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Nakamura Returns on Top

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After taking a break from chess to attend college full time, Hikaru Nakamura returned at the National Chess Congress in Philadelphia over the Thanksgiving weekend. He didn't have much rust to shake off, apparently, starting out 5-0 and nearly beating Izoria in the final round. He had to settle for a draw and clear first with 5.5/6, including wins over Ivanov and Yudasin. Chess Life Online has more, including a few games and photos. (Note to whoever is putting up the photos; email me for my free digital color correction course.)

It's great to hear Nakamura is returning to the board. US chess has produced precious few top players since the big batch that learned from watching Bobby Fischer. The US side counts on luminaries like Kamsky and Onischuk, but it's important to have home-brewed players to inspire the next generation. Plus, it would be a shame to break up the squad that brought home an Olympiad bronze medal so soon. Lastly, we also selfishly wanted him back annotating games for our Black Belt newsletter, which he has agreed to do. We look forward to seeing one of his Congress games soon.


"Chess Life Online has more, including a few games and photos. (Note to whoever is putting up the photos; email me for my free digital color correction course.)"

That's priceless.

Would your digital color correction method also work on light blue chessboards and text fonts? It might be cheaper to print Chess Life this way, but I don't see why there should be any cost savings from using fewer red and green pixels on the Internet.

Mig, can ya pls elucidate on the colour correction? I ask purely for my education, cos its very interesting to me.

I am torn on the subject of a collegiate Naka.

On the one hand, I want him to have a happy, well-rounded life, which college can be an important part of.

On the other hand, I want him to move to Europe, devote himself to chess full-time, and really develop his talent.

I'm in the camp that wants him back. Anyone who's seen him play online know's the kid aint no joke. Saw win like 11 or 12 in a row vs McShane not so long ago.

Anyway had the interesting experience of playing him otb blitz at the NCC. He had walked in with some kids claiming to play at 10 SECONDS vs 5 minute odds - his opponent was only 11 or 1200, but still... Naka won both games. Foolishly I thought an 1850 could do much better but was only able to get 5 minute - 30 seconds. Hikaru only needed 13 of those seconds and I was out 10 bucks.

you arent much of a blitz player.

Someone posted elsewhere that it would be nice to see Naka play Blitz against the best. I guess there were a couple of recent blitz tournaments.

I have watched him play 1 minute on ICC and his moves are so incredibly fast. In one game I watched he was playing 1 min with 1 sec increment and he was gaining time.


I am NOT in the camp that wants him to move to Europe and dedicate his life to chess. I have a simple question for those who think he should do this: Why? Why should he forego a college education in order to wallow about in this chaotic chess subculture? Continuing to play while in college is fine, but if there comes a point at which he must choose one or the other, then choosing chess would just be outright foolish as a decision. Fans want him to choose chess not for his own benefit, but rather so that they can live vicariously through him, and however that affects his life is not of concern to them. Sorry, I just don't see the point in abandoning college for the sole purpose of being a financially-strapped entertainer of the 64-square world.



A player like Nakamura has to concentrate more on classical chess than on blitz play. I dont find anyone other than Anand who could manage it perfectly. Nakamura's FIDE rating is only 2640, a way long to go for 2700+ and compete in Chess Grand Slams. He has the talent, but needs to continue with a vision to be one of the best in the world in near future.

I don't believe he will forsake a college career for chess. He has already talked about leaving the game because of the financial insecurities inherit in the game. Not only that, but he has lost pace the last couple of years with Karjakin, Carlsen, Mamedyarov and others who are already playing the very best in the game and getting that much more experience. He is extremely talented but I don't see him dedicating his life, so to speak, to chess.

Nice work Hikaru. All should stop this "I want Nakamura to do this or that". Hikaru is smart enough to find his way....

Of course I was glad to hear about Hikaru's victory at the National Congress. As a university professor, I would be both hypocritical and selfish to state that Hikaru should forgo his studies and go full-time at chess. It is a tough decision.

There will always be questions as to what could have happened had he took the professional chess route. Hikaru and his stepfather (Sunil Weeramantry) had long talks about it, so I was told. While I did not possess the level of Hikaru's talent in chess, I certainly put chess on the backburner for many years and yes... it hurt. However, I am in a position (due to my sacrifice) to travel and play all over the world if I want.

Hikaru is still young and when he graduates he'll be what...22? That's pretty young. However, life is not a linear path and Hikaru may check his options after school and decide to do something else. Maybe he already has an idea, but I'm merely glad to have witnessed such a talent.

Nakamura must have been looking over his shoulder a bit. Not only was he far from a shoo-in for cracking the Top 10, but he lost his status as USA # 1, with Kamsky's return from retirement. There is usually not a "USA" slot for elite tournaments (probably even rarer, since Dubya's tenure as President). But now, Kamsky is liable to scoop those invites up.

Nor could it have been heartening to see a "Golden Boy" like Magnus Carlsen surpass him.

Still, it would be nice to see a Challenge Match between Kamsky and Hikaru, for the unofficial title of strongest US player. Kamsky would have to be favored, but we'd be sure to see some relentless fighting chess....

Chess is one of those entertaining yet poor payoff sports.

I'd compare it to boxing, attractive to talent in less well-off neighborhoods/third world/former communist nations only.

Longevity is extremely short (age 20 to 40 makes a long career), the number of slots paying an average middle manager wage can't number more than two dozen at any given time, and only the top five or so can *hope* to get rich.

Plus, where are the women? Even the perks break wrong.

Btw, why isn't Naka in Harvard or a near-Harvard?

Maybe he isn't smart enough to get into a Harvard. Chess smarts don't necessarily translate into general smarts. Also he was home schooled to facilitate his chess training. That probably didn't reach the quality of traditional education.

As if going to Harvard is dirt cheap ? I should know.

Harvard or 'near-Harvards' don't fit everyone. I believe it is more important that your learning environment is comfortable and that you're not under the strain of finances, or other social pressures that come with being at an elite school.

Sunil told me why Hikaru chose his school, but I won't go into details here. Hikaru did not want to go to a school with a chess program. Imagine the distractions. Hikaru probably likes being low-key for the first time in a long time. No doubt if he went to Harvard, they'd be trumpeting his name about every chance they get.

Nakamura is great - I'm glad he won. I hope we'll see more of him, now that he has finally smiled for me when I took his picture.

But, you missed another great win at the same tournament. Penn State won the Team Championship !!

It was written up in the local newspaper. http://www.centredaily.com/mld/centredaily/16119155.htm

I attended Penn State when IM Donald Byrne was the Chess Coach. I will never forget his analysis using an oversized chess set. That is one of my most precious memories.


Regarding attending Harvard or any other Ivy or elite university, don't get caught up in the hype. Intelligence is not the determining factor in getting into one of these schools in many cases, nor is there even inherent value in attending one. There are very many idiots attending Harvard, Princeton, et al. and many highly intelligent people attending schools of less prestige. The prestigious schools are about networks, not level of education; those professors are hired to bring prestige to the university via research, not because they are great educators.




If the most important components of a college education are:
--quality of faculty
--quality of student body and
--student access to faculty

what colleges would you recommend over Harvard, the Ivies, and other "elite" schools?

The world is Naka's oyster, that's for sure. I know that we all wish him the best.

I just want to put in a plug for "non-traditional" college students, people older than the usual 18-22 years who are earning their degrees. Non-traditional students are motivated, mature, excellent learners.

So there would be something to be said for an exceptional talent like Naka to postpone college, go as high as he can in the chess world, and then earn his degree later: kind of a Reuben Fine sort of thing.

On the other hand, the social aspects of college for a young adult are important, so it's nice to know that Naka can now take advantage of those.

Yes, Hikaru has a lot to learn about "real life" in college. I hope he acquires some manners when it comes to dealing with people. He has improved in the last 2-3 years, but still has a lot of catching up to do. As for chess, he knows he cannot be in top ten in the world; anything short of that spells relative poverty.

I recently had a revealing conversation with a young man who is considered a promising chess talent (albeit a class or so below Hikaru).

Although still in high school, he surprised me by saying he plays chess largely to win money, and he is not interested in going for the GM title until he reaches his late 20s and is established in a career.

Given those two goals, he strives not to play against GMs, as someone his age pushing to achieve their best chess potential would do, but actually works to AVOID playing GMs (since he figures he'd usually lose which would reduce his prize-winning opportunities).

All rather shocking, and a somewhat more complex take than the false dichotomy between "quit chess" to go to school and launch a real career, vs. stick with chess and make that your profession.

How many chessplaying "jobs" exist at a middle manager or higher salary, a threshold a representative near-genius-or-better individual should exceed in the private sector? Let's arbitrarily pick 75K.

I'll speculate FIVE for the US and FIFTY worldwide as upper bounds.

Given the paltry payoffs, chess isn't a serious line of work for non-world champion talents.

--Jon Jacobs wrote: "he is not interested in going for the GM title until he reaches his late 20s and is established in a career."

He'd have to have a pretty cushy career if he expects to become a GM in his late 20s while also working.

SH, I think you are making the same error that Stern, tgg, and various other "chess is for dorks" types made on previous threads: defining chess "income" as consisting solely of prize winnings.

Of course if you are convinced that chess is only for losers you can define things however you please. This being a free country, no one will punish you if you choose to insist that a person who devoted his life to chess, earned a title, and now makes say, $150,000 a year from business and teaching activities that primarily revolve around chess (but does not play competetively any more himself), does not have a "chessplaying job."

However, I'll wager that few of us who don't share your anti-chess prejudices, will choose to share your restrictive definition of what constitutes a chess job.

I personally can reel off the names of at least a half-dozen chess foundations. I don't know for sure, but I think most of them employ at least one (former or current) serious chess player in a high capacity; indeed, the majority of these foundations actually were founded and headed by serious chess players.

For each such organization whose name I can reel off immediately, there probably are at least 20 others that could easily be looked up. I doubt that the top managers of these agencies opt to pay themselves less than six figures.

Sunil Weeramantry's National Scholastic Chess Foundation (www.nscfchess.org) is one such group that immediately comes to mind. Their Web site lists 18 instructors who work for them, and at least 3 tournaments each month that they run. That group's most recent tournament, a one-day affair held Nov. 19 at a private school which almost surely charged them zero rent for the space, had 4 sections with a total of 117 entrants, with entry fees at $30 a pop, and only trophies as prizes. You do the math.

Another one I came across, more or less by accident, is headed by my near-namesake, the Texas FM John Jacobs.

What's more, the heads of these groups aren't the only ones getting paid. I was told that one IM who works as a teacher and TD for New York's Chess-in-the-Schools earns about $70k a year (the person who told me this was an accountant who claimed to have prepared the IM's personal tax return). That is just one person; I don't know how many teachers Chess-in-the-Schools employs, but my guess is it's at least 50.

Then there is publishing. I was told that Robert Byrne was paid $60k a year for his twice-weekly New York Times column on chess. Not bad for a part-time (VERY part-time) job. I can't be sure if that's true, or even if true, whether the Post pays GM Kavalek or the LA Times pays IM Peters the same as the NY Times paid Byrne (past tense appropriate: they are taking the column away from him).

But if those figures are correct, and we can assume the three individuals manage to earn at least an additional $15k a year from other chess-related activities (hardly a stretch considering they have five days free each week to earn other income, even under the conservative assumption that it takes a full day to write each twice-weekly chess column)....then that already makes THREE chess jobs in the US alone that meet SH's "arbitrary" standard of $75k annual income.

And that's JUST from publishing -- ONLY big-city daily newspaper chess columns; it doesn't include chess foundations, teaching, or even other kinds of chess publishing, or work on chess software products. (Does anyone here think IM Malcolm Pein makes under $75k from his global chess book AND newspaper column empire; or that Hanon Russell makes less than that from his Chesscafe AND USCF book and equipment sales concession?)

It should be clear by now what is going on here. Many of you may already be familiar with the chess education and business world; for those who aren't, the above may serve as a caveat emptor to be on guard against those who would play on prejudices against chess that are rampant in the less-educated segment of the wider world.

Stern, you are welcome to put your 1.5 cents in, if I have burst some of the sour grapes you're so fond of carrying on your back. It is nice to see you back here, it's been a long time. Lacking such a big fat target for rhetorical battle, I've had to content myself in recent months with tournament chess competition. No need to send your condolences, I actually enjoy it.

Well, I must admit that I did not expect Mig to post an article when I simply emailed him letting him know about my return. For the record, you can say this and that about me, and I respect everyone's freedom to believe in whatever they choose.

However, I do not appreciate people like John attempt to slander me in a public forum such as dailydirt, when I have done nothing but act nice to people at tournaments over the past 3-4 years. Granted, I have had plenty of issues on ICC, but that is a completely different kettle of fish. Therefore, it would be much appreciated if people like John would not make such statements when, in all likelihood, they have never met me or do not know me personally.

I will make further remarks in regards to chess as a whole when I annotate one of my games for ChessNinja.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the numerous people who approached me both during and after the National Chess Congress, and thank them for their warm words and kindness.

Hikaru Nakamura

Trash-talking and "rhetorical battles" against folks who haven't even posted to a thread reminds me of "Star Wars Kid" slashing around with his golfball retriever.

Come, Hikaru N; that's life in the public eye. Plenty of people who don't know you at all will have watched you play at tournaments and are entitled to have views about how they see you conduct yourself at the board; no more than that, I agree.

Most teenage prodigies have some growing up to do when it comes to conduct at and around the board (Susan Polgar was absolutely superb from a very young age; some recent prominent events have suggested that England's foremost young talent just now could do with accelerating the process; these would perhaps define opposite ends of the spectrum)

Mind you I'm not sure what your non-admirer can have in mind: when I watched you it seemed to me you were pretty much average as teenagers go; it is, as they say, not like playing Yusupov, but we've all seen lots of young players far worse.

Jon J: it's a slight flaw in your model, is it not, that for many of those jobs you don't really need to be a GM? IM Malcolm Pein, for example, probably would have made it had he not devoted himself to his business empire. There's no doubt in the UK at least that the opportunity my own generation had to survive for some years just by playing, even without the title itself, while trying to obtain it (Mark Hebden and Keith Arkell being the most obvious examples) has largely gone. I don't think we'll see their like again. There are careers in chess, but on the whole they are not associated with becoming a professional player as such. Anything outside the world top 100 and I think you're struggling if you only play.

Very interesting.

Dickinson College is a good school and likely well-chosen.

However, it is expensive (in the Harvard range). Harvard will always come up with a financial aid package, so money is not a good reason to avoid it.

This is a rather odd comment, perhaps facetious "No doubt if he went to Harvard, they'd be trumpeting his name about every chance they get". Harvard has a lot of high achievers and does not go in much for trumpeting.

For those who are on an academic career track Harvard is #1. Those on an academic track who claim it's not - were rejected by Harvard.


The facts I presented were solely meant to disprove SH's assertion that the number of "chessplaying jobs" that provide a "middle manager or higher salary" (which he pegged at $75k) was at most 5 in the US and 50 worldwide.

OK, he did say "chessPLAYING," although his comment did not mention GM or IM.

I don't dispute that a very small number can make a decent income from PLAYING alone. So I'll concede your rhetorical point, but I think its practical significance is pretty small.

After all, you don't hear many people complain that there isn't a good living to be made in golf, or tennis, or even classical music or various other performing arts. Yet if one arbitrarily excludes the house golf pro and the house tennis pro at thousands of local clubs, and all the trainers, school coaches, and others who make their living from the sport, then the conclusion would be largely the same as for chess, wouldn't it? A couple hundred decent-paying "jobs" worldwide, perhaps, for "playing" top-level golf, or tennis, on a full-time basis. More such "jobs" than for chess GMs, to be sure... but not so very many more.

Yet anyone who complained of a lack of opportunities for pro golfers or tennis players in this way would be laughed out of the room, wouldn't he?

Harward is a humanitarian collage. For exact sciences there are a bunch of good collages to choose from, MIT, Berkeley, Standford, Princeton to mention a few.

Never mind whether chess educators are chessplayers like HS mathematics teachers are mathematicians or not.

The opportunity cost of entering golf or tennis is *low*. Athletic ability in one sport isn't easily translatable into another, and certainly not into a cerebral career.

Let us for arguments sake use Levitt's Rule of:

2000 FIDE = 100 IQ, with marginals in a 100FIDE : 10IQ ratio.

How much $$$ does a golf player turned pro leave on the table in the next best career? However, a mediocre 2500 FIDE-rated GM suffers *massive* opportunity cost. He might've even been respected in another field... just kidding.

SH you made a very wasteful post.

Jon Jacobs wrote:

I personally can reel off the names of at least a half-dozen chess foundations. I don't know for sure, but I think most of them employ at least one (former or current) serious chess player in a high capacity; indeed, the majority of these foundations actually were founded and headed by serious chess players.

For each such organization whose name I can reel off immediately, there probably are at least 20 others that could easily be looked up. I doubt that the top managers of these agencies opt to pay themselves less than six figures.


In all fairness, Jon, I'm VERY skeptical that there are even 20 such institutions in the USA, let alone 120 as you claim (20 others for each you can mention). Perhaps there are dozens of chess clubs throughout the country, infomal gatherings without salary or income. Institutions like the USCF or the AF4C are less than 6 in the USA, I'm sure.

I'm willing to concede your point, however, if you mention 10 of them, along with the names of chess pro's in positions that make over $75.000 per year.


Sunil Weeramantry's National Scholastic Chess Foundation (www.nscfchess.org) is one such group that immediately comes to mind. Their Web site lists 18 instructors who work for them, and at least 3 tournaments each month that they run. That group's most recent tournament, a one-day affair held Nov. 19 at a private school which almost surely charged them zero rent for the space, had 4 sections with a total of 117 entrants, with entry fees at $30 a pop, and only trophies as prizes. You do the math.


Let's do the math:

To be fair to you, I'll dramatically increase your figures:

Let's say Weeramantry's institution organizes 3 such tournaments PER WEEK, instead of monthly.

That's 156 tournaments per year.

Let's say each tournament get 150 players (instead of 117) at your estimated $30/person. That's $4500/tournament.


That's 4.500x 156 = 702,000 to be divided among Sunil and his 18 elves.

It comes to $37,000 per person. Not a decent salary in the USA, by any stretch of the imagination (especially without health insurance or pension fund).

In conclusion, I think your numbers are naive at best (even when grossly inflated, as I just demonstrated).

Stern, tgg, Greg Koster and others have a better grasp of reality than you do, Jon. You rely too much on your imagination and too little on the facts (but your intentions are good, I must say).

Victor; the main income of these foundations is surely through coaching not tournaments?

There's way more than ten professionals in the UK making a decent living out of chess in the broader sense. Whether it's as easy in a less densely populated country like the US I wouldn't know, but I'd be surprised if it isn't; there being a fair amount of disposable income around in some parts of the country.


Maybe you're right about Hah-vard, but I do know of elite schools that make it known when they have a student who has a special status... e.g., Olympic medallist, top athlete, talented music prodigy or a 14-year old collegiate.

Only once in a blue moon will a school be able to claim a world-class competitor and national champion. Chess is one of those activities that schools would like to trumpet because it is related (somehow) to intellectual attainment... which is the business universities are in.

Believe me... I've seen Harvard reports on their chess club and they really champion their efforts (top player is upper 2200s). Imagine if you had Hikaru at Harvard... I could see some spices being added to those press releases. Chess still holds tremendous mystique on college campuses... especially at Harvard.

I think George W. Bush got his MBA from Harvard, but you don't hear anyone speak of this. I have come across people who did not know he attended Harvard B-School.


Right away, rdh was smart enough to dissociate himself from your last, breathtakingly clueless comment. I strongly suspect that Greg Koster is smart enough to do likewise if it suits his purposes; as for the other prospective allies you mentioned, I can't say.

Perhaps you should ask Ruslan, a small-business owner, whether he divides the income from his business equally among himself and each of his employees. That is the level of economic and mathematical sophistication you just attributed to yourself and broadcast for all the world to see, in your last comment (re: Weeramantry's NSCF).

I don't call people idiots lightly, but in terms of describing your last comment, it is a compliment.

Victor, not only do you lack the intellect and sophistication of a kitchen sponge, but you evidently have never set foot at a chess tournament in your life. Otherwise how could you presume it requires "18 elves" to help run a scholastic tournament with 117 players? If, liberally, 4 staffers are involved (assuming separate TDs for each of the 4 sections -- unlikely, but I am trying to be kind to the retard, i.e., victor), then what claim would the organization's other 14 teachers/employees have to receive any pay at all in connection with that particular event?

The going rate for non-titled chess teachers, by the way, starts at $40 per hour. TDs make much less than that, even at high-level, "adult" events (as a number of national TDs who posted here in connection with the World Open can attest). So if you run a chess tournament that takes in $4,500 in entry fees and pay nothing for the space, and give only trophies as prizes, your total direct expenses for that event probably won't even hit $500. In other words, the profit margin is close to 90%.

In the US, Victor -- you'll eventually learn this by the time you get to middle-school social studies class -- gross profits are not split up equally among people who work in an organization. Rather, they are distributed at the discretion of the owner. True, the NSCF and many similar groups are nominally organized as not-for-profit organizations; but in practice there isn't a whole lot of difference.

When I said, "You do the math," it should be obvious that my comments were meant for those readers who are capable of doing math, and/or other forms of thinking -- not 2nd-grade dropouts like Victor.

And yes, of course these chess schools / foundations derive more income from lessons than from tournaments; teaching is their whole raison d'etre.

As far as their numbers are concerned, why don't you do a Google or other search? I know of 4 financially successful ones in the NY City area alone (Chess in the Schools; Weeramantry's NSCF; The Right Move; and Mark Kurtzman's Tri-State Chess). If Maurice Ashley still has an active teaching organization here, which I'm not sure, that would make 5. And that is just ONE metropolitan area, out of the entire country.


There's very, very little coaching going on in the USA. Yes, there are several players who probably make semi-decent money from it; however, when you work with averages, you can see that the average chess por's income is extremely low. The key in these argments is to always consider the average figure and to look at the full picture.

For example: Kramnik stands to earn some 500,000 (half million) from his match against Fritz. I'm pretty sure his net income will be far less than that: assistants need to be paid, the manager needs to be paid, traveling expenses need to be paid, equipment and supplies need to be paid; taxes need to be paid.

Another part of the full picture (incredibly ignored by Jon) is the chess player's career longevity. In the example above, about Sunil Weeramantry, it would be important to determine how long he has been holding this tournaments for, so that we can realistically assess his income over time. The same rule applies to top players. A 2700 player like Van Wely, Bologan, Yudasin or Elvhest has a max-income window lasting perhaps 5 years. During this period they get invitations to top tournaments and different opportunities for a good income. Unfortunately, their life continues long after their peak is over. This will necessarily bring the average income way down. Unlike regular professions, chess income is not guaranteed for life.

GM Nakamura has expressed similar views in the past. He is Sunil Weeramantry's son, so I guess he knows far more about the reality of TRUE chess income than Jon Jacobs will ever fantasize.

"Income opportunities for U.S. chess professionals" wouldn't seem to be a topic that should have posters at each others' throats.

Victor: yes, all true. At least I'm a bit surprised to hear what you say about there being very little coaching - I'm always amazed how much there is in the UK - but I'm in no position to contradict you. But on the whole your points apply to playing specifically, and of course to anyone self-employed.

But the main thing, of course, is doing something you love and not calling anyone boss. That's worth an awful lot to some people and nothing to others. Straight-line income calculations miss the point a bit.

The trouble with professionals in my experience comes when it becomes 'doing something you once loved'.

Why not, Greg?

A therapist I knew used to say, "Money is the survival of the individual; sex is the survival of the species" ... by way of explaining why these were the two hottest -- in technical terms, the most "cathected" -- topics that repeatedly came up in his work with patients.

While it's true that only a small minority of people who post here are actual or potential professional chess players, most Dirt readers openly describe themselves as "chess fans." Many others are actual or aspiring chess entrepreneurs; and a few others are actual or potential professional (i.e., titled) players.

So it is quite understandable that the question of how much economic opportunity chess provides, is a very emotional one for many Dirt readers. (In fact, I detect a strong emotional flavor, a sense of compulsion, underlying much of the "chess-is-a-dead-end-for-losers" invective that shows up from time to time here.)

A certain man of 'peace' above thinks "there are very many idiots attending Harvard, Princeton, et al."

Daaim less aggressively points out the well-known fact that the current United States President is a Harvard graduate.

To be fair, the President was not admitted as an undergraduate to Harvard, his admission to an MBA was a long time ago (another generation), and also he is unlikely to be technically defined as a true idiot by standard psychometric testing.

To be admitted to Harvard, as an undergraduate, in 2006, is extremely difficult and very few "idiots" would slip through the system.

Even a much lower tier school such as Ohio State probably doesn't have a lot of idiots, although surely a lot more than Harvard. And very few Ohio State students could have gained admission to Harvard.

If Harvard wanted GMs, then like Dallas and UMBC it could certainly get them (over-age Russians mostly).

" The trouble with professionals in my experience comes when it becomes 'doing something you once loved'. "

brilliant rdh, but so close to the truth it hurts.

As for running a business, based on chess, it can be done by players of a much lower playing strength too. I've seen a city of 200,000 people support a chess bookseller and two players 1 FM and 1 x 2200. Both players arranged teaching contracts for 1 hr a week with all of the local schools, wrote articles for the national federation's magazine and supervised kids on trips overseas. They then set up 1 to 1 sessions with adult players in the evenings. They both had a full week and made a very decent living.

Just like any other small business, it takes a good sales pitch, the ability to get the backing of potential sponsors (in this case the national federation) and the ability to get out there and prove yourself, so that the word is spread. Good book keeping (getting all materials tax deductible) also makes a difference.

The one trouble is that it had an adverse affect on their playing strength. They spent all their time coaching much inferior players and not developing their own game. Both had the ratings take a hit, but once they decided to rectify that, they soon got back to at least their previous level. A current top level parallel is Bareev at the Capablanca memorial- due to working on his school he was very rusty and got off to an awful start, but his class is winning through in the end.

Now we're getting somewhere. Good points, "al". As your comment indicates, those other guys' nonsense about "there is very little coaching going on in the USA" is just that, nonsense.

rdh, even though you are situated across the pond, it baffles me that you would accept an unsupported statement such as that, from someone ("victor") who pretty much admits he has never set foot at a chess tournament here. Especially when contradicted by someone else who has played in tournaments for nearly 40 years and counts numerous professional and semi-professional chess coaches and teachers among his friends and associates.

jko, there are idiots everywhere, 'even' at top universities- just a different type.

I did my undergrad at Oxford where it was equally difficult to get in (especially from a state school) and saw a higher quantity than normal of 'idiots savants' (rdh will probably correct me on my French grammar) who could tell you everything there is to know about nuclear physics, but couldn't cross a road safely.

Conversely, some of the people I repect most from my working life left school at 16. I loved my time at Oxford, I met my wife there and I wouldn't change it for anything, but the mystique surrounding the place is over-rated and I'm sure Harvard is the same. I guess that is what some of the other posters were trying to say.

We all have an eejit somewhere inside us, just some of us don't realise it.

I didn't accept it exactly; I just said I wasn't in a position to contradict it, which I'm not. His other points though didn't seem to contradict yours or anyone else's, did they? At least not in the post I was replying to.

Al's model is pretty much replicated by a number of players here, including some even weaker than the ones he names.

On the contrary, Al, looks correct to me.

I have an idea we might have played in the same Oxford team from what you say - you don't live in East Anglia, do you?!

rdh, don't think so, I don't recall playing with any IMs, present or future. I was much too weak in my time there (91-95) and was under 150 BCF.


Jon jacobs has a habit of imagining things and presenting them as fact. Case in point: he refers to me as someone "who pretty much admits he has never set foot at a chess tournament here". I challenge him or anyone alse to point out where that happened.

His claims are grossly exaggerated and devoid of any data to support them. It's funny that this thread is about Nakamura, the best american prospect in 20 years, who has expressed views similar to mine.

But, then again, he knows more than everyone else. Look what Mig wrote:


"At a time in which you hear of GMs retiring or threatening to retire because of a lack of income, you would think it would be easy to find contributors of chess content. Not exactly. I spent two years as editor-in-chief and VP of content at KasparovChess Online and started ChessNinja in December, 2002. In that time I've learned that trying to pay Grandmasters can be like herding cats.

No disrespect intended, I'm not exactly the most organized person in the world myself. There is also the matter of fair pay. Many GMs simply don't consider it worth their time to annotate games or write articles when magazines pay so poorly. (The flip side are the pack of Brit GMs who have all but become full-time writers, churning out an endless supply of books, most of them written in less than a month and showing it.)


If you were to ask Jon Jacobs, this is not true at all.



Further reading material, from a real GM:

"The professional chess player hardly has any regular income..."


rdh, You are correct that "victor's" "other points" (regarding the shortage of income from chess tournament prizes and appearance fees alone, even at high levels, and the limited time span at which a top chess player can maintain peak strength), did not contradict my or anyone else's statements.

I guess "victor" decided to take his lumps and slink away from the point whose error I did spotlight; although he still couldn't resist taking a couple of gratuitous slams at me in his last comment, even while tacitly admitting his earlier error by reiterating without evidence a statement that had already been refuted.

You are also right that it isn't necessary to be an IM or even an FM, to set up a financially successful chess teaching and/or publishing business; that's true in the US no less than the UK. I'm not saying it is trivial to succeed in a chess business, it does take dedication and a degree of business sense, as has been pointed out.

One reason I reacted so strongly to this discussion (apart from the direct provocation), is that the ideas evoked a similar debate in a thread that started around the time of the World Open.

In that earlier thread, which some readers might recall, a bitter, down-on-his-luck grandmaster (he was anonymous, using the handle "b", but I don't dispute his claim to GM-hood) repeatedly lashed out at schools, publishers, and other decision-makers who hire people to produce chess products and services. His complaint was that GMs should get automatic preference for all such jobs, without regard to any market-based employability factors like demeanor, attitude, teaching ability, writing ability, speaking ability, etc. He was evidently a Soviet-era refugee who, like one character in the film,
"The Shawshank Redemption," had become "institutionalized" to a point that he could not adapt to changed circumstances (release from prison).

JKO writes:

"And very few Ohio State students could have gained admission to Harvard"


If I had millions of dollars ready to be donated to a school, I could get my dog into Harvard.

I'm pretty sure that the amount of people making a 'decent living' from chess around the world is pretty low.

I'd imagine in the US it would be easier to make a living from chess, without necessarily being an elite chessplayer, as there is a lot more disposable income than in say... Russia.

In the UK I've seen a lot of talented players... went to the Blackpool Open in 2003 with GMs and IMs to research my novel... these people aren't making a 'decent living'. When taking into account travel and hotel costs it struck me just how little they would actually make from playing chess. Writing books for them is a more profitable enterprise but still hardly lucractive.

In fact having written and thought quite a lot about this subject I realise that in the UK most talented young players who are going to be involved in chess in the 21st century are from pretty rich families who can afford to subsidise them. For instance Richard and Nick Pert, Luke Mc Shane, David Howell, Richard Palliser. Even Jessie Gilbert was.

The amount of sheer effort you have to put in to make a living from chess is immense. A chess player could do practically anything else with half the amount of dedication and make more money from it. Most chessplayers are fairly tight with their money- put it this way, if I was being paid per hour from sales of my novel I'll have earnt about 10p each time.

People play chess mainly because they are fascinated by it. I think most smart young people these days aren't going to be a full time proffessional in economically developed countries.

Mark Howitt wrote:

In the UK I've seen a lot of talented players... went to the Blackpool Open in 2003 with GMs and IMs to research my novel... these people aren't making a 'decent living'. When taking into account travel and hotel costs it struck me just how little they would actually make from playing chess. Writing books for them is a more profitable enterprise but still hardly lucractive.


I made the exact same observation several years ago when I saw Vladimir Epishin along with several other soviet players participating in the New Open.

Lack of income is the main reason many among the best American talent post-Fischer have quit the game: Ken Rogoff, Patrick Wolf, James Tarjan, Ilia Gurevich, Ron Henley, Max D'lugy (the list is MUCH longer, but I can't remember)

Others who quit or just play for fun:

Andrew Soltis
Joel Benjamin
Michael Wilder
Michael Rohde
Tal Shaked
Yasser Seirawan
Walter Browne
Peter Biyiasas (I'm not sure; he might be Canadian).

The chess landscape in the USA is so deserted that we can cite simple fact to put it in perspective: 30+ years after Fischer won the World Championship, there's less than 20 USA-born or USA-raised GM's, and more than half of them are making a living from something other than chess or quit the game for good:

Nakamura - active pro
Seirawan - retired; some income from chess
Christiansen - still a pro
Benjamin - semi-retired; main income not chess
Patrick Wolff - quit
Michael Wilder - quit
Nick de Firmian - still a pro (?)
Alex Fishbein - still around ; pro(?)
James Tarjan - quit
Ken Rogoff - quit
Alex Scherzer - quit
John Fedorowicz - still a pro
Tal Skaked - quit
Maurice Ashley - still around ; pro(?)
Michael Rhode - semi-retired; non-chess income
Peter Biyiasas - quit
Ron Henley - quit

That should give everyone an idea of how "promising" a chess "career" is in the USA.

I would like to comment on the above list. Alex Fishbein makes most of his income from working for an investment bank. He just plays to qualify for the US championship.

Part of the problem is that anyone with the analytical mind to be a grandmaster can use it to make a lot of money (even compared to your average middle class joe) in finance.

I remember going into a careers office when I was at university and reading a poster seeking to recruit graduates to some merchant bank or other. It had twenty questions and the idea was that if you answered ‘yes’ to most of them you should join this outfit and make a fortune. Question one, rather bizarrely, was whether you were a good chess or card player. My attention was drawn immediately: clearly this careers business was easier than I thought. Unfortunately a minute later I had scored one out of twenty.

I must say that if the previous poster thinks that anyone with the brain to be a GM would be a success in a merchant bank or similar institution I don’t think he can have met all that many GMs. Some, yes. Above the average in the population, probably. All of them, errr, no.

Dont forget Ben Finegold - who is still playing.

I believe Ben Finegold is only an IM, not GM.

By the way, if you watch ICC tonight you may get a chance to see me get demolished by a GM. Not sure I will be paired with one, but there's a chance, and I know that ICC is carrying live GM games from the event, presumably without commentary.


Unfortunately, Ben is still an IM by technicality, after it appeared that he had finally sewn up the GM title. I think he'll grab the final norm almost by accident one of these days, as he has been performing at GM level for quite a while now.



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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on November 27, 2006 11:14 PM.

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