Learn to Curl Already

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Okay – Heard the complaints, so now its time to give an overview of curling that should give you the basics of the game enough to enjoy the Olympics.  The one letdown of the games so far (besides the fact the two USA teams are now a combined 1-7) is they haven’t been all that great at giving the basics.  So maybe I can help.

The Sheet:

The game is played on a sheet of ice, usually called a “sheet“.  “Rocks” or “Stones” made of granite with a handle attached are slid down the length of the ice.  They are aiming for a target on the other end called “The House“.  The house is actually a set of four rings, that are generally named for the diameter: “The 12 foot” is outside of the largest colored ring, “The 8 foot” the middle white ring, and the “4 foot” is the inside colored ring.  The very center of the target is called “The Button“.

The other parts of the sheet have names too:
Closer to the shooter is called the “Front of the House” and the other is “Back of the House”.
The line that splits the front and back of the house is the “T Line“.
12 feet in front of the house is the “Hog Line“, which all rocks must get past if they are to be in play.
The line going down the center is the “Center Line“, duh.
And the place where the shooter stands to make the shot is like rubber starting steps called “The Hack”
The “Sides” or the “Boards” is the sides of the sheet, and any rock that touches the sides is immediately out of play (no bank shots).
The rock is also out of play if it goes over the line at the back of the house, called the “Back Line”.  Unlike the sides, where touching is enough to be out of play, the rock has to completely go over the back line to be out, which can look odd when a rock is just touching the back line but most of it is hanging out the back.

The Ends:

Games are played in “Ends” with scoring calculated at the end of each end.  Two teams of four players play each other – alternating throwing two rocks per team member.  To tell which is which, each team is assigned a colored rock (red and yellow – which is not based on their country’s colors, it’s just selected as part of the round robin).  In total each team will throw eight rocks.  Team members are given titles corresponding to their order in play:
Lead” throws the first 2 rocks for a team
Second” throws the second 2 rocks
Third” throws the third
And the “Skip” (who is basically the team captain) throws the last two.
And it alternates between teams, so the order is like: Lead Yellow, Lead Red, Lead Yellow, Lead Red, Second Yellow, Second Red … etc
The skip also has to call the shots for the other team members, standing on the target end and using their broom to show where they want to go.  The third will take the skip’s place when the skip is throwing, and otherwise if anyone isn’t throwing they are sweeping.  That’s why you always see one person throwing the rock, two people sweeping, and the Skip standing at the end and calling commands.

At the Olympics there are 10 ends — though I usually play in 6 or 8 end games.  If the score is tied after 10 ends, they keep going until someone scores.

Scoring:

Okay – this can be tricky when you first look at it & unless someone points it out to you it can be confusing on TV, but it is actually quite simple.  Scoring goes like this:

  • Scoring is only based on the position of the rocks after the last rock comes to a rest
  • Only the team with a rock closest to the Button can score
  • The score is the total number of rocks that are inside the house AND inside of the opponent’s rock closest to the center
  • Only rocks in the house count to scoring – touching the outer most ring (or “biting the house”) counts as being in the house

In other words:
If there are two rocks in the house – one red one yellow – and red is closest to the center, the score would be: 1 Red because only the closest rock to the button scores
If there are five rocks in the house and from inside out they go – yellow yellow red yellow red – the score is: 2 yellow because only the closest scores and there is two yellows inside the nearest red.
If the red team has all eight of their rocks in the house, but yellow is on the button, the score is 1 yellow since only the closest scores.
If there are rocks all over the front of the house but none of them are actually in house, the score is a Blank (or zero-zero) since only rocks in the house count.

One more term you might here.  At any given time during the end, the closest rock to the center is called “shot rock“. Even though they know points don’t count until the end, knowing what is shot rock is important to know for strategy. 

The Hammer

Ok, this is a bigger deal than it looks on TV, but the Hammer is critical.

Because the points don’t count until the end of the end, having the last rock to throw in the end is important.  Ultimately, you can take out scoring rocks, add another point to your score, or put the entire end on it’s head with just that last rock.  The last rock is called “The Hammer“.  Besides the first end where the team with the hammer is decided before hand (we do a coin flip for our games), the team without the hammer is the team that scored last.  So if you scored in an end, the other team will have the hammer in the next end.

If you have the Hammer, scoring is expected (at the Olympics, scores of 2 or more are expected).  If you don’t have the hammer, you’re trying to either score points of your own (called “stealing” points) by screwing up the other’s team’s shots, or force the team to only score one (called a “force” or a “cheap hammer“).  On the Olympic level, these teams are trying to break out with a high scoring end, and you won’t do that without the hammer – and if it’s close you want the hammer in the last end so you can control your team’s destiny.  This is why you may see the last rock get thrown through the house and out the back to blank an end (score zero-zero) since it is better to keep the hammer than to score only 1 point.

Throwing, Sweeping, & Yelling:

Chances are the sweeping got your attention, as well as the yelling.  To explain that, I need to tell you about the throwing and the sheet itself.  The ice used for curling is not like ice on a skating rink, rather than being smooth it’s rough.  On top of the sheet of ice, a “pebble” is applied – which is basically droplets of water showered along the surface.  This pebble is the building block to what gives Curling it’s name.

When a person is throwing the rock down the ice, the put a very light spin on the rock (only enough for it to rotate 4 times down the length).  This spin combined with the pebble will cause the rock to turn or “curl” down the ice. On some sheets I’ve see a rock curl up to 8 feet left or right from where it was heading.  So when someone is throwing a rock, they are thinking about three things:  direction of the throw, distance to throw it (or “weight”), and the spin (or “handle“) they put on the rock.  You may hear them talk about the direction of the turn as either being an “in turn” or an “out turn“.  That’s based on the direction your elbow moves.  If you throw with your right hand, your elbow will turn out from your body when you put a handle on it to the left, a right turn and your elbow will turn in.  A rock without a turn is said to have “no handle” – which is bad.  The rock is going to curl one regardless of your handle, but by putting one on you at least can control it.

On the direction, shooters will aim for a broom positioned as a target by the skip.  If the thrower misses the target (not counting the curl) away from the center line it’s called being “wide“.  You miss it towards the center line it’s called being “narrow”.  But if you release the rock on target toward’s your skip’s broom it’s called “hitting the broom”.  This is why when someone said to be careful on Anchorage streets after an ice storm because it was like a curling sheet outside I said, just stick a broom in the snow drifts, because I would never hit a broom.

So the person released the rock and now the sweeping and yelling begins.  This sweeping melts the ice lightly in front of the rock and does two things: 1) it makes the rock go further, and 2) it makes the rock go straighter.  Because the level of players in the Olympics are so high, sweepers almost have as much to do with the rock position as the person throwing it, and can even effect direction by pinpoint placement of their sweep.  The skip is making the call on how hard or easy to sweep with voice commands — that is what you will hear non-stop.  Part of that communication is calling out the perceived weight of the rock too.  I just love yelling “Haaaarddd, Hurrry Hurrry HAAAAARD!!”

For what it’s worth — A team can sweep their rock at any time, even if the other team is throwing their rock (you may see that on big hits).  You can’t, however, sweep your opponents rock UNLESS they are past the T Line, and then only one person (usually the skip) can do so.  You’ll see this when someone is drawing in and is too heavy, so the other team will sweep that rock out of play.

Types of Throws:

There are basically Three types of throws but variations come in different names:

Guard” – A shot thrown in front of the house intended to block the other team to getting to rocks thrown behind (guards are usually thrown before the rocks they intend to guard, if that makes sense).

“Center Guard” – Is a Guard along the center of the sheet, and tends to block the button from scoring.  Bad if you have the hammer, because putting a rock on the button with the hammer is ideal.
“Corner Guard” – Guard away from the center.  Teams with the hammer like this because it protects scoring rocks without guarding the button.
Free Guard” – Any rock thrown by either lead (the first person on each team) that ends up in front of the house is called a “Free Guard”.  These can not be removed by the other lead by a take-out.  This is a recent rule (last 15 years) and before that the first four shots were: guard, take-out, guard, take-out.  Now they actually come into play.

“Take-out” – Rock thrown hard down the ice intended to ‘take out’ the opponent’s rock.  The intention is to send the other rock out-of-play either to the side walls or out the back. These are fun because the rocks make a lot of noise.

Peel” – Take out along the sides which sends both team’s rocks out of play.  This is done mostly to guards, since it would suck you take out their guard and leave your own.
Nose Hit” – As it sounds, smack the other rock on the nose, so it goes and you stay.
“Hit and Roll” – As it sounds, you take their’s out and yours rolls a little further away.  The goal with this is to take out their’s and put yours behind a guard.  It’s a lot tougher than it looks.
Double” or “Triple” or “Quad” – This is the coolest shots to watch.  You are not just taking out a rock, but taking out multiple (2, 3, or 4 as the names imply).  This takes a geometric mind because you have to hit your circular object into another circular object to strike a 3rd, or 4th circular object in the direction you want … and with the force to get it out of there.  The force is the fun part, because it takes a heavy throw

Draw” – A shot thrown intended to go inside the house without hitting anything.  It’s also the shot that the curl is most obvious, because it tends to be around guards or other rocks.  You can actually see it move left or right as it comes around those other rocks.

Freeze” or “Freeze Up” – This is when rocks are drawn into the house and stop just in front of other rocks.  The two rocks tight to each other would be tough to take out, since you hit the front one and it probably wouldn’t move.  This is really nice if there are rocks deeper into the house, because freezing up to them will get you closer to the button.  Plus if you are a little heavy they act as a back-stop.
“Draw to the button” – It’s the perfect shot, sending a rock down and landing it on the button to take the point.  Think of this like a clutch moment in sports.  The skip with the hammer rock has to make a shot through a mass of guards that unless they put it right on the center their team will either lose points or lose the game.  It is one of the hardest shots to make, and is brimming with the torture of the moment.  Huge crowd around you, two teams on their seats, and you have to put this rock on the broom with controlled weight.  That’s Pressure.

Alright.  Did I miss anything?  Did you hear something that I didn’t mention?  Let me know and I will do what I can to help.

3 thoughts on “Learn to Curl Already

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