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Woodpecker Wednesday (Week 2 recap)

Welcome to the third of our weekly Woodpecker bulletins, where I will continue to update my progress of working through the training program advocated in The Woodpecker Method in preparation for the Batumi Olympiad, while inviting blog readers to share their progress.

In last Wednesday’s post, I noted that I had worked through the first 390 exercises in the book, of which 222 were Easy and the rest Medium. Seven days later, the total stands at 606, which means I have solved 216 Medium exercises over the past seven days: an average of almost 31 per day. I am satisfied with the total, which keeps me on schedule for my first training goal of 984 exercises within four weeks of my starting day.

This past week was quite challenging as, in addition to the day job here at Quality Chess, I am preparing to sell my property and move to a bigger house, so all this has been taking a lot of my time and energy. My solution to this challenge is to prioritize my chess training in the early evening, and postpone any housework until afterwards when I’m tired, rather than the other way around.

My usual daily goal has been 36 exercises in a session, or 24 if I’m tired and/or have little time available. (I find multiples of 12 to be logical as this corresponds with the layout of the book.) I managed either 36 or 24 every day with the exception of Monday, when I simply felt too tired to do anything in the evening. I compensated by solving 24 positions on Tuesday morning before work and 36 in the evening to get back on track. Unfortunately I haven’t finished checking my solutions and adding up the times, but my accuracy for the five days from Wednesday through to Sunday was around 92-93%, and my average time was about one-and-a-quarter minutes per Medium exercise – although obviously the solving time for any single position varies wildly, from a second or two when the idea instantly comes to me, to five minutes or more when I have to set up the position on the board and look harder.

How has everyone else been doing this week?

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  1. Paolo Nicora
    August 8th, 2018 at 14:04 | #1

    I cannot find the sum of maxim points available in spreadsheet that you give for first session, e.g (55)could someone help me? many thanks

  2. Andrew Greet
    August 8th, 2018 at 15:50 | #2

    You didn’t find this information because it does not exist on the spreadsheet, but you can modify it in any way you wish.
    I prefer to keep it as simple as possible: if I have 100 exercises, my maximum score will be 100, and I give myself half a point for a partial solution. But if you wish to keep score using the ‘tick’ system recommended by Axel and Hans, this is also fine.

  3. Paolo Nicora
    August 8th, 2018 at 16:03 | #3

    I was not clear. for example in the second sessions in the spread sheet the max points indicated for the 25 ex is 52 but I find only 49. following authors instructions as I supposed.

  4. Paolo Nicora
    August 8th, 2018 at 16:15 | #4

    ex 41 no tag so 25X2-1=49 instead of 52. of course your mthod is simpler and good

  5. d.
    August 8th, 2018 at 17:59 | #5

    I’m up through problem 496. I think I’ll give it another week and then go through and re-cycle with however far I’ve gotten.

  6. Lebowski
    August 8th, 2018 at 19:50 | #6

    How different is this from the old MLDM “seven circles” thing that made the rounds 10-15yrs ago out of the book “Rapid Chess Improvement” ?

  7. JB
    August 8th, 2018 at 21:37 | #7

    Woodpeckers, can I get some advice? Have downloaded the sample from Forward Chess and from the qc website so have some idea of the layout in these format but not sure which to go for. What do you all think? Are the diags too small in the paper copy etc. I like the idea of writing something in the margin on the paper copy but then again if you are using the book as much as you are meant to it may start to fall apart and the electronic version is so portable you can woodpeck anywhere if you have your phone. Can I get a straw poll of which format you you chose and if you recommend it, thanks.

  8. Ray
    August 9th, 2018 at 05:58 | #8

    @ JB:

    I wouldn’t write something in the margin on the paper copy, since you have to do the same exercises many times and don’t want to give yourself any clues / reminders. I am using the book myself, which works fine with me. I first solve all the exercises in a session, writing down the solutions on paper, and then I look at the solutions at the end of the book. I haven’t done any work since my 2×2,5 hour sessions on last Friday; I’m hoping to de a similar session coming Friday, which is my regular day off. Not sure though whether I’ll have sufficient time to do 5 hours.

  9. Andrew Greet
    August 9th, 2018 at 08:43 | #9

    Paolo Nicora :
    I was not clear. for example in the second sessions in the spread sheet the max points indicated for the 25 ex is 52 but I find only 49. following authors instructions as I supposed.

    I misunderstood your question. The numbers in the spreadsheet were chosen almost at random, just to illustrate how the spreadsheet automatically adds up the totals at the bottom. The numbers are not intended to correspond to the book. I guess we could have made this clearer, so perhaps we’ll change it if and when we reprint.

  10. Andrew Greet
    August 9th, 2018 at 08:56 | #10

    @JB

    I got my hardcover courtesy of the company. If I had to spend money on one format though, I would go for the hardcover out of personal preference.
    Definitely don’t write solutions in the margins, as this will ruin it when you come back to solve the exercises again. However, I believe someone commented on one woodpecker thread that he was going to mark each exercise that he got wrong, in order to monitor any repeated mistakes. I can see some logic in this. The only other time I would consider writing in the book would be if I come up with an alternative solution which is not mentioned by the authors. If I engine-check it and find it to be just as good as a main solution, then I’ll make a note of it so that I won’t have to do the same check in future cycles.

  11. Paolo Nicora
    August 9th, 2018 at 12:09 | #11

    N11 has solution of a different game.

  12. Andrew Greet
    August 9th, 2018 at 13:35 | #12

    @Paolo Nicora
    Thanks – yes we are aware of this error. We have corrected it on FC and will also correct it on future reprints.

  13. JB
    August 9th, 2018 at 13:52 | #13

    @Andrew Greet
    Agree that need to have no clues so would probably add notations in the margin of the solution. In fact if I had my choice I would have no information about the game at all and may well overwrite the player names in thick black pen. You just have to see the words Lasker Bauer and you think double bishop sac whereas if it is just the position you get no prompt. Even if you don’t know the game the first time through woodpecking you’ll soon get to know it with further passes. Looks like paperback may be my choice. Thanks
    PS how long is the agreed qc delay till the paperback is published? Got a few books such as Markos Shankland and ehlvest I’m waiting to buy when released either in paperback or when the forward chess price drops

  14. Peter
    August 9th, 2018 at 14:58 | #14

    I’m not through a full week yet but it seems (way beyond my initial expectations) that I have a shot at easy + intermediate for my set…we’ll see.

    I do have a few things I want to ask about/mention:

    1) Some solutions show the first move with a check by it. Do the authors mean for this to count as 1 point or 2?

    2) Several problems so far do not have any checks (no check by first problem or later) – which made me wonder about question #1. Examples are: #41, #274, #280. Do the authors mean for these to be worth 1 and the problems with a check by the first move to be worth 2?

    (Yes, I know scoring is secondary but I find it motivating and would prefer to do it the way they intended)

    3) At what point is a reduction in quality too much? In my case, for the easy problems I was at 96% and for the intermediate problems I’ve done so far (only 55 admittedly) I’m at 80% and I’m averaging about twice as long (or maybe a bit more) on them. Note that I’m following actual scoring from the book. Does anyone have any thoughts?

  15. Chess123
    August 9th, 2018 at 17:54 | #15

    How quickly should a 2200 player be able to do all the easy exercises (222) in 1 go? And halving this time on the second round is the aim, right?

  16. BlitzSpecialist
    August 10th, 2018 at 06:31 | #16

    I didn’t solve many puzzles this week, but I did gain 100 points online. 😛

  17. Ray
    August 10th, 2018 at 07:14 | #17

    @Peter
    I struggled with the same question. My interpretation of the instructions in the introduction are that you get 1 point for finding the correct first move, and next to that one point extra for each move with a tick / check. But the confusing part is that that there are some solutions with only the first move given, but with a tick added. I counted these as one point.

  18. Frank M
    August 10th, 2018 at 10:20 | #18

    @Peter
    @Ray

    I understand it like this: Every time you find a move with a tick, you get 1 point. If the first move doesn’t have a tick, you have to find the solution up to the first move marked with a tick to get 1 point.

    PS: Until now I left a few comments here, only. (Not during the last weeks). I did so using the name Frank. Since during the last weeks another Frank posted a few comments here, I changed it to Frank M.

  19. Andrew Greet
    August 10th, 2018 at 10:25 | #19

    JB :
    @Andrew Greet
    Agree that need to have no clues so would probably add notations in the margin of the solution. In fact if I had my choice I would have no information about the game at all and may well overwrite the player names in thick black pen. You just have to see the words Lasker Bauer and you think double bishop sac whereas if it is just the position you get no prompt.

    Remember, over several cycles of solving you should increasingly be able to recognize all the positions regardless of the players involved. Building up this increased recognition is what the method is all about, so I can’t see any real benefit to obscuring the names. But of course, when you’ve bought a copy it will be yours to do with as you please, so do whatever you find helpful.

  20. Andrew Greet
    August 10th, 2018 at 10:35 | #20

    JB :
    @Andrew Greet
    PS how long is the agreed qc delay till the paperback is published? Got a few books such as Markos Shankland and ehlvest I’m waiting to buy when released either in paperback or when the forward chess price drops

    We don’t specify an exact timescale for when to release the paperback edition, as we will generally want to time it to coincide with the publication of another book, or some other event such as a major tournament, especially if that event involves the author in some way. I guess six to nine months would be a normal gap between the initial hardcover publication and the paperback release, but don’t take this as any more than a loose guide.

  21. JB
    August 10th, 2018 at 10:51 | #21

    @Andrew Greet
    Andrew, I think you missed my point . I would put a great deal of money on solving a puzzle labelled ‘Botvinnik- Capablanca 1938’ without seeing the diagram as Ba3 or Fischer -Benko as Rf6. In fact i wouldn’t even need to know the rules of chess or what made “Ba3” a good move to score correctly- it’s purely a memory. Building up the recognition of the positions is indeed what it is all about but unfortunately the player names mean you automatically bypass the piece arrangements. For example if one of the positions in the book was labelled as from the recent Carlsen-Karjakin WC my first instinct would be to see if it was Qh6 the moment I looked at the diagram. With no player names I’d have to rely PURELY on the piece and pawn configuration which is the real point. You should have no clues at all- that’s why the red herrings in the book are good ideas as well.

  22. Andrew Greet
    August 10th, 2018 at 10:59 | #22

    @Peter
    To answer your questions:

    1) and 2): I’ll answer these together as they are essentially the same issue. I’m not sure if one or two points should be awarded – and as for the slight inconsistency with where ticks are awarded, I don’t know if this was deliberate from the authors, or the kind of accidental inconsistency which can arise when annotating more than a thousand solutions. I have emailed Axel and will share his answer when I get it.

    3) 96% and 80% sound perfectly good to me on a first cycle, although everyone will have their own level depending on playing strength and other factors. In the book, Axel and Hans say they trusted their conscience: if they felt they were missing too many details from cycle 2 onwards, they slowed down.

  23. Andrew Greet
    August 10th, 2018 at 11:16 | #23

    @JB
    No, I understood your point – I’ve just never found that to be a problem. I take your point about the game headers giving away the move; but for such famous examples, you would just as instantaneously know the moves from the position as from the game header, so I can’t see it making much of a difference either way. When it comes to these famous positions, the important thing is to still go through the process of checking the variations.

    Still, I find your point interesting as it’s highlighted something I haven’t thought about before: apparently different people’s eyes are naturally drawn to different things on the page. For me personally when doing this type of solving, my eyes mostly just laser in on the diagram positions. Several times in the course of my Woodpecker training so far, I’ve inadvertently glanced at a game header and thought “Oh, I’m on to a different World Champion!” I guess your natural tendency is to look at the game header first, then the position. In which case, if obscuring the headers helps you to get more out of the training, then go for it.

  24. Andrew Greet
    August 10th, 2018 at 11:24 | #24

    Chess123 :
    How quickly should a 2200 player be able to do all the easy exercises (222) in 1 go? And halving this time on the second round is the aim, right?

    There are no exact guidelines: even among 2200 players (or any other rating level), some players will solve faster than others. But if you want a target to aim for, I did the first 222 Easy exercises over two sessions in a combined 99 minutes.

    The goal for the second cycle is to halve the number of DAYS needed to complete the set. This does not necessarily mean halving the number of minutes spent solving. Especially the easy exercises, many of which you will solve instantly on the first go.

  25. JB
    August 10th, 2018 at 12:19 | #25

    @Andrew Greet
    Thanks Andrew.

    Be interested to know if the ‘red herrings’ mentioned may also involve a good positional move rather than it being purely tactics as there is often ‘nothing on’ and you need to move on from looking for a tactic to chose a move with a small positional improvement or prophylaxis in mind instead.
    From the book PDF I inferred that all the red herrings included are still a winning tactic just not the most obvious ones. If you really want “to bring the training experience one step closer to that of an actual game” (quote from the PDF) you need some red herrings based on these positional moves/prophylaxis as well (though maybe at a low rate, say 10%).

    These red herrings would equate I guess to Jacob’s ‘Strategic’ decisions. To further tie in with Jacob’s decision making process- sometimes in a real game it is a case of an ‘automatic’ or ‘simple’ decision as well but this book seems to be almost exclusively ‘Critical moments’. While I am no way saying a book focusing purely on tactics/critical decisions is a bad thing if you really want to make it ‘closer to an actual game’ you need some diagrams to include these automatic and simple positions as well.
    A basis for a new book-“Woodpecker 2- the sequel- just when you thought it was safe to stop pecking..”?
    Would include positions where all types of decision may be needed at any particular diagram and your job woodpecking is to improve your…

  26. JB
    August 10th, 2018 at 12:20 | #26

    …. ability to firstly make the correct decision faster every time you pass through the cycles and then when you have decided it is a critical moment to also find the correct tactic.

    PS signs the book is going down well- Woodpecker Method is sold out at Chess Direct already!

  27. Andrew Greet
    August 10th, 2018 at 14:18 | #27

    @JB
    The red herrings I have seen (and, I must confess, been caught out by in a few cases!) so far have been positions where a seemingly natural tactical continuation is not the best, which seems to be what you are suggesting.

  28. Tim S
    August 13th, 2018 at 07:09 | #28

    I’m two weeks in now, with 372 puzzles completed. A bit less solving this week, but I hope to step it up a bit for the second half.

  29. Tournesol
    August 13th, 2018 at 08:38 | #29

    2 Days, 90 min., 72 puzzles, 1 wrong (“Capa” made the same mistake, for consolation). The Level within “easy” differs, many you know by heart, but some are, at least for me (ELO 2100), pure calculation, no pattern recognition at all. I would be interested whether this is different for a IM/GM – Anderew, do you see all solutions to “easy” within seconds?

  30. Andrew Greet
    August 13th, 2018 at 09:42 | #30

    @Tournesol
    Yes, I averaged less than 30 seconds per exercise for the Easy section (including writing my solutions down in a hurry) so it’s safe to say I solved a lot of them through pattern recognition and many more in a matter of seconds by focusing on the part of the board where the action was taking place and spotting the simple tactical idea. I would estimate that I spotted the majority of solutions in less than 10 seconds but spent a bit of extra time checking that the solutions worked as intended.
    I also made the same mistake as Jose Raul, which I strongly suspect is the same exercise you’re referring to.

  31. Andrew Greet
    August 13th, 2018 at 13:34 | #31

    Peter :
    1) Some solutions show the first move with a check by it. Do the authors mean for this to count as 1 point or 2?
    2) Several problems so far do not have any checks (no check by first problem or later) – which made me wonder about question #1. Examples are: #41, #274, #280. Do the authors mean for these to be worth 1 and the problems with a check by the first move to be worth 2?

    Axel has replied via email, so I will quote the relevant part of his message below:

    “1) If the first move is the only with a tick, it’s enough to see that move to earn 2 points.
    2) If there’s no checks, it’s also enough to see the first move to earn 2 points.
    I agree it’s a little inconsistent, however the rules on page 27 are applicable anyway.
    Maybe it’s the cause of having two authors…

  32. Chess123
    August 13th, 2018 at 13:36 | #32

    @Tournesol

    @Andrew Greet

    Which exercise are you talking about?

  33. Peter
    August 13th, 2018 at 14:41 | #33

    @Andrew Greet

    That’s very helpful! I’ve been counting all of those as 1 point. Seems that every problem is worth at least 2 points – just mentioning that when talking about the points (in a reprint) may be something easy to add.

    @Frank M
    I do think the book is pretty clear that if there is a tick mark later than the first move, it is worth an additional point and the first move is worth 1.

    Although, any way one scores the book is probably fine – but I definitely prefer to try and keep score as they intended :).

  34. Christian
    August 13th, 2018 at 17:26 | #34

    Axel has replied via email, so I will quote the relevant part of his message below:

    “1) If the first move is the only with a tick, it’s enough to see that move to earn 2 points.
    2) If there’s no checks, it’s also enough to see the first move to earn 2 points.
    I agree it’s a little inconsistent, however the rules on page 27 are applicable anyway.
    Maybe it’s the cause of having two authors…”

    I’m a mathematical fool, but isn’t it totally irrelevant if you score 1/1 or 2/2 or n/n? You can either get it right (100%), or wrong(0%), but this doesn’t change your overall percentage at all, no?

  35. Christian
    August 13th, 2018 at 17:35 | #35

    No, it’s not the same. I’m an IDIOT, sorry. Forget what I wrote 😉

  36. John Simmons
    August 14th, 2018 at 06:31 | #36

    Sorry if this point has already been done to death, but on the surface the methods in this book look very similar to the rather notorious repetitive ideas of Michael de la Maza and his chess circles for learning chess tactics. Or am I missing something?

  37. Thomas
    August 14th, 2018 at 06:44 | #37

    Are there any news on any new books from QC?

    Will there be a release before christmas?

    Plans for 2019 ?

    Second edition of the King’s Gambit to avoid the Elephant Gambit?

  38. Andrew Greet
    August 14th, 2018 at 09:55 | #38

    @John Simmons

    You might want to read the excerpt, where Hans briefly touches on this subject in the ‘Woodpecker History’ section: http://www.qualitychess.co.uk/ebooks/WoodpeckerMethod-excerpt.pdf

  39. Andrew Greet
    August 14th, 2018 at 10:08 | #39

    @Thomas
    We will update the publishing schedule when we are ready. We will probably have to reprint the KG and various 1.d4 books in 2019 to help all those former 1.e4/2.Nf3 players being terrorized by the Elephant.

  40. Thomas
    August 14th, 2018 at 12:32 | #40

    Great news!
    Meanwhile I’ll go for 2.Bc4 to be save – as 2.f4 also allows d5!

  41. Frank
    August 14th, 2018 at 20:48 | #41

    Day 4. I solved all 222 easy exercises in the first three days. I stopped the time after every single puzzle. Average time per puzzle: 35 seconds without writing the solutions down. Including writing: 65 seconds. I scored 97 %. It was more of less all pattern recognition.

    Today I have solved 24 intermediate exercises in 100 minutes. It was much harter. Deep calculation was sometimes required. For example puzzle 232: 1. Nge6 springs to mind but I needed more than 10 minutes to realize that it must be a win after 1. -g5 2.N:f8 g:f4 3.Nd7 Bd8. My score was a disillusionment – only 72%.

    Great book!

  42. Andrew Greet
    August 15th, 2018 at 12:52 | #42

    @Frank
    When you say you stopped the time after every puzzle, was that to set the pieces up for the next position?
    Thanks anyway for the positive comment about the book, and keep up the good work!

  43. Frank
    August 16th, 2018 at 12:56 | #43

    Thank you for the motivating words! Thanks also for your tireless post on this blog!

    No, my plan is to write down the solutions only during the first cycle. In order to halve the time in the second cycle, I need the average value from the first cycle.

    On the other hand, I think it is very important to note the solutions with all the essential variants. This shows whether you have really seen all nuances. I believe that the postprocessing is of great importance. The review during the follow-up is more effective with your notes. The solution notes reveal your weaknesses. It requires extra time, yes. This is not boring for me, but increases the learning success.

    Generally speaking, it is also important to define a goal a n d write it down, I believe. But before you define a goal, you need an impression of how many puzzles you can solve on a daily basis. Otherwise, the goal can be unrealistic. You might be disappointed if you don’t reach your goal. In my case, I have determined that daily 20-24 of the intermediate exercises is the right size.

  44. Andrew Greet
    August 16th, 2018 at 13:33 | #44

    @Frank

    Personally I avoiding writing detailed solutions with every subvariation, and prefer just to jot down the key moves in order to maintain my speed. I always remember what I calculated (especially since switching to a routine of only solving 12 exercises at a time), and when I check the solution I’m always honest with myself and mark myself down if I missed some important detail. But as with many other aspects of training, it’s a matter of personal preference and finding the balance that works best for you.

  45. Tournesol
    August 17th, 2018 at 07:20 | #45

    @Chess123
    #41 sorry for waiting, I was too busy with the puzzles 🙂

  46. Philip Tozer
    August 18th, 2018 at 19:22 | #46

    Just wanted to say how much I’m enjoying this exercise. After 8 days (a total of 7 hours’ solving) I’ve completed 280 puzzles. I try to do one hour sessions. Aiming for 1000 within 4 weeks – it may be a challenge with the bank holiday coming up..

    As a 2150 player I noticed a real increase in difficulty around about number 260, when I started to get some wrong because I was going too quickly. The puzzles seem to be slowly but surely increasing in difficulty.

    I’d be interested to understand more about why the aim is to half the number of days, rather than hours. I don’t think Axel and Hans explain this do they? But I’m just trusting the instructions. Find it hard to believe that I could solve them all in 1 day – although my current speed indicates I could do it in about 24 hours!

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