The Woodpecker Method: How to get the best of both worlds

by Albert Silver
9/17/2022 – Some readers may have heard of this special tactics training regime, while others will wonder about the gimmicky sounding name. This is the name given to an intensive but very effective training method by the Swedish grandmaster Tikkanen, which just so happens to be a dream fit for the Replay Training feature in ChessBase 16. See how you can get this best of both worlds and watch the video to demonstrate!

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The Woodpecker Method was first described by GM Axel Smith in his breakthrough training book, Pump Up Your Rating. Despite a somewhat clickbait title, it is a serious training book of the highest order, which covers a wide variety of topics from preparation to tactics, to calculation and more. On the subject of tactics the author mentions the Woodpecker Method, named after the Swedish GM Tikkanen, whose name apparently translates as 'little woodpecker'. 

The book that started it all

Tikkanen credits it with having lifted him out of a rut, and helping him obtain the GM title in short order. Another player seeking his IM title also saw a major leap after adopting it. The promises are big, but before anything you should know: it is serious work and not some magic bullet in which chess skill will seep into your brain if you tap your ruby slippers three times.

Magic of Chess Tactics 2

FM Claus Dieter Meyer has put under the microscope a comprehensive fund of topical and timeless games / fragments. On video Hamburg GM Dr. Karsten Müller has outlined corner points of Meyer's work and created 14 tests plus 10 interactive test sets.

The idea goes like this: you take roughly 1000 positions from various chess literature, neither too hard nor too easy and must solve them all. Once this is accomplished, you can take a break (a day, a week, you decide) before doing the same 1000 positions a second time. This time you should strive to solve them all in half the time, or whatever you can manage. Regardless of whether you remember the solution, you should meticulously play through the entire line, and even alternatives you may have calculated from before. Once done with this process, take a break, and.... do it again!

Eventually, if you can muster the stamina and time, you may wish to try to solve all 1000 within a single 24-hour period. Smith says he managed to just barely do this, taking a little under 23 hours. Yes, really.

The challenges

In both cases, Smith himself and Tikkanen, the problem they faced was actually using a variety of chess tactics books, and then referring to the solutions at the end. Even if you assume the solutions are correct, many times they will only cover the main line and leave out important sidelines that help confirm the solution. Here is an example:

 

The solution's mainline is 1. Qa8+ Kg7 2. Bxe5+ Qxe5 3. Qh8+ Kxh8+ 4. Nxf7+ and is usually the only line found in books that share it. However, a player would need to first consider why capturing on f7 immediately would not work (it allows a perpetual check).

Furthermore, if you were to believe a move you found is also good and see no refutation, you will either have to content your self with knowing it is not the main line, or... setting it up in a chess program and consulting an engine, which could be very time consuming. 

Smith comments in their joint follow-up book called 'The Woodpecker Method' that one of the tactics books that he used for this got so worn out that it fell apart at the seams.

Why Replay Training is best for the Woodpecker Method

The Replay Training function in ChessBase 16 is an extraordinarily good fit for this method, since it not only allows you to test against a large database of tactical positions, but will also give you detailed feedback on every move you wish to test. It will also help you with that last issue that can happen: incorrect solutions.

The following diagram is a famous combination passed on from book to book for almost 100 years:

 

The solution is 1...Rxf3! 2. Bxf3 Qxf3+!! 3. Kxf3 Nxd4+ 4. Kg4 Bc8+ 5. Kh4 Nf3 mate. Brilliant, right? Except this is what you see upon solving it in Replay Training:

It tells us that we played the move of the solution, and it also tells us this is a blunder costing over seven pawns. The position does have a winner, but it is 1... Nxd4! The net result is that it avoids having us learn mistaken analysis and calculation.

It also means you can test various moves before committing the solutions and patterns to memory.

Calculation Training Booster

In this video course, twenty-nine examples with multiple questions are presented in the interactive format, which is ideal for a range of playing strengths. Step by step you will be taken through the complex positions.

How to train with this combo

The first thing is to have a database of tactics to work through. This can be from a digital product such as one of the many excellent ones in the ChessBase Shop, or other sources. 

A glimpse at my personal 1000-exercise database

Open the first exercise you plan to start with and be sure to click on the Replay Training tab above the notation.

Turn off hints too. You can ask for a hint using the life saver button.

No matter how many times you have viewed the position, whether this be your first run, or your 10th, be sure to work through the entire solution meticulously in your mind. Once a position is done, press the F11 key on your keyboard. This is the ChessBase shortcut for 'next game' and it will automatically open the next one. 

ChessBase will keep score of how correct your solution was, but you may want to consider a spreadsheet to keep track of how many you got right, and how much time you spent in each session. The idea is that you want a reference to be able to compare to in terms of improved solutions and overall time required.

I hope you find this guide useful and are able to also apply it with vigor and success.

Video of Woodpecker Method

In the video I illustrate how the method works in practice. In the video description you will find a link to the PGN of 1000 exercises I am using.

Links


Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.
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Albert Silver Albert Silver 9/20/2022 08:31
@hitcher - You are right, it is better, but I would hesitate to call winning the queen 'a mistake' since in practice your opponent will still almost certainly resign on the spot.
Hitcher Hitcher 9/19/2022 08:41
Nice idea but Albert made a mistake in the game Formanek - Grigurich. If Qe8 then Bg7 is a mistake (11.31 in the video). Qf6x+ wins on the spot.
Albert Silver Albert Silver 9/18/2022 10:29
@nieder t-bird - If you check the Youtube video, you will find it in the description.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 9/18/2022 12:31
I was doing the "Woodpecker Method" back in 1981, long before the authors were born and gave it a cute name. Soviet Master of Sport Filipp Frenkel was the one, who taught me that method.
nieder t-bird nieder t-bird 9/18/2022 11:20
Yeah good idea. Thanks for sharing it in a decent Chessbase format. I used the method in the past. However, where is the link to the 1.000 positions? It is not (yet) at the end of the article.
Cato the Younger Cato the Younger 9/18/2022 02:53
Sehr interessant, danke!
A Alekhine A Alekhine 9/18/2022 02:03
Interesting article; thanks.
dakchung dakchung 9/17/2022 10:24
Hans Tikkanen is a Swedish GM.
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