Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Most Poorly Played Shot

I've seen it too many times. "If only we could have placed that guard we would have won the game!" Well, I bring good news and bad news. The good news is, you're right! If only... The bad news is, that's the answer to the title of this blog. Placing a guard, in my opinion, is the one shot that's most poorly played and it need not be so!

To begin, let's make one thing perfectly clear. When you place a guard, you do it for one of two reasons. It's either placed to provide potential cover for a shot to be played later OR you're attempting to guard the path to a stone already in place. Notice the words in italics, that's one of the reasons why a relatively simple shot is not played very well across the board. You don't guard the stone from view, you guard the path TO the stone! Never forget that!

Of the two types of guards the one about which I would like to dwell is the second, guarding a stone already in place. Now here's the scenario that exists a very high percentage of the time. The stone to be protected is already protected on either of the two rotations. In other words, guards placed to protect an existing stone are almost always placed in concert with stationary stones. Your task is guard the path to that stone, taking away the other rotation.

When this shot is missed, it's usually missed because it ends up, and this is the key point here, joining the other stationary stones and leaving the path the the stone completely open on one of the rotations, allowing your opponent to choose from a number of weights to remove the stone you wanted to protect. There's nothing that's more infuriating than to waste a shot in that manner and it's so avoidable assuming of course that the player delivering the stone delivered the stone with a weight inside "execution tolerance" and "on line to the brush".

Well, you might be asking yourself, if the stone was delivered with the correct weight and on line, what more can one do? There's a lot more one can do! What we're really dealing with here is the difference between "strategy" and "tactics". The strategy is to guard a stone but the tactic employed to accomplish that is flawed and here's why.

When you set the brush and choose the weight to make the shot, knowing that for the shot to be successful, everything has to be right, it usually isn't. By that I mean, if when the stone is delivered, the team hopes and prays it stops in the right spot, many times it will curl past that ideal location, thus joining that group of stationary stones referred to above. To maximize the likelihood of successful completion of the shot, a few things need to happen. First, the skip needs to have selected a line of delivery that's very generous (i.e. a little wider than normal). Second, the shooter needs to "get right out to the brush" (line in this case is the "execution tolerance", not weight) and third, the brushers need to know that due to the first two components, they will very likely have to "brush the stone into its final position". And that's the key to successful execution of a guard, it needs to be brushed into its final position, not praying that it does!

I can hear some of the naysayers now. "What if we don't brush the stone far enough into position and leave an opening?". If you leave an agonizingly small port, even though it's large enough for a stone to pass through, you've restricted the weight options available to your opponent and for club level curlers, let's be honest, how often will an opponent make that shot? Leaving that agonizingly small port is much better than leaving your opponent with a completely open side! We're playing the percentages here folks!

This is also the key point in placing a guard for a purpose later in the end, notably that centre line guard, most frequently delivered by the team without last stone advantage on its first shot of the end. That stone absolutely, positively MUST come to rest on the centre line! In many cases it's the most important shot of the end for that team! If that shot comes to rest not touching the centre line, I can make the case that your team is now playing the end with 7 stones while your opponent, who by the way also delivers the last stone of the end, is playing with nine! Yikes!

Begin to take note how you play guards. Do you play them hoping they stop in the right spot, or do you play them in such as way that they must be brushed into position? I believe if you play them in the second manner, you'll be much more successful.

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