USATE – A Preview

For those of who may not be familiar, the U.S. Amateur Team East Chess Tournament, USATE for short, is a team tournament.  Yes, you read that right.  It’s an annual event that takes place during Presidents’ Day Weekend in Parsippany, New Jersey.  The event is six rounds long with two rounds on each day of the weekend.  Although it only happens once a year, the experience and fun that can be taken from it are worthwhile, especially because of the plentiful amount of differences from typical open tournaments.  Essentially, it’s a mini-Olympiad for all of us who aren’t quite at the super-grandmaster level yet.  The Olympiad is generally considered the strongest team tournament in the world; teams are based on resident country.  The USATE’s requirements for registration are not too lengthy:

  1. A team of four players + one alternate (optional)
  2. A team name
  3. Average January supplement rating between four highest players must be below 2200
  4. No more than two grandmasters per team

Unlike the Olympiad, we don’t have teams coming from all over the world, so they can’t be grouped by that trait.  Instead, teams are limited in strength by rating.  This limit, however, has some loopholes in it that allow for different styles of team composition.  Albeit there being multiple different styles of team composition, none have clearly proven to be significantly more advantageous than any others – in the end, it comes down to who plays well and who doesn’t, which is how chess should be played.  Let’s take a look at these compositions:

  1. Balanced

With approximately the same rating across all four players of the team, this composition aims to have an equal chance to win games on any of the four boards, and the team has no real weaknesses.  If the team as a whole plays well, it will win.  If it plays relatively poorly, it won’t do as well.  For first time entrants, this type of composition is recommended.  This is because, while there aren’t any clear advantages to this composition, there are certainly no disadvantages.  Once these players are multi-year veterans at the tournament, they can begin to branch out into other team compositions.  An example of this team composition would be:  2010, 2000, 1990, 1980.

  1. Heavy

This team composition takes advantage of the fact that there is no limit to how high rated players can be.  This composition typically entails three very high rated players plus one very low-rated player to balance out the difference and keep the team below 2200 average.  There are both advantages and disadvantages to this setup.  The obvious advantage is that three high rated players are very likely to do well, especially the players on board 3 and sometimes even 2, since opposing teams will rarely have relatively competitive players (unless, of course, the other team uses the same team composition; in this case, the match would be a great battle).  The disadvantage, however, is that the fourth board player is almost always guaranteed to lose since the team as a whole will most likely continue to play strong teams.  This places the burden on the high rated players to win almost every game if possible since drawing matches negates this advantage; it will actually work against the team’s tiebreaks because of the relatively low board points.  For teams like this, however, the hope is that the fourth board player doesn’t mind this course of fortune since they have a decent chance of winning prizes.  An example of this composition would be:  2600, 2500, 2400, 1275. (Important note:  one of these high rated players cannot be a grandmaster, but any other title is fine).  This point about winning prizes leads me to my next composition.

  1. Calculated

This team composition is based on the prize system of the tournament.  There are 13 total “under” prizes, beginning with 1000 and going all the way up to 2200.  The prizes go to the team with the most points that had an average rating less than the associated prize level.  For example, a team rated 2190 would only be eligible for the U2200 prize, while a team rated 1895 would be eligible for every prize from U1900 and higher.  This team’s purpose is to have four players whose ratings average out to just below a prize level.  Often, this type of method is combined with one of the others to offer the team the greatest chances to win a prize.  This method is used so often that it typically leads to pretty spectacular pre-tournament standings.  It is not uncommon to find 5-6 (or more!) teams with an average of 2199 occupying the top spots.  This plan can be found in the lower prize sections too, with a higher density of teams located in the 80s and 90s of a section than, say, the 20s or 30s.  The advantage of having a team with this setup is that you have one of the “strongest” teams that are eligible for a certain prize.  I use the quotes because, in the end, it once again comes down to who plays well and who doesn’t; however, in theory, a team like this would be expected to fare better than a team rated 30 points below it.  There are no disadvantages to this type of composition, which is why it is widely used in team constructing.  The key to constructing this team is to have a sum of ratings less than or equal to 8796.  An example of this team composition would be: 2310, 2230, 2140, 2115.  These ratings add up to 8795, which would yield an average of 2198.75, rounding up to 2199.

  1. Generic

For those who play just to have fun and be with friends, all these ratings and averages won’t matter as much.  If that’s the case, just take a few of your friends or people you know and go have fun!  There’s nothing more to be said!

The tournament also offers other prizes and events to make the experience even better.  Every year, there is a contest for best team name created, with the winner being chosen by the people at the tournament.  Typically, the team names model events or things with significant bearing and/or popularity from the previous year.  My team name from last year was “Bb8?? R2d2 wins easily!” It involved the new Star Wars droid, BB8, and the older, but more famous, R2D2.  “Bb8” and “R[2]d2” also happen to be chess moves!  Although this name didn’t win any of the top prizes, it really shows the creativity required to achieve that recognition.  In addition, strong grandmasters from the tournament give free lectures during their free time, and they are very instructive.

With all this said, I hope that you consider participating in this tournament!  It’s only a few weeks away, so the time to act is now.  I guarantee you, this tournament will be one of the more fun events you’ve participated in the past year, if not for your entire career so far.  I know I plan on playing there, so I hope I get to see some of you there!  And, as always, thanks for reading and see you next time!

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