Can You Make a Living Playing Chess? (The Ugly Truth)

Chess is a game of strategy, mental agility, and skill. It has been played for centuries, and for many players, it is more than just a game—it is a way of life. But can you make a living playing chess? Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.

Let’s get one thing clear first: there are professional chess players who make a living from playing chess. These players are at the top of their game and have spent years perfecting their craft. As a result, they participate in high-level tournaments, win prize money, and sometimes earn sponsorships.

But these players are few and far between. Most chess players, even highly skilled ones, do not make a living from playing chess.

The Gambit of Financial Stability

Compared to other sports or games, chess has a smaller fanbase and fewer opportunities to earn money. Prize money in chess tournaments is often low; even top players may need help to make a decent living.

Another issue is that there needs to be more job security in professional chess. Players far from the top of their game may need help to get invited to tournaments or find sponsors, which means they have to rely on their own savings or other sources of income.

In addition, there is no guarantee that a player will continue to perform well, as new players who could knock old ones off their pedestal are constantly emerging.

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Sadly, many professional chess players struggle to make ends meet. As a result, they may have to take on other jobs, such as teaching or coaching, to supplement their income. Some players may also have to give up on their dreams of playing chess professionally and finding a more stable career path.

But there are more issues than money in chess. The nature of the game itself can be a barrier to making a living from it. Chess requires a lot of focus and mental effort. This means that players must constantly practice and hone their skills, which can be exhausting and time-consuming.

Chess has no physical element, so players can’t rely on their physical fitness to help them win like football or basketball players.

It can be difficult for players to maintain a consistent level of performance in the long term as a result.

When Chess Goes Wrong: The Financial Pitfalls of Professional Players

There are several professional chess players who have pursued the game’s path and almost ended up bankrupt. Here’s a list to name a few:

  • Bobby Fischer. Fischer was a former World Chess Champion who refused to defend his title in 1975 and later withdrew from competitive chess altogether. Despite being one of the greatest chess players of all time, Fischer struggled with personal issues and financial management throughout his life, resulting in isolation and economic instability.
  • Viktor Korchnoi. One of the world’s top chess players during the 1960s and 1970s. Korchnoi struggled to make a living from the game after defecting from the Soviet Union in 1976.
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These examples illustrate the risks and challenges professional chess players face when trying to make a living from their passion. While success in chess can lead to fame and fortune, it’s essential to manage finances carefully and plan for the future to avoid ending up bankrupt.

The Financial Strategies of Chess Champions

Despite the brutal truth behind chess as a career, several professional chess players managed to achieve financial stability and even become rich.

To name a few, here are some Grandmasters and chess champions that were able to stabilize their finances through chess:

  • Garry Kasparov. His career spanned over two decades, during which he won numerous tournaments and held the world’s number-one ranking for 255 months. Following his retirement from competitive play, he became a prolific author, speaker, and consultant, and his net worth is estimated to be around $6 million.
  • Magnus Carlsen. The current World Chess Champion. Over the past decade, Carlsen has dominated the chess world, winning numerous tournaments and earning significant prize money. Carlsen has invested in various business ventures. His estimated net worth is around $50 million in 2023.
  • Anand Viswanathan. He is a former World Chess Champion who won numerous international tournaments. He has written several books on chess, promoted the game in India, endorsed several brands, and served as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. According to estimates, he has a net worth of around $3 million.
  • Levon Aronian. His achievements include being among the top ten Armenian chess players for more than a decade, promoting chess in Armenia, and serving as an ambassador for tourism. He is also involved in several business ventures, such as a coffee company and a sports technology startup. His net worth is around $3 million.
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As you can see, although they’re not a lot, some chess players managed to make it past the millionaire mark.

These examples demonstrate that success in chess can lead to financial stability and success, provided that players can leverage their skills and talent both on and off the board. Not all players can manage to do that, but it’s proof that some great ones can make a living playing chess.


So, can you make a living playing chess? The answer is yes, but it takes work. Professional chess players face several challenges, including a lack of money in the sport, little job security, and the mental and emotional toll of constantly practicing and competing.

It’s a tough road, and only a few players reach the top. However, there is always hope for those who are genuinely passionate about the game and willing to put in the work.

While it is possible to make a living playing chess, it’s essential to be realistic about professional players’ challenges and obstacles. For most players, chess will remain a beloved hobby rather than a full-time career.

But for those who are determined to pursue chess as a profession, it’s imperative to have a solid plan, realistic expectations, and a willingness to work tirelessly to achieve their goals.