Curling 101: Competition format
The men’s and women’s tournaments are identical in format.
Both tournaments include 10 teams. In the preliminary round, each team plays every other team for a total of nine games per team. After each team has completed nine games, the teams with the four best records advance to the semifinals. If there are not a clear top four teams, tie-breaking games will be played. Any team that ties for one of the top four sports will have the opportunity to play its way into the semifinals.
Once the semifinals begin, if a team had a better record than its opponent, it has the choice of shooting first or second in the first end. If the teams have the same record, the winner of their round robin game has the choice of shooting first or second in the first end. In the semifinals, the top-ranked team from the round-robin will play the fourth-place team, and the second-place team will play the third-place team (1v4, 2v3).
The winners of the semifinals meet in the final to compete for the gold medal. The losers play for the bronze medal.
There are 45 preliminary games in each of the men’s and women’s tournaments. If there are no tiebreakers, then two semifinals, a gold and bronze medal match will be played for a total of 49 games in each tournament.
The format is the same for the mixed doubles tournament, except that only eight teams participate so each team plays seven games in the round robin round.
In men’s and women’s curling, each game is between two teams with four players each. The two teams take turns pushing granite curling stones across a long sheet of ice toward a series of concentric circles.
The object is to get the stones as close to the center of the circles as possible. This circular area is known as the house; it is the scoring zone in curling. The center of the circles is known as the tee, which can also be referred to as the “pin.”
One game consists of 10 ends. (An end is similar to a baseball inning.) During each end, each team delivers eight stones, two stones per person. The team members deliver the stones in a set order, which is presented to the officials before the game. The lead player delivers first, the second delivers next, followed by the third (who is often called the vice-skip) and finally the skip, who is the leader of the team.
Each end starts with Team A’s lead throwing his first stone, Team B’s lead throwing his first stone, Team A’s lead throwing his second stone, and Team B’s lead throwing his second stone. They are followed by the seconds in the same manner, and so on. The order of the lineup may not be changed during the game. The end is complete when both teams have delivered eight stones and determined the score.
Each team will receive 73 minutes of playing time for 10 ends. There are one-minute breaks between ends 1-5 and 6-10. Between the fifth and sixth ends, there is a five-minute break. Each team can call one 60-second timeout per game to consult with its coach.
If a game requires an extra end or ends, each team receives nine minutes of playing time for each extra end. There will be one-minute breaks between the 10th and 11th end and any subsequent ends. Each team can call one 60-second timeout in each extra end.
In mixed doubles curling, each game is between teams of two players, one male and one female. Instead of 10 ends, only eight ends are played, and six stones are used instead of eight.
Before every end, each mixed doubles team prepositions one of their stones on the center line, a straight line running the length of the sheet through the tees on opposite end. The first team will choose to place their stone in either Position A or Position B. Position A is one of three points in front of the house: the mid-point between the outermost edge of the house and the hog line (where the stone is released), three feet from the mid-point closer to the house, or three feet from the mid-point closer to the hog line. If the first team chooses to place their stone in Position A, the second team will place their stone in Position B: on the back middle edge of the 4-foot circle (the blue circle surrounding the tee).
Once per game, each team is allowed to use the “Power Play” option to position their stone to the side of the sheet.
The other five stones are delivered by the players, with one player delivering the first and fifth stones and the other delivered the second, third and fourth. If a team chooses, the two players can swap positions from one end to the next.
Each team will receive 22 minutes of thinking time for 8 ends. There will be a four minute break between the fourth and fifth ends. If extra ends are required to break a tie, each team will receive three minutes of thinking time per extra end.
A team scores a point for each stone that is closer to the tee than the opponents’ best stone, provided that the stone is within 6 feet (1.83 meters) of the tee. If Team A has three stones that are closer to the tee than Team B’s closest stone, Team A scores three points. Only one team scores points in each end, so Team B would receive zero points.
The maximum number of points a team can score in an end is eight. Called a “snowman,” Team A would need to have all eight stones closer to the button than any of Team B’s stones for a score of 8-0.
The scoring for mixed doubles is identical to men’s and women’s curling. The two stones that are positioned by each team before each end are eligible to score points just as the thrown stones are.
The score of an end determines the shooting order of the next end. The team that scores points in an end shoots first in the next end—in this example, Team A. The team that does not score shoots last—Team B. Shooting last is described as “having the hammer.” If neither team scores, the team that shot last in the end, shoots last again in the next end.
The team with the most points at the conclusion of the game—10 ends for men’s and women’s curling and eight ends for mixed doubles—is the winner.
If the score is tied at the completion of the prescribed number of ends, a complete extra end must be played to break the tie. If the score is still tied, play must continue for as many ends as may be required to break the tie.
During the round robin, a team may concede the game once a minimum of six ends have been completed. During the playoffs, a minimum of eight ends must be completed. Conceding the game when the losing skip feels he is too far down to come back is fairly common and is an accepted part of the etiquette of the sport. It should happen multiple times during the course of the Olympics.