Organise yourselves into teams of 4

What is the optimum size for a pub quiz team?

The two great team based TV shows of our age, ‘Only Connect’ & ‘University Challenge’, would suggest that 3 or 4 is a good number, but really for a pub quiz that is often going to be too small. For TV it is a small enough number to get to know each contestant a little bit in 30 minutes but enough people to ensure that there is a bit of a spread of characters and knowledge.

So, let’s look at different team sizes:

1 person: well, not really a team, but I suspect some readers of this blog may have done a pub quiz as a singleton. I won’t go into this any more, as I think “solo pub quizzing” is a post of its own!

2 people: significant risk of simply not having an important subject area covered, or some minor news event having passed you both by.

3 people: getting there, but still a little bit short staffed. You begin to get into the realm of disputes and arguments with 3 different opinions on contentious questions. This can of course be very healthy, and can lead you down the right path to a a tricky answer.

4 people: just outside the perfect team size. Major plus is that it is still easy to confer as a foursome on a typical square pub table. As team size increases, assuming reasonable quiz aptitude,  there is an obvious and natural improvement in knowing things. This tails off at around 7-8 people.

5 people: In my view 5 is the optimum quiz team size. The only downside is that seating configuration can risk leaving one player marginalised. A round table, or a small rectangle with two on each side and the scribe at the end is recommended. Just enough people to cover most major areas, plenty of different perspectives, and an odd number in case a 50:50 decision needs to be made.

6 people: almost as good as 5, and actually my preferred number for teams at a quiz (for non-quizzers) that I am hosting rather than taking part in. The extra person just makes that little bit of difference to cover the likelihood that one or more people in the team turn out to be a bit rubbish.

7 people: starting to get unwieldy. Very difficult to confer properly as a group, and you end up with people writing things down and showing them to each other rather than discussing properly – and of course well set quiz questions are best solved by discussion not by people just silently thrusting their answer suggestion across the table (often accompanied by a slightly irritating nod+eyebrow raise combination). When I’m running a quiz with teams this size (and upwards), then I’d start throwing in some much harder questions and dipping into more niche subject areas s the large number of people on the team makes it far more likely that the range of knowledge will gobble up the easy questions, and you risk too many teams all getting the same high scores. Has the odd-number advantage of the 5-person team (obviously).

8 people: I’m still pretty happy with 8-person teams (for quizzes I run, but certainly not for quizzes I attend), but it can be difficult for the participants to work together properly. Plenty of scope for arguments on things like guess the year questions. If I’m running a quiz after dinner, and tables are 8 person tables then fine. If the tables are rectangles rather than round though I’ll sometimes break them into 2 x 4.

9 people plus: too many. The extra people don’t help particularly, and as numbers get higher and higher it is harder for the team to work together, and individuals within the team who aren’t near the action won’t engage as well.

What is your preferred size of quiz team?

Does your pub quiz impose any limits and/or scoring adjustments for different team sizes?

5 replies
  1. Ben
    Ben says:

    I have most of my success in a team of 3 – I find that unless the fourth ‘brain’ covers an area I don’t know (sport being the big one) then between the three of us we’ve little need of that extra member.

    In one of the regular quizzes I host we have a team that fluctuates from 2 members (last week) to 17 (two months ago). When they were 17 I asked them to split into three teams… they took three entry sheets, but still played as one. They still came last. But then the oldest of them is just 19 and their GK is poor, poor, poor. The regulars used to complain about the team size – now they don’t care.

    What I learned from this: it doesn’t matter the team size (3+), if the ‘brains’ are good enough.

  2. QuizMistress
    QuizMistress says:

    In corporate quizzes, another, very important, factor is fun. Participants are not going to have as much fun in groups of 3 or 4 at a staff social as they would in teams of 5 or 6. They might not know each other terribly well (teams at company quizzes are often drawn out of a hat) and the bigger the team, the better the chance of someone they can chat to. A quiz is not the first choice of entertainment for many people at such an event, and they will not be as focused on the questions and the prize as, say, my husband and I (plus 1 or 2) would be at a pub quiz.

    Often, the size of tables or style of event will dictate the team sizes – in a hotel ballroom, tables will usually be set for 8 or 10, and the organiser’s suggestion that people split into two teams per table is almost always a bad one.

    I once had an organiser insist on having teams of 15-20. I told her this would not work, and that she would lose people after the first round. She was determined, and the quiz went ahead on that basis. Guess what happened? After the first round, about 60% of the guests buggered off to the bar, as they were too far away from the person with the pen and paper to make any meaningful contributions to the quiz.

  3. Dr. Andy
    Dr. Andy says:

    When I attended a Pub Quiz (for years) as a participant, Streets of London in Sacramento allowed only five per team, and that seemed perfect for us with their tiny tables. Often we just huddled around a single pair of chairs. We had four regulars every week — including Ian, the CPU of the team — and then it fell to me to recruit an additional player each week. We enjoyed the company of a bunch of different people, and those who could contribute were asked back to play more often.

    Now that I am a Quizmaster at de Vere’s Irish Pub in Davis, California, we have a limit of six members per team. The best and the largest teams come early to claim a table, while sometimes tables of seven or more come just to audit. Some of the most successful teams choose participants according to their varied areas of strength, while other teams come for primarily for the fine cuisine and the company, and fret not about their chances of actually winning. When these teams DO do well, they clearly display the most joy. The energy, sharing, and laughter make every de Vere’s Irish Pub Pub Quiz an event not to be missed.

  4. admin
    admin says:

    Many thanks for the comments Dr. Andy (akak Your Quizmaster if I’ve got you right!)

    I think the idea of “auditor” teams is an interesitng one. You make it clear that the limit for active participation and prize-winning is 6, and any more than that are welcome to take part, but just aren’t eligible for the prizes..

    I love the description of one of your players (Ian) as the “CPU” of your team! I’m sure many pub quiz teams have someone like that!

    • Dr. Andy
      Dr. Andy says:

      My Pub Quizzes can be tricky, though I write the questions so that just about every team scores ten or more (out of 30), and no team scores higher than, say, 28. I’ve just finished the rough draft of a Pub Quiz book that will be published in 2016. I look forward to showing others how we run the Pub Quiz at de Vere’s Irish Pub in Davis, California. Visitors are encouraged to check out the website, and to come by the Pub some Monday night. We start at 7.


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