A Beginner's Guide to Team Chess

Team chess is a great way to add a team dynamic to what is normally an individual game. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images for DAGOC

One of the most entertaining ways to play chess is in a team format. In a team chess match, groups of players compete against each other in order to determine a victor. This doesn't mean that all of the players are playing together on the same board (which would be known as a consultation match), but rather that the results of all games played by the team are added together to determine the overall match result.

Team chess brings a new dynamic to chess competition. Rather than just worrying about their own game, players must now root on their teammates at the same time, as every game can change a team's fortunes. The camaraderie and excitement of team matches make them a favorite of many players at all levels of chess.

How Team Chess Works

A team match can be played with two teams of equal size. Any team size works, but traditionally, the most common team size has been four players. Competitions such as the Chess Olympiad, U.S. Chess League, and the U.S. Amateur Team tournaments use the four player format, but some leagues use teams of six or eight players.

Teams may have more than that number of players on their team, allowing them to have reserves so that the same players don't have to participate in every single match over the course of the competition.

When a team match begins, both players line their teams up in an order that is normally determined by rating (though some competitions allow teams to organize themselves however they like). The top players are known as "first boards," the next "second boards," and so on. The first board players will play against each other, as will the second boards and so on down the line.

As in any tournament, colors will be assigned to the teams before each round. Those colors apply only to the first board. After that, the colors switch on alternating boards. For instance, if a team's first board plays White, the second board will play Black, and the third board will play White. All of a team's odd-numbered boards will play one color, while all of the same team's even-numbered boards will play the other color.

All boards play their games as normal, reporting their normal results. At the end of the match, the points earned by each team are totaled to determine the winner. Should the two teams score an equal number of points during the match, the match results in a draw?

In some team competitions, the only thing that matters is whether your team wins or loses; in others, it's the total number of points scored during your matches that determine the standings, making every game important even in lopsided matches.

Special Team Chess Rules

For the most part, normal chess rules apply during a team match. As usual, players may not solicit or provide advice during games, even to their own teammates.

The only unusual rules that may crop up are those regarding a team's captain. Depending on the exact rules being used in the team competition, a captain may have a little bit more latitude when it comes to giving advice to his or her players. This does not mean that a captain can provide their team with moves during a game.

Instead, a player may be able to ask their captain for advice on whether or not to accept or make a draw offer. Even when this is allowed, however, most rules require that the captain only give advice based on the match score and how much a draw would help the team, not taking into consideration the situation on that player's board.