Monday, December 15, 2014

Rachel Was Right!

In yesterday's (12.14.14) final game of the Women's Canadian Open Grand Slam event in Yorkton, SK, in the last end, without last stone advantage, Rachel Homan, on her first shot, with no centre line guards but with two corner guards, one on each side of the sheet (albeit not great corner guards) decided to come around one of them as opposed to placing a centre line guard. Rachel played exactly the right shot, in my humble opinion, and here's why. And before I explain my position on this, club curlers take note, this is something as much for you as those elite teams!

Let's face it, Team Homan was not in a good position to win the game! Make no mistake! What I'm about to share with you is not magic. It's simply a way to make the opposing skip's last shot as difficult as possible.

When you're in a position in the last end and you need to steal and you find, as the end dwindles down to a precious few stones with none even near the centre line, but you have some corner guards (likely peels from your opponent that didn't make it to the side line/board) placing another centre line guard is a wasted shot! (What's that about run-on sentences?)

Thank about it, if there are no centre line guards for you to draw around that late in the end, your opponent is very unlikely to "nose" the centre line guard you're contemplating. That's just not playing the odds! But, let's in our mind, play that out. You place a centre line guard. The opposing skip successfully peels it away (and, perhaps in the process, leaves another corner guard). What shot will you play on your last shot? Right, you'll choose the better/best of the corner guards available and draw around it. What shot does that leave for your opponent to win the game? Right again, an open draw to the 4'!

OK, let's back up the bus to that time when you're getting ready for your first shot. What other shot might you play besides the centre line guard? Well, the shot you know you'll play on your second shot (coming around the better/best corner guard you'll be left with after your opponent peels the centre line guard you're considering). Go around it on your first shot! In fact, if your opponent is that adept at peeling centre line guards, you might even get your third/mate to come around a corner guard on his/her second shot.

So, you do that. You don't even have to fully bury your stone but for the sake of this blog, we'll assume you leave only a small portion of your shot (nicely nestled just above the tee line) visible. What shot does your opponent play? He/she will attempt to remove it making sure to play the shot with "inside" as the execution tolerance to at least, remove the guard. If you recall, Eve Moorhead did exactly that, removing the corner guard. And what shot did Rachel play on her second shot? She placed her stone on the centre line, in the house, in such a position that if Eve hit it on the nose, she would not be shot. It forced Eve to play around the stone Rachel had just played which is higher on the degree of difficulty scale than the open draw to which I referred above! QED!

So, the next time you're in the same position in which Rachel found herself yesterday, remember this approach. At the club level, that opposing skip will think twice about making sure his/her shot does not wreck on the stone you've placed in the house on the centre line and more times than not, just that thought, well, "What would you like to drink?" just might be the next thing you find yourself saying!

Before I leave you toady, here's another situation where club level teams make a tactical mistake in my view. It's the classic early-in-the-end miss from the opposition leaving you lying "one" on one side of the house. The instinct of course, is to draw to the other side, "splitting the rings". You envision trading takeouts for an easy two! Whoa, not so easy! If that's your aspiration, here's what your saying. "My team can hit-and-stay and/or draw our way to the conclusion of the end!". Well, if that's in your team's skill set based upon "competitive data", then go for it! But, here's the rest of that story. If you hit and don't stay in the house, or miss the replacing draw, your hope of scoring that easy two will evaporate like a snowflake on hot pavement.

You must make all your shots! Your opponent has 50% wiggle room. If they hit and roll out, no harm done. Now you must precisely replace your stone. If they do hit-and-stay, you must do likewise with no room for error and you have to do that repeatedly!

Let's go back to that early miss by your opponent. What might you do instead of drawing to the opposite side of the house? Right! Guard the stone you already have in the house, and, in the process, leave only the outside of the stone showing. Now what does your opponent do? Right again! It's decision time. Does he/she peel, draw around to get shot or attempt the take out? The takeout will not be very palatable as it will result in the shooter rolling out of the house in all likelihood.

In essence, what you've done is decided to play for three rather than two! And, the shots you play are no more difficult than those you would play to score two, in fact, I can make the case they're actually easier. But let's get back to the decision facing your opponent.

You hope they decide to play the draw to freeze to the inside corner of your stone that's in the house. I know. If they do, then they've taken your possible two away but I feel it's a risk worth taking! My own observation, at the club level, is that the freeze is unlikely to be played well, leaving you with a chance to draw around your corner guard one more time and if it's a second miss by your opponent, then you don't need to "tickle the dragon's tail" any longer. Now you draw to the open side and exchange takeouts and having to do it fewer times. Even if you didn't hit-and-stay, your opponent is left with that same difficult scenario described above.

If this is not a tactic with which you're familiar, try it, it can't hurt and just might be a an early Christmas present for you and your teammates!


  1. She may have played the right shot in the 8th, but she played the wrong shot in the 2nd. Her last shot had disaster written all over it before she threw it. I saw the good possibility of the steal of two as soon as she called the shot,.... no hind-sight included.

  2. i think we should reason this sort of choice based on expected outcomes of shots. so for the first choice, splitting the rings, we are expecting success based on open hit-and-stay shots and open draws for our team weighed against open hits for our opponent. for the second choice, putting up a corner guard, we are expecting success based on precisely placed corner guards for our team weighed against open hits/peels on corner guards for our opponent.

    btw, I think we need to assume that the opponent goes with the easy shot, the peel of the corner guard rather than other more difficult shots such as the come-around takeout or the come-around corner freeze. otherwise, if you are going to assume that the more difficult shots are likely then you need to concede that the simple takeout is not the only counter to the "split the rings" choice. for example, maybe the opponent chooses to freeze to or draw around the stone that we draw to the other side of the house. It's "decision time" there too.

    to me, this choice depends on ice conditions and comfort/ability of my team. are we better at open hit-and-stay and open draws (for the first choice) or are we better at precisely placing corner guards (for the second choice). the default choice for the opponent (open hit) seems to be the same for either choice.

    1. I like your carefully considered analysis as it's based upon what appears to be a thorough understanding of your team's strengths (balanced against the perceived weaknesses of the teams in your competitive environment). I refer to that type of analysis as "competitive data" (i.e. what's really happening with your team in a game-in-game-out environment). I wish more teams did that!
      My blogs can't do that! I have to consider a very broad spectrum so my suggestions are much more broadly based. Although, that said, I will comment on your point that corner guards have to be precisely placed. Actually, no, that's not been my experience. All you need to do is take away the path to the "inside" edge of your stone in the house. Leave as much of the outside portion open as you wish. That's the "execution tolerance"! Any "hit" by your opponent will see their stone exiting the house.
      To be sure, playing the guard, even though you're now playing for three, does come with a risk that a precisely placed corner freeze around your guard onto your stone might just take your possible "two" away and if that risk/reward scenario is something in which you have no interest, then by all means, split the house. Just don't do it without at least testing the "corner guard" tactic!

    2. You play a guard as indicated, opponent decides to corner freeze, but errs on the good side by being short. Whether in the rings or not, the rock is often closer to centre and is a pest to remove. So you draw again to cut off his come around, make another good shot behind. He draws short again but a bit closer to the centre. Suddenly you're playing in the middle, the opponent has missed several times but only needs one good come around to kill the end and you have to keep making really good draws to keep them at bay.