Prizes and Chess

 by Bill Wall


In 1843, the stakes were 100 British pounds a side in the Staunton vs. Saint-Amant match, held in Paris.


In 1845, the first place prize for the U.S. Championship match was $1,000.  The winner was Charles Stanley (1819-1901), defeating Eugene Rousseau (1810-1870) in a match.

In 1851, the first international chess tournament was held in London.  Adolf Anderssen won the event.  His prize was 183 British pounds and a silver cup.  He owed 1/3 of his winnings to Szen after a private agreement that if either one were to take first place, he would share 1/3 to the other.  The total prize fund was 355 British pounds, raised by Howard Staunton.

In 1857, first prize in the first American Chess Congress was $300 (equivalent to almost $7,000 in today’s currency).  Paul Morphy won first prize, but refused to take any money.  He did accept a silver service consisting of a pitcher, four goblets, and a tray.  Morphy’s prize was given to him by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

In 1857, Paul Morphy defeated Charles Stanley in a chess match and was awarded $100 in prize money.  Morphy gave the money to Stanley’s wife and children.  As a mark of gratitude, she named her daughter Pauline, who was born in December, 1857.

In 1862, the prize fund in the International Tournament at London was 210 British pounds, of which 100 pounds was given to the first prize.

In 1866, the stakes were 100 British pounds in the Anderssen vs. Steinitz match.  The money was raised by the Westminster Chess Club.

In 1867, 1st prize at a Paris International Tournament was 5000 francs, won by Ignatz von Kolisch.  The top four finishers also received a Sevres vase, worth about 5,000 francs, and presented by the Emperor Napoleon III.  Kolisch invested his vase in real estate right after the tournament.

In 1871, first prize in the second American Chess Congress was $100 (equivalent to $1,500 in today’s currency).  It was won by George Mackenzie.  The total prize fund was $290.

In 1873, the emperor of Austria offered a prize of 200 ducats to the winner of the Vienna International chess tournament.

In 1874, the total prize fund in the third American Chess Congress was $450.  The players had to pay a $20 entry fee.

In September, 1876, the first “brilliancy prize” was awarded to Henry Bird for his game against James Mason, played in New York.  The prize was a silver cup.

In 1878, a subscription was raised by American chess players to send James Mason (1849-1905) to a Paris tournament.  Mason failed to win any prize money and was so embarrassed, that he did not return to the United States.  He then settled in London. The first place prize at the Paris tournament was a Sevres vase, worth over 5,000 francs.  It was won by Johannes Zukertort, given to him by the President of France.  Zukertort sold it three days later at a pawn shop for about half the value.

In 1886, the prize fund for the Steinitz-Zukertort world championship match (first official world championship match) was 400 British pounds ($2,000).  Steinitz won the match, scoring 12.5 to 7.5.

In 1889, the first “best game” prize in a major tournament was awarded to Gunsberg for his game against Mason, played in New York.

In 1889, the second official world championship match had a prize fund of $1,150.  Steinitz defeated Chigorin in the match.

In 1890, the world championship match was between Steinitz and Gunsberg.  This was the first time that the loser took a share of the prize money.  All previous world championship matches, the loser did not get any prize money.

In 1894, the prize fund for the Steinitz-Lasker world championship match was 400 British pounds a side.

In 1901, the first place prize was $40 in the New York State chess championship, won by Julius Finn.

In 1904, Baron Albert Rothschild (1844-1911) donated 500 francs ($100) for the brilliancy prize at the chess tournament in Cambridge Springs.

In 1909, Czar Nicholas of Russia donated 1,000 rubles for the chess congress prize fund held in St. Petersburg.  The czar also donated a vase of the Imperial porcelain manufacturer as a first place for the all-Russian Minor Tournament.  The prize fund for the event for the chess congress was 10,500 rubles.

In 1914, a chess congress was held in Mannheim, Germany.  During the event, World War I broke out.  Only 11 rounds out of a scheduled 17 were played.  All the Russian masters were arrested and the prize fund was cut in half.

In 1916, first place prize for the winner of the Tarrasch-Mieses match, held in Berlin, was a kilogram of butter.  Tarrasch won the match with a 9-4 score.

In 1916, the first place prize at a chess tournament in New York was a barrel of schmaltz herring.

In 1920, all the chess players stopped playing and went on strike at the 1st All-Russian Chess Olympiad, held in Moscow.  They refused to play unless they were given more prize money and better rations.  Their demands were finally met and the tournament continued.

In 1920, the world championship prize fund was $20,000.  The purse was to be divided as follows: Dr. Emanuel Lasker would get $11,000 and Capablanca would get $9,000, win, lose or draw.   After five games, the “Commission for the encouragement of touring throughout Cuba” gave an extra $5,000, of which $3,000 would go to the winner and $2,000 would go to the loser.

In 1925, in a blitz tournament held in Breslau, the first place prize was enough silk to make six shirts.  Hans Kmoch was the winner of the tournament and the silk.

During his chess career, Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) obtained 19 brilliancy prize awards, more than any other chess player.

In 1948, first place in the first chess Interzonal, held in Saltsjoboden, Sweden, was $550.  It was won by David Bronstein.

In 1946, Botvinnik won the first international chess tournament after World War II, Gronignen 1946.  His prize was 1,500 Dutch guilders and a silver cigarette box from the Queen of England.  A tablecloth was given to the best non-prize winner.  A picture of the Martini Tower in Groningen in a silver frame was given to the last place finisher.

In 1951, the winner of the world chess championship match received $6,000.  The loser received $4,000.

In 1955, the first place prize at the U.S. Open in Long Beach was a new Buick automobile.  It was won by Nicholas Rossolimo.

In 1960, the first place prize in the U.S. championship was $1,000, won by Bobby Fischer.

In 1966, the first place prize in the U.S. Championship was $2,500, won by Bobby Fischer for the 8th time.

In 1968, Grandmaster Jan Donner took 1st place at the International Tournament in Venice.  Donner announced on television that he would donate the prize he won to the Viet Cong – on the condition that the proceeds were to be used for buying machine guns, not medicine.  After the announcement, Donner’s position as the weekly chess editor for Elseviers Weekblad was terminated.

In 1969, Boris Spassky received only $1,400 for winning the world championship match from Tigran Petrosian.

In 1971, the prize fund for the USSR championship, the strongest country championship in the world, was 250 rubles.

In 1971, the prize fund for the Buenos Aires candidates match was $7,500 for the winner (Fischer)  and $4,500 for the loser (Petrosian).

In 1972, Iceland originally offered $62,500  and Yugoslavia offered $76,000 prize money for the world championship match between Fischer and Spassky.  Belgrade, Yugoslavia later increased the prize money to $152,000.  Buenos Aires proposed $100,000.  Iceland increased their prize money to $125,000, tax-free.  Jim Slater, a businessman in London, added $125,000 to the prize money.  The total prize fund at Reykjavik was $250,000.  That amount exceeded the sum total of all prize money from the previous 27 world championship matches since 1886.

Fischer asked the Icelandic Chess Federation (ICF) to deposit $46,875 (half the loser’s share of the prize fund) in his bank account before the match started.  The ICF refused. 

Spassky’s share of the 1972 world championship match prize money at the end of the match was $93,750, the most money he had ever seen or made.  Prior to this match, the most money Spassky had ever won was $5,000, in a tournament outside the USSR.

In 1973, Fischer handed over $61,200 of his 1972 world championship prize money to the Worldwide Church of God.

In 1973, the first World Open chess tournament had a prize fund of $15,000.  First place was $2,000, won by Walter Browne.

In 1976, there were no medals given for board prizes at the 22nd Chess Olympiad in Haifa, Israel as in past chess Olympiads.  Instead, there was a miscellany of prizes, only one per board.  For example, the best 6th board went to Kim Collins of the USA.  He received a copy of Bobby Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games.

In 1977, Bobby Fischer was offered $250,000 to play one chess game at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  Afterwards, President Marcos of the Philippines offered to sponsor a $3 million championship match in the Philippines.

In 1978, the world championship match prize fund was $560,000.  The winner (Karpov) received 5/8, and the loser (Korchnoi) received 3.8.

In 1980, MIT computer science professor Edward Fredkin offered $10,000 to the first program with an established rating of 2450, and $100,000 prize fund to go to the first program to defeat the world chess champion.  The computer BELLE was awarded the prize of $5,000 for becoming the first program to achieve a master’s rating.

In 1983, some of the prize fund for a tournament held in Ohio went to the Ohio Nuclear Weapons Freeze campaign.

The 1985 world chess championship prize fund was 72,000 rubles, with 5/8 for the winner and 3/8 for the loser.

In 1986, the London portion of the prize fund for the world chess championship between Karpov and Kasparov, held in London and Leningrad, was donated to the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster.

In 1987, the prize fund for the world chess championship between Karpov and Kasparov in Seville, Spain was 2,280,000 Swiss francs.  Both Karpov and Kasparov got a mere 137,000 Swiss francs each.  The rest of the prize fund went to the Soviet Sports Committee.

In 1988, GM Guillermo Garcia Gonzales took 2nd place in the 1988 New York Open.  His $10,000 prize money was confiscated by the Department of Treasury, invoking the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, because he was Cuban.  In 1990, he died in a car accident in Havana and the Treasury Department kept the money.

In 1988, the $10,000 Fredkin prize was awarded to the inventors of DEEP THOUGHT for being the first program to achieve Grandmaster status

In 1989, the Belgrade Grandmaster’s Association (GMA) had a prize fund of $100,000, funded by Yugoslav Airlines.  98 grandmasters participated in this event, won by GM Krunoslav Hulak of Yugoslavia.

In 1991, Artashes Minasian won the 58th and last USSR chess championship, held in Moscow.  His prize was a gold medal and a new automobile fresh from the “Lada” factory.

In 1992, the prize fund for the Fischer-Spassky rematch was $5 million.  The winner, Fischer, got $3,650,000.

In 1993, the FIDE world championship match was supposed to be between Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short.  However, Kasparov wasn’t happy with the prize fund, so he broke away from FIDE and helped founded the Professional Chess Association (PCA).  Kasparov objected that 20% of the prize fund would go to FIDE.

In 1994, the 1st place prize in the U.S. Championship, held in Key West, Florida, was $8,000.  It was won by Boris Gulko.

In 1997, the $100,000 Fredkin prize was awarded to the inventors of DEEP BLUE computer, which beat Garry Kasparov in the final game of their 6-game match in May, 1997.

In 2000, the prize fund for the Braingames World Chess Championship was $2 million.

In 2005, the HR Global Chess Challenge tournament was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It was the richest open chess tournament in history, with a $500,000 prize fund.  First place was $50,000, won by GM Zviod Izonia of Soviet Georgia.

In 2006, the 34th World Open had a prize fund of $358,000, with 1st place being $18,000.

In 2010, the world chess championship prize fund was 2 million Euros ($2.7 million).  The winner (Viswanathan Anand) got 60% and the loser (Veselin Topalov) got 40%.  In addition, 400,000 Euros went to FIDE and 600,000 went to the Bulgarian organizers.

The 2010 U.S. Women’s Championship had a prize fund of $65,000, the largest prize fund in the history of women’s chess.  1st place was $16,000, won by Irina Krush.

The 2010 U.S. Men’s Championship had a prize fund of $170,000.  1st prize was $30,000, won by Gata Kamsky.

The 2014 US championship had a prize fund of $171,000, plus an extra $64,000 for any perfect score (the Fischer bonus).

The 2014 Sinquefield Cup had a total prize fund of $315,000.

In 2014, the prize fund for the world championship was 1 million Euros, with 60% going to the winner (Carlsen) and 40% to the loser (Anand).

In 2014, Wesley So won $100,000 in the Millionaire Tournament in Las Vegas.

The chess World Cup for 2015 has a prize fund of $1.6 million.


The average salary for chess jobs is $35,000.  Average chess salaries can vary greatly due to company, location, industry, experience and benefits.

The winner of the world championship gets between $1 and $2 million.

Top events - $100,000

Top open events - $20,000

2010 world championship – winner 1,200,000 euros ($1,693,800)

Loser got 800,000 euros ($1,129,200)

World Open - $17,413 for 1st place.

US Open - $8,000.  Prize fund $40,000.

2011 US chess championship.  1st place ins $40,000.  Prize fund of $166,000.

Top 20 - $100,000 to a million a year.

Top 20-100 - $60,000 a year.

Chess coaches $30,000 a year.

Source of income:

Tournament and match earnings, teaching, writing books, articles software, sponsorship

Maurice Ashley, 6 figures teaching and selling chess, books, CDs

Promoters of the Soyinka International chess tournament schedules for July 10-17, 2011, are projecting prize money of $50,000.

For more than 99% of players, chess will not be a profitable venture.

Top 50, 2685 rating.

Hustlers get $100-$200 a day.

In 1857, first place in the First American Chess Congress was $300 ($7,000 in today’s money).

First place in the 1948 Interzonal was $550.

First place in the 1964 Interzonal in Amsterdam was $250 after a month’s work.

Botvinnik received $5,000 for winning the 1948 world championship.

Bundesliga is the strongest team chess tournament in the world.  Top GMs are paid $50,000 to play in it.

Samford Chess Fellowship is $36,000.

1901 NY chess championship, 1st place was $40. ($1020 in today’s money).

Fischer received $3.65 million for defeating Spassky in 1992.  Spassky receive $1.5 million.

In 1966, Fischer got $2,500 for his 1st place finish in the US Championship.

HB Global challenge in 2005 in Minneapolis had a $50,000 first place prize and prize fund of $500,000.

In 2002, Kramnik got $800,000 for playing Deep Fritz in a match.

In 1966, Petrosian got $2,000 for winning the world championship against Spassky.

Fischer got $153,240 for winning the world championship in 1972, and another $40,000 in royalties.

In 1957, Fischer won $750 after winning the US Open in Cleveland.

Fischer earned $750 for his 1st place money at the 1962 Interzonal.