I am currently ranked the 177th chess player in the world with a rating of 2612, and two days ago participated in a very strong IX Chessable Sunway Chess Festival. I started out as the 20th seat, ended up with 5th place, and improved my world ranking. Overall, you could call it a successful tournament for me chess-wise. What about financially?
After 12 days of tough competition, I won 800 euros and got taxed by 24%, so my net earnings were 608 euros.
However, just my flight from Baku was 700 euros. I played in this tournament in 2019 as well and won 2nd place. Interestingly, the flight at that time was only about 235 euros. The price of flights has nearly tripled since then; however, the prize fund of the tournament was barely increased from 27,155 to 28,700 euros (before tax).
My boarding was provided by organizers, so I only paid for food which was around 50 euros daily. 12 * 50 + 700 = Total 1,300 euros.
The 3rd place prize of the tournament this year was 1,140 euros, which still would not have helped me to breakeven. Therefore, I must have at least earned 2nd place to earn any income, which would be 2,280 euros (after tax). My net profit from this tournament if I had gotten 2nd place like in 2019 would have only been 900 euros. This is not a serious amount of money for a professional chess player.
Obviously, a logical person would read this analysis and understand that playing in this tournament is a financially-disastrous decision. As far as I know, even players rated higher than me in this event were not offered any extraordinary conditions to play, so one might ask: Why were there so many strong players in this tournament? The answer is simple and clear: Players do not have better alternatives. Other tournaments do not offer significantly better conditions than this one did.
For instance, in early December, there was another strong tournament. That one was in Spain too. If I had gone there, I would have started in the 20th seat as well. The prizes there were better than Sunway Sitges, but not significantly different if we don’t consider the first two prizes. The 5th place prize was 1,300 before tax – only 500 euros more than the prize that I won at Sunway, which is not a serious increase.
This situation occurs throughout the whole year. There are only a handful of tournaments where going makes financial sense. However, I did not see any for November and December. Finally, I said to myself that enough is enough and that I would love to play some classical chess, so I did not mind spending 1,300 euros on this trip with little chance of earning anything.
I must add that I greatly enjoyed this tournament. The organizer of Sunway Sitges does an amazing job and I enjoyed my stay both times there. However, in general, I feel like I might have already become a chess tourist because I am not playing for earning money but solely for the enjoyment of playing chess.
The situation is much worse for lower-rated players. GM or IM titles do not mean much anymore, as they rarely get decent conditions to play. For instance, with my 2600 rating, I often get a complimentary double room accommodation from tournament organizers, but the prize funds of such tournaments are not great.
Even higher-rated players, if we exclude the very highest-rated, are not doing great financially. Most professional chess players do not earn well just by playing; they need to do something extra to make an income. Teaching private lessons is the most common practice.
Ultimately, FIDE must act immediately to improve the conditions of these tournaments to support chess professionals! As far as I know, the only direct actions they have taken to improve open tournaments are:
- Allocating a financial aid package of 200,000 euros for open tournaments. It is double the amount allocated last year, but I think it is still too little to make a substantial difference.
- Creating the Grand Swiss tournament for chess professionals held every second year, which was indeed a great idea! But somehow, it cost the chess world the elimination of another great yearly Open tournament – Isle Of Man. Because of this, I am not sure if the Grand Swiss gave or actually took away more from chess professionals…
Overall, I believe FIDE could and should do much better than this. Otherwise, many professionals, including myself, will become only chess tourists.