I think is sad. I think that there is still room for 50+ years old players in chess, you just have to think about it differently.

Most old people who are trying to start in chess are looking to be at the grandmaster title at least, which is somewhat unrealistic. Today I will write an article about this in order to raise some awareness.

There is room even for old people in chess, the room might just not be what you think it is. With all of that in mind, let’s get started. 

Why is the chess community so harsh to 50+ years old players?

If you have spent any amount of time asking about this online, you have likely received many negative feedbacks.

Most people’s replies are probably full of discouragement, all about how you cannot make it in chess if you are 50 + years old. There is some truth to this, chess is really competitive and “making it” to the professional level is challenging.

This does not only apply to old people, but also to kids that are trying to get their first master title. However there are significantly more barriers to being a chess master for someone that is 50 + years old.

Related: 30 Actionable Steps to Effectively Teach Chess to Kids

The biggest would be time, it is no wonder that kids usually have more time in their hands than adults have. If you are just older than 50 then you are likely to be still in the workforce.

Unless you have retired financially free then you wouldn’t have as much time as kids have, it will be extra challenging for you to pursue chess.

Chess isn’t exactly lucrative either, you are likely to be spending more than earning prizes even as a grandmaster. Financially and time-wise, chess doesn’t look like a game that you would want to master.

Do not worry though, you can absolutely master chess even at 50+ years old.

However what I mean by “master chess” is someone that is really good compared to the average player, but is still not at a professional level. This is definitely achievable, and the more realistic way to think about it. 

Is age even a factor on a player’s success in chess?

Age is definitely a factor in a chess player’s success. Just look at the best players in the world, most of them are pretty young in the range of only 15-30 years old.

Anybody who is above that range are usually not that older, or those that have been active for so long that they can still play competitively. This does not only apply to chess, look at the most popular esports today.

Dota for example, which also does not require much physical exertion like chess, are dominated by young players.

Biologically, young players might be better in a particular game since they can remember things better. It is still not clear if people who start young have the advantage in chess.

What we do know is that in chess, there is an age decline at some point even for strong players. If you are going to start your competitive journey as a 50 + year old, I suggest you should be realistic about your expectations.

Who knows, maybe you really are a genius, but let it blossom on its own.

Just remember that you have a handicap against players who have started young, don’t be agitated if you struggle a little bit. 

Can a 50+ year old player still become a professional in chess?

Yes, a 50 + player can still become a professional at chess. Even if you have started late, it is not like you won’t have what it takes to be a chess master. It is just that the road you will take will be much more challenging than usual.

This means that more likely than not, you would not reach the professional level (a level where you get at least one title).

A low probability does not mean zero though, you can definitely become a professional even if you have started late. Just remember that it is a large time and money commitment, you are going to be spending a lot.

You need to go around the country (if not international) in order to beef up your ratings on officially rated tournaments.

Traveling has its cost, as well as the food and accommodation that comes with it. You are also likely to spend money on courses as our coaches that can fill the gaps in your game.

If you are a financially secure 50 + year old individual that is not doing it for the money, you can definitely achieve this.

As I have said earlier though, you don’t have to be a chess professional. You can just be someone that is really good compared to the average player but is below the professional level. This is more achievable. 

Are there active grandmasters that are beyond the age of 50?

This is a good question to add in this discussion. There are definitely many active grandmasters (not just chess masters) that are beyond 50 years old.

The problem is that these cases might not be applicable to you. If you ask this question you are likely someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience with chess, in other words, you are just starting to get into the game.

Most active grandmasters that are really old have a lot of prior chess experience, usually from their younger days. Most of them also get their title before they even turned 50.

This means that even if they are already old, they can still retain the title since they have earned it previously.

Imagine if Magnus Carlsen, potentially the greatest player of all time, suddenly turned 50. Of course he would be significantly weaker, but he will still be good enough to retain his grandmaster title at least.

Do not get me wrong, there might be active grandmasters that have earned their title after they turned 50 years old.

But this is quite rare, as I have said, it is not impossible. It is just really hard since there will be extra barriers to overcome in these kinds of situations. 

The point is that you will have to play a lot of games in order to become good at chess. Active 50+ year old grandmasters have been playing for a long time. You can look at another article I wrote about the number of games to learn more.

How far could a 50+year old person reach in terms of chess success?

For me, I think a 50+ year old can still find significant success in over the board ratings. You see, over the board ratings apply a different formula from the rating you see on lichess or

See how lichess detects cases of cheating in this article.

Even being rated 1800 by fide will put you significantly above average chess players. I think this is the rating that you should go for and where I believe you will find the most excitement anyway.

At this level you don’t have to be some kind of freak that memorizes engine lines in order to win games.

You are just some happy old man trying to school some boys and girls while playing good chess overall.

I think you can even reach 1800 or 2000 elo in fide or uscf. I do not know too much about the rules of being a candidate master, but it should be around 2000 elo.

A candidate master is not really a professional yet, but this is a good goal to go for. If you are just starting to learn just as a 50+ year old, maybe you should aim for the candidate master title. 

It really depends on how good you want to become in chess.

Throughout reading this article you might recognize that I am not trying to discourage you. In life people will say certain things are impossible until you disprove them.

The first to conceptualize the discipline of air flight were laughed at and ridiculed, until they changed our history by creating the first aircraft. What I am saying is that you may actually prove me wrong and be one of the best, we might never know.

But just don’t be hateful if you never reach the level of Magnus Carlsen, these people have been playing chess all of their life. You just have to be realistic on where you want to go and a straight path will be laid out in front of you.

I really suggest making the candidate master title your ultimate goal. And do not forget to not do it for the money, you probably won’t earn much with chess.

With all of that in mind, you will now be ready to create your own story and see where you can reach. You can be very good at chess, just be realistic so you won’t be disappointed.

Final thoughts

It is not impossible for a 50 + year old player to reach the professional level, but it will be highly unlikely. There are too many obstacles in becoming a chess master at an old age, it usually has something to do with time and money.

If you look at the best players in the world, most of them are young, this is for a good reason. I think an elo of 1800-2000 is a good rating to go for if you are 50+ years old.

Maybe you can even reach a candidate master title in some countries, which makes you a borderline professional player (but is still not a full-fledged professional).

You can reach many titles if you have the time and money though, your talent and hard work will be the limit. That is all, thank you for reading.