Feedback on Chess Cash Kings 2012

by Peter Zhdanov
2/6/2013 – The recent article and project by Peter Zhdanov – to create a live list of the prize money winnings of top GMs – received a mixed response. "It leads the way to communicating chess success to the public," wrote one reader, while an unnamed GM announced he needed to give us "crap about that Zhdanov guy's article". One letter explains how how chess can become a cash sport.

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Feedback on "Chess Cash Kings 2012" by Peter Zhdanov

Mark Warriner, Richmond, Virginia USA
Peter Zhdanov's illuminating article "Who are the Chess Cash Kings of 2012?" leads the way to communicating chess success to the public in the future. It will be critical that organizers make public prize funds awarded, and that some organization provide a service similar to that of 2700chess.com, i.e. a "live earnings list". It should be FIDE providing both live ratings and earnings, but as long as it is somehow provided, the game of chess will benefit, and so it's professionals and fans. Thanks to Chessbase and Peter for this groundbreaking information!

Adam Murray, Ottawa
There are a number of flaws with the line of reasoning that understanding who is "grabbing cash" is somehow equal to professional status. We can start with the a claim: if number 10 is earning $150k, then chess will likely never reach the level of profession. The premise is that prize money is highly limited source of income, and we know this is both unstable/inconsistent and a highly competitive outcome. Which makes chess unstable, more like an art. And I suppose people have been arguing that art is a profession for a long while, too. If it were like any art, then a sole look at cash puts it mostly in the category of celebrity or dramatic arts. Many are called, few are chosen. Another key flaw in the reasoning is that by exploring only revenue/cash, this article fails to realize the cost structures required to maintain the level of output (e.g. at the WCCh level, this would be substantial).

I could go on. And on. So let's conclude: while prize money is the primary incentive in modern chess, I contend this article presses in the wrong direction in the push toward professionalism. The whole business model is flawed and requires a pivot. Re-examine the hypotheses for sustainable sufficiency using a tool like Business Model Generation, and look at alternatives that channel the raw energy (and capital) of fans to filter to players using alternatives means than prize money. THEN, you will be on your way towards a real profession.

Unnamed GM on Skype
Fred, I need to give you crap about that Zhdanov guy's article...

Unnamed Super-GM by email
Zdhanov fails to use info that has already been reported by reliable sources. Of course, the article could not possibly be even close to correct since there is so much it does not include: league play, tournament appearance fees, exhibition events (Carlsen and Polgar in Mexico as a random example), chess speaking events, simuls, and so many more. This does not touch on outside sponsorship, whether corporate deals, or in cases like Aronian with major government support. The list's numbers have no meaning.

Aidan Monaghan, Las Vegas, NV USA
I am honestly surprised that today's top players earn the money that they currently do. Unfortunately, it seems that chess organizers just don't know how to best promote the game to the public and sponsors. At present, the game's organizers have little to offer sponsors or the viewing public as far as an entertaining, revenue generating product. The standard hours-long classical game format has little entertainment value for the general public. Computerized game replays and mind-numbing post-game analysis is the most one can look forward to.

Other successful sports share two common factors: entertainment value within a viewer-friendly, time efficient visual format. With today's inexpensive video production technology and Internet pay-per view potential, coupled with capable commentary, the entertaining blitz chess format holds the most promise for expanding the game's popularity with the public and sponsors and raising player prize money. If major poker events starring motionless players can enjoy network TV coverage, there is no reason why action filled major blitz chess competitions featuring today's top players can't do the same. Even the latest world championship match was plagued by repeated and uneventful draws and there being simply nothing to watch except a video screen containing computer generated board moves. With superior video production techniques, the blitz format will provide the public and sponsors with entertaining viewing and more decisive results. With a reported half-billion players worldwide, organized chess has only acheieved a fraction of its global revenue generating potential. Televised blitz competitions are key to this potential. See the following decent example of entertaining broadcast quality blitz chess coverage:

Ivanchuk missed mate in one

Maybe our readers would like to go to the front page and look at the thumbnail to this article before watching this highly entertaining video. Can you spot the mate in a 150x100 pixel image?

Addendum

The Chess Cash Kings-2012 article has received a decent amount of attention from the media, including, but not limited to The New York Times and Business Standard. To address the most popular questions, concerns and misunderstandings the author provided a few brief comments.

  1. Earnings and prize money are two different things. Many readers referred to the figures as "X makes Y per year" and commented on whether it is a lot ("I didn't know that one can make his living playing chess full-time"), or little ("if #10 in the world earns only..."). However, chess players have a variety of income sources apart from prize money – endorsements, coaching, writing books, giving simuls and so on. Check out the Making Money in Chess article for a larger list. Hence, in some cases there is a large gap between aggregate income and prize money.

  2. It's about transparency of prize winnings and promoting chess as opposed to monitoring someone else's income. Taxes and expenses associated with hiring seconds/traveling/purchasing equipment were mentioned a few times. This is true, but the list was supposed to provide an estimate on the prize winnings. We are not trying to stick one's nose into the chess players' pockets and figure out how much cash they have made. It is their personal business.

  3. Women's list. We haven't made up our minds yet on whether to create a separate list of female chess players with highest tournament earnings or not. Besides, thanks to the upcoming Women's World Chess Championship match, at least one women is expected to make it to the top-10 "open" list.

  4. How accurate is the list? On the one hand, most appearance fees and certain prizes are being kept secret, so we can't be sure about anything. On the other hand, we have conducted a few interviews with top players and organizers that have helped shed light on the missing data. Another indicator of our rating list being reasonably accurate is that so far we haven't received any complaints from the featured (or non-featured) players. Of course, some of them might have overlooked the article or ignored it, but it's not likely.

Peter Zhdanov thanks for your feedback and advice on how to make the Chess Cash Kings rating list better!


Previous articles by Peter Zhdanov

Who are the Chess Cash Kings 2012?
02.02.2013 – The idea of creating a live rating list of the prize money winnings of top GMs was suggested a year ago on our pages by Peter Zhdanov. The key message of his article was that making the financial details publicly available is a crucial step towards transforming chess into a mainstream sport and making the game more popular. Peter has now progressed from theory to practice.

Geoffrey Borg replies to Zhdanov on the FIDE Women Grand Prix
28.09.2012 – The call by Peter Zhdanov for a "fair player selection process" in the Grand Prix did not meet with universal aclaim. In fact most readers disagreed with the notion that the cycle could or needed to be run on purely strength-based criteria. "While we thank Mr Zhdanov for his article," writes FIDE CEO Geoffrey Borg, "some deeper research and objectivity would have been appreciated." Resounding reply
FIDE Grand Prix: A call for a fair player selection process
27.09.2012 – How are the participants of the FIDE Grand Prix chosen? Why are some top players not invited, while some of their less distinguished colleagues are taking part? Is there anything we can do about it? Peter Zhdanov reflects on the topic and pays special attention to women’s chess, which is relatively neglected compared to that of their male counterparts. What do you think?
Theory of success in life applied to chess
27.08.2012 – What are the factors that define success? How does one become successful in life in general and in chess in particular? Peter Zhdanov explains KPIs (key performance indicators) used to measure success and seeks to apply them to the game we all love. By objectively evaluating all the components described in his article, you can create your own plan of becoming a successful person.
Is chess not for everybody? – Feedback from our readers
05.07.2012 – Boris Gelfand said he thought that chess was not for everyone, Peter Zhdanov wrote a piece saying it was. Chess must be presented to the general public for what it is: a sport, an art and science. Many readers agree: "Let us make a Smörgåsbord and have everyone decide what is tasty for them," writes one, and another says we should emulate the mentalist Derren Brown.

Is chess not for everybody?
04.07.2012 – Recently Boris Gelfand said he thought that chess was not for everyone. "Chess is for people who want to make an intellectual effort, who have respect for the game, and we shouldn't make the game more simple so that more people would enjoy it,” said the world championship challenger. Do you think this is true? Peter Zhdanov, IT project manager and debate expert, begs to differ.

Do Women Have a Chance against Men in Chess?
08.03.2012 – As we know all too well: most of the strongest players in the world are male. In the past we have speculated on the reasons for this gender discrepancy, with vigorous reader participation. On International Women's Day Peter Zhdanov, who is married to a very strong female player, provides us with some valuable statistics, comparing men and women on a country-by-country basis. Eye-opening.
Do men and women have different brains?
30.06.2009 – In a recent thought-provoking article WGM Natalia Pogonina and Peter Zhdanov presented their views on the topic of why women are worse at chess than men. A number of our readers were unconviced: they think that efforts at "explaining" differences between the sexes only from environmental factors are doomed at the outset. Recent studies seem to support this. Feedback and articles.
Women and men in chess – smashing the stereotypes
20.06.2009 On June 5, 2009 WGM Natalia Pogonina and Peter Zhdanov got married – she a Women's Grandmaster, he a successful IT-specialist and debate expert. Peter is also Natalia’s manager, together they are writing a book called "Chess Kamasutra". Today they share with us their views on the perennial topic why women are worse at chess than men, and take a look at the future of women’s chess.


Peter Zhdanov is an IT project manager, expert and author of two books on parliamentary debate
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