One week in the life of a chess professional
Many chess fans wonder how much time Grandmasters spend on chess every day, what they do and how they make the ends meet. As one of my friends put it:
“The idea among average players is that GMs are “above it all” and live in a world of “brilliancies and variations”, which does not include all the chores that consume so much time for the rest of us. You know, “If I were a GM I could just study and play chess all day and I wouldn’t have to… (insert list of daily chores)”. Most players think that they, too, could be GMs if they only had as much time as grandmasters have to study chess, but they have jobs and families and they can usually only find a little time to study or play. I know from conversations with you that some days you don’t have any more time for chess than I do! I think most players will be surprised that you don’t spend all day, every day, studying variations.”
Well, this is a good point and so I would like to shed some light on this subject by keeping a diary for a week and posting it here. One note though: I am not very active on the tournament circuit, so please keep this in mind — not all GMs write articles for periodicals or give lessons. Not all or have their Web sites or sell chess books. Everyone is unique and I am not writing about all GMs here — this is one week in my life.
One week in the life of a chess professional
Monday, 21 January 2002
Got up at 7-40. Before 8-00 I checked my e-mail — in Ireland, as in most European countries local phone calls are not free. This means that surfing the Net can add considerably to your phone bill (and it does in my case!). Last year I signed up for a special service — I pay a fixed amount each month (about €50), but can go online between 18-00 and 8-00 for free. Thus, I tend to spend most time online in the evening. Also, I try to check my e-mail before 8-00 in the morning, so the call is free.
As the past weekend was pretty busy for me (I went to Birmingham to play in 4NCL), after breakfast I took things easy, catching up with Sunday newspapers — till about 9-30.
Between 9-30 and 13-30 I prepared papers for my accountant, went to meet with him, paid a few bills and sent some letters — usual stuff. While it does not seem to be very productive, it takes an awful lot of time!
After lunch my wife gave me a lift to a school where I teach chess. It’s a small national (none-private) boys school and I teach two groups there — at 14-30 and 15-30. About 7 years ago I taught chess in 4-5 schools and did it for 3 years. I reckon that I probably taught over 200 kinds in Ireland how to play chess and this makes me feel good! Yet, the pay was poor then (despite the Celtic Tiger — that animal was never nice to me!) and I gave it up when my financial position improved. Also, I felt tired. But last year I came back to the idea and offered my service to one of the schools. I asked for a higher (and more appropriate!) fee — about €6.40 per hour per child. This is roughly $5.50 and is still below a typical charge for a similar service in USA and UK. The response was good — the classes were over-subscribed. However, I don’t want to have more than 20 kids in the class — it won’t be fair to them and would be too stressful for me! During the classes I usually show some tactical ideas for 15-20 minutes, ask questions and then let kids play, correcting them when they play 1.a2-a4?! or 1.h2-h4?!. Both classes went well, but when I came back home at about 17-00, I felt pretty tired — 35 kids are 35 kids! 🙂
Shortly after coming home Elena (my wife) and I went for coffee with our mutual friend. Then I dealt with a book order, which had received in my shop at Grandmaster Square. When the site took off, it was not generating any income. Yet, I felt that it had to make some money if I wanted the site to stay alive. I noticed that when it comes to Web sites, the initial enthusiasm usually fades away when it is not backed by finance. So, I added Online Auction site to GM Square and later opened a shop there. The auction is doing really well and the shop has a pretty decent selection of chess goods. I hope it will do well — bookstores in Ireland have pathetic selection of chess titles and there are no specialised chess dealers apart from me. The shop is located at https://www.web-guardian.com/gmsquare/cgi-bin/store/commerce.cgi. I prepared the order, charged buyer’s credit card and posted the books to USA. I find that most my clients come from USA — obviously e-commerce is much more common there. I have orders from South America and Japan too. Irish customers use the shop as well, but there are surprisingly few orders from continental Europe. It could be competition with the London Chess Centre, though its online shop (unlike its mail-order catalogue!) does not have a good selection.
Later I read a book for a while and then watched ‘Simpsons’ with my kids — I felt pretty tired. It could be reaction to the past chess weekend or to the classes I gave in the school.
At 19-00 it was Internet time. I checked the TWIC and fide.com sites to see what happened in Moscow. Poor Ivanchuk — is losing 3½-1½. The match is over… Before the match I though that Ponomariov was 55-45 favourite — mainly because of his much better nerves. Kasparov gave 55-45 in Ivanchuk’s favour. I should have bet on the match, I guess. The quality of play in the match is very poor – could you compare this match to something like Spassky-Fischer, Karpov-Korchnoi or Karpov-Kasparov? Or any of the matches played since 1951? I cannot. Of course, shorter time control is a sacrifice, which FIDE had to make in order to turn chess into a real sport (why?) and more TV-friendly show. So, next time you watch Ponomariov-Ivanchuk match on CNN, BBC, Eurosport or TV-5, please bare this in mind and stop criticising FIDE!
I receive about 40 e-mails every day and in the evening I tried to catch up with some of them, while chatting with my friend in Moscow on ICQ and checking games from the Corus tournament on TWIC. Around 22-00 I stopped surfing the Net and went to watch a movie on my video. Not much chess today…
Tuesday, 22 January 2002
Got up at 7-40. Checked e-mail and went to have breakfast. My kids leave the house at 8-40 (they walk to the school), so I usually start my working day around that time. However today I walked with my wife to the nearby shopping centre where she works in Italian shoe shop. We had coffee with Serafino, shop’s owner. The weather was dreadful (rain), so having coffee was the only way to beat it…
Later this morning I received post — phone bill, bill from a book supplier and one book order from Ireland. Maybe my shop will get busy soon? Hopefully, but I am not holding my breath yet! Anyway, I posted the book, which that customer ordered. As he had ordered from me before, he got 2 euro discount — I have a special program for those who order from the shop, particularly if it’s online order. I also spoke with my business partner Jim Hayes about our online auctions (XX). The one in January went well and we agreed that we organise another one on 7-9 of February. Now I have experience in this field, so holding auctions regularly is not a problem. I also get a lot of inquiries about books, etc — this morning I received e-mail from a man who had a book signed by Em. Lasker. Perhaps he wants to sell it, but maybe he is just curious about its value (I reckon that it’s worth over 200 euro).
At around 12-00 I looked at some endgame positions (Queen vs. Rook and pawn), which I featured recently in one of my article in Chess Today. I tried to analyse them with Endgame CD then, but something did not work. I asked GM Rainer Knaak about this problem and thanks to him, Chess Base company sent me ‘Endgame Turbo’ (Nalimov Databases). It took me a while to figure out where to install the engine, but eventually I got it right. This CD does work, so I checked a few positions and will certainly use it later. Moreover, Fritz can rely on this database, which improves Fritz’s understanding of endgames considerably. I also downloaded the latest TWIC and added it to my existing database, I do this more or less every week.
Between 12-00 and 13-00 I wrote an article for Sunday Independent. It is one of Ireland’s major newspapers and I have a weekly chess column there. Writing it is pretty easy, but well paid — great combination, which you don’t find in chess too often! Finding steady income is one of the main problems for chess professionals and I am glad that I have this column. This week I wrote about Ponomariov-Ivanchuk match (showing game 1) and Corus tournament. I also like Independent as a paper and prefer it to Irish Times. A friend of mine said that it was a sign of a right-wing guy. Sure it is — most people (at least chess players!) coming from the former USSR are pretty conservative.
After lunch I went online — answered some mail and watched the Corus tournament. Alexander Morozevich seems to be in trouble against Alexander Grischuk. I worked as Morozevich’s manager for about 18 months, so I follow his progress. Despite the fact that the opening went badly for him today, I believe he is doing the right thing, expanding his repertoire and including some solid systems in it. After all, I was advocating this for most of the time when we worked together! 🙂
Around 16-00 I went with my wife to Trinity College. She is organising English course for Russian speakers with a friend of ours. They are just in the beginning, so I wanted to be around if the experiment failed. I did not, but it was not a huge success either…
After dinner spend a couple of hours online — checked Corus again (Morozevich indeed lost) and e-mailed my Web master Arlen Walker. We are going to change radically both Chess Today and Grandmaster Square sites, so there are plenty of things to discuss.
After 21-00 I call it a day and go to watch video — apparently it fast becomes my favourite pastime!
Wednesday, 23 January 2002
Got up at 7-40. Checked e-mail, replied to some, deleted most — I hate spammers! They should be put on a desert island with no Internet there! I do not mind receiving unsolicited mail about chess though — I might see something interesting. I also printed the latest issue of Chess Today (http://www.chesstoday.net/) and read it over morning coffee.
This morning is about meeting. First I went to see a Russian friend of mine, who is co-owner of a Russian restaurant here. Then I dropped some software to Michael Dooley, who used to be my student and my first Web master. We had a little chat and then I went to the city centre. Driving in Dublin is not much fun — streets are narrow and my Mercedes is not designed for them! Just kidding — I have Opel Astra. If you have not seen Opel cars, this model is small – similar in size to Toyota Corolla. Still, driving in the city is tiring — too many cars, too few lanes… I went to a Russian shop and bought some food (for the family) and beer (for me!). As they said, Russians are coming!
Came back from the city around 14-30 and after lunch went online. Got e-mail from my US student, who joked about the Alekhine Defence (Ivanchuk played it). I revealed a secret — the previous night Vasily called me and asked for a crash course on this opening. We quickly agreed the price – $300 for one hour (don’t forget, the man was desparate!), but he did not listen to what I said — the 4…Nc6 line is just not good! 4…g6 or 4…dxe5 would have been better. But in fairness, 1…c5! was really the way to go!
At about 18-20 I went to the city again — to play basketball. I was very keen on basketball when in school and during the first year in the university. Here I play occasionally. My son Ivan (12) plays too, so we went together. I was great fun and I hope to make it next week too.
After basketball I did a proof-reading job (not paid) for a Russian newspaper in Ireland. A friend of mine asked me whether I knew a well-educated Russian speaker and that did the trick! 🙂 Anyway, it was interesting. Russian community (or rather Russian-speaking community, as that includes people from Ukraine, Moldavia, Baltic states, etc.) is pretty big and is growing fast. In this issue of the newspaper there will be my article on chess — after all, chess was the national pastime in the USSR! At about 22-00 I went to see that friend, so we had tea discussing publishing business — don’t forget, I have my own newspaper! I have a theory though: successful publishers get pushed from their yachts, while their less fortunate counterparts get less lucky!
Came back home at around midnight. Opened that Russian beer, which I had so thoughtfully stocked up earlier in the day. In the old days there were very few sorts of beer in Russia and the quality was poor. Now things are different — the variety is great and the quality is sometimes very high. While I am happy with Carsberg or Heineken, while in Russia I tend to drink Russian beer. I like Baltika and this is what I bought in Dublin. Good stuff, though the best beer I ever tried was a local variation of Pilsener in Slovakia a couple of years ago. Watched video till 1-20. Felt absolutely wrecked after basketball, but happy because of beer! 🙂
Thursday, 24 January 2002
Got up at 7-45. Feel wrecked after yesterday’s basketball — obviously I need more physical training. It’s all on my New Year resolution (swimming, running), but will I do it? I don’t know… Checked e-mail and then went downstairs to make breakfast, while my wife struggled to wake up our kids. After breakfast I worked for a while making editing text for new Chess Today site (www.chesstoday.net). Hopefully its new design will live this week. Not that there is anything wrong with its current look, but it is about time to make some changes — the site is more than one year old now.
Around 10-00 the post came. What a joy — no bills and three cheques — a rare occurrence in the life of a chess player! 🙂 I got paid by Sunday Independent, received a cheque from one of my US students (he takes lessons over the phone) and was paid royalties for my book Winning Pawn Structures. I enjoyed working on it and having the book on my shelf makes me feel good. However, pay is never great for chess authors (should I try to write about Harry Potter and chess?!). Still, it is nice to receive something every 6 months! No plans to write another book yet, but I might change my mind as I have a few ideas.
Till 12-00 I deal with chess auction business — prepared payment advises, checked invoices, etc. The next auction will take place on 7-9 February, so it’s time to start preparing it. At 12-00 one of my students called from USA. We had a lesson for 1 hour 20 minutes (my rate is €55 or about $50 per hour), discussing one interesting game, which he had found and ‘Rook and pawn vs. Rook’ endings.
After the lesson I went online and watched the Corus tournament, while chatting with my friend GM Lev Psakhis on ICQ. Morozevich recovered from yesterday’s loss by beating Piket. One of Alexander’s greatest strengths is his psychological stability — I saw him losing many games in a row and then still hitting back! I don’t think he had enough for a pawn in the game, but it looks like Black was in time-trouble. At least some of his moves suggest this. Grischuk and Gelfand played an interesting game. I also followed the game Bareev-Dreev — they are old rivals. Apart from that, I have interest in the line of the Slav Defence, which they played: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3. Both are well-known experts on this line.
In the afternoon I also called my travel agent — in the end of February I am going to Norway, where I will give lectures and private lessons. The trip is being organised by GM Simen Agdestein, with whom I played on the same team in Germany a couple of years ago. I look forward to the tour, as the last time I was in Norway in 1993. Two years ago I went to Copenhagen with chess seminars, so I wonder why chess clubs don’t do such things more often — it looks like a good idea to me: amateur players have fun and improve their game, while chess pros make some money and see a different place. And if you have a group of people, the cost to individual is not too high. As far as I know, this is common in other sports.
Sold another chess book today — ‘Reassess Your Chess’ by IM Jeremy Silman. I like his books and use them often myself. They are not too common in Europe, so it is handy to have them in my shop (https://www.web-guardian.com/gmsquare/cgi-bin/store/commerce.cgi). By the way, there you can buy autographed copy of Winning Pawn Structures too! 🙂 I plan to add more titles to the shop over the weekend.
At 19-00 I gave a lift to my son Ivan to a chess class. He knows how to play chess since he was 4, but at some point he lost interest in it. I never pushed him. He plays in kids’ tournaments and attends a class in local youth class, but it is just a hobby for him. A good one too!
At 20-30 my wife and I went to Spaghetti Club. This is a rather informal group of people, which meets every Thursday. The host cooks spaghetti, while visitors bring wine, etc. Usually we use plastic/paper plates, glasses, etc., so there is little washing-up to do. The main idea is to meet people and talk, rather than to show off by throwing a better party than the Jones. The group is very diverse and features many foreigners — from Canada, Italy, Russia, etc. It was a very nice evening! Got home early around 23-00. Exchanged a few e-mails about the GM Square site with my Web master and then called it the day.
Friday, 25 January 2002
Got up at 7-40. Checked e-mail and then had breakfast with the whole family. After that, when my kids went to school and my wife left for work, I sat with my computer, planning to tidy up my files. I have way too many messages in my inbox and sometimes it drives me crazy. It’s time to deal with some of them! Postman came — another book order, this time a person in Limerick wants a volume on opening theory. No problem! Maybe the shop will take off after all?
At about 10-00 a friend of mine called. He needs help with off-loading a truck with pizza dough. I like physical work and he sounds desperate, so I go to help. By the time I get to his storage, he has done most of the work, but still I get some exercise. On the way home I visit that Russian shop in town, so a few more bottles of Russian beer appear in my fridge — very useful after hard work! 🙂
At 15-30 our friends came to visit. I met him on a plane from Moscow to Dublin where I could not believe that Conor was not Russian — so good was his language! I introduced myself and after that we met occasionally, but lost contact a few years ago. Recently we met again in the city centre, so we decided to get together. They stayed till 18-00 or so, it was a nice occasion.
At 18-20 I went to collect my daughter Anastasia from her friend’s house and bring her to a swimming pool. He does swimming once a week for the second year now. Ivan did swimming for a few years too. When I was a kid, I did that from the age of 6 till I was 10. I am pretty good at it and still swim occasionally.
After the swimming pool we went straight into the city centre to collect my wife after the language courses. She runs them with her friend. Hopefully this business will take off, but it’s a tough one. BTW, if somebody knows about an easy business, you can find my e-mail on this Web site — I’d love to hear from you! 🙂
Got home about 20-40 and started to work on Chess Today. It is my turn to do the issue today and on Saturday and Sunday. GM Ruslan Scherbakov and IM Vladimir Barsky produce most of the issues and do a great job. The paper (www.chesstoday.net) has a very good team — Ralph Marconi (Canada) and Graham Brown (England) are our editors, while Vladimir, Ruslan, myself and GM Mikhail Golubev write for the paper. It works like a clock and in more than a year we did not miss a single issue! All the paper needs is more subscribers, so if anyone can give me a great marketing tip, we will entertain that person on Chess Today’s corporate yacht in the Caribbean! 🙂
Today it takes me longer to make an issue — somehow I feel brain-dead… 🙁 I finish around 2-00. It seems that I can’t e-mail Ralph from my IOL account, so I send him the stuff from my hotmail. It’s still before 21-00 in Canada, so hopefully he will be OK. I cannot sleep, so I spend about an hour reading. I wish I had a ‘normal’ job…
Saturday, 26 January 2002
I get up at 10-00. This is very late for me. I used to get up around 6-00, but now 7-30 is more like my time. Most chess players go to bed after midnight and get up late, particularly during tournaments. I know some who like to get up around 13-00! 🙂 Well, if you are not a top GM and have kids, this is not an option. Not sure whether I would like that either… Anyway, 10-00 is late for me, but I stayed up till almost 3-00 last night. I feel tired, so I read for a while and generally take life easy this morning. There is no Chess Today in my inbox this morning and I discover that Ralph indeed had a problem with his Net provider. Fortunately, I quickly find Graham at www.interchess.com, where we will have a chat later today. Graham does the editing job and CT comes in half an hour. Great!
At about 13-00 my friend Mark Heidenfeld comes to visit. Mark is IM, but we don’t play chess — instead we play backgammon! Alas, my beginner’s luck is long time gone… 🙁 However, today somebody is watching me up there and gives me a helping hand despite all those mistakes, which I make! I win in the game, but lose some beer. 🙂
At 16-00 my chat starts. There are about 8 people first, then the number goes up to 10, only to fall to 8 or so. Anyway, the chat goes well (see can find its transcript on this site soon). I got a few marketing hints for CT. I though that there could be more interesting questions, but perhaps with more people in the chat that could be better — I will host another one in 2-3 weeks. Perhaps I should start it later, say, around 19-00 — to give a chance to guys in the West Coast of US to take part in it. Also, it could be better for Australians. Chess Today has a very diverse audience — we have good few readers in Japan, Thailand and Philippines.
After dinner I make CT — today I am much more efficient and do it quicker. Watch some video till about 23-00. Still not sleepy, so I try something, which I wanted to test recently — I make a chess X-word. Time flies, but I am not making much progress — how do they make them anyway?! Either I am too stupid or too tired… Call it a day at 1-20.
Sunday, 27 January 2002
Today I got up at 9-00. Feel much better today — sleep does me a lot of good! Shortly after breakfast I go to my study room. It has a large table with Dell PC on it (19’ screen!) and lots of chess books. It’s a messy place and I even have a notice saying ‘Great workers have untidy desks!’. Well, I feel like creating some order on my desk today. I start putting auction papers (invoices, letters) in order. On Friday I received two boxes with old BCM volumes for the auction (http://www.gmsquare.com/chessauction/), so this morning I go through them.
It looks like we can have another auction on 7-9 of February. I believe that have them regularly is the key point to success. After all, there is little competition as nobody else is doing chess auctions where you can bid in real time! Well, sorting that out was a whole story: I did a lot of research together with my Web master Susan Strahan, found a suitable program and bought it. Happy end? You bet not! The program had lots of bugs and after 2-3 cries for help the guy, who sold me the software, simply stop replying to my messages… That put me off and there were no auctions for a few months. Then a friend of mine mentioned a guy in Moscow, who was good at Pearl (programming language). I contacted him and he ironed out all bugs in 2 weeks! There are many people who buy chess books around the globe, so there is a market for my online auction. And I get inquiries from potential sellers too — from Switzerland, South America, Canada, South Africa, etc.
Around 11-00 I started to work on chess crossword again. I got so interested in it that I did not go to buy my Sunday newspapers. I usually get Sunday Times. Sometimes I read Financial Times – it important to watch how your shares are doing, you know! Just kidding — I got no shares — I invest only in Baburin Corporation! 🙂 Anyway, today I give Sunday Times a miss and don’t even check Sunday Independent — if that was anything wrong with my article, they would have told me that by now!
My work with the crossword is not going on well — I just do not get it! 🙁 I eat my lunch quickly and come back to my desk — I want to get this thing right, it is a challenge now! OK, making a simple crossword is probably not so hard, but I am making a chess one, which limits my options. Besides, it is in English, which is not my mother tongue. Around 16-00 I make it — oh, joy! I send it to a few friends, anxious to get a feedback.
Around 18-00 I start writing for CT. The Corus tournament in Wijk aan Zee finished today, so I cover that and a bunch of other tournaments (Bermuda, Indian Ch, etc). I briefly annotated the game Morozevich-van Wely. Today I am even more efficient – by 20-00 I am done!
Between 20-30 and 21-30 I edit the transcript of my yesterday chat. I hope to finish this work next week and then post the chat on this site. Got a few replies from my friends concerning the crossword. They all sound enthusiastic, but none mentions solving the thing — either they can’t be bothered or the crossword is too hard. Oh, well, I will make it public in Chess Today on Friday and we will see. A couple of weeks later I might post it on the GM Square too. Perhaps some magazine will buy this crossword as well — this would make my bank manager a bit happier!
Around 21-30 I retire to watch a movie. Tomorrow a student of my from the West Coast is going to call me at 6-30, so I need to go to bed early. This is a little uncomfortable, but being a chess pro you learn to live with it! 🙂 I call it a day around 23-00. Another week has passed.
That was an ordinary week in my life, nothing too special. It was unusual that I gave only one lesson (typically, I give 3-4 lessons a week), but I did a bit more writing than I normally do. Also, my shop and online auction kept me busy. Keeping this diary was a strange experience — now I can see where I have resources if I want to work harder. Will I work harder? Maybe not — I spend too much of my life watching movies and reading books, while lying on my sofa! 🙂 Anyway, I hope that you find this diary interesting. If you have comments, please drop me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.