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Woodpecker Wednesday (Week 1 recap)

After last week’s blog post on The Woodpecker Method generated several responses and questions, we decided to make it a weekly feature, at least for every Wednesday between now and the Batumi Olympiad, which is the event I’m using the book/method to prepare for. I will document my progress in working through the exercises, and invite anyone else working with the book to do the same, as well as ask any questions about the book or the training method.

Since last Wednesday I have worked through the first 390 exercises in the book. The 222 Easy ones were done in the first two sessions, but my pace has naturally dropped off since moving on to the Medium section. I am aiming for a fairly consistent routine of 36 exercises per daily session, or 24 on days when I am especially tired or pushed for time. This will keep me on track to finish the target set of 984 exercises (all Easy/Medium positions in the book) within the four-week period recommended by the authors. Please note that the 984 total exercises and 36/24 medium exercises per daily session are what I believe to be suitable for my own playing strength, ambition and lifestyle, and should not be taken as recommendations for all.

I have also been keeping track of my scoring and number of minutes spent solving per session (not including time spent checking solutions and adding up my score, which I do separately afterwards). I don’t have the exact figures available as I write this, but I can recall that my total solving time over the past 7 days is a little under five hours and my overall accuracy has been something like 93%. This is not intended to open up a competition between myself and blog readers – only a competition with myself when I compare these results with future solving cycles.

Summing up, I am happy with how the first week has gone, although the really hard work still lies ahead. So, over to you lot! Who else has been Woodpeckering this week?

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  1. d.
    August 2nd, 2018 at 02:03 | #1

    I’m through about 360 total problems so far. I’ve found the intermediate problems to be widely varied in difficulty for me, and some take quite a while to see.

    One interesting side effect I’m noticing is that after the easy problems I was playing very fast in blitz and seeing a lot. Since starting on the intermediate problems I’ve slowed dramatically and am actually seeing less in that kind of time interval. It’s obviously not a lot of data, but I think there is something about training on problems that are at a level that I can really do fast that reinforces a habit of speed. Obviously, I’m looking forward to future cycles when I can come back to these more difficult problems and hopefully go a lot faster — will be interesting to see if this does indeed have the intended carry over.

    It also makes me wonder what is the right balance between struggling a lot to solve a problem versus looking at the answer relatively soon once I realize I’m stuck. I’ve always thought that “struggle” was the right path, but maybe woodpecker philosophy is that looking quickly and then being more ready to come back to it in future cycles is the better approach.

  2. Ray
    August 2nd, 2018 at 06:54 | #2

    Not a lot of progress here – I have a day off tomorrow, on which I plan to do 5 hours of Woodpeckering (not in one stretch, but 2x 2,5 hours). Will let you know next week how it went 🙂 .

  3. Andrew Greet
    August 2nd, 2018 at 08:49 | #3

    d. :
    It also makes me wonder what is the right balance between struggling a lot to solve a problem versus looking at the answer relatively soon once I realize I’m stuck. I’ve always thought that “struggle” was the right path, but maybe woodpecker philosophy is that looking quickly and then being more ready to come back to it in future cycles is the better approach.

    My process for this situation in Woodpecker training is as follows:
    – If I’m stuck on the diagram in the book, I’ll set it up on a board. This always helps me see things more clearly and I often solve it quickly after doing that. (This won’t be the same for everyone, but is worth trying.)
    – If I still can’t solve it after an additional period, I’ll choose a move anyway and write it down, as I’d have to do this in a real game. Then on to the next exercise, and check the solutions when I’m done with my solving.

  4. Andrew Greet
    August 2nd, 2018 at 08:53 | #4

    @Ray

    That’s pretty hardcore! We’ll be interested to hear how it goes – perhaps in the comments to the next Woodpecker Wednesday.

  5. Ray
    August 2nd, 2018 at 11:21 | #5

    @ Andrew Greet:

    Yeah, I know 🙂 . I prefer to train in longer stretches, since in a real game I also have to sit at the board for 4-5 hours. In the past I did the same for the Dutch “Steps” method, and that worked fine for me. I’ll post a comment next Woodpecker Wednesday to share my experience.

  6. Alex
    August 2nd, 2018 at 11:40 | #6

    Nice progress!!

    Do you write down the full solution with all the variations or is it enough to choose a move as you would do in a game? In case you write down all the variations, if your move is correct but you miss one specific variation (which sometimes might not be all that relevant) do you still consider this a correct solution?

    I might start woodpeckering very soon!!

    Cheers!

  7. Andrew Greet
    August 2nd, 2018 at 12:06 | #7

    @Alex

    Personally I write down the first move and any important follow-up move(s) which is necessary to make the combination work. But if I can see I’m winning the queen and forcing mate in a few moves, I won’t bother to write down the full analysis.

    When checking the solutions, I award myself 1 point for a correct answer and half a point when I’ve got the first move but missed a significant detail (and 0 for getting it wrong of course). I use my judgement to determine what’s significant in the details. If there’s some variation which I quickly dismissed as hopeless for the defender, then I won’t mark myself down for not having spotted that there’s a forced mate in 5, even if the authors have put a tick at the end of that line. On the other hand, if I overlooked a decent defensive try which demands an accurate response to make the combination work, then this is an important detail what I should have spotted before choosing that move – so I’d give myself half a point in that instance.

    That’s just the way I do it; everyone should find a way that works for them. The main thing is to apply the criteria consistently and keep improving speed and accuracy with each cycle.

  8. Alex
    August 2nd, 2018 at 12:10 | #8

    Nice! That’s what I do as well when solving book puzzles. Thanks!!!

  9. just amateur player
    August 2nd, 2018 at 16:04 | #9

    @ Andrew Greet

    Right now I’m preparing Challenger, Malaysia Chess Festival (FIDE Classical under FIDE 2000 rating)

    Using the book, Woodpecker Method

    some endgame books that suit my level

    2 warm up chess Amateur tourney under 1700 rapid
    (1st warm up tourney got top 10)

    of course light jogging and sometimes football

  10. Chessdude2
    August 3rd, 2018 at 11:24 | #10

    Ok, slightly off topic.

    Sometimes I use an old fashioned book for this sort of study.

    Is there a PGN editor for IoS that would allow me to enter variations and analysr and save the main lines and variations? This would be very useful when readiing older
    Chess books

  11. Andrew Greet
    August 3rd, 2018 at 14:10 | #11

    @just amateur player
    Tactics training combined with endgame study sounds like the ideal way to prepare. Hope the tournament goes well for you.

  12. Ray
    August 3rd, 2018 at 14:32 | #12

    Phew! I just finished my first two sessions of 150 minutes each, as planned. I did 258 exercises and scored 97%. The intermediate exercises are clearly more difficult than the easy one, so I needed substantially more time for those. I wrote everything down.

  13. Ray
    August 3rd, 2018 at 14:32 | #13

    By the way: the Excel sheet on your website is quite handy, thanks!

  14. Andrew Greet
    August 3rd, 2018 at 14:39 | #14

    @Ray

    Well done! Was that 222 Easy and the remaining 36 Medium, or had you already finished some or all of the easy section in previous solving sessions?

  15. Ray
    August 4th, 2018 at 06:17 | #15

    @ Andrew Greet:

    These were my first sessions – so it was 222 Easy and 36 Medium. So the next sessions will be tougher.

  16. d.
    August 4th, 2018 at 16:29 | #16

    Andrew Greet :

    d. :
    It also makes me wonder what is the right balance between struggling a lot to solve a problem versus looking at the answer relatively soon once I realize I’m stuck. I’ve always thought that “struggle” was the right path, but maybe woodpecker philosophy is that looking quickly and then being more ready to come back to it in future cycles is the better approach.

    My process for this situation in Woodpecker training is as follows:
    – If I’m stuck on the diagram in the book, I’ll set it up on a board. This always helps me see things more clearly and I often solve it quickly after doing that. (This won’t be the same for everyone, but is worth trying.)
    – If I still can’t solve it after an additional period, I’ll choose a move anyway and write it down, as I’d have to do this in a real game. Then on to the next exercise, and check the solutions when I’m done with my solving.

    Thanks very much for the response. My question (or speculation, maybe) was more of the following form. The intermediate exercises are taking me something like an average of 6 minutes to solve. For easy numbers, this means that I’d need 100 hours to solve 1000 of them, or about 12 weeks at 8 hours per week. I’ll call this the…

  17. RYV
    August 5th, 2018 at 00:30 | #17

    I am not really interrested in tactical chess as i prefer positional play. Anyway, sometimes it’s no choice and the game goes the tactics side. Will this method help to became stronger on defence ? i mean help to increase a “sense of danger” and avoid putting oneself in bad position .

  18. Thomas
    August 5th, 2018 at 03:30 | #18

    RYV :
    I am not really interrested in tactical chess as i prefer positional play.

    This parrot is not dead. He’s pining for the fjords.

  19. Tom Tidom
    August 5th, 2018 at 05:43 | #19

    @RYV
    Chess is essentially a tactical game. You really need to master this aspect of it to become better.

    And furthermore tactics are also very important in positional play!

  20. SpeedySolver
    August 5th, 2018 at 05:49 | #20

    I solved all the puzzles in the online sample of the book. Averaged 1.5 seconds a puzzle in seeing the full answer.

  21. August 5th, 2018 at 07:13 | #21

    @Ray

    Can you point me in the direction of the spreadsheet? The link in Forward Chess wasn’t working, I don’t think the file existed at that point.

    I’m doing the exercises on Forward Chess and checking the answers straight away. I’m noting down the rough times and where I got to in a notepad but it’s not proving that accurate I guess. But for a first pass through I’m not sure it’s that important.

    For many years solving exercises such as this was my only real work on chess. Finding combinations isn’t the same skill as calculation but it does seem to help.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what happens on multiple passes through this material but when I get time to do a few hours a day I can feel myself sharpening up. Sadly working on TWIC (and last week preparing a brand new opening for a game) derailed my work on the book last week. Likely TWIC will do that same this week too.

    Think the exercises are great. There have been a couple of hoary old chestnuts that really shouldn’t have been included (eg Qh8+!!), but that’s nitpicking.

  22. Ray
    August 5th, 2018 at 09:03 | #22

    @Mark Crowther

    You can find the spreadsheet here: http://www.qualitychess.co.uk/ebooks/woodpecker-recordsheet.xls

    This link is mentioned on page 28 of the book, but on the website it’s not easy to find without knowing the link.

    Good luck!

  23. August 5th, 2018 at 10:32 | #23

    @Ray

    Thank you. Last week the file wasn’t there, I think they must have added it after I pointed this out to Forward Chess. I’ll probably use their method of recording the info the second time around.

  24. Le Bruit Qui Court
    August 5th, 2018 at 13:03 | #24

    Jacob,

    As an older chess player you certainly do remember groundbreaking books written by Laszlo Polgar, Judit’s father, from the 1990’s on:

    a) Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations, and Games

    b) Chess Endgames

    c) Chess Middlegames

    Unfortunately these top training books which comprise cca 15 000 test positions gone into oblivion, but to my mind they are an ideal tool for cycle training (in western culture known as de la Maza / Woodpecker method).

    Am I right 🙂

  25. August 5th, 2018 at 21:25 | #25

    @Le Bruit Qui Court

    Such books have always been around. The question is whether repeating the same set of exercises in a systematic way is better training than always trying to find new puzzles. I look forward to testing this out. Already when I’ve had chance to solve a lot in one go I’ve got shaper again.

    I have many many such collections. Quality Chess themselves released one by John Shaw. I used to have a small copy of Keres/Golz/Richter Chess Combination as a Fine Art around for use on buses for years. I started my chess education with Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess which is the same sort of thing.

    The Polgar book Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games was not common in the UK when it was first published. You can pick up one of them on Kindle for no money these days. I’ve only a had a brief glance but had the impression it was for beginners.

    I could do with a puzzle book for endgames.

  26. Frank
    August 5th, 2018 at 22:41 | #26

    Try Van Perlo’s Endgame Tactics (1000 positions) @Mark Crowther

  27. Ray
    August 6th, 2018 at 06:29 | #27

    @ Mark Crowther

    There is also a whole series in German called ‘Testbuch der …Endspiele’ by Konikowski. There are volumes on the different types of endgames (rook, pawns, minor pieces etc.) as well as on general knowledge and technique.

  28. Andrew Greet
    August 6th, 2018 at 09:43 | #28

    @d.
    Unfortunately your message was cut off due to the character limit. But anyway, it sounds like you’re doing the right thing in monitoring your solving times and working out an approximate target of however many exercises in the four-week timescale.

    Here is a general notice to all blog posters:
    If you ever post a relatively long reply and notice, after submitting it, that the message has been cut off partway through, due to the character limit, a simple solution is to hit the ‘back’ button. On my browser at least, this takes me to the previous page where I was composing the full message, at which point I can copy/paste the part which was cut off and post it as a new message.

  29. Andrew Greet
    August 6th, 2018 at 09:53 | #29

    RYV :
    I am not really interrested in tactical chess as i prefer positional play. Anyway, sometimes it’s no choice and the game goes the tactics side. Will this method help to became stronger on defence ? i mean help to increase a “sense of danger” and avoid putting oneself in bad position .

    As Tom said, attempting to avoid tactics altogether with seriously hamper a player’s capacity to improve, for all sorts of reasons. And yes, tactics training should help to develop your ability to spot ideas for your opponent as well as yourself.

  30. Tim S
    August 6th, 2018 at 10:47 | #30

    I’m now a week into my first cycle. I’ve done the first 272 puzzles. My pace has definitely slowed on the intermediate problems but I’m enjoying them much more. I felt a bit silly setting up each position for the easy tactics, as I almost always spotted the idea straight away and just needed some seconds to verify it. I expect that I’ll easily surpass my initial estimate of 500 positions – I now think that I’ll get through 700+. Not sure how I’ll ever be able to properly solve 700+ in one day/session though…

  31. Christian
    August 6th, 2018 at 17:11 | #31

    I’m quite sure it’s a good idea to develop a Woodpecker app.
    Such an app would be the perfect training tool. Imagine something where people can share their own Woodpecker sets.
    Such an app should offer all options you need for effective WP training.
    Time managament and statistics, scoring tables, cycle sheets and so on.
    C’mon, someone has to do it 😉

  32. August 7th, 2018 at 12:45 | #32

    Frank :
    Try Van Perlo’s Endgame Tactics (1000 positions) @Mark Crowther

    I did pick that one up. It’s ridiculously cheap on Kindle. Will think about ‘Testbuch der …Endspiele’ by Konikowski.

  33. An Ordinary Chessplayer
    August 7th, 2018 at 15:18 | #33

    @Chessdude2
    I use Chess Studio by Giordano Vicoli. Not free, but worth the tiny investment.
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chess-studio/id684224545?mt=8

  34. Fernando Semprun
    August 7th, 2018 at 21:03 | #34

    @Mark Crowther

    The download worked for me. As I have an iMac, I also re did the excel table to use numbers features better, I am finding it useful to log my work. What was your problem?

  35. Ray
    August 8th, 2018 at 05:51 | #35

    @ An Ordinary Chessplayer:

    Hiarcs is also a good chess database program for iOS.

  36. fernando semprun
    August 8th, 2018 at 12:18 | #36

    Received the book today. I have to say that I prefer the arrangement of Attack & Defence or Calculation where the solns. are given after 4-6 exercises on the even numbered page so the page needs to be turned back. My guess is the sheer number of exercises made that approach not feasible.

    On the Second Cycle, having solved 960 problems (Always writing down solutions, I consider it a must). I love having both the Hardback & Forward Chess versions. FC is good to have a gigantic board available….. and the solution a click away

  37. Andrew Greet
    August 8th, 2018 at 15:04 | #37

    @fernando semprun
    The Woodpecker Method involves solving a large volume of exercises, sometimes a few hundred in one session, so we think it works better when you have all the exercises flowing together continuously.
    Having both the hardback and the FC version sounds like a convenient solution: you pay a bit more for having two versions of the same book, but I imagine it’s worth it to be able to have one showing the exercise and the other on the solutions for quick and convenient checking, plus the engine analysis on FC to check any ideas you had which were not mentioned in the solutions.

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