Woodpecker Wednesday (Week 5 recap)

Welcome to the latest Woodpecker Method training blog. It’s now five weeks since the book was published, which for me has meant spending four weeks completing my first cycle of exercises (984 in total), followed by one rest day with no chess, followed by the last six days working on my second cycle. From the comments to previous blog posts, I see that a number of you guys have already finished your first cycles and several others are approaching that stage.

Since my rest day last Wednesday, I have worked through 450 exercises, 222 of which were Easy and the other 228 Medium. My accuracy so far in this cycle has been over 95% and the solving time has been 238 minutes.

Of course, it’s a near certainty that speed and accuracy will increase to some degree when solving exercises for the second time – but even so, I am happy with those numbers – especially the speed, which has improved considerably since my first cycle.

My ‘deadline’ for completing the second cycle is midnight on Wednesday the 5th of September, and I do need to increase my daily quota a little if I’m to finish all 984 exercises by then. I don’t believe this will be a problem, as I had some other things taking up my time over the past week, whereas over the next seven days I should be able to put more time and energy into solving.

QUICK TIP: If you know you’ll be facing some additional distractions or commitments on some days, then plan accordingly by solving some additional exercises on the ‘good’ days to allow for a reduced number on the busier days.

Overall I’m happy with the improvements in the second cycle so far. I can feel that my pattern recognition has become sharper, and my increased speed makes me confident that I will complete this cycle on schedule. Obviously this will get harder as the cycles go on, but we should focus on the stage we’re currently on before worrying about what lies beyond that.

Another interesting point is that I’ve been using the board and pieces less that I expected, simply because my memory and recognition have kicked in such that I know almost immediately which part of the board I should be focusing on, and from there it’s just a matter of working out the details. Only in a few cases has this proved tricky enough to warrant setting up the board. Of course I’ve still dropped some points here and there – including a few exercises which I also got wrong the first time, so in those cases I’ve made a special effort to try and imprint the correct solution in my mind. With some other exercises I’ve seen the core idea but moved on too quickly, without spotting some important defensive try and how I would deal with it – in which case I’ve marked myself down by half a point. As the authors point out in the book, it’s important to slow down enough to check the variations, even when you remember the first move.

Over to you guys. Who else has been Woodpecking this week? I’ll be especially interested in hearing from those of you who have been working through your second cycles, and what improvements in speed and accuracy you’re experiencing.

29 thoughts on “Woodpecker Wednesday (Week 5 recap)”

  1. I am in for my 2nd Cylce now. After needing slightly more than 4 weeks due to some vacations etc for the 1st cycle of 984 exercises (accuracy arround 90%) I started keeping track of the 2nd cycle more detailed, as it requires some tough planning to get it done in time.
    The easy exercises were not such a big challenge and I managed them in two sessions of 111 exercises with one mistake each. (solving time approx. 150 min)
    Now I managed to do the first 132 intermediate exercises (as I have to do 63,5 per day) with 93,…% accuracy (using Andrews simple scoring). Obviously I am slower than Andrew with a cumulated solving time of approx. 300 min.
    So far I am happy with the progress in the 2nd cylce, as I get the idea much faster (obivously with some help from memory) and spot defensive ressources faster .
    But in my oppionion, doing the 3rd and following cylces will be the real challenge, as doing 984 in less than 7 days seems tough. But I will try it.

  2. @tarsitius

    Thanks for sharing, and well done on your results so far – you beat me for accuracy on the Easy section!

    As you say, fitting the cycle into the ever-shrinking time frame will be the big challenge later. I have found that when solving my second cycle, I don’t have to write as many variations down, as the solutions are clearer in my head. I still try to calculate the full solution when solving, but often just write the first move and then go straight to the next exercise. Of course, you still have to be hard on yourself when checking the solutions, and be honest when it comes to marking yourself down for missing something important.

    Anyway, it’s just an idea which may enable you and other readers to save a bit of time to help with the increasing demands of later cycles. If you can save 5-10 seconds per solution, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up to 82-164 minutes when added up over 984 exercises.

  3. I just finished my 1st cycle today, so I can summarize my results but can’t really speak to how quickly the 2nd cycle may or may not go.

    I finished all easy + intermediate problems but spent much longer than what most people are reporting: 40hrs. My accuracy was ~87%, using book scoring. I then scored using the simpler system and it was ~87%. So I’m going to go with that from now on and likely also write down less of my answer, just checking more frequently.

    Andrew – when you do the simpler system is there a tendency to give yourself 1 point even if you miss 1 checkmark for a complex problem? It’s hard for me to imagine seeing every checkmark for many of the 4-7 pointers unless one takes several minutes. I’m worried I will cheat!

  4. @Peter

    Good question Peter. I rely on judgement and common sense when deciding if I should give myself a full point or a half in that situation. If I’ve overlooked a genuine defensive try which demands an accurate response, then clearly I should mark myself down for not having considered it.
    However, there are certain places where I disagree with the authors’ use of the tick. For instance, I’ve noticed some examples where the basic combination is sound and leads to a gain of material or some other benefit, but it just so happens that against a certain reply there is an additional finesse which wins outright and has received a tick. In that kind of scenario, I won’t mark myself down for missing that finesse because this is not something I would have needed to see before making a decision on the first move. I’ll still make a mental note of the finesse, and will hope to spot it in my next solving cycle, but this is nothing like the same kind of error as failing to plan a response to a critical defensive try which might otherwise have refuted the combination.
    There may still be a few grey areas where the importance of spotting a certain detail could be debated, but if I’m 50/50 about it then I’ll take the conservative approach and mark myself down half a point. So if you use sensible judgement and follow your gut feeling when unsure, you’ll do fine.

  5. Chessbase seems to read this blog too, or is it just an coincidence? They wrote an article how to compose your own woodpecker database based on your own online games:


    Of course this isn’t the same as going through the book, as the engine often doesn’t show the real point of a move, or the most obvious defences from a human perspective. But maybe it’s a nice additional method.

  6. I´m in the middle of my second cycle after starting last sunday with the 222 easy exercises. Since then I have solved 24 to 36 exercises each day which means I am ahead of my schedule of 510 exercises in total but I already know that I will not be able to do much if anything on 2 or 3 days of the next week.

    For each of the easy exercises I used one minute on average and this doubled up for the intermediate ones. I´m still writing down at least the main line of my solution. My success rate has gone sliglty up from 93% to 97% but in a few cases I still missed some important defence which I should have calculated. At least I got the first move of every solution right so far.

    To my surprise I didn´t remember all the solutions from the first cycle and had to start calculating from scratch in a number of exercises but at least I recognized every position. Must have to do with age… 🙂

  7. Hi
    Still holding off on being a Woodpecker till I see some results. I’m presuming improved accuracy/solving times are considered the best estimate it’s working but perhaps you also have an opinion on whether it has helped OTB where it really matters.It’s a bit hard to read between the lines as solving times/accuracy will vary according to whether you are doing easy/intermediate/hard but Andrew et al – do you see faster solving/greater accuracy as you go through the cycle again?
    This is the 6 million dollar question but for the curious folk like me, has anyone looked at it more fine grained?
    Some questions would cross my mind-For instance are the ones you get quickly the first time are equally quick the second time (ie you know the motif well)? Do harder ones you got right the first time tend to be quicker the second time through (you have consolidated the motif)whereas the ones you got wrong the first time and you had to look up the solution not improve the second time (ie you haven’t consolidated the motif)?
    I know there was a significant lack of improvement in de la Maza’s model’s results outside his own circle- is Woodpecking holding up outside Scandinavia?
    you are a dedicated bunch and I’m just too much of a doubting Thomas to go through such a high intensity program if it doesn’t seem to be working. Thanks and kudos to you all

  8. @Tournesol
    I can’t comment on the details of their training method but I think it’s both weird and ethically dubious that they have used the term “Woodpecker” to describe the training method without a single mention of Axel, Hans, or the two books in which the method has been written about.

  9. @JB
    Indeed, OTB results after completing the training are ultimately what matter the most. I attempted some form of Woodpecker training before the 2014 and 2016 Olympiads using “Chess Tactics from Scratch” and “Tactimania” respectively, but only got through two, or at most three, cycles of the 300/350 exercises, and with no fixed timescale for each cycle. I felt sharper and performed well at both events: not at the desired GM-norm level, but above 2500 both times.
    So, for now I can report that Woodpecker-style training has been of some benefit to me, even when I wasn’t doing it right. Obviously I hope that the rewards will be greater now that I’m solving more exercises over more cycles under specific time-frames, but only time will tell. I will report on this after the Batumi Olympiad.

  10. I am 9 days into the second cycle and the speed and accuracy have definitely improved. It will not be a problem to finish this cycle on time because I have done 778 out of the 984 exercises already. It is totally addictive doing the woodpecker 🙂

  11. JB :
    ….I’m just too much of a doubting Thomas to go through such a high intensity program if it doesn’t seem to be working. Thanks and kudos to you all

    I’m another Thomas and I’d like to add another stupid question:

    If you put in the same amount of time (or work with the same intensity) on any other aspect of chess, wouldn’t you get the same or maybe even better results?

  12. @Thomas
    See page 7 of the book in the excerpt, where Hans talks about Woodpecker versus other possible methods under the “Results of the Training” heading.

    Your question isn’t stupid at all, and I wondered the same thing as I want my pre-Olympiad training to be as productive as possible. I opted for tactical training for the following reasons:
    – I know from (sometimes painful) experience that many, many games are decided by tactics.
    – I am not satisfied with my current tactical ability and believe it is the biggest single limiting factor in my overall playing strength.

    For these and other reasons, Woodpecker training is a good fit for me. So consider your own games, results and aspirations, and decide what kind of training would benefit you the most.

  13. One thing I wonder is if the woodpecker method is so great for tactics, why shouldn’t it also work for many other things? Like technical endgames, positional patterns, critical and sharp lines in your repertoire, etc.

    Of course you might run into the “only 24 hours in a day” problem if you try too many of these at once. Might need to cut the cycles and just skip things you seem to know well enough to fit it all in, or train one thing at a time but rotate them.

    Do Smith and Tikkanen discuss this in the book?

  14. @Stig
    I wondered the same thing years ago, and asked Axel this question some time after “Pump” was published. His response was essentially that he wasn’t sure, but it could be an interesting experiment.
    As I understand it, the purpose of the method is to develop a high level of pattern recognition at a subconscious level, so think about whether this is as applicable to other areas of the game as it is to tactics. If you have a number of exercises dealing with, say, piece manoeuvres in thematic pawn structures, I imagine there could be some benefit in repeating the exercises to reinforce your understanding of where the pieces are best placed in this or that structure.

  15. @Stig
    I’ve done something similar. Not strictly the Woodpecker method, but I added positions from Jacob’s book Positional Play onto Chessable, which tests me on them using spaced repetition. I’ve had them there occasionally testing me for about 6 months, but to be honest I haven’t had any moments in my games where I’ve consciously used an idea that I’ve taken from one of those exercises. Who knows what’s going on subconsciously though.

  16. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot from putting the exercises from Hellsten’s Mastering Chess Strategy and Mastering Endgame Strategy into my spaced repetition system. I definitely feel like it’s rarer for me to have trouble coming up with a plan than it was previously.

  17. Stig :
    One thing I wonder is if the woodpecker method is so great for tactics, why shouldn’t it also work for many other things? Like technical endgames, positional patterns, critical and sharp lines in your repertoire, etc.
    Of course you might run into the “only 24 hours in a day” problem if you try too many of these at once. Might need to cut the cycles and just skip things you seem to know well enough to fit it all in, or train one thing at a time but rotate them.
    Do Smith and Tikkanen discuss this in the book?

    I will be attempting this very thing shortly with a positional puzzlebook, a puzzlebook on defensive tactics and a puzzlebook on strategy/positional principles. Am also doing tactics at the same time as the other three books. By my count, there are around 1,339 puzzles in a single, overall cycle. Maybe too ambitious, but why not try?

  18. @Seth
    That sounds like a daunting challenge – are you sure you have time available in your schedule to tackle all of this? Remember that the Woodpecker as advocated by Hans and Axel is meant to involve a high volume of exercises but not excessive difficulty. Although you haven’t mentioned the books you’re using, the topics of positional play, strategy and defensive tactics sound like they could all be quite challenging and relatively slow to work through. I don’t want to discourage your efforts – just make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew.

  19. Can’t remember where I read it but I believe Axel said that he also has done a Woodpecker based on Positional play and Strategic play.

  20. What is excessive difficult for Woodpecker usage must be very individual though? Where Axel Smith can use Positional Play and Strategic Play (I assume it’s the GM Preparation books), a class player could go for something easier, like the Hellsten books mentioned by dfan or selections from the nine Yusupov books. It should be possible to find positions with the right difficulty for everyone.

    Mating the Castled King could be good material for “woodpecking” attacking skills. And maybe Attacking Manual 2 on a higher level.

  21. @Andrew Greet

    Not at all sure! 😉 I thought my selection of books would at least start off easy, but the author has already thrown in some studies…that was a low blow! The only reason I didn’t mention the books in question is they are by a different publisher and am not totally sure what the protocol is on that for this blog.

    I do not own Woodpecker yet – these exercise books have been sitting on my shelf for some time so felt like I should go through them first. I have set no goal in mind for the first cycle other than giving myself 60 minutes per session with accuracy as the main goal. I’m hoping to do 2-3 sessions per day.

  22. @Seth
    Thanks for being respectful about protocol with other publishers’ books. In such situations, feel free to name the books if you think it adds to the discussion. We are under no illusions about the fact that you all read books from other publishers as well!
    The only thing we really dislike (which only rarely happens) is when someone puts up a comment talking about and/or quoting from some non-QC book in a way that adds nothing to the topic being discussed.

  23. @Seth
    As for your intended training program, if you can set aside 2-3 hours per day then that will obviously help. Still, it’s a lot of material to get through. Hans and Axel suggest a timescale of 28 days for the first cycle of solving. There’s no law that says you have to end your first cycle at exactly that point; but at the same time, if your first cycle drags on for much longer, the effect of memory and recognition will be diminished. So all I would say is to be ready to adjust your plans. For instance, if you’re 28 days in and approaching the end of the second of your four books, it would seem a good idea to finish up the second book and apply the Woodpecker method to those exercises. This should be more than enough to give your game a boost. You can always repeat the process later with the other books.

  24. Thanks, I think this is some really sound advice. I only managed to finish 450 exercises in the first round (while my goal was to finish all 900 something). So the second round I work with these 450.

  25. I guess Axel Smith wrote in a blog a while ago about trying to woodpecker „Positional Play“. It did not work because he remembered the positional ideas on the spot and there was not much to calculate. So he made the second round in quick time and that was that. I think I read it in this blog he had when „pump“ came out, the blog apparently does not exist anymore.

  26. @Andrew Greet

    This is very useful advice. I may indeed have to amend my original intentions. I’ll do one cycle of tactics and positional puzzles and decide from there.

    For the record, the books previously mentioned are from Karsten Muller’s ChessCafe Puzzlebook series – and while I was hoping the introductory exercises would be easier than the tests, there have been a couple where I spent 20 minutes on a single exercise and had to just make a guess and move on. Maybe it would make more sense to shorten the maximum time limit to 15 or 10 minutes instead.

  27. @Seth
    If some of the exercises are taking 20 minutes, it sounds like you’ll have your hands full working through the book. Keep track of your numbers for a few days and by all means reduce the time limit per exercise if you feel you need to increase the volume.

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