Thursday, October 2, 2014

Embrace v. Negate

It certainly didn't take long for curlers to "get it on"! My inbox has received a few queries about strategy, something with which I always assumed was a topic about which I'd write once curlers' "sea legs" were re-engaged but clearly there are inquisitive minds out there so allow me to jump right in.

This is not the first time I've dealt with the "last rock dilemma" and, I suspect, it won't be the last! Who would have guessed that playing with last rock and having a lead would be problematic? Experience has shown that it is and there's a very good reason. You can thank those who devised the "four rock free guard zone rule", for this.

And that's where we'll begin, understanding that the rule is firmly ensconced in the rule book to assist teams that don't have last rock advantage AND might be in a deficit position on the scoreboard. If you're on the other side of that equation (have have last rock and perhaps the lead), you must make a critical strategic decision. You must commit to either "embracing" the rule or attempting to "negate" the rule! I'll weigh in later with my personal feelings on this but it's a decision that has to be made. It's really not practical to sit on the fence with this. Let's walk through the start of an end whereby you have last rock and the lead and your opponent is attempting to climb back into the game.

In all likelihood, the opposition will place a relatively tight centre line (CL) guard and here's where the decision must be made. If you decide to go around the guard, make no mistake, you're embracing the rule because your opponent placed that rock there hoping you'll go around. Your opponent needs something you've just provided with your decision to go around. That something is "protection"! The CL guard protects the centre of the ice (i.e. 4' stripe) and you, by that come around, will provide a different form of protection (i.e. backing) because after you've come around, they'll certainly freeze to your rock. Game on!!!

But, if you want to negate the advantage the rule affords to your opponent, you don't have to play ball with them. So how might you do that?

You do that by remembering that with last rock advantage, you should be wanting to play to the sides of the sheet. You will want to do that to open up the scoring area. Your opponent, knowing that, played the tight CL guard to promote the opposite scenario. Your opponent wants to shrink the scoring area. With that in mind, you can choose to ignore the CL guard for the moment and simply draw to the side of the house but please make sure your lead's first shot comes to rest "behind the tee line" so that a hit-&-roll by your opponent does not result in a roll into the 4'! By drawing to either of the back quadrants of the house, you've forced your opponent into a critical decision. If they ignore your rock in the house, it just may be the start of a multiple score for you. How good is that!!! Drawing to either of the back quadrants of the house can be a really "annoying" shot to play. Curling is the one game where being "annoying" is a good thing!

The other tactic is to play a shot with tee line weight as though you're going to come around the CL guard, but your skip doesn't give you quite enough ice and you wreck on the side of the guard, sending it to a corner guard position or into the house and your shooter rolling the other way, hopefully to come to rest as a corner guard. The shot really is just that simple! I can make a case that if you play the so-called "bump tick", you've achieved three very positive goals. First, your opponent no longer controls that critical area in front of the house on the CL known commonly as the "control zone". Second, if you've raised that opponent's CL guard into the house, you may choose to remove it on the next shot. Third, you have a corner guard which allows to you play a come around draw, tah dah, to the side of the sheet.

When the four rock rule was first instituted, I could not fathom why teams didn't employ the "bump tick" tactic. It's not a difficult shot in my view, never has been! Of course it took Team Homan to make it popular and we've all seen the success that team has enjoyed.

Yet another way to negate the rule is to simply ask your head to play a straight forward corner guard.

In all cases, when you ignore the opponent's CL guard by not drawing around it, if your opponent does play a come around, it's without backing. By taking a little less ice and a little more weight on the following shot, you stand a good chance of moving that opponent rock to the side of the house, or right out-of-play, all the while having your shooter roll to the side of the house, hopefully to now join the rock you played to the back quadrant of the house to now lie "two". Wow, doesn't that put pressure on your opponent! If they play around that CL guard yet again, you're out of the free guard zone restriction and can run their CL guard back, attempting a raise take-out or you can play the "peel" or, well, whatever your heart desires.

I encourage all teams to give all these tactics an airing early in the season, Find out what works best for you. When the games begin to have a little more significance, you'll know which tactic will afford your team the best chance of success.

I said at the outset that I'd weigh in with a personal view. I think you can read between the lines to realize that I like the "bump tick" tactic. It's an easy shot for your lead to practise. I took a team to a Brier that had a lead with two year's experience. When this team qualified for the Canadian Men's Curling Championship. I asked him to practise this one shot. Which he did. Our last game was against not just one of the top teams in the event, but one of the best teams in the curling world. We were never in any danger of winning the game but this world class team didn't put up one CL guard when we had last rock. When asked why after the game, the skip said, "Why would we do that? You were just going to tap it out of position, into the house at the side!" Obviously that team had watched us play and knew our lead, that third year curler, was shooting about 85% on the "bump tick". So for anyone reading this who still thinks it's a difficult shot, well, I beg to differ and I think I have the proof!

I'm a huge believer in not being predictable in the way your team plays the game. Imagine the consternation on the part of your opponent when they're not sure what you're going to do when it places that CL guard. Keep 'em guessing!

Before I leave you today, a number of teams have contacted me regarding last season's inaugural "Virtual Coach" project. Yes, I'm going to do it again! If your team would like to participate, send me a summary of your team's composition, hopes & aspirations for the season, current location in the curling world (last season the men's team resided in Europe and the women't team in Ontario). In short, send me anything you feel will enhance your team's chances of being "my team" albeit from long distance. Let's make the end of this month of October the deadline for applications. My email address for this will be


  1. HI Bill. This exact thing came up in our last Summer League game this year. WE were one up coming home with hammer. Here's the twist. Their lead hogged her first rock. Now what do we do. You don't plan for this one. Do you put our lead's first rock on top button. Throw through. Back Quadrant. Help!!

    1. If the opposing lead hogs his/her rock, it just makes life that much easier for you. Go back to the basics of playing with last rock and draw to the side of the sheet. That could be a corner guard or a draw to either back quadrant. Most certainly the opposition will try to place another CL guard. Assuming they do that successfully then you need to make the decision referred to in the blog.
      If following the hogged CL guard, you play to the top of the button, they'll play the CL guard. Then you're playing in a smaller area, not the wrong call, just know what you've done!