Can chess players become rich?

There are obviously chess players who have done very well financially but these would constitute the minority. For purposes of this article I try to compare chess with another pursuit like singing.


Chess is like many other pursuits and sports in a number of aspects. It can be considered a work of art or science. It is the result of mental, psychological exertion. There are professionals in chess who seek to make a living solely from chess. They work 9 to 5 like any other profession. In fact I would argue that chess spend more time on their pursuit than other professionals.

Chess players have the ability to entertain by their play – the product of their exertions , as well as their personality and character. In this respect I would regard all the great masters from Steinitz to Carlsen as entertainers par excellence. They are entertainers who performances at Wijk aan Zee, Linares, Dos Hermanos, Melody Amber, the Chess Olympiads to mention but a few tournaments we very much look forward to. We even mark the days in our diaries and make sure we do not miss the great tournaments. We derive value, utility and satisfaction from seeing the protagonists at work over the 64 squares. We have our own expectations of how the games will turn out. We have our own favourites in chess, the players we admire most, who styles we find most appealing. There is real entertainment in chess.

How come despite the work and entertainment aspect of this game chess players are much poorer in general compared to their counterparts (singers, athletes, accountants) yet probably no less talented. The games from Paul Morphy, played as far back as 1850s still continue to entertain us yet Morphy probably died in poverty. The history, origin and evolution of the game has impacted greatly on the status of chess players in society.

The big difference I can see between chess and other fields, professions, pursuits is that chess is one of the very few where the product, the game played by the master, is actually for FREE. Can you imagine popular artists releasing very good songs and providing them for free all the time? Can you imagine an accountant spending many hours every day to provide financial reports or accounts that are totally free. The costs and expenses incurred have to be recovered at a margin, at a profit. Should chess be any different?

Why are chess games free? There is no copyright in chess. Thus far no chess player has had any control over his creation (the chess game). Unfortunately it is not possible to play every chess game in a completely unique way and so copyrighting is impossible. After all there are only so many ways of starting a game. It is not possible to start the game with a move that has never been played before. (Copyright is the set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. These rights can be licensed, transferred and/or assigned. – Wikipedia)

As I see it chess players need to start charging for their games.

BREAK THE PRECEDENT – For a long time chess has been accepted and remains a social game where the players only receive remuneration in the form of appearance fees, prizes or income from coaching and selling chess material. If a game were sold for just 5c, this would have made a massive difference to the lives of chess players including several masters of years gone by.

The business model has to change. The current one has to be turned on its head if chess players are to be the beneficiaries. The audience in chess are really consumers at the end of the day. The only difference from other consumers is that with chess they do not pay. I do not see why they should not pay like anyone else.

The big question is, IS THE MARKET BIG ENOUGH? While the chess players could be seen as a niche or specialized market, I believe it is big enough. The idea behind selling games would be that it is a volume driven business with low profits or margins. The money earned from selling games could then the distributed among the players.

So if people actually agreed to pay for games, how would it work? Well for starters this is something that would have to be done across the board, from the very top to the bottom. This thing would have to start at Fide level. Every website that provides chess games from tournaments would have not buy into this. Let’s give an example with the Anand – Topalov World Chess Championship. For starters the games would not be freely available on the internet and anyone who wanted or play through a game would have to pay for it, whether it is 5cents or some other currency. The DGT Project would have to work closely with FIDE and other stakeholders. In this world of technology. It could be ensure that there is no free transmission of games from the venue quite easily.

Perhaps the charging of chess games could be limited to FIDE rated games. However, one thing for sure is that the chess world would have to be united in the new business model. The idea would fall flat on its face if the same games that are charged for are also available for free elsewhere on the internet.

In conclusion maybe chess players might not become rich but I do believe that we can improve our prospects and chances of earning a decent living. BTM

Bruce Mubayiwa

I am the founder and editor of Africa Chess Net. I have been playing chess for over 25 years and love writing about the game. Our goal is simple, to get more people playing chess in Africa! The game of chess is not only absorbing but a great deal of fun.

One thought on “Can chess players become rich?

  • March 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    its possible to be rich ,just play most of the games that have sponsorship ,be a good player and win then u can be dirty rich


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