Chess is a timeless game that has been played by people for centuries. Kings, commoners and everyone between have been known to play chess for fun or for competitive sport. The first organized chess competitions were held in the 1500s, but the game itself is much older than that. Archeologists have found chess variants that date back as far as the 6th century.
Chess today is played around the world at all levels of play. Countless homes have a standard chess set somewhere, and there are serious chess clubs in every country on the face of the earth. If you feel an itch to play chess, you can rest assured that you are never too far from a chess board and a willing opponent.
Online Chess Games
Online chess has been available for more than a decade now and the game has slowly been growing in popularity ever since. One of the greatest things about online chess is that it makes the game accessible to the common person. If you don’t feel like joining a hardcore chess club (or if you just live out in the middle of nowhere), you can play chess online any time of the day or night.
Online chess is also a great way for up and coming players to hone their chess skills. When you play at large online chess sites, you’ll find competition at all levels of play. There are plenty of casual players out there who will give you a good run for your money. If you decide to move up to the more skilled matches, you will also find some very competitive people to help you sharpen your tool set.
There are a number of popular chess sites out there that will let you play chess right now. All you have to do is visit the site, sign up for an account and maybe download a little piece of chess software. After that, you’ll have chess games ready at your fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. One great site that comes to mind at least for free online chess games is Chess.com – which seems to be the most popular play money site out there.
Can I play chess online for real money?
Yes, you can play chess online for real money at sites like the ICC (Internet Chess Club). However, it is nothing like playing online poker or casino games for real money. There are several… difficulties that make real money chess a problem. Not all of these problems are related to the ever-present specter of cheating.
The Cheating Problem
Let’s start with the basic problem. Modern chess programs can beat humans every time. The game is still far from completely solved, but the study of chess has gotten us to the point where any halfway decent program that you can install on your computer right now can beat almost anyone in the world.
People can and do cheat at online chess. When you add real money to any competition, cheating naturally becomes a problem. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about real money chess online or sports competitions in the real world. Whenever there’s an incentive to cheat, someone will try to cheat.
The fear of cheating alone helps grind most real money play to a halt. People simply aren’t comfortable playing for money unless it’s face-to-face in an OTB (over the board) match. Most online chess sites also aren’t willing to put up with all the trouble they would have to endure just to keep any semblance of fairness in their games.
However, the Internet Chess Club does sometimes host tournaments with real money cash prizes. Last year’s ICC Open awarded more than $10,000 worth of prizes. First place in the open division was good for $3,500. That is by far the largest real money prize you’ll find anywhere in online chess. But still, it doesn’t even come close to the prize money awarded in even modest online poker tournaments.
The ICC does has a couple methods to deter cheating. For one, real money tournaments require you to play under your real name. Second, a membership to the ICC costs money so cheaters have something to lose. If you get caught cheating, you’ll lose your membership. Generally, it’s just not worth the trouble to sign up once, pay the fee and then be banned for life and have your real name sullied.
On top of all that, it’s actually not that hard to detect cheaters. The ICC does require you to install anti-cheating software when you play, but even that security method is easily bypassed (just run a chess program on a different machine). The most effective way to detect cheating is to simply watch how opponents play.
The ICC (and probably other sites) can quickly come in and take a look at a player’s past games to see if the moves look “natural.” Real people play with a very distinct style; machines play with a different style.
If someone consistently makes moves that look odd or don’t follow conventional logic but then later come back to smash their opponents, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Skilled chess players can spot a machine fairly accurately. Plus, the ICC can just go back and input your moves into any number of high level chess simulators. If you play too many moves in the exact same manner as recommended by a simulator, it’s pretty damming evidence.
So yes, it’s possible to play chess for money but it’s not something that will ever earn you enough money to quit your day job. The vast majority of online chess players simply play for free out of a love of the game and to improve their skills. There’s not much incentive to cheat, especially when you have to pay for a membership.
The Other Problem with Real Money Chess: The Rating System
Chess players’ reputations for skill live and die by their ratings. Everyone has an exact rating, and we can estimate that rating by watching that person’s results against other rated chess players. Over time, other people can get a fairly confident idea of your rating.
The Elo System actually estimates how often one rated person should against a person with a different rating. These ratings are published publicly and anyone can rather easily figure out almost anyone else’s rating if that person has been active to any significant degree. Do you see where this may be a problem for real money chess?
If you and your opponent both know each other’s rating, you can pretty easily predict who will win the match. The person with the higher rank may have an incentive to place a bet on the game, but the lower-ranked person will decline every time. This kills the action.
You could imagine someone developing an anonymous chess website with no rating system, but then people would still be disinclined to place bets. You have no idea who you’ll be paired up against until the game begins. You know that luck of the draw will have you either matched against someone superior or someone inferior. The outcome is almost preordained. If you have no way to know you’ll be paired up against, you might as well bet on the flip of a coin.
Sure, Grandmasters would have ever incentive to pair up against random players for real money matches, but there’s not much incentive for anyone else to flip the coin in random pairings. It would be tough to generate any action.
Let’s consider online poker. The skilled players will eventually take the shirts off the less-skilled players, but the skill difference isn’t as obvious. Even more importantly, poker includes elements of chance. The worst player in the world can get lucky sometimes and beat the best players. Poor players have an incentive to play. The outcome is not preordained. Hey, you might win money. This keeps the money coming in from the fish and drives the poker economy.
So what should I do?
Your best bet is to play chess for the love of the game. This is not the game to play if your ultimate goal is to make boat loads of money and travel the world in a private jet. Chess players have day jobs just like everyone else. They may win money at major tournaments, but not life-changing amounts.
If you’re still interested, I recommend checking out the Internet Chess Club at www.chessclub.com. There, you can sign up for a membership and learn from Grandmasters, participate in tournaments, win cash prizes and watch real tournaments live. The software is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android.