31 Comments
Jan 29, 2023Liked by Nate Solon

Thank you for this, Nate! I’ve been considering the Woodpecker method for my 2023 plan and will not now for two reasons: the strong argument your article makes coupled with the fact that, simply working through new and different books throughout the year will simply be more fun. So if not Woodpeckering is even just possibly more effective, AND more fun? Decision made.

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I experienced this method with an excellent tactical book called "Tactics, tactics, tactics" thoughtful edition by GM Csaba Balogh. I solved cover to cover and I tried for a 2nd. time. The result wasn't that I went faster but just that I score higher (I guess that in the 1st. attemp I internalized some positions in my subconscious) But in both cases it took me about a week to solve them all.

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Jan 28, 2023Liked by Nate Solon

Would be interesting to hear some pedagogy or didactics experts opinion...most of chess training material (videos/books...) are created by strong chess players with scarce knowledge of educational techniques...maybe even neourolinguistic experts have something to say!

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Seems puzzles are analogous to learning words in a language. Words as we learn them, in our lifetimes, are static in terms of meaning, use, pronunciation, etc.. Tactics though, while the motifs repeat, they’re always in a different context, in almost every game one will play in their life. I think then that curating great sets of different puzzles for one’s level as well as one’s weaknesses somehow, would beat the Woodpecker Method if there were a study. Lichess tells how well you do with each motif. But are all their puzzles properly tagged? There are other problems with the online sites too as compared to books, but I digress. I am a foreign language teacher btw (not a neurolonguistics expert).

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Learning tactics does not teach you how to play chess. You must learn tactics to cash in on a strategically superior position, but emphasizing tactics over learning what you should be trying to do on the board during a game is a mistake. Old Russian chess maxim: There are no good moves in bad positions.

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Before Michael De La Maza published his book "Rapid Chess Improvement", he wrote an article by the same name. Before he published this article, he sent it to me to get my suggestions, because I had a website since around 1996 that advocated the same idea. I believed in doing a large number of tactical problems repeatedly to build pattern recognition. When I did this myself, I saw my rating go from 1800 to 2000.

I can't guarantee that this is the best way to improve one's chess tactics. For myself, my goal was to be able to see the vast majority of 1, 2, and even 3-move combinations instantly. However, doing new puzzles might also be good.

My website hasn't changed much since I first published it. It is dated. At that time, the Internet (World Wide Web) was relatively new, and most people didn't have access to it. Chess Life gave me an "award" for the website, but there weren't many chess websites at the time.

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Coffee’s tactics website that Heisman recommends I’m assuming. Very cool. How might we get to the bottom of this question? We need two beginners one does 7,000 puzzles. The other does 1,000 seven times. They study nothing else. They play a match. Of course we need many more than two participants.

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The original article was called "400 points in 400 days". You can still find it online.

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I think the point of woodpecker method is to hardwire in the brain patterns for complex tactics. Solving a tactic thinking 10 minutes is not the same as solving instantly. Ideally what we want is a training program that starts with tactics that we don't know how to solve (or that we take way too much time to solve) and reach the point to solve the same level of tactics instantly. On this point woodpecker method works very well: first time solving tactics builds the patterns and they get strengthened by repetition, until they become automatic. Of course there is the overfitting problem, but one could argue that it is worth risking it for a faster pattern creation. Indeed solving always different tactics may make it harder/slower to isolate specific patterns and takes more time to make them automatic.

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http://empiricalrabbit.blogspot.com/2011/03/bain-experiment.html seems relevant.

"In this experiment, I not only greatly improved at solving the problems that I was practicing, but also at solving problems that I had never seen before."

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Nate’s has already conceded that working on tactics consistently in the woodpecker method will of course make you better at tactics outside of your set. The argument however is, would the empirical rabbit have derived even more benefit from 7,000 different puzzles as opposed to 1,000 puzzles done seven times over? Nate: probably not.

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Jun 12, 2023·edited Jun 12, 2023

Thanks for saving me 31 bucks. I am using "chess tempo" online free tactics every day.

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I think for adults especially, repetition is key. A kid has to only see a pattern once, to internalize it. But adults have to see it 2-3-10 times before it sticks. Thats why I think the Woodpecker method has been successful for adults.

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One person's "memorization" is another person's "unconscious competence." To quote Bruce Lee: I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

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I've been curious about the woodpecker method, and may eventually try it. I think some kind of repetition is necessary though. I used to work on chess.com puzzles and got from a beginner level to over 2500 and didn't really notice much improvement in OTB. Contrast to working through a tactics book, organized by theme, with a coach, and I saw drastic improvement. An overfit example since there are many other factors at play, but I feel it had to do with the puzzles being grouped by theme. It narrowed down what to look for while still forcing me to identify the nuances of each.

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author

To my understanding, it's a good idea to start out learning by theme until you have a solid grasp of the idea; then do mixed problems, because you won't know what you're looking for in a real game situation. There are some important advantages to working with a physical book rather than online, so perhaps that was a key factor for you.

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I pushed really hard on the chesscom trainer and went from below 2000 to 2800 in 2022. (I’m about 1550 rapid on their site). I did not see much if any improvement in any time control (I play 45+45 mostly—Lichess). My thoughts recently are that speed with puzzles that are not so difficult is much more helpful for improving at my level than being able to calculate and solve very difficult ones. Both are important but I wish I had emphasized the former in retrospect. Anyway, so focused on basic puzzles, solving with speed, and hopefully dramatically increasing pattern recognition in the process (all books fyi)

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Good to know.

I had not realize that.

Thanks.

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Jan 30, 2023·edited Feb 1, 2023

Imagination in Chess by Paata Gaprindashvili? There's an older one with the same title, by C. D. Locock.

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author

Yes, the Gaprindashvili one.

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I think cyclical training helps with certain sets of problems a lot better than others. After doing it with the a set of mating problems my ability to "see" those kinds of patterns increased a lot. But with other sets of problems I did notice that I was memorizing the problems instead which is useless in a real game.

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De La Maza made good progress,

but I think one result of his program

(I heard )

was that he lost interest in chess.

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I think the main reason he lost interest in chess was because he realized he could get to 2000 USCF using the shortcut of just focusing on tactics, but to continue going from 2000 to 2200 would take A LOT of work, and he had other interests. I don't think it was because of boredom doing the same puzzles over and over.

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This makes me think of the fun argument to decide whether or not to Woodpecker: is doing the same puzzles over and over fun? Is doing new puzzles constantly equally beneficial? I think it’s much easier, for the average person, to be consistent whilst NOT Woodpeckering. And after all chess is a game—the goal is to have fun? Or at least one of the goals? I argue for thé breadth of experience and fun in doing new puzzles always, as well as the higher probability to stay with the training plan, and do it consistently. After reading this article of course.

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I’m actually using a variation on the woodpecker method currently for my own chess study (using a different book of tactics and not measuring time in terms of days but in raw timed hours of calculation). This mostly affirms my feelings on the method thus far. It’s better than not studying but its “unique” elements are not as important as simply having a structured learning process to rely on.

The friend group recommendation is intriguing though I’d have to find a group first. Still, I think these are good suggestions and I’ll see if I can try and shuffle the order of puzzles on my next cycle.

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