How Much Can Professional Chess Players Make?

The game of chess has been around for centuries. Its origins date back to the A.D. 600s in India from a game called chaturanga. It evolved throughout the years and spread to different Asia and Europe. Chess, as we know it today, was popularized in the 1500s, but the first tournament didn't happen until the late 1800s (via Chess).

According to The New York Times, the first-ever international chess tournament took place in London during the Great Exhibition of 1851, a two-week event that showcased new technology including locomotives, textile machines, printing presses, and other inventions. From then on, chess tournaments started taking place in different parts of the world. The first World Chess Championship was held in the United States in 1886, and Wilhelm Steinitz emerged as the victor. To get an idea of how much a winner made back then, Steinitz took home £800, which is equivalent to roughly £115,500 or $129,100 in today's money.

How do chess players make money?

The fact is, the majority of professional chess players are not rich. However, the best of the best can earn millions of dollars. Tournaments all over the world vary when it comes to the range of prize money given to winners. The better you are, the more you earn. As noted by Chess Science, professional chess players don't only rely on tournaments for money. Some offer chess lessons, write books about chess, and provide digital content. For the few who are well-known, advertising and modeling gigs can also boost their income.

According to Hercules Chess, the top 50 professional chess players in the world can earn about $100,000 annually for playing, coaching, and making appearances. Professional players who don't rank make less, and it's common for them to have other jobs — related or unrelated to chess — to supplement their income. Some of the ways players can make money include playing in clubs, performing in exhibitions, and selling chess merchandise.

How much do chess grandmasters make?

The highest rank that can be achieved in chess is the title of grandmaster. To be one, a player must have at least a 2,500 FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or International Chess Federation) rating and earn three grandmaster norms, according to Chessable. The wealthiest chess grandmaster as of writing is Hikaru Nakamura (pictured above), with a net worth of about $50 million. According to the Spanish publication El País, only a small percentage of the amount come from chess winnings. His other earnings stem from his online presence, as he has a huge following and also streams on Twitch. Fabiano Caruana is the second richest chess player with a reported net worth of $13 million (via Money Inc). He has won multiple chess titles in different countries and became popular in the chess community when he was just 14 years old.

The highest-paid player in a single match in the history of chess is legendary grandmaster Bobby Fischer. As reported by Chess, Fischer came out of retirement in 1992 to have a match with Boris Spassky. Fischer was the winner, and he took home $3.35 million (roughly $7 million in today's money). Spassky, on the other hand, didn't go home empty-handed; he took home $1.65 million despite the loss.