Chess Prizes in 2020: Who leads?

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Who do you think are the top two chess prize money winners so far in 2020? I guessed World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen and Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura. I was wrong. Two women lead the list. Read this article to learn who leads, and for a winning chess move by a former World Chess Championship Challenger and current FIDE Vice President.

My son William Root and I write articles together, for example “Chess and Music” and “Chess and Dance.” William also asks me interesting chess questions. On Tuesday, June 23, he asked, “Who do you think are the top two chess prize money winners so far in 2020?” I answered Magnus Carlsen, as I expected the World Chess Champion to lead the list. William replied, “No, he is third.”

Then I guessed Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, since he was recently the top English language streamer on Twitch. According to TwitchTracker, Nakamura currently has 5,836 subscribers, thus at least $2,918 per month in subscription revenue. Twitch ads, plus other revenue streams such as Bits, would be additional money.

William reminded me that he was asking about prize money leaders for 2020. Therefore, income from appearance fees, Twitch, commentary, writing, videos, or teaching should be irrelevant to my answer. Only offline and online tournament money prizes count. I gave up and asked William to tell me the answer.

William said the top two prize money leaders in 2020, as of June 2020, are Women’s World Chess Champion Ju Wenjun and her challenger, Grandmaster Aleksandra Goryachkina. Aha, I replied. That makes sense since they played for a 500,000 Euros prize fund in the FIDE Women’s World Championship Match (January 2020).

Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina
Ju Wenjun and Aleksandra Goryachkina

William’s source is this Prize Money Top List website, maintained by an anonymous volunteer website creator. William also pointed me to the website creator’s reddit entries, from which I learned how the website’s creator determines which tournaments count in prize money calculations. However, the creator noted on reddit, sometimes tournaments don’t list their money prizes. For example, as mentioned in my previous article, Grandmaster Anish Giri won a signed photo of a man on a horse at The Mr Dodgy Invitational.

chessprizes.com top 10 as of June 2020
chessprizes.com top 10 as of June 2020

The creator singled out this Chess24 list as the one used to select 2017’s tournaments. On that Chess24 2017 list is the 17th Bangkok Chess Club Open, which caught my eye for a photo of Nigel Short boxing. Short was a World Chess Championship Challenger and is a FIDE (International Chess Federation) Vice President. He is active on social media such as Twitter.

Grandmaster Short won the 2017 Bangkok Chess Club Open, which meant he won 100,000 Baht (around $3,000 US Dollars in 2017). Short and 14 other grandmasters also received free accommodations, and all GMs, WGMs, IMs, WIMs and 2500+ rated players received free entries, but those freebies are not counted as prize money.

However, when I searched for “Nigel Short” on June 27, on the prize money leaders from 2017-2020, his name did not appear! The website’s creator omitted Short, probably accidentally, as even a player who only won $109 during 2017-2020 is included.

Nigel Short not on chessprizes.com list (as of June 26, 2020)
Nigel Short not on chessprizes.com list (as of June 26, 2020)

The error re Short could be fixed. The website’s creator is volunteering to track money prizes at chess tournaments, a thankless and challenging task, so such errors will happen. Plus, as already noted, players like Nakamura have other sources of chess-related income. Nevertheless, the website is probably right that two women lead the 2020 prize money list (as of June 2020) and that a third woman, Grandmaster Humpy Koneru, is also in the top 10.

2020 is the first time that even one woman has been in the top 10 prize money winners for a particular year. Therefore, maybe women would appreciate “The Ms Dodgy Invitational.” They could compete for a signed photo of a woman on a horse, since they already have prize money in the bag from the first half of 2020. Interested, MrDodgy?

Here is a position from one of Short’s wins from the 2017 Bangkok Chess Club Open.

To use a boxing metaphor, Short delivered a knockout punch. It is White (Short) to move and get a completely winning position. Black (Grandmaster Karen Grigoryan) has just played 32…Bc6. Short replied 33. Be5! This move renders the black queen useless. White threatens Qc5 followed by Qf8, which will win the black bishop on h8. Or, if that bishop on h8 has traded itself for the white bishop on e5, then White’s queen on f8 threatens Qg7#. The black queen can’t stop White’s plan, as 33. Be5! cuts off that queen. Since White’s plan is executed on the dark squares, the light-squared B on c6 can’t stop the plan either.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

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