I used to bet on chess games with friends and coworkers. I never wagered more than $5 or $10, and in my best year I probably won less than a thousand dollars.
It was just fun for me, but there are ways to make good money from chess. Here are six of them:
Be a Chess Hustler
Playing chess in city parks for $5 to $20 is common, but the financial rewards vary, to say the least. For an article on chess hustling, Joe Weisenthal went to Washington Square Park in New York and found that his first opponent, Leroy Mack, makes only about $60 per day playing five-minute games (five minutes on each player’s clock).
Jessica Dimmoc of The New York Times found hustlers who make $150 to $200 playing chess on good nights in Union Square. They do best when they have regulars who enjoy the game enough to lose $10 or $20 playing a few games week after week.
Some players are true hustlers who will lose a game on purpose in order to get an opponent to bet big on the next game. Most just rely on their skill and the average chess player’s unfamiliarity with speed chess in a distracting environment.
Is it legal? Sort of. Weisenthal says the police in New York don’t care about small stakes gambling of this sort, as long as no drugs are involved. Laws vary around the country, but most states allow for small wagers among “friends.” For example, Minnesota law criminalizes wagers for money except for those that are “private, social bets.”
When I played for money, I never lost on purpose or did anything dishonest, but I did crunch the numbers. For example, if I won about 80% of the time against a given opponent, I would offer to bet my $5 to his $2 to entice him to play blitz games (usually five minutes).
By the way, I’m not that good at chess; I won money because I bet against weaker players.
Play in Tournaments
Magnus Carlsen won $1.5 million for placing first in the 2013 world chess championship — at the age of 22! That’s about as good as it gets playing chess for money.
However, you can win decent prize money at various lesser tournaments. For example, if you like fast games (my favorite) and are a good player, you might aim to win the world blitz championship. That competition was held in Dubai this year, and ten $40,000 prizes were handed out to winners in various categories. Keep looking, and you’ll find numerous tournaments around the United States where you can win anything from a few hundred dollars to $1 million.
Before you get too excited, consider that chess master Natalia Pogonina estimates only the top 50 players in the world make over $100,000 per year. She says, “A typical event won by a 2500+ GM has a first prize of below $5,000.” (“GM” refers to a Grand master with an Elo System rating of 2,500 or higher.)
Play at Clubs
You have to be pretty good to get paid to show up and play a few games, but Pogonia says this is one of the primary ways “pre-elite grandmasters” make a living. They get paid $5,000 to $20,000 for competing at a club event.
Sell Chess Supplies and Books
If you love the game, you might like selling all its related products, from books to boards and chess clocks. The best place to do this is probably online, although I’ve bought boards and clocks from other players at regular chess meetings, so maybe you could locate all the chess groups around you and plan a traveling sales route.
Give Chess Lessons and Coaching
Pogonia says international masters and grandmasters charge $20 to $50 per hour for online coaching and lessons. In my experience, even lower-rated players charge at least $20 per hour to coach beginners.
Write About Chess
Finally, if you love chess and love to write, why not put the two together? You can write articles for chess magazines, write for chess-related websites, start a blog or write a book and publish it on Kindle.
Your Turn: Do you play chess, and have you ever made money from the game?