The ones in chess who did not experience changes were the coaches who work online. They continued to stay at home and do their work. The elite players continued to earn considerable sums playing chess, only this time by playing online and not over-the-board. The livelihood of these two groups wasn’t affected much.
However, there is one big group of chess professionals whose existence comes under serious threat. These are the players rated approximately 2500–2700 who made their living from playing open tournaments and leagues in various countries. The lockdowns and closure of borders for them are life-changing.
What are these professionals supposed to do now? Can they continue to do what they love and still earn their living? The easy answer is that they should simply start playing online instead. But easy answers are rarely the good ones. Playing online is a huge topic that requires special analysis; here I will limit myself to note a few problems with it: a) The tournaments with good prize money are reserved for the elite. b) There are no leagues. And perhaps the biggest problem: c) the one of cheating. In other words, playing online it is impossible to make a living if you are not part of the elite.
Switching to online coaching is more sustainable, but this is not easy either, especially if the player hasn’t done that before. First of all she or he will need some exposure to attract students; second, but connected to the first, there is a huge overflow of new coaches-by-necessity, which drives the supply higher and the prices lower, thus making it more difficult to attract enough students. Last, but not the least – not everybody wants to do that nor is everybody suited for being a coach.
The phenomenon of streaming experienced a sharp rise when people were forced to stay at home and were looking for ways to entertain themselves. However, only a few streamers can actually make a living out of it as it takes time, effort and dedication to build an audience. The competition in this market is also becoming severe and, like with the coaching, not everybody is suited to be a streamer and likes to talk to a microphone and camera.
People pay money for what they perceive as fair value. This market logic applies to chess as well. The above ideas, especially the coaching and streaming, provide value. But what else provides value that the temporarily-retired chess players can provide? Writing books, creating courses, or any other instructional material is definitely valuable. These require time, much longer than the nine days of your typical open tournament. Yet once created they can serve as passive income, so they do deserve serious consideration.
Chess professionals need to exhibit flexibility and adaptability in similar ways to when they play a game.
There are many things chess players can do for their local communities. These activities would be a variation of the ones mentioned above – whether they be online classes for the local chess club, a lecture for the chess section in the local school, an online simultaneous exhibition against the members of the local pensioners club – all these provide value to the community. They also serve to unite people in times when we are isolated and confined to our places of residence. Federations and clubs should definitely involve professionals in their projects and spending now.
There is no straight-forward alternative to playing professionally for living. Chess professionals need to exhibit flexibility and adaptability in similar ways to when they play a game. A combination of the above-mentioned activities can serve as a temporary substitute to generate income until over-the-board tournaments resume.
Sometimes though, what we deem temporary often turns out to last much longer than we would expect it to. There are challenging times ahead for the whole world and we don’t know how long they will last. Chess players are still in a better position than many other professions, so keeping our optimism and adjusting to the demands of the new situation will see us through. We, like the whole world, need to keep the faith.