Curling 101: Strategy and techniques
A curling team is made up of four players. The player that shoots first is known as the lead, the player who goes next is the second, the next player is the third and the final player to shoot is the fourth.
The skip of the team is considered the leader of the team and directs the play of others. He is responsible for the team’s shot selection. The skip typically shoots last, but can play any other position. During an end, he stands behind the house and holds his broom as a target for the other players. When the skip is shooting, the vice-skip is in charge of the house. In general, the third serves as the vice-skip, though the lead or second could as well.
Generally, all four players are involved in each shot. Besides the shooter and the skip, the other two players sweep the stone’s path when necessary.
Types of shots
The strategy of curling mainly involves shot selection. There are several different types of shots:
Draw: A shot designed to stop inside or in front of the house (the concentric circles at the end of the rink). This is the basic scoring shot.
Freeze: A form of a draw that stops in front of another rock.
Guard: A shot that stops in front of the house and is intended to prevent the opponent from hitting a stone in the house.
Hit-and-roll: Generally, a shot designed to take out an opponent’s rock and then roll the shot rock to a designated spot. It is also possible to play a hit-and-roll off the team’s own rock.
Peel: A shot designed to remove another stone, as well as the shot rock.
Raise: A type of draw designed to bump a rock to another position.
Takeout: A shot that removes an opponent’s stone from play. A takeout that is designed to remove a guard is called a peel.
It’s important to realize that these are just the basic shots. At Olympic-level competition, a shot might be a combination of several of the above. For instance a “raise-takeout” would be hitting a stone in play and bumping that stone into another stone, which is taken out of play.
In-turn vs. Out-turn
In addition to picking the type of shot, the skip also directs his teammate throwing the stone whether to play an in-turn or an out-turn. A player executes an in-turn by turning the inside of his palm towards his body when releasing the stone. A player executes an out-turn by turning the outside of his palm away from his body.
Stones curve, or curl, as they proceed down the ice – which is where the sport derives its name. Players impart spin on the stone using the handle; the curl allows for better control and also provides a way to shoot around other stones. For a right-handed player an out-turn curls right to left and an in-turn curls left to right. How the stones are positioned on the ice dictates which type of shot the skip calls.
The last shot of an end is called the hammer. The team that shoots last has the advantage. A team will sometimes be willing to give up a point to the other team in order to secure the hammer for the next end. (The team that has earned one or more points shoots first in the next end, while the team that earned zero points receives the hammer.)
Also the team with the hammer will sometimes “blank” the end. This means that instead of taking a single point in the end, they will clear the house so no one scores, thus keeping the hammer for the next end. It is considered a victory for the team without the hammer if they make the other team take only one point. In most cases, the team with the hammer would rather keep the hammer than score one point. A team will almost never blank an end if it has the opportunity to score two or more points.
Playing with The Lead
If a team has a significant lead going into the final few ends, it will usually play very defensively. The team with the lead will play lots of takeout shots and generally try to keep the sheet free of stones. The idea is that if the game is played “clean,” with few stones on the ice, there is less of a chance to get into trouble and to allow the opponent to score several points and get back into the game.
If a team is behind by more than a few points going into the final ends, it will play exactly the opposite strategy, trying to get as many rocks on the ice as possible, and thus create a situation where it can score multiple points in a single end. This strategy is made possible by the Free Guard Zone Rule. The Free Guard Zone refers to the area between the hogline and the house. During the first four stones of an end, no stone in this area may be removed from play by the opposition.