Honest and Blunt Chess Advice!


On the occasion of International Chess Day, I will answer one of the most frequently asked questions / requests. And the question / request is:

- How can I become a Grandmaster / Can you help me become a Chess Grandmaster?

My simple response to both is:

  • Why?

Just think about it? Why do you want to be a Chess Grandmaster? And what effort are you willing to put in to try to become a Grandmaster?

First of all, do you want to become a Grandmaster to make a lot of money? Well, you will not, unless you can get to the top 5-10 elite level in the world, and stay there for a number of years consistently.

Do you know that there are many 2700+ Grandmasters barely making a decent living? Very few professional chess players in the world make great money or becoming rich through chess. There are, but the numbers are very very very small.

And to be blunt, you have a better chance winning the lottery than becoming an elite level Grandmaster. This is the same in other sports. You have a better chance of winning the lottery than to become a Superstar in the NBA, NFL, MLB, PGA, NHL, etc.

Secondly, do you know how much time, effort, and dedication would it take to become a Chess Grandmaster? And it is even much more difficult and time consuming to become an elite level Grandmaster. Are you able to financially afford not to work / have a regular job, and dedicate 110% to chess training? Most cannot afford to do this, and even for those who can, do not have the insane level of personal and professional discipline.

I speak from personal experience, not only as the first woman who earned the Mens Grandmaster title via tournament play back in January 1991, but also as the first woman to earn more than $1 million when I was an active tournament chess player. I am also the first woman who earned more than $1 million in chess after retiring from active competition. But in order for this to happen, I made incredible sacrifices and put in countless hours since I was 4 years old. It is not an easy overnight success.

And I can guarantee you that by using my chess skills (logical thinking, objective assessment, accurate problem solver, efficient time management, and personal discipline, etc.), I will earn much more money off the chess board for years to come.

Just to give you an example, even though I no longer compete in active chess competition, I still frequently put in 12-18 hours a day, seven days a week, to run SPICE in my capacity as the Director, coach players of all levels in my capacity as the Head Coach of the Webster University #1 ranked chess team, do extensive chess research and deep analysis for new/better ideas to help my students, and run my chess enterprise to produce training books and videos in my capacity as President of the company. And this does not stop me from being a Mom and Wife.

I am almost certain that I am a much better chess player today than I was in 2004 when I played my last official FIDE rated game at the Calvia Chess Olympiad, winning multiple Gold and Silver medals, including the best overall performance, and extended my scoring streak to 56 consecutive games without ever losing any. But playing is no longer something I have a passion for, so I have no desire to make a comeback even though I was offered ridiculous money by multiple organizers to do so in the past.

When I started chess at the age of 4, it was never about money. It was about doing what I love. Today, after 45 years later in chess, it is still not about money, and it is still about doing what I love. I could not care less about chess politics or outside distractions. I learned from a young age that it is best to give 110% to everything you do, whether it is with chess improvement or simply enjoying your vacation. And when you no longer have that passion, move on to something else.

This is why I have many students who are Chess Grandmasters at Webster University in the SPICE program. They came to improve their chess (like Wesley So, Le Quang Liem, Ray Robson, Jorge Cori, etc.) while getting a fantastic higher education. Many of my students make excellent money in various professional fields after graduating.

So my advice is to be truthful to yourself. Why do you want to be a chess Grandmaster? If you do not mind the tough lifestyle of constantly traveling from one hotel to another, training, playing, facing daily immense pressure and plenty of heartbreak (when you lose), and if you think you can enjoy this for decades to come, then go for it! If not, reevaluate your chess plan. Chess can offer plenty, even if you do not become a Grandmaster.


Ask Susan