Curling Game Play & Strategy
International competitive games are ten ends, but many recreational clubs play an 8-end game. An end consists of each player from both teams throwing two stones down the sheet with the players on each side alternating shots, for a total of 16 stones. A game may be conceded if considered unwinnable. If the teams are tied play continues for as many ends as may be required to break the tie. The winner is the team with the highest score after all ends have been completed.
The process of sliding a stone down the sheet is known as the DELIVERY.
The skip will usually determine the required weight, turn and line of the stone. These will be influenced by the tactics at this point in the game, which may involve taking-out, blocking or tapping another stone.
- The WEIGHT of the stone is its velocity, which depends on the leg drive of the delivery rather than the arm.
- The TURN, HANDLE, OR CURL is the rotation of the stone, which gives it a curved trajectory.
- The LINE is the direction of the throw ignoring the effect of the turn.
The skip may communicate the weight, turn, line and other tactics by calling or tapping a broom on the ice. In the case of a takeout, guard or a tap, the skip will indicate the stones involved.
Before delivery, the running surface of the stone is wiped clean and the path across the ice swept with the broom if necessary because any dirt on the bottom of a stone or in its path can alter the trajectory and ruin the shot. This is called a pick up or pick.
Players must push out of the hack to deliver their stones.
The thrower throws from the hack. Another player, usually the skip, is stationed behind the button to determine the tactics, weight, turn and line and the other two may sweep in front of the stone to influence the trajectory. When the skip throws, the third, or vice skip, takes his role.
The thrower’s gripper shoe (with the non-slippery sole) is positioned against one of the hacks; for a right-handed curler the right foot is placed against the left hack and vice-versa for a left-hander. The thrower, now in the hack, lines the body up with shoulders square to the skip’s broom at the far end for line.
The stone is placed in front of the foot now in the hack. Rising slightly from the hack the thrower pulls the stone back to the toe (some older curlers may actually raise the stone in this backward movement) then lunges smoothly out from the hack pushing the stone ahead while the slider foot is moved in front of the gripper foot, which trails behind. The thrust from this lunge determines the weight and hence the distance the stone will travel. While not compulsory, most curlers deliver the stone while sliding out from the hack. Balance may be assisted by a broom held in the free hand with the back of the broom down so that it slides.
The stone is released as the thrower’s momentum wanes, or the hog line is approached, at which point the turn is imparted by a slight clockwise or anti-clockwise twist of the handle from around the two or ten o’clock position to the 12 o’clock on release. A typical rate of turn is about 2½ rotations before coming to a rest.
The stone must be released before its front edge crosses the near hog line and it must clear the far hog line or else be removed from play (hogged); an exception is made if a stone fails to come to rest beyond the far hog line after rebounding from a stone in play just past the hog line. The release rule is rarely enforced in club play unless abuse is suspected, however in major tournaments it is strictly enforced.
After the stone is delivered its trajectory is still influenced by the two sweepers under instruction from the skip. Sweeping is done for two reasons: to reduce friction underneath the stone, and to decrease the amount of curl. The stones curl more as they slow down, so sweeping early in travel tends to increase distance as well as straighten the path, and sweeping after sideways motion is established can increase the sideways distance. When sweeping, pressure and speed of the brush head are key in slightly increasing the layer of moisture that builds up under the stone.
One of the basic strategy aspects of curling is knowing when to sweep. When the ice in front of the stone is swept, a stone will usually travel both farther and straighter. In some situations, one of the two alterations in path is not desirable. For example, a stone may have too much weight, but require sweeping to prevent curling into a guard. The team must decide which is better: getting by the guard but traveling too far, or hitting the guard.
Much of the yelling that goes on during a curling game is the skip calling the line of the shot and the sweepers calling the weight. The skip evaluates the path of the stone and calls to the sweepers to sweep as necessary to maintain the intended track. The sweepers themselves are responsible for judging the weight of the stone, ensuring the length of travel is correct and communicating the weight of the stone back to the skip.
Usually, the two sweepers will be on opposite sides of the stone’s path, although depending on which side the sweepers’ strengths lie this may not always be the case. Speed and pressure are vital to sweeping. In gripping the broom, one hand should be one third of the way from the top (non-brush end) of the handle while the other hand should be one third of the way from the head of the broom. The angle of the broom to the ice should be so that the most force possible can be exerted on the ice. The precise amount of pressure may vary from relatively light brushing “just cleaning” (to ensure debris will not alter the stone’s path) to maximum-pressure scrubbing.
Sweeping is allowed anywhere on the ice up to the tee line, as long as it is only for one’s own team stones. Once the leading edge of a team stone crosses the tee line only one player may sweep it. Additionally, when a stone crosses the tee line, one player from the other team is allowed to sweep it. This is the only case that a stone may be swept by an opposing team member. In international rules, this player must be the skip; or if the skip is throwing, then the sweeping player must be the third.
Occasionally, players may accidentally touch a stone with their broom or a body part. This is often referred to as “burning” a stone. Players touching a stone in such a manner are expected to call their own infraction (Good Sportsmanship). Touching a stationary stone when no stones are in play (there is no delivery in progress) is never an infraction and is a common way to indicate where a stone that is to be taken out should be struck.
When a stone is touched when stones are in play, the remedies vary between placing the rocks as they end up after the touch, replacing the rocks as they would have been if no rock were touched, or removal of the touched rock from play. The rules generally dictate that the resulting outcome should be the one that places the touching team at the greatest possible disadvantage.
Many different types of shots are used to carefully place stones for strategic or tactical reasons; they fall into three fundamental categories as follows:
- Guards are thrown in front of the house in the free guard zone, usually to protect the shot-rock (the stone closest to the button at the time) or to make the opposing team’s shot difficult. Guard shots include the centre-guard, on the centre-line and the corner-guards to the left or right sides of the centre line.
- Draws are thrown only to reach the house. Draw shots include raise and angle-raise, come-around, and freeze shots.
- Takeouts are intended to remove stones from play and include the peel, hit-and-roll and double shots.
The winner is the team having the highest number of accumulated points at the completion of ten ends. Points are scored at the conclusion of each of these ends as follows: when each team has thrown its eight stones the team with the stone closest to the button wins that end, the winning team is then awarded one point for each of its own stones lying closer to the button than the opponent’s closest stone. The positions of all the other opponent’s stones other than the closest make no difference to the score.
Only stones that are in the house are considered in the scoring. A stone is in the house if it lies within the 12-foot (3.7 m) zone or any portion of its edge lies over the edge of the ring. Since the bottom of the stone is rounded, a stone just barely in the house will not have any actual contact with the ring, which will pass under the rounded edge of the stone, but it still counts. This type of stone is known as a biter.
It may not be obvious to the eye which of two rocks is closer to the button (center) or if a rock is actually biting or not. There are specialized devices to make these determinations, but these cannot be brought out until after an end is completed. Therefore, a team may make strategic decisions during an end based on assumptions of rock position that turn out to be incorrect.