Join The Puzzle Rush Experiment
Would you like to join the puzzle grind?

Join The Puzzle Rush Experiment

| 74

"In general terms, I consider that everything in chess rests on tactics. If strategy is the block of marble, then tactics are the chisel with which a master operates to create a work of chess art." - GM Tigran Petrosian (Former World Champion: 1963-1969)

"I trained with the Woodpecker Method in the spring of 2010. That summer, I achieved three GM norms and surpassed the 2500 barrier, all within seven weeks. The positive effects did not stop there: the following year, my live rating briefly peaked at 2601." - GM Hans Tikkanen

Puzzle Rush is one of my main training methods, and I've found it to be useful for both improving my pattern recognition and my calculation speed. Most of my major blitz and bullet peaks were after periods where I did a significant amount of speed tactics, and many of my friends have had success with puzzle rush as a training method

While I know that puzzle rush has been effective for my friends and me, I'm running an experiment to verify it's effectiveness for the general public and measure the speed of intuitive improvement at various ages.

I'm running an experiment to verify Puzzle Rush's effectiveness for the general public and measure the speed of intuitive improvement at various ages.

The data spreadsheet can be viewed here (instructions on page 1), and anyone who wants to participate is welcome. Just message me with the relevant information (name/age/email), and I will add you to the spreadsheet. IM Kostya Kauvitsky is streaming some parts of his experience with the #PuzzleGrind experiment and the first video can be found here.

On improving pattern recognition:

"With my subsequent reading of psychological literature, I came to realize that there really is such a thing as intuition and I became much more aware of the unconscious parts of my approach." - GM Hans Tikkanen

It's established that high-volume speed tactics (otherwise known as saltmines; more info: part 1 and part 2) are an effective method of automating basic patterns. Adults use high-volume speed tactics to improve their tactical intuition because it is significantly harder to intuitively store patterns in their neural network (otherwise known as intuition) than kids and teenagers. Books such as The Woodpecker Method and Rapid Chess Improvement have advocated for high-volume tactics training. Adult beginner Paul Swaney managed to break USCF Expert despite learning the rules as late as 25 by doing extremely high tactics volume. David Milliern did something similar and rose to 1952 USCF despite having less study time.

"I did an accelerated 7 Circles program last summer and saw tremendous improvement in my tactics metrics. (...) I won’t go into the deep reasoning behind what seems to be going on, but I will say that speed and repetition in recognition (and in revisiting problems) are key to absorbing patterns." - David Milliern

The few examples of the very young who do an extreme amount of tactics training often become prodigies with absurd puzzle rush/blitz/bullet ratings. Some examples include IM Hans Neimann, IM Casper Schoppen, IM Christopher Yoo, FM Yoav Milikow, CM Elie Milikow, and Tanitoluwa Adewumi. Even the adults who are puzzle rush specialists tend to have exceptionally high blitz ratings for their FIDE/USCF standard ratings. Some examples include Dimitrios Ladopoulos, IM Guillermo Vazquez, and GM Ray Robson. My friend Dennis Norman (young adult) also experienced exceptional improvement from high-volume puzzle rush, breaking his low USCF expert plateau to reach 2171 USCF and peaked on his online speed metrics.

What about spaced repetition?

Spaced repetition is an effective method for automating tactical patterns, especially for adults. Puzzle rush implicitly uses spaced repetition provided that you do high volume. If you would like to combine puzzle rush with other spaced repetition training, Chessable has many excellent courses.

"I've been doing just 10-15 minutes of PR per day for the last couple of weeks and have already noticed some tactics being repeated so that I can solve them immediately." - Alex

The purpose of pattern recognition as it relates to slow chess improvement:

"If you are bonkers bad at blitz, bullet, fast pattern recognition, and have a poor ability when generating candidate moves in slow games, then no amount of augmentation and training of your logical decision-making thought process would improve your ceiling performance in slow OTB play." - David Milliern

Your logical thought process and calculation ability supplement what you can see quickly. From what I can tell, the approximate ceiling for how much you can raise your ability through structured calculation and correctly applying logic over the board is 400 points higher than your blitz. What this means is that if you were to play someone of your blitz strength who just blitzed his moves out and you responded slowly with a fully optimized thought process, you would score approximately 91% in a match. It's exceptional for a player's thought process and calculation structure to be optimized up to the full 400 points, but even for specialists, there seems to be a ceiling based on what you can see quickly. For more information, view this blog.

Puzzle rush trains you to see tactics more quickly, therefore raising the ceiling of possible performance for OTB standard. To optimize performance based on your intuition, you need to structure your thinking through games and calculation training, but having a higher baseline increases your ceiling.

On visualization speed and how this impacts calculation:

"Being able to calculate faster is like having more patterns automated." - David Milliern

When I was sixteen years old, bullet peak was nearly 2300 and blitz almost 2250 - it was natural for me to calculate quickly. Over the next 1-2 years, I mostly stopped playing online blitz to focus more on my chess study because I valued my standard improvement more. Over the next year and a half, I was virtually obsessive about chess (given high-school time restraints) and averaged at least 4-6 hrs of chess practice per day. I resumed playing blitz actively at 17.5 and bullet at 18. I expected significant growth, given my obsessive practice, and was shocked by how little I'd improved. My blitz had stagnated despite my improved intuition. My bullet degraded - despite playing often enough to get an active rating, I crashed 200 points.

How could this be? I was not visualizing as quickly as before and therefore was inferior at fast calculation. My decline in visualization speed makes sense in view of what David Milliern told me about how neurons slow during some critical aging periods (it seems that these are mainly at around age 13, 18, and 25). Therefore, despite having improved my understanding of chess + pattern recognition + evaluation, my speed chess did not improve because my calculation speed declined. Bear in mind that you should be able to quickly calculate quickly the patterns you automated, so the comparison of calculation speed should scale by skill level. I see no reason why this would stop at any skill level irrespective of how strong you are. I am not talking about calculation structure, which you can optimize at any age. I am explicitly referring to visualization speed.

"The strengthening of one's mental powers regarding visualization and calculation is one of my pet themes, and as far as I know, there has been very little, if anything, written about the subject - at least from a pedagogic point of view. My interest in this topic was awakened from an unmistakable deterioration in my ability to analyze without a board. In my youth, there was no need for a set when working, and no noticeable difference when calculating blind. Whether this change was due to less time spent studying (possible) or the advancing years (almost certainly), I found this alarming and wondered what to do about it." - GM Johnathan Tistall

"All experience gives now is some kind of wisdom of having faced a certain situation before, understanding the complexities of making certain decisions, but it doesn't benefit you as much. I think that's simply why youngsters get much better - because they calculate better."GM Viswanathan Anand (World Champion: 2000–2002 (FIDE); 2007–2013) 

The impact of puzzle rush on visualization speed:

"High volume speed tactics seems to make it easier for adults to move the pieces in their head, improving visualization speed." - David Milliern

I tested this theory on myself with absurd results on my speed chess. As mentioned above, my calculation speed declined - tanking my bullet and stagnating my blitz. However, I was a stronger player than before. I just needed to calculate faster. I included speed tactics in my training plan and binged both puzzle rush and chesstempo blitz while keeping up with my other training. On a good month, the average was 2-3 hrs/day. Suddenly, my blitz was peaking again! Between 17.5 and 18 yrs old, my blitz peaked by approximately 250 points and I broke 2500 soon after. My bullet also returned! Suddenly, I not only had my former strength in bullet, but I was peaking again! My current peak is more than 150 points higher than when I was sixteen, despite being able to naturally calculate significantly faster at sixteen than nineteen. When I took extended breaks from speed tactics, it generally became substantially more difficult to peak in speed chess and my bullet rating would drop again. However, my bullet rating would not drop all the way to where it was when it initially crashed, as some of the gains from calculation speed can be consolidated. The boost in visualization speed from doing high-volume speed tactics boosts performance and makes the other aspects of your training more meaningful.

"You are not going to believe this. After doing more puzzle rush, I'm calculating so much faster in my blitz games and peaked by around 150 points. I'm even calculating tactics on my opponent's turn!"NM GM4life

With that said, most of the gains from visualization speed are temporary. How do I know this? I tested it on my slow calculation and observed my ability OTB during periods of high-volume speed tactics training and break periods. Most recently, I consistently trained puzzle rush for around 2 hrs/day while keeping up with my calculation training, making consistent progress on the latter. I took 2-3 days off puzzle rush, and the difference in performance for the stepping stones visualization technique and my ability to quickly go through variation trees when doing Aagaard and Dvoretsky calculation training was startling. Many aspects of calculation that seemed easy in the weeks before, I struggled to do properly after a 2-3 day break from puzzle rush. When I was performing well, it was at least in part because I was riding the temporary visualization boost and that I needed to get that visualization speed back to be able to regain my ability. It's worth mentioning that while I was getting some visualization speed boost from a small amount of puzzle rush, the tipping point was at 2 hrs/day of consistent training.

If the gains for visualization speed are mostly temporary, then why train using puzzle rush?

  • Pattern automation is permanent.
  • Some gain in visualization speed can be consolidated.
  • Visualization gains can be regained faster than the first time you earn it.

And while you keep up with the training - provided you put in sufficient volume:

  • You get a performance boost regarding speed chess.
  • You temporarily improve your board vision, giving your slow calculation a higher baseline.
  • The temporary visualization boost helps you learn more patterns due to higher solving volume.

In my opinion, the fact that high-volume speed tactics can improve visualization speed in adults is a game-changer that allows older players a chance to perform - with their current intuition - as if they were younger. Appropriately utilized, puzzle rush can help fight the decline that happens from aging in older adults, likely up to elite-GM level.

Anyone can join the #PuzzleGrind experiment. Just send me a message with the relevant info (name/age/email), and I will add you to the spreadsheet.

Update: the experiment is now over. The results can be viewed here.