So you have your shoes, your slider and your broom. You’ve shown up at the club and you’re ready to curl. Now what? Well, there is a certain amount of protocol. Both teams will meet on the sheet upon which they will be playing. Curlers shake hands with all of the other curlers on both teams and wish one another luck by saying “Good curling”. If not already determined, there is usually a coin toss to determine which team goes first and which team goes last, or has the “hammer”.
The lead for one team goes first, then the lead for the other team. Each curler throws two rocks. This alternating of turns repeats until all curlers have thrown their rocks and the “end” has been completed. An end usually takes about 15 minutes to play and matches are usually either 8 or 10 ends. However, sometimes in the case of an insurmountable lead, a team may concede the game prior to the completion of all ends. Those are the basics, but now, let’s look a little more closely at the individual components of the game.
Delivery of the rock begins with the curler getting the appropriately numbered rock for the turn out of the area where they are kept, near the back, outside edge of the sheet. The curler crouches in the area of the hack. It is good policy to gently tip the rock onto one side and while holding the handle with one hand, gently clean the bottom running surface of the rock of any accumulated debris or dirt. This is important as any small piece of lint, hair, ice chip etc. that the rock may encounter on its path down the sheet could send the most well-thrown rock awry. The curler then gets into the hack, placing their right foot (for a right-handed curler) in the left hack cup. The curler is squatting with the rock on the ice slightly ahead of the right foot and the handle is held gently in the fingers of the right hand, at either a 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock position, as directed by the skip. The broom or sliding aid is in the left hand and is used for balance. The motion starts by sliding the rock, the broom and the left foot back simultaneously, while raising the hips slightly. The forward motion begins by pushing off with the right foot and lowering the hips which creates the forward slide action. The right leg and foot extends out behind the curler, acting as a rudder and stabilizer. The curler’s weight is primarily balanced on the left foot, which is underneath a bent left knee, directly under the center of the chest. The curler slides out with the shoulders square to the line to the skip’s broom or target and the weight is balanced over the left foot as the slide continues out on a line toward the broom target. Prior to reaching the hogline, the curler releases the rock by returning the handle from the 10 or 2 o’clock position to the 12 o’clock position. This movement will generate a small amount of spin on the rock, which in turn creates the curl. Moving the rock from 10 to 12 o’clock creates a clockwise, or “in turn” spin which makes the rock move from left to right as it travels down the sheet. Moving the rock from 2 to 12 o’clock does the opposite. Upon gently releasing the rock, the curler will usually slide a bit further down the ice, only as a means of follow through.
There are two basic styles of play in curling, the "draw" game and the "take-out" game. While most teams will have a predominant style of play, there are also many other factors that determine the type of game played. Much of curling is situational, with that particular situation at hand dictating strategy. The ability and attitudes of your teammates, along with those of your opponents may require a certain style of play. The score, ice conditions, which end it is and who has the hammer are also factors to be considered. Overall play is meant either to score, to protect a scoring rock or to prevent your opponent from scoring.
The Draw Game:
This is generally a more offensive or aggressive style of play that requires more finesse shots that are riskier and more difficult. This style of play is designed to score more than one point, or to steal points from an opponent. The most common types of shots are "guards", "freezes", "raises" and "come-arounds". The guard typically stops between the hogline and the house and is meant to guard a rock so an opponent cannot take it out. The freeze stops immediately in front of another rock. Raises move another rock into the house. The come-around is a shot that curls around a guard and stops in the house. When having the hammer, most skips will advocate this style of play to attempt to score more than one point. Also, slow ice, fast ice, and "swingy" ice (ice that curls a lot) dictates this style of play. If behind late in the game, most skips will want to play into the house with the draw game.
The Take-out Game:
While this style of play is more defensive in nature, it is also mainly comprised of shots that are easier to make. It is designed to both remove opponents' rocks from the house, and to keep the front of the house as open as possible. This type of play is much more conservative, and is designed to hold a lead, keep the game close or hold the opposition to one point when they ave the hammer. The shots used are the "raise", the "hit and stick" and the "hit and roll". The raise promotes a stone into another rock in an attempt to move it out of play. The hit and stick is a take-out that removes a rock and comes to rest in virtually the same spot it was when it made contact with the other stone. A hit and roll takes out a rock and then spins a short distance, usually behind a guard. Without the hammer, most skips will use this strategy to try to limit the opposition to just one point. On straight ice that doesn't curl much, offense is generally created with freezes and draws and this will mandate more of a take-out style of play. If your team has a big lead late in the game, the skip will usually want to prevent your opponent from scoring by utilizing the take-out game.
There are also other factors that influence the style of play. One of these is the "Free Guard Zone". The FGZ is the area between the hogline and the house. If a lead puts a rock in the FGZ, it cannot be taken out by the lead from the opposing team. Therefore, the position of the lead's rocks is critical to the manner of play for that end. Rock placement on the sheet is also dictated by the FGZ, the score , the end and the hammer. The team with the hammer will attempt to split the house by placing rocks away from the center of the sheet, keeping open access to the four foot circle. This creates an opportunity to score multiple points. Teams without the hammer like to keep rocks close to the center of the sheet to control access to the four foot circle. An aggressive strategy will utilize rock placement in the FGZ. This will help to get as many rocks in play as possible. This is usually done later in the game, once players have established the correct weight for the ice, or when the team is down by two or more points. A more conservative strategy ignores the FGZ and throws rocks in, or through, the house. It also means removing any opposition rocks from the front of the house as soon as possible. This is either done early in the game, or to protect a lead.
While a team may rely on an overall strategy, that strategy is subject to change, based on the situation at hand in the game. Depending on that situation, it is possible to be playing both offense and defense on consecutive rocks! Remember, curling is not just about placing the rocks where the skips wants them, it also means keeping your opponents from placing their rocks where their skip wants them.
Scoring is done by having rock in the house, nearer the center than the competitor's rocks. In other words, only one team can score per end. The maximum number of points in an end is 8, one for each rock nearer the tee than the opponent's closest rock. A rock only need be touching the house to count. Below is an example of a scoreboard, with an explanation to follow.
In the above example, the scoring is as follows:
- End #1: Red Team scores 1. Score is 1-0 Red.
- End #2: Yellow Team scores 3. Yellow leads 3-1.
- End #3: Yellow Team scores 2. Yellow leads 5-1.
- End #4: Blank End. Neither team scores. Yellow still leads 5-1.
- End #5: Red Team scores 2. Yellow leads 5-3.
- End #6: Red Team scores 4. Red leads 7-5.
- End #7: Yellow Team scores 2. Score is tied at 7.
- End #8: Red Team scores 1. Red wins 8-7.
The numbers down the center black section represent the total number of points for each team. The white rectangles with numbers on them are the ends. So in the above example, the yellow team scored in the second, third and seventh ends, while the red team scored in the first, fifth, sixth and eighth ends. Neither team scored in the fourth end, thus the absence of the white rectangle with "4" on it. If the score is tied at the end of the predetermined number of ends, the game will go into a sort of sudden death scenario, in which additional ends are played until a winner emerges. The vice skips are responsible for determining the score on each end. All rocks that are a similar distance from the tee are measured to determine scoring. The team that scores points on an end leads off the next end. The first shot will stay with that team until the other team scores.
Sweeping is a vital component in the game of curling. The ultimate outcome of any one shot is a function of three basics parameters: speed, direction and/or spin. Sweeping can help to improve an errant shot. A rock can be swept by the sweepers from teeline to teeline. The skip for either team may sweep a rock once it crosses the teeline. Sweeping consists of a rapid back and forth movement of the broom in front of the rock while applying considerable downward pressure. It is important to make sure that the sweepers do not touch or “foul” the rock while sweeping.
Sweeping can have the following effects on the rock:
- Straighten out a rock that is off course directionally
- Speed up a rock that is moving too slowly to reach its intended target.
Since each rock’s path is a function of speed, direction and spin, the skip ( or vice skip during the skip’s turn) uses their best judgment and experience as to when to sweep and how long to sweep to create the desired shot. This is an art form that usually takes many years of curling to perfect.