Am I a “Chess Tourist”?

Am I a “Chess Tourist”?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

7 responses to “Am I a “Chess Tourist”?”

  1. Andrew Bullion Avatar
    Andrew Bullion

    It’s a financial conundrum shared by rugby. World’s best competitors earning far less than they should. Rugby players (barring the very very best) essentially play for the love of the game, and hope World Rugby or the RFU or other somehow “act immediately to improve the conditions” — increase the compensation. But from what pot of gold?

    The solutions for both lie in increasing the amount of money going into the game/sport, from which FIDE/World Rugby can in turn more fairly compensate the players. And history tells us that high amounts of money going into competitive sport/games comes from advertisement. If you create an event which millions want to spectate, then naturally advertisement — and its riches — will follow.

    For this we need superstars. Basketball legend Michael Jordan became world-famous, someone millions of people would pay top-dollar to watch play. Jordan was super-talented, but was moulded into a sports idol; he became a must-see. Advertisers noticed and paid hundreds of millions to be part of that. Thereby, MJ himself increased many times over the value of his team, the NBA league, and the entire sport. MJ’s was well-paid for his participation and financial exploitation (not in the bad sense) — a cheap price to pay for the huge value for everyone on that investment. And that incredible value that MJ created was and still is shared among all the teams and players — and not just the superstars.

    Who today is chess’s MJ? Magnus Carlsen. MC has himself increased chess popularity, and has made himself a very good amount of money. MC now is a bit MJ circa 1983: big star but still nowhere near what he could and should become, for the benefit of himself and chess. So: chess needs to much further exploit (again not in the bad sense) its currently still greatest single attraction, its Muhammad Ali, its Tom Brady, its Lionel Messi. It does mean paying the richest player even more, and some find find that counter-intuitive and “unfair” — but history shows us that it creates revenue for all.

    Pay MC whatever you can, but get him even more exposed, even more active. Show MC the money, and he’ll do the same for you.

    Andrew Bullion, Esq.

    (Disclaimer: the author is an MC fan and plans to approach MC to represent him and exploit (this time in the bad sense) MC’s talents, to make MC and himself gobs of money.)

    1. Vasif Durarbayli Avatar

      Dear Andrew,

      Thank you for taking your time to share your in-depth perspective.

      I had assumed that other sports might be facing similar challenges to those in the chess world, but I hadn’t investigated this further. Your insights into rugby were particularly interesting.

      I agree with your points. The peculiar situation with chess is that its issues seem to have worsened despite an unprecedented surge in the game’s popularity. It’s baffling that this increased interest hasn’t translated into financial gains within the professional sphere. This discrepancy is something I can’t quite wrap my head around, which is why I felt compelled to bring it to the attention of the general public and FIDE. Clearly, there’s a disconnect in the system that needs addressing.

      Initiating a broader discussion on this matter seemed not only necessary but urgent. I originally published this blog post in December of 2022, and not much has changed since then.

  2. José Corona Avatar
    José Corona

    Good article, thanks.
    Strong recommendation: avoid using bold font. It is a bad practice. Your readers will appreciate it. Try ‘Times New Roman’.

    1. Vasif Durarbayli Avatar

      Thank you for the suggestions! I will try to fix this.

  3. Billy OMBIMA Avatar

    I love this article. While it shows the sorry state of us, chess enthusiast, it also brings to light what should be out plan B.

    I have also been a chess tourist, but at least mine was just within my country. And yes, I have sent a lot. And No, I never won any price. Yes, I enjoyed the games and FIDE rating but at my own fee

    1. Vasif Durarbayli Avatar

      Good for you Billy! Playing just for the enjoyment is the best!

  4. Sam Avatar

    Can you write off the cost of the flight from your taxes? As a professional, you should be taxed on what you earned profit wise, not net revenue. Right?

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