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In high school I played on a chess team, but that was fairly straightforward because there were no rating restrictions for teams. Every team just grabbed the 5 strongest players and then ordered them by strength.

In most other team tournaments (except for the Chess Olympiad), there is a rating limit (i.e. the average rating of the 4 players must be less than or equal to the limit). Additionally, most team tournaments are comprised of teams of 4 players.

That was all a build up to a request for the best strategy for a team of 4 in terms of ratings. Given a rating limit of 2000 (as it is in this upcoming tournament), what are the best strategies to create a highly competitive team? Similarly, what are the average ratings on each board?

For example, a team of 4 equal rated players (2000, 2000, 2000, and 2000) would likely be at a disadvantage on the top 2 boards, but would most likely have a rating edge on the lower boards. On the other hand, a top heavy team (2500, 2000, 1800, 1700) would be more likely to have an edge on the top board, but at the cost of the second board.

A perfect answer would draw on statistics from past tournaments, but I would love to have personal anecdotes as well!

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    What about at team with one really weak player and 3 strong players? An extreme example, a team of 2667, 2667, 2666, 0, will likely win on top 3 boards, and lose the game on the 4th board, 3-1. – Akavall Oct 8 '12 at 23:30
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    @Akavall good point. That was done in the USATE in 2008 (see USCF Website article). Since then, most tournaments have a rule that the rating on Bd. 4 counts as either the player's rating, or the Bd. 3 rating minus 500, whichever is higher. This pretty much stops the GGGg strategy in its tracks. – Andrew Oct 9 '12 at 0:09
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    @Akavall better to put the 0 on board 1 and the strong players on the lower boards. I have seen such a strategy where the weak player was put on board 1 to ensure the team did better overall. I have also seen where a good player was put on last board to ensure a win for the team albeit usually close but more often than they lost. – yobamamama Jan 12 at 1:30
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My own experience (from high school, decades ago), is that balanced teams do better. That's because most opposing teams are unbalanced.

I was first board on my team, and "league average" against other first boards.

But my lower boards were barely worse than me. They "cleaned up" against their counterparts, few of whom were "barely" weaker than me.

Hopefully your first board will get you a "random" result, and the lower boards will prevail against their opponents.

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  • Out of curiosity, did you have a rating limit in your league? Or was it rated? My own HS team had no rating rules at all, so the balanced teams did well because that just meant that they had lots of stronger players. – Andrew Oct 8 '12 at 20:24
  • @Andrew: We didn't have a rating limit. Mine was about 1500, and the others not far behind, probably no less than 1400. – Tom Au Oct 8 '12 at 20:34
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    I guess my point was if you had an infinite amount of perfectly rated players, which lineup would be most optimal given a rating limit. In HS we did well because we had roughly 1750-1650-1500-1400-1400, but there was no limit so we could have theoretically had 2500-2500-2500-2500-2500 if we could find 5 young phenoms in high school. Most of the teams in the league were probably closer to 1700-1300-1200-1000-1000. We routinely had players win or place in the end-of-year league individual tournament. – Andrew Oct 8 '12 at 20:44
  • If you were doing 50% on board 1, and your lower boards were cleaning up, then you were winning because your team was better, not because your team was balanced. Take 300 rating points from the bottom board and give it to you, and your team would have done just as well; you'd just change which board the wins were coming from. – D M Dec 27 '18 at 2:26
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Let's pick a random tournament I found individual board results for - the 2017 US Amateur Team West. The maximum average rating for this tournament was 2200, rather than 2000, but it should still be instructive.

For this tournament, the average ratings by board (not including unrated players) were:

Board 1: mean 1874.24, median 1949, max 2592, min 1026

Board 2: mean 1723.98, median 1804, max 2390, min 683

Board 3: mean 1593.78, median 1634.5, max 2242, min 551

Board 4: mean 1465.19, median 1532.5, max 2163, min 119

Alternate: mean 1590.6, median 1769, max 2058, min 748

Most teams came nowhere near the rating limit. 48 of the 65 teams had an average rating of under 2000, while just 17 had an average rating of 2000 or more. All of the top 15 placing teams had an average rating of 2000 or more. So, the first, and most obvious, strategy for winning is to have lots of rating points on your team.

Winning first place on tiebreaks was BAC TEAM 1. The ratings of their players were 2471, 2390, 2242, and 1673.

Coming in second place (with the same record and same total game points as the first place team, and drawing against them head to head) was BCS WU HOO! The ratings of their players were 2284, 2201, 2162, and 2085, with an alternate rated 2016.

Clear third (losing only to the top team, by a score of 1.5-2.5) was BRIGHT CHESS KING, with players rated 2218, 2180, 2086, and 2050.

I find it interesting that, of the top 3 teams, one had 3 players above 2200, one had 2 players, and one had 1. This seems to show that multiple different team makeups are viable.

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