Gabriel Vasconcelos has a new series on tuning xgboost models:
My favourite Boosting package is the xgboost, which will be used in all examples below. Before going to the data let’s talk about some of the parameters I believe to be the most important. These parameters mostly are used to control how much the model may fit to the data. We would like to have a fit that captures the structure of the data but only the real structure. In other words, we do not want the model to fit noise because this will be translated in a poor outofsample performance.

eta: Learning (or shrinkage) parameter. It controls how much information from a new tree will be used in the Boosting. This parameter must be bigger than 0 and limited to 1. If it is close to zero we will use only a small piece of information from each new tree. If we set eta to 1 we will use all information from the new tree. Big values of eta result in a faster convergence and more overfitting problems. Small values may need to many trees to converge.

colsample_bylevel: Just like Random Forests, some times it is good to look only at a few variables to grow each new node in a tree. If we look at all variables the algorithm needs less trees to converge, but looking at, for example, of the variables may result in models more robust to overfitting. There is a similar parameter called colsample_bytree that resample the variables in each new tree instead of each new node.
Read the whole thing. H/T Rbloggers