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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A More Offensive Game of Curling – Part II

In Part I we looked at the introduction of a 5-Rock Free Guard Zone (FGZ) rule in the BDO Canadian Open. Feedback from some of the players was positive, though one commented it hurt their head (winner Mike McEwen)...

and a few others appeared dumbfounded...

even Olympic champions, looked, at times perplexed.

Now we’re going to breakdown each of the televised games and see how each team adapted to this rule.

Quarterfinal: Jeff Stoughton versus Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin asks for lead Ben Hebert to put his first stone in the top four foot. Rather than place a corner guard, Stoughton lead Steve Gould hits and rolls to the 12 foot. Martin hits and stays. Now Jeff calls for a corner guard, with Martin unable to remove it on his second’s (Marc Kennedy) first rock. Kevin instead calls for top twelve, cutting off the path around the corner. This strategy (cutting off corner guards) was used to perfection by the underdog Mike Riley rink against Werenich/Savage during the 1984 Brier finals and was likely used often during this event. A mistake by Stoughton on a blank attempt and Martin steals one point.

In the second end, similar beginnings, Martin goes in the house, Stoughton calls a hit, Martin hits and now the corner guard goes up. This delay in putting up the corner now means when second Marc Kennedy puts up a centre guard, Stoughton can hit it. This scenario for leads rocks in the first two ends shows how, when their opponent plays into the rings, the 5-Rock rule allows the team with hammer to avoid stacking rocks into the middle around a centre guard and instead get a corner guard in play. This situation alone has me favoring the 5-Rock rule over 4-Rock. In the traditional 4-Rock FGZ, the team ahead without hammer can put their first rock in the rings. Their opponent puts up a corner guard and they now can place a guard in front of their rock, and it can’t be hit. The cost for a team to place the corner is significant and the opposition didn’t actually need to make a draw around a guard. In the 5-Rock rule a team without hammer does not gain this advantage. In retrospect I wonder if Kevin would reconsider placing his first rock out front rather than in the rings.

After a miss by Kevin on his first, Jeff draws to lay 3 in the house and Martin is looking at this:

Stoughton is Red

Rather than hit, Kevin ponders the freeze to the rock on the tee-line. Watching this, Stoughton’s caught on camera saying to third Jon Mead “yah, go for it”.

I was also surprised by Martin’s call. Though it was thin, it appeared Kevin could easily double the two rocks in the four foot and possibly spin in behind the guard. Even if Kevin gives up a deuce he’s only 1 down. By playing the freeze, Kevin increased the chance for Jeff to score three and even gave some possibility of four. Stoughton ends up scoring three when Kevin’s rock doesn’t curl enough.

In the third end, Martin (now two down with hammer) throws a corner up after Stoughton puts their first rock top four. Lead Steve Gould then places his next rock 2 inches from the house, guarding shot stone. Martin elects not to throw up the second corner and instead tries a corner freeze around the tight centre guard. Hmmm, didn’t he follow what Jeff did in the first two ends?

In the fourth end, the rocks look similar to the previous end, but this time Kevin puts up the second corner guard:
 Stoughton is Red

Stoughton’s lead Steve Gould won’t make the highlight reel, but these two REALLY tight guards in the 3rd and 4th end are great shots which had a significant impact on these two ends, or 25% of the game 1

Despite the crowded beginning, by skips rocks everything has been removed and another blank end.

In the fifth end, Stoughton escapes some potential danger by making a run back and Kevin missing his first draw attempt. Martin is forced to one and scores his only point of the game with hammer (recall Jeff handed him a steal in the first). Thought there was suppose to be more offense?

In the 6th end, down 3-2, Martin places two centre guards (just as he would in the 4-Rock FGZ). After some house cleaning, Stoughton blanks (footnote - the third blank end of the game, and there were only 13 total the whole event!).

After a missed triple on Kevin’s last, Jeff draws for a deuce in the 7th end. Kevin could have tried a hit and roll instead, but the guard was so long I’d expect he knew Jeff could get it from either side even if it was perfect.

Ok, three down, time to grab a beer and change the channel, right? Not with the 5-Rock FGZ. Jeff has Gould attempt a tick on his first shot, but he noses the rock through the rings and it is replaced. On Reid’s first shot he calls to come into the four foot rather than attempt a tick. Nearly every shot from there becomes a team meeting to review the options. I can’t recall a game where a team led by 3 coming home and there were this many huddles to discuss strategy.

Nerve racking for the team that’s built a 3-point lead and perhaps a whole lot of blabbering to just delay the inevitable outcome, but it made for interesting TV.

Semi-final: Jeff Stoughton versus Glenn Howard

Usually if you give up four points in the first end, all of the air goes out of you. The challenge becomes staying focused, knowing in the back of your mind most likely you’ll be shaking hands soon and throwing back pints before the end of the day.

Curling is a game of mistakes and if you make one early, it can be game over before you even started. Glenn is 4 feet heavy on his second shot of the game and now it’s an uphill climb. But with the 5-Rock FGZ, Howard was never really out of it and, most important, the game was entertaining and made for good television.

In the 6th end, Howard is still down four, now 7-3. Stoughton piles three rocks into the four foot while Glenn places two corner guards. Stoughton ends up in a mess after a missed runback by Jon Mead. On his first shot, Jeff gets lucky and catches a skinny double, not the shot he called but an acceptable Plan B. Howard faces this for his first shot:
Howard is Red

He’s four down. Three has to be the play, even at the risk of not scoring a deuce. If Glenn draws to the open side and splits the house, what would Jeff do? He could guard, and Glenn may need to play a difficult double raise, on his opponent’s stone. Playing the scoreboard, it’s more likely Jeff hits an open Howard rock and sits first and third and Glenn needs to hope a double is available to get three, if not he plays the same run back for a deuce. Running short of time, it seemed Team Howard was looking for something else but defaulted on what was perhaps their best option, raising their own stone to remove the Stoughton rock and sit three.

After Stoughton misses his double attempt, Howard gets three and heads to the 7th end one down. After forcing Jeff to one in the 7th end, Howard has some potential to score not only a deuce in the 8th end to tie, but possibly a three for the win. Jeff and Jon both attempt doubles but instead stick to lay two. Jeff makes a double with his last and Glenn has no chance to score his deuce. Game over. The outcome is what we expect from a 4-0 start, but the storyline was very different.

Championship Final: Jeff Stoughton versus Mike McEwen

Three Stoughton games in a row? Ok, I know that Team Stoughton is current Brier and World Champions, but did they really deserve all that TV time? Granted, ladies love a strong sweeping front end that can throw a little weight around (how's the Olympic training program going?).

...but doesn’t CBC think the ladies at home might want to see the young Euro-plumber views of Team Edin 

In the final we are treated to the stylish ball-caps and quality whisker rub stubble of the Mike McEwen rink. Provincial rivals in Manitoba, these teams are no doubt going to clash again in their attempt to qualify for the 2012 Brier.

Stoughton starts off calling a center guard by lead Steve Gould. Unsure if he wanted it tighter but note it’s out of the house (unlike Martin’s play into the rings). Mike calls for a tight corner, rather than the come around, but they slip into the rings. Some talk early by the commentators that skips were uncomfortable with the format. Then again, they’re in the final. As I mentioned above, Jeff outsmarted Kevin Martin in their quarterfinal contest. After 13 hit and sticks, Mike hits and rolls out for the blank.

Second end, another centre guard by Stoughton and Mike calls for another corner. Sloppy start as they figure out the ice, Gould comes light then McEwen lead Denni Neufeld raises it into the rings. Sloppy finish too as Mike comes heavy on his first draw but Jeff makes a terrible error in coming light and leaves McEwen a simple draw to the eight foot for a deuce. Jeff could have thrown his draw as much as 8 feet further and forced McEwen to a single. An early Christmas gift.

Third end, Jeff elects to play into the rings rather than throw up a second corner guard. I suspect being the third end he didn’t want to risk the game getting out of hand too early. Eventually he’s forced to one and now is down 2-1.

Fourth end. Some more sloppy play and McEwen is facing more guards than a team one up with hammer needs. Unfortunately, his front end put them there. Third BJ Neufeld cleans up the mess but then gases his last shot through the rings. Stoughton is able to force Mike to a difficult draw for one.

Mid-game break and the 5-rock FGZ rule has had no effect on the game thus far. It has essentially been played out as a 4-Rock FGZ game.

In the 5th end, Jeff uses his extra guard to guard his own guard, which had slid a little too close to the rings. They have a chance to create some offense but second Reid Carruthers slips too deep on his draw attempt. BJ is able to cut-off the corner guard and McEwen sits three. Stoughton third Jon Mead attempts a hit that just clips the McEwen stone. Mead makes a nice come around on his first, Mike draws and Jeff faces this on his first:
Stoughton is Yellow

It looks ugly, but there is still possibility. Jeff makes a soft hit and roll and sits second and fourth, leaving McEwen with this:
 Stoughton is Yellow

A difficult shot to run his own back and not leave a chance for Jeff and, ultimately, he does. At this point we expect Jeff to make the double for two and tie things up, but he noses instead and he’s now 1 down without hammer entering the "End Game".

In the sixth, McEwen is able to clear up the guards but his rocks are behind the tee-line and Jon and Jeff are able to maneuver two of their rocks into good positions. There’s a team huddle over Mike’s first shot, facing this:

McEwen is Red

They first discuss picking it out, forcing Jeff to try the same shot again. They reconsider and make what I agree is the much better shot; hit the yellow stone in the four foot on the nose and sit in front of it once it jams on the back red. The result however, is not quite what he hoped and Jeff is left with a hit to sit three. No triple in play and McEwen is forced to a single.

In the seventh end, another miscue by Stoughton on his final draw attempt. Trying to touch the four foot, Jeff is Light by 3 inches; McEwen steals and leads 5-2 going into the last end.

Again, normally time to change the channel but much drama still to come. McEwen’s squad plays the final end well but Jeff has this opportunity with his first:
 Stoughton is Yellow

Jeff makes the double to sit three, but his rock rolls towards his other stone and leaves a double for McEwen. No mistake by Mike and it’s game over.

So to re-cap, it was the 5th, 7th and 8th ends where 5-Rock FGZ came into play. Surprisingly, if Jeff had made his draw in the 7th end it would have only been used in the 5th and 7th end.

It did not take long to convince me (and usually it does), this is a rule that should be adopted. Sorry to those players or fans who think it’s “unfair”. It is a minor tweak that will only adjust play in a few ends of each game, but clearly keeps a team that is down two points “in” the game, and keeps me interested to watch. It makes for better TV; what those of us on the couch and behind the glass want to see.

1 Two out of 8 ends = 25%. it’s been a while since we examined any actual math, I don’t want to disappoint my loyal followers. Either of you.


  1. Hi Kevin,

    Great read as always.

    I'm now setting up a website for the new Golden Hawks Curling High-performance Centre that got established in late November. As webmaster I'm trying to build the site into a useful coaching resource and I'm gathering whatever material I can.

    I'd like to syndicate Curl with Math on the HPC site, with your permission, in a way similar to what the CurlingZone has done. You can see the starting page at I have Bill Tschirhart on board and I'm hoping to get a few others as well.

    Let me know.....


  2. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further write ups thanks once again.

  3. I've read your analysis of different aspects with great interest but I have failed to find any post where you analyze the impact it would have to remove the possibility to blank (the most defensive play possible).

    If you remove the possibility to blank, by making the last stone advantage switch when blanking, what would happen?

    How would it change the odds, you think?

  4. This was discussed several years ago on the forum at CurlingZone. I can't remember the consensus, and I haven't bothered to think about it since. I do recall that I didn't like the idea at all.