I ended a recent post, Chess @ Yahoo Finance, with the promise of a follow-up post.
There's more to be said here -- including a look at the >100 comments attached to the article -- but I'll save that for another time.
You might expect an article in Yahoo Finance to be about money and so it is.
"If you’re the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, you probably should be making $10 to $15 million each year, but he doesn't," says [Maurice] Ashley, the world’s first black grandmaster, who is personally trying to grow the sport's popularity with his own tournament, the Millionaire Chess Open. Carlsen makes about $4 million in a year, Ashley estimates, and that's including endorsement deals that no other player has.
While an annual income of $4 million would be more than enough for most people, that's not the whole story. Carlsen is the exception.
For other top players in the world, "It's more like a six-figure income," Ashley says. "If you're a baseball player, six figures is like a tip."
Some people might wonder about a society where baseball players receive such a large part of the pie. GM Ashley's goal is to bring chess players to the same level.
Inside the ultra-competitive world of professional chess
(Daniel Roberts; finance.yahoo.com)
An integral part of any Yahoo article is the comment section. I've highlighted Yahoo comments several times in the past.
- Mainstream Comments on Magnus (December 2013)
- Carlsen vs. Gates, The Aftermath (January 2014)
- Geopolitical Yahoos (October 2014)
- Thousands of Comments (January 2016)
What do Jack and Jane Yahoo have to say about money in chess? Here is a summary of the most interesting remarks.
Chess is not a spectator sport, you rarely get anyone to pay to watch it. It also can not do what poker does, since it has zero luck in and you can not get suckers to believe they can put thousands dollars of buy-ins to a tournaments that will mostly be distributed among the pros over a period of time. Chess is head-to-head and has a numeric system that tells you that an IM will beat you 99.9% of the time.
I will never go to a competition because I am not a good chess player; I just enjoy playing it when I can. So, if I could catch chess matches on TV or internet streams, I will watch them. If Mr. Ashley commentates, that will be a plus since I like his take on the game of chess and insight into its history, not to mention that he can make a seemingly 'boring' match appear engaging and exciting!
Live commentary and streaming video has helped a lot. I greatly enjoy watching the U.S. Women's Chess Championship (hosted the past several years from the St. Louis Chess Club). The commentary especially has helped me develop a deeper appreciation for the game. Chess is not for the faint of heart. It takes mental, physical and emotional toughness to play at a competitive level, and years of training, practice, and talent to try and reach the top. Even then, few do.
All about demand. Lots of people will pay to watch baseball, basketball, or football. I couldn't imaging a more boring time than attending a live chess match. I would think a person who makes six figures playing a board game would be jumping for joy that they could make such an income on something that the majority of the lay-public has no interest in.
For all sports the money comes from the fan base, what are the fans willing to pay to watch? Since you can't fill a stadium to watch a match your revenue is going to be limited. This is all basic business, nothing sinister.
They have to make chess viewership more exciting like any other sport. Until then, big money sponsors won't care for chess. When there are story lines like trash talking Magnus against other players, or players not shaking hand at the table, that draws some attention but these storylines are few and far between.
Several reasons why chess is not very popular:
1) There are no legitimate story lines! For example, take any sport like baseball and basketball, and you have great rivalries, fans who dislike each other, players who publicly criticize each other, to get the fire started. Chess does none of that. In 1972, when it was USA vs USSR, it drew people. So, chess needs a monster story line, but right now there are none.
2) The average person can not follow the train of thought of the grandmasters, and it is impossible to explain to the average person what the GM is thinking or doing during the game.
3) Unless you study chess yourself, there is zero, and I mean zero appeal as far as excitement goes, there are no athletic plays, high jumps, big catches, huge tackles, it is a purely non physical sport.
4) There are no promoters. I mean, look at boxing -- there is Don King, Bob Arum, Ellerby, guys who trump up the rivalries and try to get people excited. Who is promoting chess?
I used to think nothing was worse than watching baseball. Then I caught a golf game on TV. then I came across a fishing program and nearly passed out from boredom. Then, I walked into my mother watching a religious program -- nothing could be as bad as church on TV, right? Nope, watching chess is the bottom (or top) of the most boring things to watch on TV! Love playing it -- can't watch it.
Player salaries are correlated to public interest. Complaining is not going to create public interest.
Chess is very boring to watch, it's one of those things where you have to play it to really get into it. We can see the touchdowns scored, the half-court game-winning shot, we can even see the plays forming on a court or field. I just don't see big-name sponsors ever going to chess, it peaked in popularity in the US 40+ years ago and the pro sports in the US have sped up to the point where chess isn't even a blip on the radar for TV programming on a snowy day in February or March.
- When I was younger I spent a lot of time playing in chess tournaments, and my roommate actually moved to California because the chess competition was better. I won my share of tournaments and was a decent enough player to win my state championship, but I finally gave it up because there was indeed no money in it, and to play at a high competitive level requires a ton of time studying and practicing, same as being at the top level of anything else. I used to joke that I started writing poetry instead because I could make more money that way.
Comparisons with other 'sports' are inevitable.
Those poker players and video gamers make pretty good money. Just look at some poker or video game tournaments around the world. Each of those "games" are an industry on its own. You gotta build an audience and keep feeding them entertaining products. Seems like chess is not doing a good job of it.
Video gamers actually can make it a profession and make more than whatever you are probably making. They make bank from winning tourneys, sponsors, help sites, and streaming. Faker, the #1 player of League of Legends, just turned down a 7-figure contract so he could stay with his original team.
I resent the comment in the article comparing a chess tournament to a poker tournament. In a poker tournament the players have to buy-in with their own money and this forms the prize pool. The house (casino) takes a 10% to 15% rake. Why could a chess tournament be organized in a similar manner?
Actually, from what I recall playing chess very, very seriously 20 years ago, the tournament structure in chess is very similar to poker. The organizers take a certain amount of money and the prize pool depends on the number of paid entries. Key differences are: Separate class prizes, because of skill level. Chess is a brutally honest game where everything is in front of the players on both sides. Poker is a game about lying, falsehood, and projecting to others in order to misread your cards. Hence in poker it is a lot easier to have an upset as there is an element of luck and always the potential to misread an opponent. In chess it is much less likely because it is impossible to hide anything.
I absolutely agree that poker is more like the real world than chess. The real world is definitely more about the ability to lie and take advantage of others. As much as chessplayers like me would generally like to deny it. In the corporate world, there are many more leaders who take advantage of others by hiding their cards and trying to impress their managers than there are those who succeed through honesty. Hence, in many ways, poker is a much better 'corporate world' skill than is chess. Also true in many other walks of life (law, politics, etc.). We honest chess players may not like it, but as we are honest, we should be able to admit the truth and not 'dislike' comments on the truth.
- Many sports are way underpaid for the best in the world. Pool and billiards, darts, chess, bowling, and many others. All of the money seems to go to football, tennis and golf. (Reply:) I fence and the only ways to make any money at it are teaching or getting an endorsement (which are pretty hard to come by).
GM Nakamura, one of the top American players, has a knack for generating controversy.
I don't understand Naka's comment: "So explains Hikaru Nakamura, who is currently ranked No. 6 in the world, and was No. 2 at one point last year. 'If you're not at the elite levels, there are a lot more opportunities to play tournaments. Where I'm at now, there are fewer tournaments, because it's a waste of time to play weaker players. In poker, you want to play the weaker guys. In chess, it's the opposite.'" He can play any tournament he wants -- there's prize money in quite a few. It's a waste of time to win tournaments?
- I disagree with Nakamura's assertion that the late, mad Bobby Fischer was "not interesting" and a "nerd." Chess was never more popular then in 1972 when Fischer met Spassky in Iceland. They are still making movies and writing books about Fischer's curious life. It is sad that his paranoia led to his downfall, but that is what makes his story so fascinating -- even to those who don't play chess.
Great story, good comments. Thanks, Yahoo, for hosting the discussion.