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I am 25 years old. I play online chess regularly and I am rated about 1900 on chess.com. And I recently won a local tournament. Now I want to start playing professional chess. Here are some of my questions:

  1. Is it too late for me to be ambitious? I am aiming for a GM title in 5 years time. I don't doubt my learning abilities or memory, as is usually the case for the older aspirants, since I solve problems for a living (computer science/ mathematics). However I am not sure if I can afford the kind of time needed.
  2. So my second question is about time:
    • How many hours do serious players put into preparation and analysis? I estimate to be able to put in about 30-35 hours a week.
    • How many tournaments/ games does it take to be a GM? I need an estimate. Is 5 years too little? I am imagining playing 3-4 tournaments a year.
  3. GM is a long way. So here are more basic questions:
    • How does one find the right tournaments? I don't want to travel too far. Also I don't want to pay hefty fees to enter tournaments. And the participants should be all roughly around my level or slightly better.
    • What FIDE rating does a rating of 1900 on chess.com equate to?
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    If you hate travelling or the "hard" work, it is never going to happen, according to Jeremy Silman. – prusswan Dec 1 '14 at 8:34
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    "The usual way that guys like me get the grandmaster title is to play in several round robin (gm-norm) European events a year. You might bomb in four or five in a row, but eventually the stars will be in alignment and a norm will come your way. Then you repeat the process again and again until you obtain the required three norms. Unfortunately, I have interests outside of chess and am not willing to put in the necessary energy to accomplish this goal. In fact, it’s hard to get me out of my house! Having me fly to Europe over and over just isn’t going to happen." – prusswan Dec 1 '14 at 8:36
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    I think aiming for GM is really unrealistic. I'd say you should only be thinking of that once you're IM and feel there's room for improvement left. – RemcoGerlich Dec 1 '14 at 9:56
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    If you're still alive, it's never too late. – Kroltan Dec 2 '14 at 12:10
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    @prusswan : this is a possible strategy to secure IM norms when your level of play is already quite master-ish, around 2350 elo. But it is far from a solution for a 1900-on-chess.com player... – Evargalo Apr 3 '18 at 14:27

11 Answers 11

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I will write from the perspective of my home country, USA. If you are in a different country, you can likely find parallels.

Is it too late for me to be ambitious?

It is never too late to learn more.

I am aiming for a GM title in 5 years time. I don't doubt my learning abilities or memory, as is usually the case for the older aspirants, since I solve problems for a living (computer science/ mathematics).

5 years is not much time from going from an amateur skill level to earning a GM title. I am also a CS/Math guy. A good one. It doesn't always translate to chess as my lofty 1650 USCF rating will tell you.

How many hours do serious players put into preparation and analysis? I estimate to be able to put in about 30-35 hours a week.

That should do it. Expect to be very good in 5.5 years of extremely focused work. (10,000 hours for mastery...)

How many tournaments/ games does it take to be a GM?

Unanswerable. But expect hundreds and hundreds of serious, focused games. Not blitz. Tournament speed games.

Is 5 years too less? I am imagining playing 3-4 tournaments a year.

It is hard to image anyone with no over-the-board rating can become a GM in 5 years. A few young adults do it and they get their names in Chess Life for it. You need to be playing serious games every week. Plan on some sort of a local tournament every month, plan on 3 or 4 nights at your local chess club playing opponents as serious as you are. And get an instructor.

How does one find the right tournaments? I don't want to travel too far. Also I don't want to pay hefty fees to enter tournaments. And the participants should be all roughly around my level or slightly better.

USCF tournaments are generally very affordable as chess is not a profitable venture for 99% of the participants. Check the USCF web site for chess clubs near you.

Becoming a professional at anything worthwhile is not cheap. Expect to pay thousands annually in hotels, food, transportation, instruction, equipment, entry fees, and so forth. If you aren't willing to invest you should temper your expectations.

How much a rating of 1900 on chess.com translate to in real?

It doesn't. There is no reliable way to compare that rating with any other rating.


You've set yourself a lofty goal.

I recommend you play some rated games and earn a rating. This will tell you how hard you'll have to work to become a GM. Let's say your rating is 2000 USCF. That's an very respectable 'expert' rating. To be a GM, you would have to improve to about an 2600 USCF. So you'll need 600 points. Every 400 points of improvement means that your old self would have no appreciable chance of defeating your new self. So you'd have to make a Herculean 400 pt improvement, and then become dominant over that new self.

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    @DavidRicherby Because if he isn't, most of my advice is moot :-) – Tony Ennis Dec 1 '14 at 0:48
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    Actually, most of your advice is country-independent. Apart from your last paragraph, everything you write could be made country-independent by saying "local chess federation" instead of "USCF"; the last paragraph could be made country-independent by replacing USCF ratings with equivalent FIDE ratings (those are Elo ratings, too, so the point about the 400-point gap still stands). – David Richerby Dec 1 '14 at 0:56
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    A big "ugh" at assuming an American audience. If your answer is US-specific (it's not, or at least doesn't have to be, as David points out) and you're not sure whether it's applicable to the OP, please simply ask him/her/it first! – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 1 '14 at 1:23
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit the intent of the site is not to obtain the correct answer for this specific questioner, it is to aggregate knowledge. It's perfectly reasonable for someone with experience in the US chess scene to answer this question with their locale in mind, particularly when they acknowledge its limited scope. – Cleveland Dec 1 '14 at 1:41
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    @reirab: "English-language site" != "Native English-language site". Assuming a US audience really gets me goat up mate! Especially seeing as I am from, y'know, England. – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 2 '14 at 9:53
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It depends what you mean by 'professional'.

If you want to support yourself solely by playing tournaments, the answer is definitely no. At the very least that would require being in the top 50 in the world which takes a lifetime of work starting at a very young age.

If you want to support yourself by playing and teaching, that is much more feasible. Provided that you are charismatic and can demonstrably improve your students, you could probably make it work with a low master title in the US.

If you want to get to GM and not really care about making money from it, that is possible. At 30-35 hours a week I would say that 5 years is ambitious but doable. Almost nobody has the drive to actually put in that much work though, which is why it is rare.

Tournaments: 3-4 tournaments a year is way, way too low. To get to GM like that you would have to make massive rating gains in every tournament you play, which is not a realistic plan. You should be aiming to play every single weekend at long time controls. Your opponents should be as strong as you can possibly find. This is tough to do in the US unless you live in a few select areas: New York City, San Francisco, Dallas and maybe Saint Louis and Los Angeles would fit the criteria.

You have to study the right things. Read the spine off of Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. Do hard calculation puzzles on a daily basis. Play through tons of high-level games. Don't look at opening theory until you're >2300.

I hope you succeed.

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    Why the downvote? – Tony Ennis Dec 1 '14 at 18:29
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    @Cleveland 2300+ is a very high lower limit for studying opening theory. Granted, it shouldn't be prioritized, but it shouldn't be completely ignored either. Some basics of the opening you choose to play when at 2100+ is necessary not to get crushed straight out of the opening by opponents at that level. – Scounged Sep 24 '15 at 21:43
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I think there is only one reasonable answer: You're too old. Learning chess is like learning a language. And that's not a metaphor. You learn "chunks" of piece constellations, just like you would learn typical turns of phrase. You get a feeling which phrases and expressions go together and which don't. One day you just know where to put your pieces in certain positions. I bring up this comparison, because you probably know people who learnt your language after their teens. Even those that have mastered your language to a very high degree are still recognisable as non native speakers. And of course they garnered much more experience than you could in a 35h week.

Could you still learn Chinese well enough to write a decent novel in it? Could you still learn to play the violin well enough to make a living in a professional orchestra?

Maybe in some exceptional cases these things are actually possible. But you should rate your success probability as <1%.

I'm not trying to dissuade you from putting in time to improve your chess. But spending five years on chess and chess alone and to expect some financial returns at the end … that's definitely a bad idea.

But fortunately, you don't have to take my word for it. Just put in 10-20h a week for a year and see where it gets you. If you reach 2000 Elo in that time, you clearly have some potential. And anyway, you'll have a much better idea of what you are actually aiming to reach. Wanting to become a chess professional without ever having played a tournament game, is a lot like wanting to become a F1-pilot without ever having driven a car.

I remember a blog by somebody setting out to do exactly what you want to do: roadtograndmaster.com Might give you a better idea of what you are up against.

  • Thankfully, most people have more desirable things to do than spending hours playing a single OTB game (out of many) and they quickly realize that. I don't think it is an age issue but OTB chess simply takes too much time. – prusswan Dec 2 '14 at 0:15
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    @prusswan Many people, particularly in chess communities, happen to rather enjoy playing OTB chess at tournament time controls. To say that you're thankful that most people have "more desirable things to do" is, frankly, insulting to the people here. – David Richerby Dec 2 '14 at 1:39
  • Desirable is subjective. If you find satisfaction in that, surely you wouldn't be insulted? I am thankful that I didn't take too long (years?) to figure out I have better things to do with that kind of time, not that chess is not particularly enjoyable. – prusswan Dec 2 '14 at 2:37
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    If would have more then 125 rating surely I would give u a -1. – Devendra Feb 12 '15 at 12:27
  • "Learning chess is like learning a language. And that's not a metaphor." No, it's a simile. And one of limited validity at that. – Acccumulation Mar 30 '18 at 21:43
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I think aiming for GM is really unrealistic. Aiming for the GM title is something that players do who are IM, have improved since, and feel they want to push further.

I think that amount of preparation time could work, but it's not the most important thing. Most important is playing serious tournament games. Chess is not about knowledge, it's about skill, and you learn by doing.

I am baffled by the idea of not wanting to travel much and not wanting to play a lot of tournaments, while striving to be a chess professional. What do you think chess professionals do? Answer: it doesn't involve being at home much. And the only way to become one is to start living that life and becoming really really good at it after many years, before that it only costs money. That's probably the main reason GMs are often so young: they still have parents paying for the first ten years of their hobby.

The vast majority of fanatical tournament players of course never breach 2200 let alone higher levels, so the number is a bit meaningless, but I think most GMs become one after about 500-1000 games.

Yes, five years is too few, but more importantly 3-4 tournaments per year is by far too few.

14

Hate to dash your dreams but 15-20 tournaments (especially in the US, but pretty much anywhere) is not going to cut it, even if it were granted that 1900 on chess.com directly translated to 1900USCF.

1) Ratings involving different pools of players will of necessity diverge. It's the nature of the mathematics involved, so I can say with a great degree of certainty that 1900 chess.com will not translate to 1900 anywhere else on the planet. The rating is an approximate ordering within a given population. If the population differs, the number representing that playing strength will differ.

2) It will, again with near certainty, be impossible to select tournaments in which all players will be near the same rating level, regardless of the rating level you choose.

3) For the most part, it will be impossible to find tournaments with a significant number of players at the higher end of your proposed scale without paying large entry fees. (There will be more exceptions to this than the first two points, but still not very many.)

4) Probabilities are against you. I'm most familiar with USCF ratings so this math will apply to them, but it won't be all that different in other places. If you play someone exactly your rating, you can gain a max of 16 rating points by beating them. In order to gain 600 rating points (assume the 1900 is ELO, 2500 is minimum rating to be awarded the GM title) that means you will have to score +38 against that pool of opponents. That works out to +2 in every single tournament for five years. Haven't checked, but I seriously doubt anyone this side of Kasparov has managed that feat. For example: Magnus Carlsen played 50 games in 2012, and only managed a +17 score for the year, so unless you're farther above everybody than Carlsen is, the odds are pretty heavily stacked against you.

IIRC, only one person went several years without a defeat in history; that was Capablanca. If you're as good as he was, you have a chance, I guess. Otherwise you're going to have to expect to lose games along the way. To be +7 every year for five years will be an impressive achievement. to be +7 any year while playing opposition whose actual strength is 100 points below yours while their rating is equal to yours would require a minimum of 25 games. Make the difference 50 points and the number of games goes over 28.

Finally, it might surprise you to know very few GM's even are making a living off of chess tournaments. Most make their living writing or teaching, not playing.

  • or making videos/screencasts – prusswan Dec 1 '14 at 8:32
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I am not going to be negative, but realistic. At age 25, it is highly unlikely you will ever be a chess professional. A professional not only has to travel worldwide and play in top tournaments, but also has to teach and do other chess things to make a living in chess.

To achieve a GM title, you will need to play dozens of tournaments each year against IMs and GMs to earn your three norms.

Go to YouTube and follow John Bartholomew. He is an IM working on his GM norms. He posts a short video after each round of the tournaments he plays. He has ups and downs and it has been a tough road for him and he still does not have his GM title yet. Will he ever achieve it? I don't know, but it is a LOT of work.

I don't say this to discourage you, but to be realistic. There is only one way for you to find out. Try it and see what happens. Best of luck!

9

It is never too late to start, but you have to weigh your available resources (mainly time, and energy) against your potential achievements (2200 rating? title? norms?). For most people, the cost-benefit analysis does not justify the huge time investment mandated by a "professional" involvement. They can continue to compete in rated events like professional players out of interest, but they do not consider themselves as playing professionally.

6

If you are rated only 1900 at 25 (especially if that's an online rating), it will be a significant achievement to reach FIDE Master level (~2300), not in 5 years, but at any point in the rest of your life. IM and GM are almost certainly out of your reach at this stage, although it is theoretically possible - Scottish GM John Shaw became a grandmaster at 37 after being rated only 1745 at the age of 19. Most grandmasters are already 2200+ by that age. However, Shaw is an extreme example, and his peak rating was 2506, which is still not high enough to earn a living from playing.

  • If one man can, so can another. – Jossie Calderon Sep 28 '18 at 13:16
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    Bear in mind that the OP is 25, and Shaw won the Scottish Championship at 26, so the OP is already some way behind where Shaw was at the same age. And, the OP is asking whether they can be a professional, and Shaw was never that good. – foiwofjwej Oct 4 '18 at 23:15
  • it might be possible with future disruption to chess training, such as AI-driven training methods (which is happening to Go) but the same methods will be available to others as well – prusswan Nov 27 '18 at 11:25
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You have a lot of pessimistic answers mostly based, as far as I can tell, on the assumption that you live in America. Well, apart from a brief period during Fischer's prime the US has been a bit of a chess desert. If you live somewhere better, have the talent (who can tell?) and are prepared to work hard then, yes, it isn't unreasonable to become a chess GM although 5 years is probably too ambitious. 10 years perhaps more realistic.

As you can see from this list of GMs on Wikipedia many gain the GM title in their 30's and a few even in their 40's. As for opportunity, if I had your youth, talent and dedication I might have a good chance ;-). My local club runs a FIDE rated 9 round Swiss 3 times a year with 3 or 4 GMs at the top level down to my level which is probably not too far off your level. There are 2 GMs and one IM in the club who give training / tuition, so I would have every chance to get the chess I needed.

If I ever became good enough then norm tournaments would come my way mostly via tournaments within a radius of 100 miles. Just playing on one of the top boards for the club first team in the national league (rather than something like the 10th team in the regional A league as at present) would be one norm possibility. Once every 3 or 4 years our club chairman manages to raise enough money to run a 10 player all-play-all where norms are available with one or two places reserved for our club aspirants. 4 or 5 other clubs within a 50 mile radius also manage such tournaments although the one or two untitled places go to their players.

So, if you live in the right area, somewhere on the right side of the Atlantic would be a good start ;-), then you have a chance. If you don't then your chances are bleak.

One piece of advice I would give is that you need to start playing stronger players as much as possible. If you are regularly playing tournament games against players 300 or 400 points higher than you then you may end up getting beaten up regularly but you will quickly get a feeling as to whether or not you have what it takes and you will get a much better feeling for what it takes. In other words it is probably the quickest way for you to find out for yourself if your ambition is realistic or not.

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I knew a guy from high school who was an 1800 player at the age of 15 (not 25). He was the best player in my high school chess league, and the best chess player that I got to know on a day to day basis.

When I looked him up over the internet this past decade, he was in his early fifties, and about a 2200 player, that is the lower ranks of master. He spent all of his free (non-professional) time playing chess (I don't know about his personal life).

At 25, you are starting ten years later, and only about 100 points higher than Mark. If you were grandmaster material, it would have been more obvious earlier (e.g. master or close to by your late teens). Based on Mark's experience, 2200 may be a realistic goal for you, but not 2400 or 2500.

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Very late to this question (and I would be curious about what you ended up doing with chess) but I can tell you that even very talented players have had trouble making a living at chess. Even those who reached world champ struggled. "Mere" grandmasters have often had to have non-chess jobs. Fischer was perhaps the first player in history who, had he chosen to fully exploit the opportunities available, could have become rich from chess and the fame he achieved.

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