Woodpecker Wednesday (Week 3 recap)

Before I start the main blog post, let me say thank you to everyone who has pointed out the wrong position in Exercise 11. We made a blunder when replacing an exercise; we have already inserted the correct position in the Forward Chess version; and we will do the same with all future reprints. The correct position can be found here: Replacement for Exercise 11 (pdf)

With that out of the way, welcome to the fourth of our weekly Woodpecker bulletins. Once again, I shall 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 and ask any questions they may have.

The past seven days have not been the most productive for me in terms of training, as house-moving developments have taken much of my time and focus. I’ve now worked through a total of 678 exercises, which doesn’t sound so bad, but is an increase of just 72 over my total seven days ago. My average speed and accuracy for the Medium exercises has remained similar to before.

Before setting training goals for the next seven days, I want to share one of the problems I’ve had with training, and how I’ve dealt with it. 

In previous blog posts, I mentioned that I was mostly solving 36 (or sometimes 24 or 48) exercises in one sitting, before checking the solutions and adding up my score. The problem is that I find checking solutions and adding up scores to be downright boring! Last Wednesday I solved a certain number of positions late in the evening, but didn’t feel like checking the solutions as I was tired, so I decided to postpone solution-checking until the next day. But when the time came, I couldn’t face this boring task after a busy day and got distracted by something else. This happened for a couple more days: I would have been keen to solve more exercises but I couldn’t face the boring task that had to come before it, so I found a reason not to do anything.

After finally checking those solutions, I decided a change was needed, so now I force myself to stop after every 12 exercises and note the number of minutes spent solving, then I immediately check the solutions and note my score. This way, I never develop a large backlog of solutions waiting to be checked. Once I’ve solved and checked 12, I’ll either solve another 12 or go and do something else before returning to solve another 12. I don’t know if I’ll continue this routine for the duration of my training, but for now I am finding it helpful. As usual, this isn’t intended as advice for everyone, but it might work for some of you.

Now on to goals for next week! The house-moving business is clearly going to factor into my schedule over the next seven days as well, and it remains to be seen if I can achieve a better balance between that and chess training. If I am to hit my goal of 984 exercises in 4 weeks, I’ll have to solve 306 over the next week. This is a big step up from last week but, breaking it down, I’ll need to do 4 sets of 12 exercises on five days, with 3 sets of 12 on the other two days. When I think of it in those terms, it doesn’t sound too bad. However, there’s no doubt that house-moving will take some of my time and focus as well. So at this stage I shall start out with the total of 984 as my target, but if I end up reducing it, it won’t be the end of the world – I’ll still have a substantial set of exercises to repeat in subsequent cycles.

Who else has been Woodpecking this week?

25 thoughts on “Woodpecker Wednesday (Week 3 recap)”

  1. @ Andrew Greet

    Thanks for sharing this with us! I have exactly the same experience – a large backlog of checking solutions, which is indeed boring work. I like your advice, I’ll try it myself. The only possible disadvantage I can see is that I’ll have to watch out not to see the solutions of the following problems. I’m also wondering if working on Forward Chess rather than the paper book would be less cumbersome? Does it automatically check your solutions or is it handwork as well on Forward Chess. Does anyone have experience on doing this on Forward Chess?

  2. @Ray
    An easy fix is to have a piece of paper or something similar and move it down the page so you’ll only see up to the right solution and no further.
    John has the FC version on his device so I’ve asked him about the solution-checking functionality on there. Although I use the hardcover myself, I would imagine the built-in engine is handy in case you’ve found a different solution and want to check quickly if it works.

  3. Peter :
    In the correct exercise #11 – which side to move?

    It’s White to move. Black to move would be too easy, with mate-in-one on g2. But I do agree it should clearly state who is to play, so I will update the pdf.

  4. I don’t have the book so maybe the reasoning behind the solution checking is included somewhere in the text but why aren’t you checking the solution immediately before moving on to the next problem rather than in batches afterwards. If the idea is to increase pattern recogniton should you not need to immediately ‘overwrite’ any incorrect solutions with the correct one in your head. If you don’t you would seem to be consolidating the incorrect solution.
    I can see it would be a lot of flipping pages back and forward and the danger of seeing the next solution as mentioned above but Andrew’s suggestion seems to be a good idea. If timing the solutions is the issue you can always press pause on whatever stopwatch you use after deciding on a move to not include the irrelevant time to write the answer and then checking the answer before commencing the timer as you look at the next problem

  5. I’m through 640 problems, and will be calling it there for myself and looping back to start a second cycle.

    I have been working with the FC version, checking each answer immediately after each puzzle and using the engine where needed to see what I missed in alternate lines. Seems okay, and better for me than a printed book, although it’s not as tightly integrated as more specialized tactics training apps. I’ve written to FC with some feedback on this and am hopeful they might work on improving this at some point.

  6. @Ray
    The FC version is excellent as it has a ‘show solution’ button next to each exercise, so you can either check them one at a time as you go along or do them in batches similar to what I’m doing.

  7. JB :
    I don’t have the book so maybe the reasoning behind the solution checking is included somewhere in the text but why aren’t you checking the solution immediately before moving on to the next problem rather than in batches afterwards. If the idea is to increase pattern recogniton should you not need to immediately ‘overwrite’ any incorrect solutions with the correct one in your head. If you don’t you would seem to be consolidating the incorrect solution.

    I don’t find it a problem ‘overwriting’ a wrong solution a while after my incorrect attempt. When I see that I’ve got one wrong, I always go back and look at the diagram to ‘burn’ the details into my mind. It would drive me mad if I had to go back and forth in the book after every puzzle, never mind the effect on timekeeping. All my timekeeping is done with a wall clock to keep it simple.

  8. Le bruit qui court

    Off topic….
    Jacob, please read new Erik Kislik’s new book.
    It’s outstanding, and I especially liked chapter about questions to be asked during game.
    He praises your 3 questions on weaknesses, worst piece and prophylaxis, but adds some more …

  9. Day 6, 280 min., 196 puzzles, 3 wrong. The most important experience up to now: I loose much time by trying to make “my” candidate move work, instead of switching to another candidate. Which “outcome” for improvement do you have?

  10. It took me about a week to get the book so I’ve finished 13 days with 510 problems solved in 17 hours and 40 minutes. I’m trying to shoot for finishing all intermediate but I’m also worried that will make future cycles ridiculously hard since I am not sure I can spend any more time than I currently am working on tactics.

    I don’t think the authors address it in the book too much but it seems obvious to me no one will actually be able to solve their problem set in half the time over and over again for 7 cycles – and while doing it in half the days seems like what you’re supposed to shoot for I don’t really understand how to accomplish that unless one spends more and more time each day in subsequent cycles – but how is that sustainable?

    E.g. What should one do if their 2nd cycle takes 20 days and 3rd cycle takes 13 days – give up? Eliminate part of their set? I guess if I start running into such issues I can bring them up and see if anyone thinks I should make a big switch.

  11. I have wondered the same thing myself! Previously I have tried woodpeckering a set of about 300 exercises but only got through two or three cycles. I’ll see if I can find my old training log to check how the solving time came down after the first cycle, but I agree it would seem unrealistic to expect to cut the number of minutes in half with every cycle.
    The authors are quite clear that the goal should be to halve the number of days in each cycle, so to me it implies that the average time spent solving each day will probably have to increase. You certainly shouldn’t give up if you go from say 20 days in one cycle to 13 in the next. I can ask Axel for his opinion, but I suspect the advice will be to recalibrate and aim for half of 13 in the next cycle (rounded up when dealing with an odd number), meaning 7 days. You may also be able to save time by not writing down solutions (or at least reducing the amount of detail) once the benefits of memory and recognition have kicked in.

  12. Another thing which I’d recommend doing before the second and subsequent cycles is to set a daily target. Say for instance that I achieve my first goal of 984 exercises in 28 days, and will then aim to get through my next cycle in 14 days. I’ll aim to bang through the Easy section in one evening, leaving 762 Medium exercises to solve in 13 days, making an average of 58.6 per day. I’m solving 12 exercises at a time, so my target will be 60 per day. That’s more than I’ve been doing so far, but it doesn’t sound too terrifying, considering that I’ll have seen all the puzzles already. Of course the process will get more intense as the cycles go on, but it’s not supposed to be easy! And for me anyway, breaking the task down into smaller, daily chunks makes it seem more achievable.

  13. It also depends on your ability to keep the puzzles in memory. As I learnt I’m far worse in solving than many of you, but once I saw a puzzle I remember it for months, even a great number. So I suppose I will be much faster than half of the time in cycle 2, but beginning with cycle 3 or 4 it will be just a matter of concentration. Not sure what to do then. Classical learning theory recommends to repeat the next day, day 4, day 7, after 4 weeks and then after half a year. I think you have to adopt the scheme to your personal abilities.

  14. It’s much easier to reduce your time if you started by doing things like setting up each position or checking every solution. That’s what I’ve been doing and if I stopped I’m sure I’d at least halve my time even without solving faster. That said, I suspect the authors intentions were that you aim to halve the actual chess solving time.

  15. @Andrew Greet

    Yeah, it seems possible but then I imagine all of those continuations for 4 pointer problems that I never even saw and am not sure I’ll remember/calculate all of those – of course, getting the main lines will be the vast majority of all points but I wouldn’t be surprised if I can get through a couple more cycles reasonably well and then my accuracy falls off a cliff b/c I’m speeding to the next problem after seeing the main idea(s).

    I guess we all are in for a very exciting 4-7 cycles! 😉

  16. Thanks everyone for sharing your ideas about coping with the increasing demands of cycles 2, 3 and beyond. It’s clear that different people process information in their own ways and will want to adapt their training method accordingly. Those of us who began our Woodpecker training when the book was published will soon be due to start our second cycle, so we’ll be able to share more about this once it is underway.

  17. It is really great with a blog about the Woodpecker method. I bought the book 20 days ago. Having finished 792 exercises, it shouldn’t be too difficult to meet the target of 984 exercises in 4 weeks. I check the solution after each exercise but ignore analysis about incorrect attempts to save time. Tomorrow, Axel Smith is holding a lecture about the method in Copenhagen which I’m going to attend. Hopefully, this will be extremely interesting and also a help for me as I have promised to talk about the Woodpecker in my chess club next week!

    I also find that the thought of decreasing the number of days by 50% for each cycle sounds almost nightmarish. I don’t see myself being able to complete all of the exercises within 1 day in the 7th cycle but it will be fun to try 🙂

  18. I’m exactly two weeks behind the schedule of this blog series, so currently on week 2 instead of week 4. But while solving today using the Forward Chess app I noticed an erratum: exercise 337 is displayed with to-move indicators for both black and white.

  19. I started a week later (my first session was on 3 august). My stats are as follows:

    Total number of exercises: 343
    Total time spent: 550 minutes
    Total score: 92%

    I noticed that I see most solutions quite quickly, but for some problems I need a lot of time, only to come up with the wrong answer… So my guess is that the amount of time can go substantially down (at least for me) once I have memorised these patterns. But I agree that cutting the total time in half each cycle sounds pretty ridiculous if you still want to have a life.

  20. off topic:

    Studying my way through Sharp Endgames, and wanted to know what a good follow up book would be ? One with either exercises or positions with more then 1 critical moments.

    Can grandmaster preperation Endgame Play be used within Lund’s framework ?

  21. @pawnmayhem
    The positions in the book are chosen for one moment, but often this is so deep that they can easily be played out against a machine, rather than just solved.

  22. Thanks all for sharing your experiences, they are very interesting and helpful. I started my first Woodpecker cycle at September 1st, bought the book for a friend of mine as a present for his birthday (although I didn’t know when his birthday was), and created a WhatsApp group for us called ‘The Woodpecker Club’. Luckily he was willing to join me :-). Members of this club (currently 3, all rated around FIDE 1900) keep each other motivated by posting their daily results (minutes, number of exercises) in the app group.
    I don’t mind flipping back and forth to check the solutions after every exercise but I average 3 minutes per exercise so it is not driving me mad. Maybe, in the second cycle, I’ll go for 12 exercises in a row before checking, as Andrew Greet suggested in his Week 4 recap. I also like his suggestion of scoring (‘one point for a correct solution, half a point for being partially correct, and zero for being completely wrong’). Good luck to all you Woodpeckers. Hard work pays off. Best greetings from the Netherlands.

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