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Very Hot Topic (More than 25 Replies) Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method (Read 17296 times)
Stigma
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #21 - 07/25/18 at 20:19:00
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@ReneDescartes: I'm not really up on the theories of either Kant or Wittgenstein; my philosophy reading has been very haphazard and unsystematic.

But apart from that I agree with your assessment of Vik-Hansen. He exaggerates the claims made for "pattern recognition", both in terms of how specifically people define patterns and how large a part of chess thinking they are meant to constitute, in order to dismiss the concept. Classical straw man argumentation.

And as I mentioned, he even affirms the exact same idea I mean when I say "pattern recognition", but he wants to call it "structure recognition" instead, probably to avoid being tied down to the term he is trying to attack.

ReneDescartes wrote on 07/24/18 at 23:33:26:
I thought that "pattern recognition" was being used too prescriptively, but this article doesn't say that; it wants to say that the concept itself is incoherent.

I'm probably being dense here, but who exactly is using it too prescriptively, in your view? Could you give examples?

I have no doubt it's possible to get too hung up on the idea of automatic pattern recognition, to the extent that one doesn't spend enough time training actual thinking. But now that we know how powerful pattern recognition is, there's also a big "risk" of not making sufficient use of that knowledge when trying to improve. It's so easy to invent quasi-psychological explanations when we lose games or miss something important, but in many cases the actual problem may just be some pattern arising that we didn't know, but could have known (or could have known better).

If you're still hinting at the methods of de la Maza or Tikkanen/Smith, I agree they are on the extreme side, but they have actually tested their methods and found them to work. I suspect a lot of the reason they haven't found more followers is the extreme demands these methods place on one's time and motivation. Many who tried to follow de la Maza (like the self-styled "knights errant of de la Maza" bloggers) probably improved a bit and then just got burned out on chess. The ideal would be to find a training method that made good use of pattern recognition but at the same time was fun and not exhausting. And here I think Chessable are really onto something, though they need more options to speed up the process for power users with a lot to memorize.
  

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ReneDescartes
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #20 - 07/24/18 at 23:33:26
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@Jupp53--Thanks, Jupp!

@LeeRoth and Stigma--I read the Chessbase article by Vik-Hansen, and I'm not impressed. He mainly relies on a device of argumentation that is common, but not any more respectable for that: he inflates the notion of a pattern so that more is required of it than anyone intended, in order to make a loud popping sound when he punctures it, hoping readers will be led by the sound to think that the original notion has been destroyed.

Thus a pattern is supposed to have "some sort of totality, repeating itself infinitely in its entirety (otherwise, how else are we to know we’re dealing with a pattern?)." Having raised the Platonic problem of universals or ideals, he then (unlike Plato)  tries to use it to destroy the thinking that ideals were meant to preserve. "To generalise different positions into the same definition of pattern...appears impossible since the positions are different and no player lives long enough to see if a position repeats itself." This is like saying "a word is never uttered twice with exactly the same physical sounds, by either the same or different speakers; therefore there is nothing existing or heard that could be the word itself, and the idea that we recognize words is therefore absurd, since we never live long enough to hear the word we first heard exactly repeated."

Similarly, Vik-Hansen inflates the claim that better chess players have better pattern-recognition into the claim that chess skill is  entirely pattern recognition (though no one ever said it was). He then punctures it with the brilliant observation that "If pattern recognition is how chess is played at GM level, we are hard pressed how to explain why GMs’ performances decrease with age...this illustrates that chess playing is more than mechanical reproduction of patterns." I suppose that the incapacity of completely paralyzed players would be even more effective here (they always lose on time: chess skill is not just pattern recognition).

Third, he cites garbled philosophical principles, both incoherent on their own terms and unfaithful to their purported sources. "Kant (1724-1804) brought to our attention the fact that concepts are never defined by their use. The colour ‘red’ might illustrate the point in question: if we ask someone what ‘red’ is, most will point at cars, pictures or books, which are mere instances of red but do not define what ‘red’ is, i.e. delineate red in contrast to for instance blue or green." --Kant would not have considered red as something like time, something "which cannot be defined by use" because it is a precondition of use, but rather as a matter of sensation, sensible content (here without getting involved in red as a universal vs. individual reds); and the idea of giving a definition of red that does not employ exemplars but that would otherwise teach one at sight  to delineate red from blue is ridiculous on its face. What Vik-Hansen says about Wittgenstein is even worse and is just the kind of thing that Wittgenstein spent the last half of his life combating. But the supposition that deep philosophical perplexities should refute the notion of chess patterns is silly to begin with. If these perplexities refute "chess patterns," they refute everything else in the world, too.

I thought that "pattern recognition" was being used too prescriptively, but this article doesn't say that; it wants to say that the concept itself is incoherent. Vik-Hansen is merely trying to intimidate the reader, and to gain stature, by attacking a good idea while standing on a pile of baloney.
« Last Edit: 07/25/18 at 21:22:22 by ReneDescartes »  
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #19 - 07/23/18 at 02:32:42
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@ReneDescartes
Yes.
And above your remark about DeGroot: His most important finding was that there is under his material no significant difference in quantitative measures of loud thinking between players of the different levels, he introduced to his short term memory task.

@Stigma
It starts with short term memory. Take a list of by chance (as good as possible) words and read them aloud once. Let people write down now as many words as they can remember. Now you take the same number of words ordered in sentences. The memory performance measured in words will be much higher. Trivial?
Ericsson/Kintsch is only one model in a family of models. Those models are based on the information processing approach, which has two basic assumptions: There is hardware and there is software. It started with a great book by Miller, Galanter & Pribram which referred to kybernetics. Imo it killed the psychoanalytical theories and made the behavioural paradigma partly obsolet. Unconscious or conscious processing is something I personally didn't find of any use even in my therapeutic 30 years as a professional, except in situations when I had to discuss with psychoanalytical influenced professionals. Thinking about automatic processes not needing the working memory and conscious processes needing the working memory always proved to be more fruitful in my life.

Let's have an example from chess - white to move:
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * *
*

Looking at the position you need no conscious processing to see the mate. You remember the name of the mate "unconscious", automatical. A novice having played 100 games with other novices and knowing not much more than the rules and the words center, development, king security, attack will have to work hard to judge the position.

The smothered mate is a pattern. You recognize it, you know the features and the actions to achieve the wished goal. When asked to explain those to a novice, you have to work conscious. Else you perform automatic and conscious processes, like you do when moving and pressing the clock.

So it depends on your knowledge and practise how much of your limited working memory capacity you need.
  

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Stigma
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #18 - 07/22/18 at 21:43:28
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Jupp53 wrote on 07/22/18 at 13:26:35:
It started out of the finding that you cannot explain the memory performance by the amount of information in a content. Then several hypothesis about memory and processing were build. The idea of memory as a working process over features was very useful.

Are you referring to the Ericsson/Kintsch model of "Long-Term Working Memory" here? Or something else?

Jupp53 wrote on 07/22/18 at 13:26:35:
I know, this is a repetition. "Pattern" was one expression to aggregate the findings. The advantage (and disadvantage) is its flexibility. For a beginner a pawn move to e4 followed by later Bc4 is a pattern. For the more advanced player the starting position of the Evans Gambit might be a pattern. Further progress will lead to knowledge over 5.c3 and the alternatives from the black side. B.e. giving back the pawn like Em.Lasker did my become the source for several patterns.

This leads to one of the problems discussed here: The meaning is subjective. On the other side it leads to the hypothesis, that patterns "grow" with knowledge. Their number increases and they contain more information. The term belongs to the family of "feature models". The more typical a pattern is represented, the faster is the response time. B.e. Is robin a bird? Is penguin a bird? The reply to robin is faster. Every blitz player uses this in his way of mating with the lone rook.

It looks to me like all the examples you give of pattern recognition are fully or partly conscious. Do you have any thoughts on unconscious, automatic pattern recognition? If I understand it correctly, that's the kind that really distinguishes GMs from ordinary players and club players from beginners. The kind that happens when I look at a diagram in a tactics book and "itch" to sacrifice my queen on g7 before I've had any other conscious thought or calculation.
  

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ReneDescartes
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #17 - 07/22/18 at 16:13:25
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@Jupp--So the idea of the pattern is itself a kind of symbolic repository for various capabilities and responses?

@Stigma--I agree that we don't want to go back to regarding everything as reasoning or genius. I value deGroot (and have read some of the book). I guess I just think it's over-used and neither explains nor prescribes as much as the scientific patina of the term implies.

I might go for a rook and rook-pawn vs. rook ending to draw without saying anything to myself--I just see it as a possibility at the end of some variation then (unconsciously, automatically) take for granted that it's drawn and move toward it. Euwe might have done the same against Botvinnik (once he recognized the pattern).
  
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #16 - 07/22/18 at 15:37:56
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ReneDescartes wrote on 07/22/18 at 13:01:55:
@Stigma The blurring of all these varied phenomena was just my point. (The one thing I didn't want to consider was verbal vs. nonverbal--I must have expressed myself badly-- since the verbal portion of decision-making, if it could be teased out, would seem to be something more like reasoning or wishing than like recognition, and the verbal expressions here all rest on a nonverval substratum. But equally, the conscious portions rest on an unconscious and automatic substratum--that's part of the blurring.

Well, I'm not that satisfied with the blurring, and I think this whole discussion would go easier if we agreed on exactly which levels of "thinking" we're talking about - that's why I tried to introduce further distinctions.

Maybe you chose even less clear examples for your list than you intended? I have a hard time understanding how "Rubinstein lost this type of endgame, so Botvinnik will lose it too against me" could ever be nonverbal.

"I did see that move (I've seen ...Bf8 work in the French and seen Bf1 in the Two Knights', so ...Bf8 might work here)." and especially "I didn't see that move (and with good reason--it's ridiculously weakening on the light squares and would lose)." both strike me as thoughts that have to be conscious on some level. Maybe that just reflects my personal bias - I tend to overreact and lose the thread when I realize I've missed an important move, even if my position is still objectively OK afterwards.

ReneDescartes wrote on 07/22/18 at 13:01:55:
It's not that I don't believe in pattern recognition; it's just that I don't think the term adds to our understanding, especially since no one has shown that  exercises in recognizing (isolated) patterns are a good way to improve pattern-recognition, whereas that conclusion seems to be an implication of the terminology, or at least a temptation embedded in it.


Maybe our disagreement is mostly terminological. To my mind, if we take pattern recognition out of the picture, we're almost back to a pre-de Groot understanding of chess thinking where it's all about calculation and even more mysterious and ill-defined terms than pattern recognition: "Insight", "intuition", "experience" or "talent". Actually, "pattern recognition" is meant to cover "intuition" and parts of "experience", and surely it's clearer than those?

To my mind, "pattern recognition" adds a lot to our understanding. It explains why not all chess learning has to be active, and why you can improve just by seeing huge amounts of good chess, especially in childhood when the brain is at its most plastic. If I remember correctly, Vik-Hansen's proposed training method is basically to forget about pattern recognition and do it all as time-consuming "guess the move" exercises. But that may just be too slow to reach the top, especially today when people are getting to IM and GM faster than ever due to the information explosion and abundance of good chess material available. And it's entirely predictable that this sort of misguided advice is given by someone who tries to remove pattern recognition from the picture (or at least drastically reduce its importance).

So if "experience" is just as useful or useless a term to you as "pattern recognition", I have to disagree for the above reasons. But I suspect that whatever term you suggest instead, I would still want to call it at least partly a form of pattern recognition. Of course I'm not saying it's all there is to chess thinking, but the research suggests it's a large part, and one that was grossly underestimated before de Groot and later psychologists made chess thinking their guinea pig.
  

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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #15 - 07/22/18 at 13:26:35
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It started out of the finding that you cannot explain the memory performance by the amount of information in a content. Then several hypothesis about memory and processing were build. The idea of memory as a working process over features was very useful.

I know, this is a repetition. "Pattern" was one expression to aggregate the findings. The advantage (and disadvantage) is its flexibility. For a beginner a pawn move to e4 followed by later Bc4 is a pattern. For the more advanced player the starting position of the Evans Gambit might be a pattern. Further progress will lead to knowledge over 5.c3 and the alternatives from the black side. B.e. giving back the pawn like Em.Lasker did my become the source for several patterns.

This leads to one of the problems discussed here: The meaning is subjective. On the other side it leads to the hypothesis, that patterns "grow" with knowledge. Their number increases and they contain more information. The term belongs to the family of "feature models". The more typical a pattern is represented, the faster is the response time. B.e. Is robin a bird? Is penguin a bird? The reply to robin is faster. Every blitz player uses this in his way of mating with the lone rook.
  

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ReneDescartes
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #14 - 07/22/18 at 13:01:55
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@Stigma The blurring of all these varied phenomena was just my point. (The one thing I didn't want to consider was verbal vs. nonverbal--I must have expressed myself badly--since the verbal portion of decision-making, if it could be teased out, would seem to be something more like reasoning or wishing than like recognition, and the verbal expressions here all rest on a nonverval substratum.) More importantly, all the conscious portions of the sample phenomena in my list rest on unconscious and automatic substrata.

It's not that I don't believe in pattern recognition; it's just that I don't think the term adds to our understanding, especially since no one has shown that  exercises in recognizing (isolated) patterns are a good way to improve pattern-recognition, whereas that conclusion seems to be an implication of the terminology, or at least a temptation embedded in it.

@Jupp53
I'd be curious to know what the original, psychological meaning was.
« Last Edit: 07/22/18 at 15:57:03 by ReneDescartes »  
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #13 - 07/22/18 at 00:41:26
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Pattern recognition is a psychological theoretical term to explain and generate experimental results. After about 50 years it has reached chess literature and is often used in a more fuzzy way than in its origins.

To put it simple: Memory is nothing on a harddisk. It is a construction from features, processing over features, evaluations.

For chess this can be translated to: Knowledge about positional features, move sequences, evaluation of positions.

Thinking about this some minutes everybody will find additional skills important for playing strength. The idea to find "a best" method to learning depends of those additional skills, which differ about individuals. So imo the dispute is a) reflecting personal bias b) individual conditions c) the change of both over time. This is useful if we think about training.

I apologize if this is too conceptional to be seen as useful. For myself it explains btw why its not possible to use this concept to answer the question: Same vs. changing material? What teaches better?
  

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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #12 - 07/21/18 at 21:43:00
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ReneDescartes wrote on 07/20/18 at 17:30:58:
Here are some of the varied phenomena covered by "pattern recognition"--imagine these as nonverbal processes:
  • there is an exact tactical sequence on an exact set of squares that I recognize and can start now (Philidor mate, etc.)
  • I somehow sense that White will not be able to capitalize on the backward pawn.
  • I know this piece configuration (where two knights in enemy territory just manage to guard each other, attacking one wins a piece).
  • I didn't see that move (and with good reason--it's ridiculously weakening on the light squares and would lose).
  • I did see that move (I've seen ...Bf8 work in the French and seen Bf1 in the Two Knights', so ...Bf8 might work here).
  • I ought to try for a certain result (e.g. mate on the weakened dark squares) here though the means are unclear.
  • I ought to look at a certain move (e.g. ...Nxe5 in the French) here though the results are unclear.
  • The king is in a standard position(short-castled, no pawns moved).
  • I feel I am better here.
  • What jumps out at me as most important is the weakness of the f5 square
  • Rubinstein lost this type of endgame, so Botvinnik will lose it too against me.


There are also other crucial distinction to be made here that get blurred on your list in addition to verbal vs nonverbal, namely conscious vs subconscious and effortful vs automatic. We could have a long terminology discussion of how many of the 2 x 2 x 2 possible combinations are actually possible in humans, and how many of those again are relevant for chess.

But the crucial combination that the psychological pattern recognition literature puts the spotlight on is "thinking" that's nonverbal, subconscious and automatic. It's this sense of pattern recognition that enables strong players to play a decent game even in bullet, or 2800 players to perform at 2600 level even in blitz and simuls (I didn't bother to look up the actual figures now, but there is a well-known article on this that I can dig up). It's this form of pattern recognition that time and again in the psychology literature has been thought to be the main distinguishing factor between players of of different strengths, to the extent that some researchers even started doubting that calculation skill ("search") had anything to do with it (though it turned out it had).

Maybe I'm misunderstanding Vik-Hansen, but he seems a bit muddled about whether he's critiquing pattern recognition as a conscious or a subconscious process. He writes:

Quote:
We cannot ‘start to apply’ the presumed patterns both because these patterns are undefined and chess playing is subconscious [...]

But the relevant sense of pattern recognition is precisely a subconscious process! There is no relevant "starting to apply" because the pattern recognition happens automatically as soon as a strong player glances at a position, and his brain is automatically drawn to one or a few moves or ideas.

There is also conscious and even verbalized pattern recognition of course, like that time I caught myself thinking "this is just like that Karpov-Unzicker game!" and played a strong bishop move to block a file. But that's probably less directly connected to strength since it's effortful and time-consuming, and we want to reserve our time and energy for actual calculation as far as possible.
« Last Edit: 07/22/18 at 00:08:24 by Stigma »  

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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #11 - 07/21/18 at 20:30:38
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LeeRoth wrote on 07/21/18 at 18:02:48:

I've seen Vik-Hansen's arguments before, but I find them so strange I don't know how to respond. To deny that pattern recognition is useful and an essential aspect of chess strength? To me that's so well-established by now that I don't understand how anyone can doubt it. Pattern recognition works, so anyone whose training doesn't explicitly or implicitly increase pattern recognition is handicapping themselves.

He doesn't really interact with the psychological research literature that actually supports the concept (in a chess context), from de Groot through Ericsson, Gobet and beyond. I would expect a professional philosopher, of all people, to try as best he can to present a viewpoint in its strongest form before critiquing it.

Edit: Reading Vik-Hansens discussion of "Pattern vs Structure", he actually appears to acknowledge the value of recognizing patterns in the standard sense, writing "[...] when seeing a broken castled position with pawns on f7, f6 and h7/h6, in an instant we spot the possibility of a knight on f5". But for some reason he chooses to call these restricted patterns that people actually recognize "structures" while restricting "patterns" to entire positions only. So how much of the disagreement disappears if we simply use the nonstandard name "structure recognition" instead of "pattern recognition" without otherwise changing the concept?
« Last Edit: 07/21/18 at 22:20:23 by Stigma »  

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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #10 - 07/21/18 at 18:02:48
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #9 - 07/20/18 at 17:30:58
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Well, ChessTempo is implementing something like this, but on their own problem sets, of course. I haven't looked at it in detail.

Regarding "pattern recognition"--the term is almost as blurry as "thinking." That doesn't mean one shouldn't use it, but it does mean that one shouldn't think it is explaining or prescribing much--anyway, no more than, say, "relying on experience" (I also believe in that, but it's hardly news).

Here are some of the varied phenomena covered by "pattern recognition"--imagine these as nonverbal processes:
  • there is an exact tactical sequence on an exact set of squares that I recognize and can start now (Philidor mate, etc.)
  • I somehow sense that White will not be able to capitalize on the backward pawn.
  • I know this piece configuration (where two knights in enemy territory just manage to guard each other, attacking one wins a piece).
  • I didn't see that move (and with good reason--it's ridiculously weakening on the light squares and would lose).
  • I did see that move (I've seen ...Bf8 work in the French and seen Bf1 in the Two Knights', so ...Bf8 might work here).
  • I ought to try for a certain result (e.g. mate on the weakened dark squares) here though the means are unclear.
  • I ought to look at a certain move (e.g. ...Nxe5 in the French) here though the results are unclear.
  • The king is in a standard position(short-castled, no pawns moved).
  • I feel I am better here.
  • What jumps out at me as most important is the weakness of the f5 square
  • Rubinstein lost this type of endgame, so Botvinnik will lose it too against me.

Now, how much is really clarified by stating that these occurrences are based on recognizing patterns beyond saying that, more broadly, they are based on experience rather than deduction? (A noun like "patterns" that seems to designate a semi-concrete thing is very seductive. "I feel good because I have endorphins! Oops, it turns out endorphins after running are a myth. But I still feel good." Now, how much insight was really gained through embodying the feeling with a substance? In truth, it gave you a license to stop distinguishing things.)
« Last Edit: 07/21/18 at 00:23:52 by ReneDescartes »  
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #8 - 07/20/18 at 17:15:53
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Stigma wrote on 07/20/18 at 15:45:12:
I had big plans to adopt Chess Position Trainer for spaced repetition of anything from openings to strategic patterns and endgames, but so far I haven't settled on a simple enough process to follow. Chessable has been a breath of fresh air when it comes to ease of use. Maybe in the end I will upload all of my stuff for repetition there, but for now the repetitions themselves seem a bit slow, being server based and all. Repeating everything I want to at Chessable's current speed would probably take me hours on hours every day. If only Chessbase had a good spaced repetition function for databases of problems, games and variations, that would make for the easiest process of all.

https://www.reddit.com/r/chess/comments/8qiron/chesstempocom_now_has_an_opening_... this might be of interest to you. I have yet to use it myself, but I've heard very good things about it.
  
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Re: Smith and Tikkanen's Woodpecker Method
Reply #7 - 07/20/18 at 15:45:12
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@ReneDescartes:

I actually agree that we should expect spaced repetition to be more efficient than the woodpecker method. I'm kind of hoping Smith and Tikkanen address this comparison in the book and try their best to defend their brainchild!

The problem with spaced repetition is it's still cumbersome to use, certainly for chess. I had big plans to adopt Chess Position Trainer for spaced repetition of anything from openings to strategic patterns and endgames, but so far I haven't settled on a simple enough process to follow. Chessable has been a breath of fresh air when it comes to ease of use. Maybe in the end I will upload all of my stuff for repetition there, but for now the repetitions themselves seem a bit slow, being server based and all. Repeating everything I want to at Chessable's current speed would probably take me hours on hours every day. If only Chessbase had a good spaced repetition function for databases of problems, games and variations, that would make for the easiest process of all.

Apart from ease of implementation, you could turn the efficiency argument on its head and claim the woodpecker method leads to "overlearning" of important patterns, assuming the problem set we're working with is focused on practical patterns that have a real chance of coming in handy at the board.
  

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