Go to any online chess server, there are thousands playing and trying their best. These days there are even online coaches and titled players and people are ready to shed huge bucks for getting couple of hours sessions.

But given all this, I sometimes think: Why do people want to become a chess grandmaster or a titled player? What do I really get out of that? A high paid job? NO. A green card to the US? NO. Free sponsorship? PROBABLY NOT. A lot of money? NO (because once you become GM you have to compete with others similar to you).

Then why? Why is there a craze to become a chess grandmaster, or a titled player?

If anyone has a good answer and a accurate ones, please reply with good points.

  • 7
    Voting to leave open : it describes a psychological phenomenon common to chess players. I'm not saying the answer has anything to do with chess, I'm saying 1. there is an answer and 2. it's interesting to chess players. Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 0:05
  • 1
    +1 for asking a question I always wanted to ask but didn't, I thought they might vote it down and close it :)
    – Lynob
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 17:49

9 Answers 9


I think it has to do with just having the title "Grand Master". Would I like to be a Grand Master? YES, but it probably would never happen in a million years. Unless you are probably in the top 10, you probably won't make a living out of it. I would suspect that those who don't make a living out of it, but still highly rated and play in international tournaments might have secondary jobs, but in the end, it is not about the money, it is about having fun.

  • 2
    kudos to you for this: ` it is not about the money, it is about having fun.` upvote to you. But the strange thing is, people put so much effort just to have fun? Memorizing openings, reading books, spending hours analyzing, wasting money etc. If the same effort would have been spent elsewhere, i guess they would have raised their standard of living for sure.
    – RajSanpui
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 5:54
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    @kingsmasher1, "If the same effort would have been spent elsewhere, i guess they would have raised their standard of living for sure." I think many feel that the effort involved in chess is rewarding enough in itself for it to have raised their standard of living in another sense entirely. You could say of any hobby or pastime (or vacation, or sleeping, or parents playing with their kids) that one's time could have instead been spent working on making more money. To each his own.
    – ETD
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 10:36
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    @kingsmasher1, my point wasn't actually about any one of the things I mentioned. My point was that one could just as easily say what you're saying about chess, about any use of one's free time, and so about the sum total of one's free time. That is, the point you seem to be trying to make about chess would just as well extend to all the rest of one's leisure activities that take time, leading to the conclusion that any use of free time in a way that doesn't have a direct impact on one's job skills is somehow strange or perplexing. But it's not, of course, and the same goes for chess.
    – ETD
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 22:32
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    @kingsmasher1 I totally agree that chess seems a waste of time, sometime, but for me, I'd rather waste my time in chess rather than fb or xbox or tv :) it's just like defeating someone in counter strike or red alert, difference is, chess is better for your brain. But I do agree with every point you made
    – Lynob
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 17:58
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    Are you serious when you say only the top ten can make money off chess ? I thought the top 100 or so were covered because chess is so popular in so many countries, and I see Grand Masters lecturing a lot on YouTube and writing books.
    – Saikat
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 15:08

Napoleon put it succinctly: A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.

Just a couple of points:

It is the same reason that students love getting "gold stars," and why there are so many badges on StackExchange itself. There have been volumes written on the power of peer recognition.

In particular, chess titles (for the most part) are a direct result of chess achievement. FM, IM and GM titles are all well-earned. No matter how much we might not care for a person, we know that if they have a chess title, they earned it. A GM title is the highest formal title, and it serves to inform your peers (and often yourself) that a certain level of expertise was attained.

  • 1
    +1 for accomplishment, and proof, of expertise. OP, keep in mind that's not something money can buy. Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 0:06
  • I think a major reason is, people think putting brains in chess in turn would help them to sharpen their wits at their practical work, but alas most of them end up neglecting the later and giving more effort in their chess development only.
    – RajSanpui
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 5:59

The answer has to do with our human psychology. There is a book written by Daniel Pink, titled "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us", where he finds that people are NOT motivated by these things:

  1. Rewards
  2. Avoiding punishments

And he concludes that people ARE motivated by these things:

  1. Autonomy - Being able to do what you want
  2. Mastery - Getting better at stuff, it's satisfying!
  3. Purpose - Making a difference in the world

He says the research shows that for physical tasks, rewards and punishments can be effective. However, for tasks that require even a small amount of mental effort, bigger rewards actually lead to worse results.

The reason people spend huge amounts of time studying chess, and huge amounts of money on chess, with no hope of ever making any money from chess, is the same reason that people play musical instruments for fun: Because mastery is satisfying. That's it.

Here is a 10-minute video of the author's explanation:


  • +1 for the general point of view, broader than chess alone!
    – Maxwell86
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 9:18
  • Doesn't Autonomy rely on (money) Rewards, to a large extent? Unrelated here, as for chess it is Mastery.
    – jf328
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 6:29

Just to expand Ram's point a little bit, and speculate as to why there is such a craze now as opposed to the past.

I suspect the modern craze is in part a result of Elo ratings, and pseudo Elo ratings online.

Modern computer game design is very carefully constructed to ensure that:

  • At any point the game is challenging, but not too hard
  • The player gets instant feedback on their success and progress

Such ideas are now spreading into other areas, and it is often referred to as "gamification", such as on stack exchange getting immediate feedback from votes etc.

Chess is already a game, but the Elo system makes learning chess a game in itself. You can always play someone very close to you in ability, and you can always see the tiny steps of progress towards grand master.

I suspect many who make GM did not set out to become GM, but simply to become better chess players, to reach the next rung and see how good they can get... If a learning curve is pitched just right it can be extremely addictive.


Isn't there a lot of ego involved in this, the desire for prestige and to show others that you're their superior? It can't be for the money, since even now with the big reward tournaments only a small percentage can live well on their earnings. The others will also have to teach or publish, and for the time, effort and expense one has to put into reaching that level, assuming they have sufficient talent to do so, the tangible rewards hardly seem worth the effort.

I had the desire to become really good when I started playing, but it became hard work and took all of the joy out of it. I ultimately decided it wasn't worth it, so now I just play for fun with less stress and probably just as good results. But I no longer agonize over possibly losing. It is after all just a game.

  • 1
    Maybe you'll want to format the answer. I can't really read the current format. Also, who said it?
    – SmallChess
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 3:38
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    Not sure what you mean by formatting or how to do it. Have just started posting on his site. I didn't use anyone else's quotes, just my own thoughts based on my 65 year involvement with chess..
    – CConero
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 13:15
  • Well, if you look at your own answer, can you see it without scrolling the text left and right? If you need scrolling, I also need to scroll. It makes me harder to read and understand what you wanted to say. People usually only highlight the text like what you did when it was a quote.
    – SmallChess
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 0:57
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    I asked you how to avoid the scrolling and all you did was just criticize me and cost me credits. How about being helpful and telling me how to get out of the scrolling instead, since I obviously don't know how to do it myself. I tried to do so on another answer too and wasn't able to. Is there a tutorial for that on here somewhere? And I don't know how one highlights text either. I didn't do that on purpose. Can't you see that I'm new at using this and need help doing so. Criticizing me isn't helping. .
    – CConero
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 1:48
  • I didn't down-vote you. It wasn't me who did that. I was simply helping you by giving you a feedback. @ETD has already edited the post it for you. Please take a look how he did it.
    – SmallChess
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 1:50

Ram Narasimhan wrote correctly: "A GM title (...) serves to inform your peers (and often yourself) that a certain level of expertise was attained."

I'd like to add that this reputation also entails some "hard" benefits.

  • In most Opens titled players pay no entry fees. I think I've also seen free accomodation for titled players (or only GMs) advertised. So a GM title at least reduces the cost of purusing your hobby.

  • A GM title surely increases your chances of being invited to invitational tournaments with an attractive prize fund. This also creates the opportunity of playing against stronger opponents, thereby improving yourself.

  • Maybe most grandmasters can't make a living from playing chess alone. But many can from other chess-related activities such as giving lessons or assisting a stronger player. A GM title translates into higher rates and opens up opportunities.


It's the cachet of a title, and what it represents. You see it in many different ways, each with their own implications and desires. In every case, it gives an implication of elitism and exclusivity.

I have a black belt rank, and it is much the same, in that people see it as a pinnacle of achievement, only attained by a select few. Most of the time if it comes up, I hear "Oh, I took {insert art here} when I was a kid". This is designed to imply that they too, belong to "the club".

For every person that makes to a desired position, there are 1000 or more that started and gave up.


I would question that there is a craze of becoming a GM (or other titled player).

Do you have any proof of this claim?

True there are lots of people playing online, but in general people are doing all kinds of useless activities online. Chess is perfectly suited for playing online as it does not require many resources (no huge graphics as in other games) and has reasonable time scales (if you play blitz). Also it is interesting/difficult enough to have all kinds of coaching/courses online as well.

In the old days in order for many people to become good at chess you needed a certain environment (good coaches, books, but also social recognition). That's what made players from the Soviet Union that strong for a long time. With the internet and appearance of strong chess engines, chess (at the highest levels) is now available to many more people than before. That's why you might see more GM now. Also rating inflation might have an effect on having more rated players now.


What do i really get out of that - a high paid job? NO - a green card to US? - NO - free sponsorship? PROBABLY NO - huge money? - NO (because once you become GM you have to compete with others similar to you)"

There is a craze of becoming GRANDMASTER because:

  1. You can get a highly paid job.
  2. You can get a green card to the USA.
  3. You get free and good sponsorship. 4.You can also earn a lot of money through coaching, prize winnings, appearance fees, etc. (really).
  • 7
    Down voted because the answer has no research to back up the assertions. Can you include research into earning potential by ELO? How can a GM get a green card to the US?
    – user1108
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 16:35

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