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Woodpecker Wednesday – Week 4 recap

Welcome to the latest installment of the weekly Woodpecker blog. This marks the end of my fourth week of training with the book: a significant milestone, since four weeks is the recommended duration for one’s first cycle of solving.

Last Wednesday I noted that I had some significant catching up to do. I’m happy to report that I did finally achieve my first target of 984 exercises by the end of last night. The next step, as recommended by Hans and Axel, is to take at least one full day off from training before beginning the second cycle. My schedule before the Olympiad is tight, so I’m going to have to limit myself to no more than a single rest day in between cycles.

The end of the first cycle seems like a good time to take stock of the numbers and reflect on what has gone well and what I could have done better.

Summary of results

I took a total of 1033 minutes to solve the 984 exercises, with a total score of 88.9% (using my modified system of one point for a correct solution, half a point for being partially correct, and zero for being completely wrong).

What went well:

1) I achieved my goal of 984 exercises! This was not easy and required some discipline, as the business of preparing to sell my property has taken so much of my time and energy lately.

2) The system I mentioned last week, of solving 12 exercises at a time, then immediately noting the time and checking the solutions, has worked extremely well. Several times this week I was solving late in the evening, and I don’t think I could have faced the tedium of checking 48 solutions in one sitting! But breaking everything down into mini-sets of 12 has made it so much easier to push through tiredness.

What I could have done better:

Only one thing stands out: my pacing was much too uneven. After solving just 72 exercises in Week 3, I had to compensate by doing 306 in Week 4. This time I was able to recover and get the job done. But in future cycles, when the daily quota of exercises gets higher, I can’t afford to build up such heavy arrears.

It will be interesting to see how it goes over the next 14 days. How have my fellow woodpeckers been doing this week?

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  1. Frank
    August 22nd, 2018 at 11:34 | #1

    Congratulations, Andrew! Not only to achieve the goal, but also amazing is the low error rate and the speed. As a player with a rating of just under 2300, I`m not nearly that good.

    Off topic:
    Is there a reason why all diagrams are printed only from the perspective of the player with the white pieces?

  2. John Shaw
    August 22nd, 2018 at 13:22 | #2

    Frank :
    Is there a reason why all diagrams are printed only from the perspective of the player with the white pieces?

    We did a reader survey once (probably on this blog), to ask for views on diagrams with the pieces of the side to move placed at the bottom. Some liked the idea of some diagrams having the black pieces in the bottom half, but those who disliked the idea really hated it with a passion.

    So our standard style is to always have the a1-square at the bottom left.

  3. Tom Tidom
    August 22nd, 2018 at 16:16 | #3

    I finished my first cycle today after solving exercise number 510.

    My initial aim was 500 exercises so that went well. I use the same scoring system as you, Andrew, and scored 93%. However, it took me around 21 hours (or 1260 minutes) to get there so speed is certainly the main area to work on.

    I won´t have time to start my second cycle before sunday. My aim is to solve the easy exercises in 1 or 2 days and after that 24 exercises each day.

  4. Ryan
    August 23rd, 2018 at 09:32 | #4

    @John Shaw I’m pretty surprised that this idea would be controversial. Certainly it would be very strange (bad) for a “normal” book to alternate between the two, but I don’t understand why anyone could really object to consistently having black on bottom in a black repertoire book.

    Still, board orientation isn’t a big deal in most books. Puzzle books like this one are in a category by themselves, in my opinion. For a puzzle book, the convention of the player to move being at the bottom is normal and helpful to the reader. For this book in particular, when solving on the Forward Chess app I have repeatedly been thrown by trying to solve for white to move in a black to move position, since for some reason I end up overlooking the small move indicators every now and then. It’s been a major annoyance over time.

    Perhaps this could just as easily be solved by the FC folks having a setting to toggle diagram orientation, which would improve my experience quite a bit.

  5. John Shaw
    August 23rd, 2018 at 10:49 | #5

    @Ryan

    I recall the strength of feeling on board orientation surprised us.

    Ryan :
    @John Shaw For this book in particular, when solving on the Forward Chess app I have repeatedly been thrown by trying to solve for white to move in a black to move position, since for some reason I end up overlooking the small move indicators every now and then. It’s been a major annoyance over time.
    Perhaps this could just as easily be solved by the FC folks having a setting to toggle diagram orientation, which would improve my experience quite a bit.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but both Forward Chess versions allow you to flip the board.

  6. Paul H
    August 23rd, 2018 at 10:50 | #6

    @Ryan
    Forward Chess already has this feature, though you have to toggle manually for each position in settings.

  7. Peter
    August 23rd, 2018 at 17:05 | #7

    I’ve completed 20 days so far – 1650 minutes and 726 problems at 88% doing the book’s scoring method.

    I’m not sure doing all the scoring is worth it – I spend much more time just checking answers and assigning/counting points than actually studying the solutions. I may need to spend a day before the next cycle just going over all the problems I missed (at least the ones I fully missed) because otherwise I think it’s likely my incorrect answer will be what my subconscious primarily remembers which will make it even harder to get them right vs. the other way around.

  8. Ryan
    August 23rd, 2018 at 17:18 | #8

    @John Shaw @Paul H I was unclear– my problem is that with the app, in sporadic moments of carelessness and/or forgetfulness I overlook the black circle indicating black to play and start solving for white to play by habit based on board orientation. You’d think it wouldn’t be that hard to just look at the circle but I appear to be very dumb and/or blind 🙂

    At any rate, the convenient setting would be something to set board orientation automatically, so that the player to move is impossible to get wrong; being able to flip the board manually isn’t important to me personally as I have no problem solving with either orientation.

  9. Andrew Greet
    August 24th, 2018 at 09:21 | #9

    @Frank
    Thanks for the kind words! I guess my tactical ability is acceptable for an IM, but with considerable scope for improvement. On the rare occasions when I’ve had a postmortem or other analysis session with players close to or above 2700, I’ve been awestruck by their quickness in spotting tactics. Few of us will ever reach that level but we can certainly close the gap.

  10. Andrew Greet
    August 24th, 2018 at 09:23 | #10

    @Tom Tidom
    Well done Tom for making it through the first cycle and hitting your target with an accuracy rate higher than mine! 🙂 It will be interesting to see how much your speed improves in the second and subsequent cycles.

  11. Andrew Greet
    August 24th, 2018 at 09:40 | #11

    Peter :
    I’ve completed 20 days so far – 1650 minutes and 726 problems at 88% doing the book’s scoring method.
    I’m not sure doing all the scoring is worth it – I spend much more time just checking answers and assigning/counting points than actually studying the solutions. I may need to spend a day before the next cycle just going over all the problems I missed (at least the ones I fully missed) because otherwise I think it’s likely my incorrect answer will be what my subconscious primarily remembers which will make it even harder to get them right vs. the other way around.

    I completely empathise with what you’ve said about the scoring system. Although I see some logic behind the ‘tick’ system, for me it’s too complicated and time-consuming. Have a think about using my modified system of 1 point per correct solution, with half for a partially correct one if you’ve got the correct first move but missed a detail which should have been seen when making that decision. This way, your focus will be less on counting ticks and more on looking back at the exercises you got wrong/partially wrong and playing over the correct solution in your head.
    When checking solutions, I recommend using a bookmark to enable you to quickly refer back to the relevant exercises, so that you can quickly go back after finding a wrong answer and replay the correct solution in…

  12. Andrew Greet
    August 24th, 2018 at 10:03 | #12

    … in your mind.

    Let me say a final few words on the subject of scoring. Remember, this isn’t a university exam, or formal test where you need to achieve this or that percentage to achieve a reward. The most important thing is to work through the exercises! This process will only get more intense in cycles 2,3 and beyond, so we all need to make sure our efforts to keep score don’t interfere too much with the solving itself. Ultimately it’s about improving the quality of the solving and making the effort worthwhile. That is the value of scoring – and it doesn’t have to be too elaborate or time-consuming. If anyone finds themselves getting too bogged down in the process of adding up ticks, it may be worth considering switching to a simpler scoring system.

  13. d.
    August 24th, 2018 at 12:28 | #13

    This last week, which was supposedly the start of my second cycle, hasn’t gone so well for me. I’ve done 40 problems, but overall have found it quite a bit harder to set aside time to work on this than the first time through. I could point to various life / work factors, but in the end it’s really about motivation. Hoping to have some good stretches of time to devote this weekend and re-focus.

  14. An Ordinary Chessplayer
    August 24th, 2018 at 16:55 | #14

    Ryan wrote: “the convention of the player to move being at the bottom is normal”

    I strongly object. This is a recent innovation, not a convention at all. I have yet to see a book or magazine from 19th century or earlier that EVER had black to move at the bottom of a diagram. (Sam Loyd composed a problem which could be flipped upside down and solved either way with white to move, but that doesn’t count.) Since obviously I have not read all such literature, there indeed may be an example, and I would be very interested to have it pointed out.

    However, I do have an app that shows pgn positions from the side-to-move perspective. And some web sites do the same, e.g. this one:
    https://www.europe-echecs.com/diagramme-du-jour.html

    I’m not voicing a preference here. I had no trouble switching from English descriptive to long algebraic notation, and later to short algebraic. Similarly, I have no particular trouble solving chess problems right-side up, upside-down, or even sideways (no more trouble than usual, that is). I’m just saying the so-called convention, as stated, does not in fact exist. If anything it’s the white-always-on-bottom that is the convention. Black-on-bottom is a computer thing, in my mind.

  15. pabstars
    August 24th, 2018 at 18:39 | #15

    I have also now finished my first cycle in 28 days, having a go at the first 984 exercises. I have not registered the time used on the exercises and not either my score. However, it is a bit lower than the scores for other people who have written about the topic in the blog. Almost all of the easy exercises were correct but for the intermediate, I have typically had approximately 4/6 correct on each page. I will start the second cycle on Sunday and only check the solutions when a whole page has been solved. For me it seems realistic to be able to finish the second and third cycles on schedule but I don’t see myself being able to solve so many exercises in 4 days.

  16. Ray
    August 26th, 2018 at 15:16 | #16

    After 3 weeks (I started later), I’ve only finished 444 exercises, with a percentage of 92%. Though my score is not too bad, my problem is that I need too much time (905 minutes so far). But once I have memorised all patterns, I guess my speed should increase substantially 🙂 . I’ve switched to Andrew’s scoring system, and I have to say this is much more convenient than the ‘official’ system!

  17. Anders
    August 27th, 2018 at 08:02 | #17

    Regarding the diagram orientation preference; let’s agree on a comprimise ’middle way’ of always displaying white to the left and black to the right, i.e., a 90 degree flip. In that way, all can be happy, one size fits all.

  18. Tournesol
    August 27th, 2018 at 09:00 | #18

    Week 2 and 380 puzzles finished in 10 hours, 85% approximatly.

    I’d like to talk on a further issue not yet mentioned – how long do you manage to stay focused and calculate with personal maximum speed? I once heard from an Ukrainian Trainer who already coached some top players that those guys manage to calculate on top speed for hours, while most amateurs slow down after 5-15 minutes, which is also my personal experience. I would like to increase this ability. Andrew & all, what do you think one can do to reach this goal?

  19. Andrew Greet
    August 27th, 2018 at 10:26 | #19

    Anders :
    Regarding the diagram orientation preference; let’s agree on a comprimise ’middle way’ of always displaying white to the left and black to the right, i.e., a 90 degree flip. In that way, all can be happy, one size fits all.

    Though I myself am right-handed and read in the conventional left-right orientation, I find this suggestion grossly offensive on behalf of all those right-left-orientated readers whose human rights would be violated by this cruel act of discrimination!

  20. Karagialis
    August 27th, 2018 at 22:43 | #20

    Nice effort, Andrew.

    Out of curiosity: What business are you in? What are you trying to sell?

  21. Tim S
    August 28th, 2018 at 09:19 | #21

    I got through 630 exercises in the 4-week period, with an accuracy of 89%. I’ve had three days off (for a chess tournament) so looking forward to getting back to my Woodpeckering after work tonight. Bring on cycle #2!

  22. Andrew Greet
    August 28th, 2018 at 11:14 | #22

    Tournesol :
    Week 2 and 380 puzzles finished in 10 hours, 85% approximatly.
    I’d like to talk on a further issue not yet mentioned – how long do you manage to stay focused and calculate with personal maximum speed? I once heard from an Ukrainian Trainer who already coached some top players that those guys manage to calculate on top speed for hours, while most amateurs slow down after 5-15 minutes, which is also my personal experience. I would like to increase this ability. Andrew & all, what do you think one can do to reach this goal?

    Like any other ability, sustaining maximum concentration for longer periods is something which can be developed. In theory it should be possible to extend training times to get used to longer periods of effort. The trouble is that, whereas full-time professional players are able to put all their energy into chess, most of us have some combination of job/studies, family, other hobbies/interests etc., all of which take up much of that time and energy which could otherwise be used for chess.
    So, try to improve through training but don’t hold yourself to the same standard as a professional player. Also remember that while training is important, the single best thing (in my experience at least) you can do to ensure peak performance at the board is to get a good night’s sleep and eat sensibly.

  23. Andrew Greet
    August 28th, 2018 at 11:20 | #23

    Also Pabstars, Ray, Tim S and anyone else I missed who has completed at least one cycle: well done, and keep up the good work for the next cycle! I would say more about the second cycle but the weekly Woodpecker post is due tomorrow, so I’ll share more thoughts about it then.

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