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Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Long Strange Trip and Improving Relegation

Yes, it's the end of the season and I've fallen short once again to write as much as I would like (or promised).  Maybe I'll get to the Brier Part II mentioned here.  The first ever Match Play event provided an opportunity for new strategy and subsequently new analysis, but my first draft still is little more than a title (and not a great one either).  I managed to provide a brief glimpse at the Women's World Championship, but even that wasn't the length or depth of my usual output.

Now, with TV watching hitting an entirely new level (Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Veep, Daredevil, Louie, Orphan Black, Broad City, all while still trying to finish Deadwood), the NBA and NHL Play-offs starting, MLB underway, spring yardwork beginning and golf season arriving early...

There's probably no chance of catching up.

A shame.  

I promise to revisit the Match Play next year as a lead-up to the second annual event.  From what I've read on CurlingZone, many want to forget it even took place.  I'm not convinced it's the highest quality product in the game of curling, but I found it interesting to watch teams thinking through new decisions.  If we can have singles and skins in the Continental Cup, no reason we can't have a Match Play format to mix things up.  With even more Slams coming in future, maybe we need a few more ideas.

The last two games from the Brier were fascinating and had plenty we could examine closer.  The semi-final was an entertaining mess of a battle, with strange turns throughout.  The finals is likely in the top 5 all time, if not top 3.  I'll try to get there eventually.

I went LIVE to the Canadian Senior's Championship, hosted at the Thistle in Edmonton.  No commentary, but a photo to share, the logo of the title sponsor.  I can't recall the last time I've seen event which was so well matched to it's main benefactor.

Almost makes you look forward to the end.

The weekend of the Men's Worlds also put on a wonderful display of drama, heartache and elation, though maybe not the best play we've ever seen.  I'd like to look a closer Team Canada during the semi-final and see if they lost focus, altered their game plan, verbally sparred beyond their comfort, or simply played poorly.

The Player's was fun, most of all for Brad Jacobs and Eve Muirhead.  Teams often receive unexpected gifts during a long run to victory.  It usually does not happen in the final two games, like it did for the team from the Soo.  Disappointing loss for the McEwen squad, an expensive sweeping error that you don't expect to see, but it reminded us that these things happen.  Because we see these top skips cover the button 90% of the time, we sometimes forget one in 10 isn't the same as never.  Just to throw in a little Math...I'd expect Jacob's odds before Wayne Middaugh threw his last shot to be around 20%, leaving a combined chance of 2 in a hundred for Jacobs to win it all.  Odds similar to those they overcame in 2013 getting to the World Finals. Taken from this past CWM article

Canada and Team Jacobs finds themselves again in the 4th spot, without hammer, identical to their position at the Tim Horton's Brier.  (Spoiler Alert), they win this game and the subsequent semi-final against Scotland to make the finals, where they lose to Sweden.  It is still an incredible feat considering they played 6 playoff games, against the strongest teams at each event, without hammer, second choice of rocks, and managed to come up just a few shots short of being crowned World Champions.  If you consider teams to be of equal calibre, hammer should win roughly 60% of the time.  So, if we consider Jacobs equal with Howard and Stoughton (and I expect some people might at this point), and with Denmark and Scotland (debatable perhaps with one of those non-English speaking teams) then their chance of even getting to the World finals following the Brier Round Robin was about 1%.  

Yes kids, 1% or +990.

Fitting to see Jacobs once again overcome long odds in a season full of long shots coming in, with more unexpected outcomes and strange turns than usual.  Makes sense in a year where Relegation finally came to roost at the Briers and Scotties and the curling community became split on what this means for the game.  Here's one more artcile on this topic.  Something I wrote a few weeks back but didn't get around to posting.  May the controversy continue and may the spring last until summer....

Improving Relegation

This article will not debate the merits of having relegation.  There are discussions elsewhere for that and I for one struggle with both sides of the argument. 

This article will instead examine the case of how best to implement relegation with 14 or 15 teams vying to compete in a 12 team Brier or Scotties.

Firstly, let’s establish the tie-breaker process of cumulative draws to the button is ludicrous and should be scrapped.  I hope there is no argument with this statement.  If you are still unsure, I will break it down quickly for you.

In a 3 team Round Robin (RR) there are 2 of 8 scenarios where teams are tied at 1-1.  Calculating estimated outcomes based on strength of team does adjust the number slightly but I still came up with a roughly 24% chance.  This means nearly 1 in 4 times they run this type of qualifier, a team will be leaving the Brier because of draws to the button.  This is bad enough; however, in 6 of 8 scenarios (every time a different team wins the first two games) a greater risk exists.  Depending on outcome of the draws to the button, the final game may not matter and does not need to be played.  There is no place for that type of situation in the Brier and unfortunately, the odds of it happening are much higher than some might realize (I estimate nearly 15% chance from the start of the Pre-qualifier).

Tie breaker aside, the fundamental issue with relegation is the outcome of only 1 spot.  I believe this will become a deterrent to several organizations and will decrease interest in curling and improving the level of play, rather than the original intent of increasing focus and participation.

When Marvin Miller negotiated with Major League Baseball to create a free agent market, MLB owners fought hard to limit the number of free agents that would be available in any given year.  Surprising that these moguls of the business world never realized the negative impact (to them) of supply and demand. The players at first rejected the idea; they all wanted to be given the same freedom to negotiate on an open market.  Marvin was able to convince them that by having limited talent in any given year, demand would increase and salaries would increase for all, not just free agents. 

It’s my understanding Curling Canada originaly proposed 2 teams to be relegated each year and that this was voted down by the curling member organizations and reduced to a single team.  If that is the case, this is short sighted thinking by all of these institutions.

I believe the Brier, Scotties and curling in general would benefit by having a two or better yet, three team relegation rather than single.  If Nunavut participates (and one day they will, otherwise this has all been a mess for no good reason), this would produce a 6 team pre-qualification for 3 spots, rather than a 4 team play-off for one.  You could make a case for even 4 or 5 teams to be relegated but that would create some danger, with multiple tie-breakers in a given event, that nearly every team not making the play-offs would be relegated.  For example, in this recent Brier, if Saskatchewan had lost their final RR game to BC, 7 teams would have been in a tie-breaker or play-off and 5 teams would be left out.  If you consider that Team Canada will never be relegated (the winning team is invited back each year) and the host team is always given an entry, you could have a team that makes a tie-breaker be relegated, and that makes no sense.

Looking at the current structure, there are several issues that having only one qualifier creates.

Firstly, the fan interest is smaller.  With only 4 teams, and 2 or 3 from the north for the immediate future, interest in the games themselves will be limited and TV is not likely to have any interest.  Having just 2 more teams, possibly from more populated provinces, could greatly increase fan interest.  For example, this year Manitoba would be relegated under this format.  I understand how this might anger Manitoba curling, but is there any doubt the Buffalo rep in 2016 would easily move through a 6 team qualifier for 3 spots?  And the drama and excitement of the pre-event would be must see TV for curling fans.

Secondly, with only a single qualifying spot each year, struggling provinces and territories may lose interest and become less focused on trying to gain entry.  If the Brier continues with a single qualifier for the next decade, it’s very likely Yukon, NWT and certainly Nunanvut may go several years (or never) without gaining entry to the Brier.  In the extreme but possible case where a Jacobs, Gushue or Adam Casey were to win the Brier, and their provincial rep the following year were relegated, the following year pre-qualification (should those teams not repeat as Team Canada) would be much less competitive. Either of the Brads would likely steamroll their competition and with only one spot available, teams may feel defeated before even showing up, assuming they decide to show at all (I’m talking about you again, Nunavut). 

With NWT relegated this year, having a single qualifier has moved the old Territories Playdowns to an expenses paid, arena ice event, that will always include a 4th team, one that is more likely to win each year (especially in the scenario described above).  This may have the effect of killing competitive curling in Northern Canada, what I thought was the opposite intent of relegation in the first place.

Yes, adding other teams which are likely stronger may simply mean the northern teams are still unable to qualify, but adding spots creates that much more opportunity for upsets and for teams to have a chance, and isn’t that what they wanted in the first place?.

This also has the potential to create more juggling each year.  A struggling province or territory may get in 2 or 3 times over a decade, rather than never.  This has to benefit curling in that member organization, and considerably more than an established province like BC, Manitoba or Saskatchewan would be damaged by not qualifying for the RR at the Brier for 1 or 2 years out of 10.

Yes, this might scare some fans, sponsors, TV networks and even Curling Canada.  No Manitoba at a Brier, that’s unthinkable!  I can hear it now.  But this format would allow MB a much greater chance to return the following year.  For example, if MB was relegated this year (as they would be under my suggested changes), and Mike McEwen was finally able to come out of Manitoba, there is a slim chance of them being upset in a small format event with only one spot but (given current talent levels) virtually none (or an infinitesimally smaller chance) in the example of 3 spots.

I also prefer a bracket style playdown format rather than a round robin.  With 5 or 6 teams a round robin may not be feasible.  Also, this eliminates the need for draws to button for tie-breakers.  Sure, everyone loves a round robin, but fans don’t seem to mind the structure of the Olympic Pre-Trials, aka Road to the Roar.  Isn’t this pre-Brier trying to accomplish the same thing?

I’m open to other ideas, like running the event earlier than the Brier (again, see Olympic Pre-Trials).  This gives time for fans to make travel decisions and also create a separate TV event and generate additional dollars.  CurlingZone’s Gerry Geurts mentioned to me that maybe these relegated teams wouldn’t draw well, but if 600,000 people can watch a meaningless Bronze medal game, I have to think at least some eyeballs would be drawn to an elimination battle between teams with so much more at stake.

I’m not so much in favour of adding additional entries (based on CTRS for example), or carving up the country into zones, such as the Maritime Playdowns producing 2 teams rather than 4.  But I do enjoy the open discussion and who knows, one day that type of structure may be used, so we better be prepared. 

More changes may yet come to these historic events.  I’m open to ideas and thoughts, but will argue adamantly that if relegation must continue, than a single qualifier event is too limiting, it’s unfair to all and stifles growth and hurts curling across the country.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Swiss Sweep While We Sleep

Poor scheduling for Canadian fans last weekend.  Luckily, out west we were able to watch the Grand Slam Saturday during prime time (8 PM Mountain) but that's 10 PM Eastern, and even later in the Maritimes.  The Women's World final was too late for me, so I got up early Sunday, added a splash of Bailys to my coffee and settled in for a PVR'd third battle between Jennifer Jones of Team Canada against a young Swiss skip who appears to be a recent graduate from the Disney channel.  Alina Paetz (or Patz, depnding if you have umlauts I suppose) managed to defeat Jones a third straight time, winning her first World Championship and the Swiss third in 4 years, all with different skips.  Ok, Alina also won as an alternate with Mirjam Ott (now the Swiss coach) in 2012, but this took a little more effort on her part to gain the victory.

Let's take a look at the game and see how it played out:

After a blank in the first, Alina misses a free draw for her deuece and settles for 1 in the second end.  

In the third end, Jen first calls a freeze (blue line) but then decides to try a difficult double (green).  

Jones is Red

Think I prefer the draw here.  Looked impossible to keep the shooter in play and the triple is not possible.  The odds of three seems very unlikely and a good freeze will force Alina into a very difficult shot where, even if she freezes back, Jen will likely have a chance at two or, depending how the rocks line up, maybe a chance at attempting this hit on her last for three or more.  Jones then has her first bad miss, rolling away on a hit and stick attempt, handing a steal to the Swiss.

Jones is set up for a potential deuce in the 5th but an errant roll by third Kaitlyn Lawes and deep draw by Jennifer on her first leads to a blank.

In the 6th, Kaitlyn's freeze attempt comes up short of the rings and creates a Alina then guards, creating a mess.  Jen misses an angle hit on her first.  On her last she spends a long time looking at what appears to be an unmakeable shot for two.  She ends up heavy on a draw attempt, steal of 2, score is 4 to zero for the Swiss.  

These are the two ends Canada will look back on where the backend missed critical shots when in position to possible score two and tie up the contest.  Instead they are down 4 points and have an uphill battle, which they nearly climbed.  Two for Jones in the seventh is followed by a blank in eight but a steal in the 9th.  In the 10th Canada is in position the entire end, even some potential to steal two and win it right there.  With a path on her final shot, Alina calmly makes her draw, catching a small break when her shooter rubs a Canada stone and still spins to the button for the win. By an inch.

Tough loss for Canada but a well earned win by the Swiss.  

Some Match Play comments coming soon and hopefully Part II of the Brier before long....

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Wild Brier Weekend

Let's not dwell on the evil doings of relegation, the erosion of live attendance, the residency of players, the  transparency of the CCA Curling Canada, a 2 cm tie breaker or whether a Team Canada should be invited.  My upcoming article for The Curling News will cover plenty of that and more.  For now, I'd rather look at the play on the ice.

This Brier had great games and fantastic storylines, none perhaps greater than the winning team swicthing their back-end around midway through the event.  The final run by team Canada from the 3-4 game to the semi-final to extra-end victory in the finals, all without hammer, had drama, wild swings, amazing shots, terrible misses and strange decisions.

Let's take a look at some of those decisions...

Page Play-off 1 vs 2:   Brad Gushue (Newfoundland or NL) vs Brad Jacobs (Northern Ontario or NO)

Third end, NL up 2-1 and NO with hammer.  Rather than draw half eight foot for one, Brad chooses a long double on rocks at 9 and tweleve o'clock, sitting in the twelve foot.  The double allows him to spin out for a blank.  

Russ Howard disagrees with the call, mentioning Jacobs will often get a single anyway and the risk of going down two is not worth the reward. I'd agree it is ill advised.  However, Brad makes it look easy and is able to carry hammer to the next end.

With a blank, Jacobs has a Win Expectancy (WE) of 43%.  By drawing for a single, WE would drop to 39%.  Jacobs attempted a difficult shot that, if missed, would drop his WE to 26%, all to save a measly 4 percentage points.  I'd estimate he needs to ensure he avoids a steal 90% of the time for it to be the correct call.  Poor decision but great execution.  

And then Jacobs gave up a steal the next end anyway.  NL now up 3-1 after 4 ends.

In the 5th end, critical mistakes by NL help NO generate a 3 to get back to 1 up.  On Mark Nichols first, Gushue choses to hit the third shot at 11 o'clock in the top 12 but rolls in front of the four foot.  

If he had rolled out completely, Jacobs would have been forced to play towards the two rocks in the back of the rings and possibly leave a double.  Instead he's able to draw around the stone and bury back four foot. 

Gushue is Red

On Gushue's first he choses a raise takeout (green line) rather than the draw (blue line).

Gushue is Red

Gushue mentions if he doesn't make the draw correctly he leaves Jacobs a double and will be in trouble.  However, he is drawing to sit 1st, 3rd and 4th.  The runback created more danger than he first suspected.  His thrown rock stays to guard the four foot, but now sitting 3rd or 4th shot.  The raised stone pushes the second shot back and then spins to second shot, covering part of the shot yellow stone belonging to Jacobs. This allows Jacobs to draw around again to lie two. The danger on Gushue's runback is, even if he makes the hit and sticks it, the raised stone needs to be perfectly buried or he leaves a shot for Jacobs anyway.  The draw appeared to be a safer choice but also the worst possible scenario occured. 

After Jacobs buries his first, Gushue could chose to pick out second stone and concede his two or also attempt the same runback he just played.  He now decides to draw and ends up leaving Jacobs a shot for 3.  This might have been second guessing his first shot and decided to make the draw this time. Now he might be better to concede the deuce but a case can be made for both decisions.  The difference of tied with hammer over one down at the halfway mark is about 20% in WE (60 to 40).  If he is able to force Jacobs to a single, WE increases to 80%. If the freeze attempt is anywhere in front of shot stone but short, Jacobs is likely drawing for 2 anyway as a raise double will still only score 2 points.  Unfortunately Gushue's attempt hung out much to wide and left the shot for three.      

An end that demonstrates how without guards even a simple situation can sneek up on you quickly.   Gushue can look back and consider several spots where he could have chosen a different decision or executed differently and produced a better outcome.

In the 6th end, Gushue gets rocks in play and appears to be well set-up to score a multiple, but Mark is light on a draw, Fry makes a double and roll and puts pressure back on NL.  On his first, Gushue has a corner guard and a chance to get a skip deuce but tosses it heavy and is forced to 1.

In the 8th end, Gushue is down 5-4 with hammer and attempts the runback to sit 2 (green line).  Russ mentions he might be better to try to hit the yellow (blue line), lose his back stone but still sit two.  

Gushue is Red

Gushue ends up  removing his own and leaving Jacobs sitting shot.  I side with Russ again on this call, or even just a draw tap.  The runback was a risky shot that even if made perfectly, leaves Jacobs the same shot he just threw.  Jacobs eventually slips up and leaves a possible double for two but Gushue hits a little thin and only scores a single.

Tied with hammer in the 9th. plenty of discussion facing Jacobs first shot of the end:


Jacobs is Yellow

They are considering to stick, roll away or roll behind.  They appear to decide to try and roll behind and make Gushue make the draw.  I prefer they roll away (which they do inadvertantly).   The guard is long enough that a shot for two is very likely if Gushue draws and if he instead decides to hit, a blank is the most probable result.  By rolling behind Jacobs will only leave another rock for Gushue to draw behind and create the force or even a steal.  They could chose to stick right there, if Brad draws they would have a simple angle tap on their last, but if Gushue hits (which now will be more likely) he will have a much easier hit and roll. 

Gushue's draw comes deep to the top button, giving Jacobs an easier shot to tap it back and score their deuce.  In the 10th, Gushue is run out of rocks and NO heads to the finals while NL drops to the semi-finals.  

Page Play-off 3 vs 4:  Simmons (Team Canada or TC) vs Laycock (Saskatchewan or SK)

Early in the week, I had written off TC.  They had not played well during the season and their body language suggested to me they were there to fullfil an obligation and ready to head in other directions next season (including retirement for Carter and running back to Moose Jaw for Simmons).  The switch of John Morris to third and promoting Pat Simmons to skip brought them new life and more inspired play, going 5-1 after a 2-3 start to make it into the 3 vs 4 game against Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock. 

The teams trade singles for the early ends until a jam on a double attempt by Laycock leaves TC with a draw for 3. Saskatchewan down 4-2 with hammer at the break.  Eventually by the 10th end it's the same situation, 7-5 for Simmons, hammer belongs to Laycock.  Disaster on John's second shot gives SK a potential for three on Steve's final shot.   Laycock hits a little too thin, loses his shooter and the promoted stone but still scores two to tie.  Disaster avoided #1 for Simmons.  But in the 10th end, TC lead Nolan Thiessen misses the tick shot on his first so they choose to draw in behind the two centre guards.  Eventually, sitting one on the back button with a SK stone half top four in front, Pat decides to draw on his first (green) rather than peel the centre guard (blue). 

Simmons is Yellow

He is attempting to guard the tap, but the rock doesn't curl as much as he'd like, leaving Laycock a pick shot.  Steve barely rubs his own rock and Simmons doesn't need to throw his last stone.  The pick normally wouldn't have been too dangerous, the four foot was still open, but two corner guards made the path to the button difficult.  This was likely why Pat chose the draw on his first rather than the peel.  There was some chance he could have made a double peel but he felt his first rock would curl enough to cover the pick.  Disaster averted #2, and Team Canada heads to the semi-final against Newfoundland.

We'll get to that in Part 2...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

ATH, 03/05/15: Brier Thoughts (from Thursday)

Jordan, Gerry and Kevin chat during Thursday afternoon of the Tim Horton's Brier.  Includes coverage of the first ever Pre-Qualifier, thoughts on new branding for the CCA, controversy between Ontario teams, and results from TSN's two-game-per-draw broadcasts.

Check out this episode!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Strategy at the Scotties

Finally wrapping up this article as I sit in a quiet Calgary arena, awaiting the historic Brier Pre-qualifier between Yukon and PEI.  One day I can bounce my grandchild on my knee and say I was here. At which point he/she will likely poop in their diapers.

The Saddledome is mostly empty, save for a pre-qual pre-preparation, held by CCA Csar Director, Warren Hansen.

Heeding the advice of Tiger's mom, Warren wears red for strength

Rather than struggle with the decision of whether I can bring myself to bet on PEI at -454 against Yukon, let me get back to the big event last weekend and cover some of the stranger decisions at the Scotties...

Play-off - 3 vs 4: Saskatchewan vs Team Canada

Stefanie Lawton reached this same position in her three previous Scotties as a skip, and finally pulled out a victory.  She took a conservative approach to the week and it enabled her to win one more game than her usual result.  Totals for her round robin games fell below 12.5 points for almost the entire week, leading websites to drop her games to 11.5 points, a number usually seen in men's events.  I'm not going to challenge her strategy, or question her continuing to curl with a possibly passed her prime third, rather than inject some youth like others chasing the Olympic gold have.  She remains a good under the radar gamble, and for that I will keep quiet.

One interesting comment during the 9th end.  Lawton is tied 5-5 with hammer.  Broadcaster Russ Howard mentions Stefanie doesn't want to give up a steal in this situation.  Possibly a slip from the veteran skip.  The end had already developed to the stage that a  blank was unlikely.  At this stage, the team with hammer should be agressively attempting a deuce (Win Expectancy of 86%), even at the risk of a steal.  Lawton will almost always have some shot to score one with her final stone and even if Homan steals, she has hammer in the final end with a chance to score two for the win.

Semi-Final:  Saskatchewan vs Alberta  

Lawton takes on Val Sweeting, who knocked her out of the 3-4 game in last years Scotties.  Unfortunately for the hometown fans in Moose Jaw, it's the same result.  Some odd calls during the game:

8th end, AB up 6-5 with hammer.  

On Lawton second Stephanie Schmidt's last shot they choose to hit an AB rock in the twleve foot to sit 2, open at the back of the rings, rather than put up another centre guard.  This is an incredibly conservative call that I haven't seen since the days of Connie Laliberte peeling guards when behind.  The problem is, a successful hit will leave a simple double, and she's likely to head into the next end with the same score.  Mind boggling.  You don't have to be a master at analytics (like Charles) in order to know this is a bad decision.

Strangely, Sweeting forgoes the double attempt and instead tries a freeze.  She's not risking much, there are no guards and little apparent trouble at this stage.  In the 9th end, this would be a wrong decision.  Here it surpises me but likely not a significant mistake.

10th end: SK down 7-5 with hammer.

On Lawton's first she chooses to draw around the red corner to sit two buried.  Some posters on CurlingZone suggested a split.  Difficult not to leave a double, perhaps even a triple, but good chance of 2.  Val chooses to play a corner freeze rather a runback, and nearly gets shot stone.   Stef still has draw for 2.  She's unable to get a good path and comes up light.

Lawton is Yellow

I don't mind the come around.  I expected Val to play the 6 foot runback on her guard, perhaps so did Stefanie.  The draw was very risky and could have left Stef a chance for the win.  The decision Lawton has to make is whether you want to entice a draw from Val and increase the chance to win the game here or split and more likely score two.  You can make an argument for both.  A great shot by Sweeting that brought greater risk with less room for error, but she was confident in her weight and made the shot.  I expect many mens teams would have played a runback in that situation.

Finals: Alberta vs Manitoba

Val Sweeting incorporated a Lawton strategy in her game with Jennifer Jones.  Conservative.  

In the 3rd end, tied 2-2, MB with hammer, AB sits 1 on the top four foot and Val decides to peel the corner guard on second stones.  She mentions she's guessing on ice.  At this early stage of the end, less critical to put up a perfect centre guard than to, at the very least, have one.  Jennifer then replaces the corner guard.

In the 5th end, AB is down 3-2 with hammer.  Val immediately calls for a freeze/tap with her first shot (green line). Sitting second shot and facing a longish guard, not sure why she didn't look at trying to remove the MB stone (blue line).  She would roll open and Jennifer would hit, leaving her a final shot for 2 points.  She needs to move the MB stone to get shot, might as well move it to the back twelve.  Appeared there was enough curl.

Sweeting is Red

The end result, Val's draw over curls and sits second shot.  Jennifer draws on top and Val attempts a flat double off the MB stone at 9 o'clock, moves the shot stone far enough for one, almost scoring two.

In the 6th end AB is tied 3-3 without hammer and again thinking of peeling corner guards (green line).  Third's first and sitting three.  They correctly decide to play a guard (blue line) instead.  Why peel a guard that is not likely to come into play this late in an end and which also may be cutting of a potential draw to the button later on?

Jones is Yellow

7th end: 4-3 for MB, AB with hammer.  This end may have decided the winner.  AB third Lori Olson-Johns is an inch short on her draw earlier in the end, now sitting second at 2 o'clock.

Sweeting is Red

Val plays a freeze to the open side and Jennifer decides to freeze again (green line), rather than peel the rock out (blue line).  Even if Jen looses her other rocks, Alberta is left with a draw for 1.  As it turned out, Jen's didn't curl enough and Val had a makeable shot for 2, but she missed it again by a fraction of an inch. AB takes one.

9th end. AB down 5-4 with hammer. Val seemed to be playing runbacks (green line) with the intention of blanking, but it was unlikely that late in the end.  Rather than running back the MB stone on Lori's first shot, to try and sit two, (which was more difficult than it appeared) perhaps they could have tried a soft weight tap and would have sit frozen on two stones (blue line).

Well done Jennifer.  Team Canada again and Sweeting a bridesmaid for the second straight year.

Friday, February 20, 2015

ATH, 02/20/15: Heather Nedohin Returns

Kevin and Gerry are joined by 2012 Scotties Champion Heather Nedohin to discuss pre-qualifiers, Nunavut's no show, and the soul of curling.  Heather shares her new experience running a curling club and playing pickleball.

Check out this episode!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Jones vs Homan XV

An epic battle was waged on Monday Night Scotties that could be a deciding factor in who gets to the 1vs2 game and who has last rock.  Ok, not earth shattering consequences, but it did matter for something.  Jones won in an extra end and quickly comments were populating on CurlingZone that Homan coach Richard Hart made mistakes, that Hart imposed his opinion, that Hart allowed Rachel to decide, Canada didn't deserve to lose, Manitoba played better, Jones was lucky to hang on, etcetera.

Let's have a look at several scenarios that were debated:

5th End: Homan down 2 with hammer

On her final stone, Rachel calls a time out as they discuss whether to attempt  a double for 3 (blue line) or soft hit for two (green line).

Homan is Red 

Coach Richard Hart's demeanor seemed fine to me.  He calmly explained which shot he preferred but left Rachel the decision to chose what she felt comfortable playing.  The risk of the double attempt seems quite high to me at this stage of the game.  Part of their reasoning for the double was because of the difficulty of the shot for two.  This is an interesting situation that often occurs, the "easier" shot is actually more difficult than you'd like, so you chose an even more difficult shot for more points.  So what does the math look like?  I'll summarize:

Win Expectancy (WE) with 4 Ends Remaining (4 ER)  

Tied without hammer = 40%

One up without hammer = 60%

One down without hammer = 23%

Down 3 with hammer = 12%

The shot for two could result in a single or create a steal, but so could the shot for 3.  The shot at 3 could produce a deuce, single or steal.  Based on WE, Rachel does not want to score less than two in this situation as it reduces her WE below 1 in 4 tries.  Ok, prepare for a lot of estimating...

Let's estimate Homan attempts the tap for two and gets a deuce 70%, one 20% and a steal 10%.  WE = 34%

If she attempts the double, and we estiimate she scores two 20% or one 20% of the time, Rachel needs to score 3 greater than 30% of the time for it to be the correct decision.

Plenty of what-ifs and different guesses will produce a different analysis, but in the end I think it was the correct call.  In this case, the reward didn't appear to out-weight the risk associated.

This is a situation where, given a close decision, teams will often choose the option with a lower variance. Given the equal capability of these teams, it makes sense.  In the same situation, a weaker team may benefit by choosing the riskier shot. 

9th End:  Jones is tied with hammer.  

Strangely, on Dawn's second shot, Jennifer asks her to freeze, leaving 3 rocks in the four foot, when she could have instead played a hit and roll to sit two.  Not sure what Jones was thinking. Seemed like a strange call when you benefit from keeping a potential blank in play in this situation and you don't want to create a pack of rocks in the middle of the sheet to get 2 points.  Oh, and then Manitoba plays a freeze on Jill's first rock.  Five rocks in the four foot now.  Not for long. After Joanne's shot, there is now six.  

On her last shot, Jennifer tries a double to take 2 points (maybe she saw a 3?) when all she needed was a draw to the full eight foot.  Supposing both shots were equal odds of being made, I can't argue with her assessment of her chances with the hit, but if they knew they were shot, drawing the full eight foot seems the preferred option.  There didn't appear to be any chance at 3 and at this late stage of the game, there's zero reason to take any additional risk for a trey over a deuce.

10th End: Homan 1 down with hammer.

On Team Canada third Emma Miskew's last rock, Homan calls a time out to discuss whether to double peel the front stones (blue line) or to draw around centre (green line).

Homan is Red

Coach Richard Hart sounds more committed to the draw and appears to be less interested in the peel, something many internet posters claimed "lost Rachel the game".

Firstly, there are still 4 rocks to come and this one decision, though it appears critical, will not decide the fate of Team Canada.  At first, the double peel seems like a good decision, it allows play away from centre, increasing the chance of scoring at least one.  But keep in mind that teams don't try to score one in this sitiuation, they will increase risk in order to score two points, rather than face a likely defeat in an extra end.  This risk is often seen on the last shot but also occurs earlier in an end.  If Miskew peels, and Jennifer makes the corner freeze, Rachel will need to hit and hope the angles are in her favour creating an advantage when the dust settles.  It's anyone's guess on what the end result will look like, but I can see several situations, both good and bad for Rachel, depending on where Jennifer's rock settles and if she taps anything back, changing the set-up.  It's also important to note than Emma was heavy with her draw and the great raise double made by Jennifer would not have been as accessible if she was top eight rather than top four foot.  At this stage, Rachel still has two rocks to get her deuce and several guards and rocks in play.  

Russ Howard's comment "rule number one, control the front", seems so obvious in hindsight, after the shots are complete, but I don't agree.  In this position 1 down with hammer in the final end, scoring two is the priority and teams should adapt to the situation to give themselves the best opportunity.

I'm not completely agreeing with the decision, but I am certain it was not as clear as Russ or some internet skips would suggest.  

Extra End: Jones tied with hammer.

Homan has a rock half in the top four foot but Jones sits second off to the side. Coach Hart clearly leaves the decision to Rachel to decide what shot they want to leave Jennifer on her last, draw to full four foot or a double.  Even with a tap, Jennifer still had an open path to the button and may have chosen to draw, depending on the position of the rocks.  Rachel may have been able to tap her rock into a position where a double might jam on the Jones stone, but very difficult to tap to the perfect spot and even so, to create that possibility, Jen's final shot likely noses for the winning point anyway.  A case can be made for both options.  In the end, Jennifer draws for the win. (At least I think she did, my PVR ran out at a whopping 3 hours 31 minutes.  Another vote for 8 end games).