The Woodpecker Method, Rapid Chess Improvement, and the value of “spaced repetition” for Chess Study

This month on Chess Books Recaptured, I am joined by Neal Bruce. Neal is the head of product management for a software startup, a dad, and a dedicated adult improver who has built a following on Twitter by sharing a lot of the chess puzzles on which he is always working. 

For this month’s book review podcast, Neal suggested that we discuss two groundbreaking chess tactics books, Rapid Chess Improvement (2002)  by Michael de la Maza  and The Woodpecker Method (2018) by GM Axel Smith and GM Hans Tikkanen. As we explain, these chess books have significant differences between them, but they share a common thread in that they both strongly emphasize the efficacy of using spaced repetition to better assimilate tactical patterns and to improve chess visualization skills. Whether you are a chess player, chess teacher or both, it is important to be aware of the benefits of spaced repetition and to give some thought to how best to incorporate it into a chess training routine.

In our conversation, we summarize and offer our opinions of each book, and discuss the experiences that other chess players have had using the training methods that these books advocate. As always, please read on for lots more details, links and timestamps. Embedded hyperlinks can be found here:

0:00-  We begin by introducing this month’s guest co-host, Neal Bruce. 

Guest co-host application form here:

Chris Chabris Perpetual Chess interview here: 

7:40- First up is a discussion of the controversial tactics manifesto, Rapid Chess Improvement by Michael de la Maza.  

Mentioned: USCF Master Dan Heisman, Dan Heisman’s article, The Michael de la Maza story, de la Maza’s Chess Cafe article here, GM Ben Finegold, IM Jeremy Silman, Silman review of Rapid Chess Improvement here: IM Christopher Yoo, Young-Kyu Yoo, thread discussing Rapid Chess Improvement, Polgar’s Chess Tactics for Champions, CT-Art 

31:00- We introduce and discuss the excellent 2018 book, The Woodpecker Method by GMs Axel Smith and Hans Tikkanen from Quality Chess.

Mentioned: Pump Up Your Rating by GM Axel Smith,, IM Andreas Skytte Hagen, and Talent is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin, A free excerpt of the Woodpecker Method is available from this link: , IM Kostya Kavutskiy’s Steam of the Woodpecker Method can be viewed here:

 51:00- We discuss the experiences that some other chess players have had using the Woodpecker Method. Mentioned: NM Elijah Logozar, IM Kostya Kavutskiy, IM Andrew Greet’s blog regarding The Woodpecker Method is here: , FM Gabriel Petesch, 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations by Fred Reinfeld 
58:30-  We discuss some other tactics books that could be effective with the Woodpecker Method. 
Bain- Chess Tactics for Students: 

Simple Checkmates by Gillem

Polgars Chess Tactics for Champions 

Tactics Time 1 and 2 

Practical Chess Exercises 

1:04:00- I almost forgot to discuss Chess Twitter Superstar Mr. Dodgy’s success with De La Maza’s recommendations. 

Mentioned: CT-Art 3.0

Chess Reddit Thread about Rapid Chess Improvement here: 

Jenn Shahade, How I Beat FIscher’s Record by GM Judit Polgar, The Metrowest Chess Club in Massachusets 

1:09:00- Thanks to Neal Bruce for joining me, you can often find him at The Metrowest Chess Club in Massachusetts, and you can follow him on twitter here:

1:10:00- Blindfold Puzzle Time

Puzzle #1- 

White: Qa8, Ne2, Kb1

Black: Pawn h3, g2, King h2

Diagram without solution here:

Puzzle #2- 

King on e6, Pawn on f5, Pawn on h2

Black- Pawn on g7, King on e4 

Diagram without Solution here:

Diagram with Solution here:

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  1. I had to look at who the expert Neal beat and that dude was born in 1935, and his current floor is 2000 USCF.

  2. I bought rapid chess improvement when it first came out. Though it could’ve been much more concise it was ground breaking for me. I had a collection of books including Sillmans and they didn’t help me. Just doing the piece moves helped me get a better handle on the knight, and other pieces working together. Then using Ct Art accelerated my play where I was beating people who I couldn’t beat previously. It is much easier to use programs to practice tactics than a book. When I saw the book wood pecker method I bought it and immediately thought of rapid chess improvement. I was totally unaware of the controversy until recently. As much fluff as Rapid Chess improvement had in it, the book was way more helpful than all the other larger books filled with even more fluff. I have nothing against Sillman but found it interesting but not helpful.

  3. Do you need chessable pro account to do the spaced learning ?

  4. Hey Ben, Check the last two timestamps in the description.

  5. Awesome! These are classic books that I grew up on 🙂

  6. An interview with IM Jay Bonin and FM Asa Hoffman, the New York chess legends would be be very nice.

  7. Nicely discussed. Discussion came out with interesting knowledge. Spaced Repeatations is not only for Tactics, it can be used everywhere..even our during academic studies too. But yes Tactic being the major part of decisive chess, play a big role. But whatever rating improves after Woodpecker method, quoted ,cannot be solely attributed to that method…bcz with time, practice, chess player grows in other aspects too.

  8. can we request for the tactics card mentioned in this podcast

  9. I would read this article written by Irina Mikhailova. She applies most of De La Maza’s strategy but takes it to other important parts of chess besides tactics. Using these methods she took a few 2200s to IM level within 2 years. Some of the students even went on to become GMs.


    Is a fantastic quick read.

  10. One of the smarter observations I have heard out loud in a while…most books should be an article; most articles should be a paragraph; most paragraphs should be a tweet… Especially in a time when there is so much competition for our time, and the volume of new books, articles, and blogs constantly being written, authors need to be particularly cognizant about not being verbose, repetitive, and diffuse.

  11. Hi there good evening i m brazilian

  12. It still remains a question to me whether the woodpecker method teaches you positions instead of patterns.

  13. I wish on chessable that I could jump between chapters. Then, for books with each chapter relating to a motif, I could practice a few of each motif at a time instead of having to do all of each motif at once (since the only available page in any chessable course is the next consecutive one).

  14. I do chessable every day and my rating dropped 200 pts :/

  15. Proving one person has the (huge level) of agency required to subject themselves to this way of learning doesn't actually tell us a great deal about this method for a bigger sample of average chessplayers.

  16. I have a question/disagreement about importance of cutting time in half each time. But rather improving your accuracy as the most important as you go thru each time. And dare say you shouldn't be concerned in time at all until you are at least 95% accuracy.

    Let's say first time I go thru 1000 tactics it takes me 40 hours and I get 50% right and the second time it takes me 45 hours but I get 75% right. And then the third time it takes me 50 hours I get 90% and the fourth time 55 hours and I get 98% I would call that a WIN!!! A huge WIN. Much bigger than second time getting down to 20 hours and 52% right, then 10 hours and 54% and finally 5 hours and 56%.

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