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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Couch Coverage of the Canada Cup

I was traveling last week and was finally able to rip through all the Canada Cup games on my Tivo.  I was glad to see Stoughton win a well deserved Olympic Trials spot.  No surprise the first three teams qualified for the hardest curling event in the world include the most consistent winning skips (who also throw last rock) of the past 16 years.  Since 1996, these guys have won 8 Briers and lost the final another 6 times.  And if you add in 2 of the thirds as skips, you can add another win and finals loss (Wayne Middaugh won in 98 and John Morris lost in 2002).  Richard Hart played on most of those Howard teams before retiring in 2011, and he joined us on our second episode of the Around The House podcast. (I promise not to plug the podcast again, if YOU promise to go listen as soon as you're done reading this).

Congratulations also to Team Stefanie Lawton for their win and Trials spot.  They played a fantastic final game, with Stefanie making two key doubles in the second and fourth end to hold their opponent, Team Jennifer Jones featuring Kaitlyn Lawes as skip, to a pair of singles.  She was also supported by conservative calls during the 9th end when, down one without hammer, Lawes, decided to play for a blank by continuing to hit and roll rather than draw around the centre guard.  Stefanie had a strange call herself in the 6th end when, up two without hammer, she sits one on the button wide open.  There is a corner guard covering second shot in the full twelve foot, belonging to Lawes.

Lawton is Red

Stefanie thinks at first of trying to pick out the Lawes stone, but then decides to play a straight peel on the guard.  It would be highly preferred that she play either a guard on her shot stone or draw to sit second.  By peeling, she is essentially conceding a deuce.  However, perhaps Lawton is simply trying to set up a cross house double, which she almost makes on her last.  Luckily for Team lawton, Kaitlyn hits and rolls out on her open hit attempt for two and has to settle for one, leaving her down one without hammer.

Some other tidbits from the event:

Mike Harris never had it so good
Team Mike McEwen was shown on TSN 6 times per my counting, and if they had won their semi-final match-up, it would have been 7 televised draws for a team that has yet to make it to a Brier.  Team McEwen has been in the televised spotlight with their many Grand Slam appearances as well.  Contrast their fame with the anonymity of Mike Harris, with then third Richard Hart (who joined us on our recent podcast,...oh, ok, I said I'd stop). They had no such national exposure back in the early 90s when they couldn't break out of Ontario.  Similar to McEwen who has lost the Manitoba final 3 years in a row, Mike and Rich lost 2 provincial finals in Ontario (1992 and '93), but were virtually unknown outside of the curling community in Eastern Canada and amongst the top traveling teams of the day.  The 1998 Olympics changed all that and gave Mike the opportunity to work in the booth for CBC and now Sportsnet.  A location he will be joined in by Richard Hart during next weeks' Grand Slam.  I'm not expecting this type of male bonding magic, but hopefully it comes close.

Epping's call in the 9th
Against Mike McEwen, game is tied in the 9th end and John Epping does not have the hammer.  On third Scott Bailey's first shot, he decides to draw into the pile of rocks in the four foot:

Epping is Red

Much better to throw a centre guard here and force Mike to throw a peel.  At this stage he cannot risk a deuce or a blank.  I suspect Mike was glad to see this call.  Eventually John will have to play into the rings, and I expect he was concerned Mike would come in earlier instead of peeling, but I feel he should have waited until his first or last shot before making this call.

Those Team McEwen mustaches rival those of the Village People (can you tell which is a curling team and which is a world famous pop act who made white people dance with their hands above their shoulders?):

McEwen versus Martin:

An incredible first end, with rocks everywhere and Mike facing the potential for disaster.  Everyone knows how Martin is nearly unbeatable when they score two in the first end.  Mike smartly decides not to play runbacks and instead calls draw shots around the centre.  Kevin plays along and eventually Mike makes a fantastic big weight shot on his last, leaving Martin sitting one.  Kevin has a chance to make the granite fly but he racks on the guard, so we will not find out if more than two was possible.

Martin makes a great roll in the second, avoiding a possible two or three by McEwen.  Instead, Kevin steals one and McEwen has to test the position of "down two with hammer to Martin and 8 ends remain".  
McEwen quickly takes two and steals two, and eventually wins without much drama.   

The Finals
Stoughton vs Howard for a Trials spot.  Jeff's team needs to win to get a spot.  Unnlike in years past, losing to a team which has already qualified (like Howard) does not give them the automatic berth.  Adds a little intensity to the contest and you can tell by Jeff's cautious play early in the game.  He chooses to hit with their first rock, rather than throw up a corner guard (a more common play).  Unfortnately, lead Mark Nichols flashes on his second shot and Stoughton is forced to an eventual single point. Mark will make up for this early mistake by playing fantastic (88%) the rest of the way.  To add a little math, by missing that shot, Mark needed to be 66/72 (based on 4 point scoring system) on his remaining 18 shots in order to hit 88%.

Stoughton steals in the second but is in trouble in the third end. Jeff manages a couple of freezes on skips rocks and is able to force Howard to one, crisis avoided.  He now leads 2-1 with hammer.

Stoughton is Red

In the 8th end, Stoughton has hammer tied 3-3.  Glenn places his first rock in the rings and Jeff chooses to hit it, rather than put up a corner guard (similar to the first end).  After Howard nose hits, Jeff calls for the corner. Russ mentions that this looks strange but, if Jeff prefers to play cautious, it's a clever strategy.  Jeff doesn't allow Glenn to put up a "free-guard zone" center guard and force the play to the middle.    This increases the possibility of a blank and gives Jeff the ability to play a more conservative end.  We can only speculate if this would have been the same call in a game where an Olympic Trails spot was not on the line.  Of note, Howard's third Wayne Middaugh actually noses a peel on his first attempt, something he may not have done more than 3-4 times since 1996 (this is what's called a "speculative" stat, in that I really have no idea, he's just know for throwing these well).

In the 9th end, still tied 3-3, Jeff throws their first stone out to the wings, rather than drawing around the center guard.  This eventually puts Howard to a decision on his second Brent Lainge's final shot of the end (even has a 90 second time out!).

Stoughton is Red

Team Howard (and Brother Russ in the booth, drawing nearly as good on his telestrator as I have) discusses  the option of a hit and roll (red line above), a guard (yellow) or the wide outturn draw (blue).  You can make a case for all of these but I think the long guard may have proven better in the long run. As it turns out, Glenn calls the hit and roll and ends up in a position for a possible force but Wayne hits and rolls out when attempting to count two. This presents an interesting example of how playing out to the side has forced Jeff's opponent to consider play away from the center and keep the end more open for several options later.  I like the way Stoughton has (both here and throughout the game) placed rocks to force his game plan rather than be forced into Glenn's.  Hitting on leads first rock rather than placing a guard, for example, as discussed earlier.

Skips rocks and Glenn is looking at an open hit of the Stoughton rock in the side of the house or a draw around a corner guard. 

Stoughton is Red
Wayne mentions the guard is too long to draw behind (the correct call if the gaurd was better positioned) so he chooses to hit the Stoughton stone in the 12 foot, rolling towards the centre.  Jeff then rolls towards the guard, giving Glenn a chance on his final shot to force Jeff to one rather than blank.  Glenn looks at a freeze versus a hit and roll behind the long guard covering a sliver of the four foot.  He makes it perfect but Jeff still has enough room to make the shot of the game, a double and roll out for the blank by coming across the face, barely sneaking by the guard.  

In the 10th, Nichols makes ticks on his first two.  On Howard third Wayne Middaugh's second shot, they throw behind the corner left by the second tick shot.  Stoughton third Jon Mead peels, Glenn puts the guard back, then a discussion of where to place Jeff's next shot.  

Stoughton is Red

They could peel, come around with a corner freeze.  They discuss drawing back four foot, but instead draw top of the four foot (as shown above), resulting in a nose hit by Glenn giving them a simple hit for the win. Announcer Linda states "it really depends how you're feeling and I think today Jeff isn't really feeling the draw".  I disagree.  By placing his rock, Jeff gets to decide where Glenn has to play his rock, and can force it closer to where you want it. (Stoughton's team even discussed on air) the only reason to peel the guard would be if they want the inturn draw and the guard gets in the way.  Having said that, perhaps Jeff did prefer to make a hit with his final shot and that's why he placed it where he did (with absolutely perfect draw weight). 

For those readers who appreciate the math slant to my blog, you should check out Nate Silver's interview with Bill Simmons on


Monday, November 26, 2012

Rogers Masters Part Deux

Black Friday has come and gone and Movember is nearly over. The Toronto Argonauts just won the 100th Grey Cup with the quarterback Edmonton moved at the end of last season. Before we get to Part II of last weekend's Masters of Curling, I need to take a moment and plug Around The House, a new Podcast covering the sport of curling. It's hosted by Manitoba's Jordan Bauldic and includes yours truly along with CurlingZone Czar Gerry Geurtz. We're hoping to get an RSS feed set-up soon.

An important note for those gamblers out there.  Curling gambling is underway at Sports Interaction

And now, back to our analysis...

Let's return to the Friday round robin game between Glenn Howard and Kevin Koe, the one I was too tired to expand on in Part 1.

The 5th end (Howard up 2-1) is intentionally blanked by Koe. The intention is to have hammer in the 6th and 8th (final) ends, leaving Howard with hammer in the 7th. This occurs if no end is blanked or stolen. The idea is to go "2 for 1" (2 hammers to one for your opponent). Let's examine this play.

Down 2-1 with hammer with..
4 ends remaining = 40.4%
3 ends remaining = 39.0%

This is very close. Koe isn't losing much by blanking but it doesn't appear that he is gaining either. Let's compare odds based on outcome in the 5th end and 6th end:

Up 1 without hammer (take 2) = 61% (score in 5th end) / 64.4% (score in 6th end)
Tied without hammer (take 1) = 35.9% / 32.9%
Down 2 with hammer (steal of 1 by Howard) = 19.3% / 15%
Up 2 without hammer (take 3) = 80.7% / 85%

Kevin is essentially blanking in order to attempt a deuce in the 6th end to gain 3.4% from scoring two in the 5th end. Note that the reduced odds he would see by being forced to one in the 6th instead of the 5th is 3%. The net of this is a 0.4% gain. A steal (bad) or three (good) is 4.3% better or worse in the 6th versus the 5th end.

Let's look at this another way. Taking two then forcing Howard to one. If Koe does this in the 5th and 6th ends, his odds to win are 67.1%, tied and two ends to play. If he blanks the 5th, takes two in the 6th then forces in the 7th his odds become 79.7% (tied with one end). Remember, general stats for all events show 75% odds if tied with hammer and one end to play but Grand Slams trend closer to 80%.

Now we can see that Koe is putting more pressure on the outcome of the 6th with the goal being a 12.6% improvement if he achieves the same results (take 2/force 1). This gain more than compensates for a steal or force in the 6th versus the 5th end and makes a strong case for this strategy.

Koe is forced to one in the 6th and then the 7th end results in Howard looking at this before third Wayne Middaugh's last rock:

Howard is Red
They take nearly 6 minutes (including 1 for a time out) before Wayne launches his stone. This shot resulted in Glenn being rushed at the end of the game. Ironically, earlier this end Joan mentions that strategy is not an issue for these teams and before that Mike Harris mentioned that Glenn is the best in the world at understanding rock positioning.Wayne makes a perfect shot, hitting a piece of the red in the top four foot and moving both yellows out:

Howard now sitting two. In this situation, Howard is trying to score two (88% winning percentage) at the risk of a force to one (60%) or even giving up a steal and having last rock in the last end down one (40%). Ultimately, I agree with the call (and not just because Wayne made it so well). Glenn only needs two to maximize his chance for a win. Any more is just a bonus. I prefer moving the stones around at this stage because bunching more rocks into the area would increase the odds of a steal and bring in a possible steal of two (disaster).

Even if Wayne had killed the red rock off the button, Glenn may still have a possible chance at two but greatly reduced chance for a steal. I'm just surpised it took them so long to recognize the shot.

Kevin then makes a great shot to sit just on top of the Howard stone. After Glenn peels the guard, Kevin puts another one up and Glenn still had a slight chance at two with a very difficult draw. Didn't make it, and he heads to the final end up one without hammer.

Gerry Guertz gets a little video shot in the booth on at the beginning of the 8th end. Did I mention that I'm joining Gerry on a Curling Podcast called Around The House, which is hosted by Jordan Bauldic? Sorry if I missed that.

In the 8th end (Howard up 1 without hammer), Glenn calls for Middaugh to play a straight back raise with board weight. Wayne hits it high side and rolls for a corner. Without hammer, Howard needs to keep the centre guard and though that was the intent (reason for lighter hit weight), they don't get that result. This changes the entire end and puts Koe into a position to take two with reduced risk of a steal. Wayne actually makes up for his miss with a spectacular shot (shown here in telestrator slo-mo instant replay):

Howard is Red

Wayne misses the yellow stone on the button but leaves the raised stone sitting in front of it.

Koe's third Pat Simmons then draws around the corner again and a timeout for Howard as they try to decide what to call. At this stage they have 1:01 left on their "talk-time" clock. Glen makes a great tap and corner freeze, sitting 2nd and a very close third shot it appears.

Howard is Red

Koe attempts to tap the red in front of his shot stone back button but is too heavy and wide and leaves a very makeable double. Glenn has under 40 seconds to make this attempt, plenty of time but cutting it very close. He throws the stone to the high side and misses the double, leaving a fairly simple shot for two and the win for Koe. If only the center guard had still been there or a little more time on the clock.

Kevin Martin vs Jeff Stoughton in the Quarterfinal.

First end of this game and both teams are knee deep into it. 4 rocks in the four foot, 3 more in the eight foot, one in the twelve foot and two guards out front (10 in total and 2 yet to come). Jeff makes a great tap to sit one and Kevin then follows with a double tap to take 1.

In the 5th end, up 2-1 without hammer, Martin's first rock thrown by Ben Hebert is a longish guard. Not sure if that was an error or intentional, we didn't join the broadcast until later in the end. Once Stoughton gets a rock buried top eight foot, Martin lead Ben Hebert is light, top twelve foot. Stoughton begins to throw rocks out to the side, drawing for second shot. Joan and Mike comment it's not a common sight, playing away from the center.  Seemed to make sense given the situation, but agree we don't see it often.

By the time we reach Kevin's final rock, he's facing this:

Martin is Yellow

Kevin attempts the thin double (red lines) rather than the soft weight hit and roll (green line) to the centre. Martin's top yellow sits a well protected third shot. A very aggressive call that I think many players, even at Kevin's level, would not have attempted. He hits the top rock too thick, and surrenders a deuce to Stoughton.

In the 6th, Kevin has a great chance to get two back but comes heavy on his first and Jeff locks his last shot on top of Kevin's, forcing him to a very difficult draw to the side of the pin for two, which he doesn't make.   Score is 3-3 after 6 ends.

At this stage, everything seems to be going Stoughton's way.

In the 7th, Team Martin called time out John Morris final shot, facing this:

Martin is Yellow

They take a moment to discuss the various angles, what they will leave Jeff and what they expect him to call.  Eventually they call a freeze/tap on the second shot yellow stone (based on lead Ben Hebert's suggestion). It's made perfectly. After a hit by Stoughton's third Jon Mead, Martin is facing a similar shot and makes the same freeze. Eventually, Jeff has a double attempt to score one but the result is a steal for Martin.

After a Marc Kennedy triple peel, Kevin chooses to play the 8th rather open, trying to force Jeff to one and go to the extra end with hammer. Jeff in fact misses his last shot, an open hit that needed to stay in the four foot, and Martin steals one and moves on to the semi-final.

The next broadcast is a quarterfinal with Laycock (a Tier 2 qualifier) versus Brandon Jacobs. My Tivo worked overtime here as the first three ends were blanked. After a deuce in the 4th by Laycock, Jacobs attempts a difficult split on his last in the 5th and only manages a single. He dropped from odds of 19.3% (2 down with hammer) to 16.9% (one down without hammer), attempting to tie the game (39%). Well worth the risk if he has even a 15% chance to make it.

Semi-final: Battle of the Kevin's, Koe versus Martin.

$1 million dollars, announced at the beginning of the week, must still be in the minds of these players. Despite the $1 million, they still can't appear to get more than a couple dozen people into the stands. I know it was an early moring draw, but most curling fans are over 60 and usually up by 6 am.

The game appears a little sloppy, though I heard later from Gerry Geurtz (on the Around The House podcast) that there were issues with the ice. Kevin Martin calls a difficult soft hit on his first shot of the game, rather than blasting, and if Koe had been an inch further with his last, they may have stolen three. Instead, it's a steal of two when Martin's last rock draw is heavy.

In the 4th end, Koe is up 3-1 without hammer, With two red rocks in the top rings, he chooses to place a guard rather than peel the Martin corner guard. An aggressive play which surprises me. I think if Koe had only one in the rings he may have blasted the corner. Martin ends up able to play to the wings and if not for a miss by third John Morris, would have been well positioned to score more than one. Instead, Koe is able to place a rock biting the top four foot and Martin eventually comes heavy on his draw, leaving Koe a steal of one (and almost two).

Martin scores a deuce in the 5th, despite one of Morris' shots picking (they were drawing to sit three at the time). Kevin Koe attempts a raise double on his last and can't remove one of Martin's rocks, but sits 2. Martin makes no mistake with the double and pulls within 1, 4-3 for Koe.

Up 5-3 without hammer in the 7th, Koe's squad takes an incredibly long time deciding whether or not to have second Carter Rycroft peel on his last shot. They do peel and their fears of a draw around their staggered rocks in the house are avoided when John Morris comes heavy with his first shot draw attempt. Koe third Pat Simmons blasts the rocks in the house and result in an eventual blank.

At the start of the eight end they show Jack Nicklaus, Roger Federer and Kevin Martin, and their respective "Grand Slams". I fully expect Jack and Roger have no idea how close they are to being usurped. Also hope Jack did not see the photograph as it appeared he had three chins.

Pat Simmons misses a couple of shots badly, flashes a peel and heavy on a draw. Morris misses his last, moving the centre guard. Koe eventually faces this with his final shot:

Martin is Yellow

Koe's squad discusses the last shot, trying to ensure they don't risk giving Martin a chance at a possible three, which will lose the game. Rather than playing a freeze, Koe decides to play a double on the top two yellow. He ends up kissing his own red on the button to the back of the rings and leaves a possible shot for three. It's not an easy shot and Martin hits it a little thick and only gets one.

Off to an extra end, Koe with last rock.

On Kevin Koe's first shot, he's looking at this:

Martin is Yellow

After much discussion, they decide to play the peel.  They consider playing into the rings now, worried that the last shot will be difficult.  Because of the red corner guard, the draw to the button in not routine (like they usually are :).  If Martin makes a perfect shot, they may have to play a double to blank.  Kevin Martin attempts a hit but rolls slightly to the open side, leaving Koe and draw ot the four foot.  A little heavy, but hangs on by a hair (and a measure) for the win.

Koe goes on to battle in the finals against BC's Jim Cotter (with Manitoba import Jason Gunnlaugson at third).  After a steal of two in the first, Koe rebounds with a deuce of his own and, after a force in the third, cracks a three ender in the 5th to go ahead 5-3.Unlike the Martin game in the semi-finals, it never gets closer and they take home the top prize and sole possession of the title "only team that can win the grand slam and $1 million dollars".

Until the Canada Cup...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rogers Reboots the Grand Slams

2012 ended with an exciting World Men's Curling finals, a game which Canada's Glenn Howard rink was fortunate to come through with a victory. I plan to take a look back at that game later this season, but for now let's begin the new era in televised curling, the Rogers Grand Slams (RGS for short?).

To any of those who are uncertain what this new era means, Rogers is not simply broadcasting the Slams, it actually owns them outright. CBC is sub-lisenced to broadcast draws, including the finals this past weekend. We can ponder on the meaning of this ownership arrangement, and potential risks involved, but that can be left for another time. For now I will stay positive as my Tivo recovers from recording the 20 plus hours of curling coverage. With more than a cable sports channel per million people in Canada (35), it always seemed strange that we can't get more curling on television. If ESPN (and TSN) can broadcast over 10 hours of three guys playing poker (full disclosure, I watched it all), curling should be able to find more airtime somewhere.

This event introduced a two tier format with 18 teams in 3 groups, battling in a round robin format for 6 spots and a separate 16 team triple knock-out for 2 more spots. Steve Laycock was the only Tier 2 team to reach the semi-finals. I'll be interested to find out more about future plans for the Slams and how this format will evolve.

First end, first game, the first Kevin Martin shot of the new RGS, and, after coming up light (or possibly the rock "picked"), we catch a little colourful language from the Olympic gold medal skip. It would not be his last expletive, as another slipped during the semi-final on Sunday. Rogers is cable, so I speculate there are no fines issued or need for a 15 second delay. The foul language isn't needed (though it's occasionally amusing) and some will chastise Martin for his "behaviour", but with $1 million on the line, I suppose a slip or two should be expected.

The $1 million always looks good in a marketing campaign (anyone remember this lucky guy who's still getting paid 7 years later after kicking a field goal), but I expect the chance of a curling Grand Slam in a single season to be pretty low (perhaps I'll work the math out in another article). I'd be interested to know what the insurance cost was for the $1 million (assuming Rogers didn't insure it themselves). I expect its lower than the chance that your fearless CWM author could win an $80,000 car with a hole in one last July...

5 iron from 187, no kidding.
OK, Back to the actual curling...

The first televised draw sees Kevin Martin vs John Epping. We have Joan McKusker and Mike Harris, back from their CBC days, along with Rob Faulds. Unfortunately, the three of them make up nearly half the live audience (and attendance didn't appear toimprove much the entire week). Again, I want to be positive, so we'll save that rant for another time. I like Mike and Joan and given the chance to do more games than usual can only improve their coverage. Vic Rauter must be nearing the 10,000 hour mark by now, right? If you missed it, check out Vic's great interview with Dean Gemmel on the Curling Show.

Joan mentions that this Martin team is 118-2 when getting a deuce in the first end. Luckily for Epping, after John Morris comes up light and Kevin's first (F%^$*#) rock picks, Martin is forced to one. You may recall the 5-Rock experiment last year during the BDO Open. I expect that as players improve even further, beyond even the skill levels of team Martin circa-2008-2010, we will need to implement a 5-Rock or a no-hit, or return to the Ryan Express era of the late 80s, early 90s where the game loses the interest of the fans (both of them in the stands at this Masters...ok I'll stop now).

Epping makes a great triple raise for two in the second end. Blank in the third and then, Kevin Martin makes one of the worst shots I've seen him throw on television. He even comments they could give up a steal of three and, as is often the case, his intuitive sense of the game is correct. Note the new drawing capabilities of my Strategy Board, providing a reasonable facsimile of the real live TV action. This is brought to you by Jeff Rogers' Curling Stategy Tool, available on Itunes.

Kevin Martin is yellow

Down 4 with hammer, Epping eventually wins in 6 ends.

Rogers coverage of Draw 4 has Jeff Stoughton vs Glenn Howard. After a force in the first end, a three in the second and a steal in the third helps Glenn's squad cruise to victory. The three seemed unlikely as Stoughton sat two after thirds rocks.

Stoughton is Red

Jeff comes light on his attempt to corner freeze, bighting the top twelve. Glenn comes around the Stoughton rock and corners onto the red rock, sitting second. Still, how scary can this be?
Jeff comes a little heavy and leaves this:

Stoughton is Red
Mike Harris immediately comments that Glenn has a double for two and might get lucky for three. The look of disgust on Jeff's face implies that he knows this as well. In fact he could give up 4. Glenn's shooter spins out of play but the result is three and a two point lead. The third end has Jeff facing this with his last:

Rather than play the in-turn tap, jamming his rock into the yellow stones, he instead plays a soft tap out-turn, through the port, attempting a rub of the yellow Howard stone. Siting one before he throws, Jeff does what Mike Harris suspected could happen and instead gives up a steal of one. Howard eventualy wins, leading three up coming home.

Koe vs Howard on Friday night is a close game throughout. Koe's difficult draw for 2 in the second picks and its tied 1-1 until Howard is forced to a single in the 4th end.

In the 5th end, Koe doesn;t throw a corner and Joan is "shocked". Kevin appears to be comfortable taking the hammer into the 6th end and playing the "two-hammers-to-one" theory. This being that if you have the hammer in the 6th, if no one steals or blanks, you should have the hammer in the 8th as well. I've written on this before, and the numbers don't appear to sway this decision as right or wrong. I've seen enough of it in the last few years that perhaps a full column on it in future would make sense.

The boring play in the 5th did allow Mike and Joan to start a discussion with Glenn Howard during the end! Can you imagine Vin Scully chatting up the Dodgers catcher while he's calling pitches in a major league baseball game? Come to think of it, that's a great idea.

Koe is forced to a single in the 6th. The seventh and eight ends had plenty of the drama that makes curling a great television sport. I mean of course the scene of four men with brooms standing around, looking at rocks and trying to decide what to do. If I didn;t need to get up in 5 hours I'd probably add some more coverage of these final ends but 2,014 words in and we haven't even gotten to the Playoffs! I'm already starting to miss the shortened CBC coverage of the Grnd Slams.

Howard had less than 30 seconds on his "talking time" clock. Perhaps it influenced his miss on the final shot, leaving Koe a shot for two and the win.

More from the Masters Playoff rounds in Part 2. G'Nite.

Monday, March 26, 2012

CSI: Womens World Curling 3-4 Game (and The Finals)

There’s been some discussion on the internet and even classic media regarding Canada’s loss to (South) Korea in the 3-4 game at this years Womens World Curling Championship.  Korea, starting with hammer, appeared to have a plan of attempting to blank each end and reduce the game to as few ends as possible.  Ideally, blank 9 ends and have hammer tied coming home.  The general criticism has been Heather Nedohin and Team Canada allowed Korea to play this way and should have attempted a more aggressive game plan.  I wanted to know if it was actually the case of strategy, shot-making or some other reason (maybe their opponent played well), that Canada could lose the game and miss the Gold medal game for the third time in four years. 

1st end: Tight centre by CAN, KOR throws to the open side, back eight foot.  Two hit and sticks, then Canada rolls out and KOR peels out the end.

2nd end: Centre guard by CAN, KOR again throws to the side.  CAN makes a good come around (rather than  hitting the open stone), but KOR successful in hitting and rolling to the open.  A great double by CAN third Beth Iskiw gets them out of the end, another blank.

3rd end: Tight centre guard, KOR throws to open side, CAN again comes around centre guard, back four foot. KOR makes a great freeze to the top of the CAN stone. 
Canada is Yellow

First stone from CAN second Jessica Mair is a little wide, but KOR also misses and leaves CAN sitting two. 

Little short on the next come around, allows KOR to make a nice hit and roll.  Beth makes a nice tap to leave CAN sitting two. 

Eventually, KO forced to a draw to the button (with some backing) for one.  Game on?

Can’t argue much with Canada’s strategy to this point.  In the 2nd and 3rd ends, played aggressive and came away with a force with 7 ends to go.  What should not be forgotten is the great shot-making by KOR.

4th end:  CAN with hammer, down one.  KOR draws into the four foot, CAN throws a corner and KOR plays a centre guard.  CAN fails to bury and sits beside shot stone, it’s quickly removed by KOR.  Nice double by Jessica, with a roll to the open, KOR follows with a roll back to the centre.  Beth, attempting a hit a roll, rolls out of the rings.  KOR draws to an open house with 2 guards, but comes heavy.  Beth draws top twelve around the centre, KOR gets in behind to the eight foot.

CAN skip Heather Nedohin ticks the front guard in her attempt to hit and sit two.  KOR hits and stays and CAN is forced to a nose it for a single.

5th end: 1-1.  CAN puts up a centre, KOR throws to the open side, Heather calls for a hit and roll. Two hits and sticks then Jessica rolls out.  KOR peels out for another blank.

6th end: CAN puts up centre and KOR throws up a corner guard (uncertain if intentional or they were light).  CAN draws to button but leaves a chunk open and KOR hits and rolls partially behind their corner.  Trade hits then CAN able to sit two after Beth’s first.  KOR rolls out on their hit and Beth puts her last fully buried, nearly biting the four foot.  KOR is a little heavy and chaps and rolls to the open.  CAN is able to sit two on their last, leaving KOR a difficult hit and roll for one. 

They are unable to execute and CAN steals.

7th end: 2-1 CAN, KOR with Hammer.  CAN draws top eight and KO throws a corner guard.  CAN plays the tap (rather than a centre).  KOR hits and stays for second, CAN hits and rolls out and sits one.  KOR elects to draw around the corner, but is heavy and bites the back of the house.  CAN chooses to draw around the corner, in front of the KOR rock, to sit two.  KOR attempts a freeze but taps CAN back.  Beth makes a nice hit a roll.  Great double by KOR third Seul-Bee Lee including a roll behind the corner.  Beth makes a soft hit and roll to centre, CAN sits two.  KOR makes a hit and rolls in front of the stones at the back of the house, but still in the open.  Heather hits but jams on her own and leaves KOR sitting second and third.  KOR skip Ji-Sun Kim hits the open CAN stone, but jams on her own and leaves CAN sitting second shot.  Heather rolls out but a break for CAN as KOR rolls out and takes a single.

Not sure what all the fuss is about a boring game.  This is entertaining.  Two strategy decisions in question:
1.       CAN hitting the open stone in the 5th rather than playing a draw. Though the rock was at tee line and very possible to make a hit and roll.  Nearing the mid-stage of the game, perhaps Heather wants to avoid giving up a deuce and is being patient without hammer.  I don’t mind this at all.
2.       Tapping their stone in the 7th rather than playing a centre guard.  I’d prefer a guard over the tap.  A centre could not be removed and would force KOR into the draw game that CAN would like to see.  But it is consistent with Heather’s strategy which appeared to be conservative without hammer.  The end result is a single, so the mission is accomplished.

8th end: 2-2, CAN with Hammer.  KOR plays a tight off-centre guard.  Canada draws around the wide side to top four foot.  KOR attempts a draw around the centre line side but comes a little deep.  CAN freezes to their own, taking the same line as their first. KOR then draws beside that stone on the centre line side.  Likely KOR sits one (its close) and three, CAN second and fourth. CAN peels the guard.  KOR plays a guard, CAN peels.  On Beth’s last they discuss possibly making a play in the house, but instead peel the guard. 

KOR draws to top eight in front of their stone.  Heather hits it and now sits first and fourth.  KOR makes a hit on the yellow stones, removing shot rock, leaving CAN a testy hit for a single.  Heather makes it.

9th end: 3-2 CAN, KOR with Hammer.  CAN heavy twice with their attempts at a centre guard.  They then choose to hit the tight KOR stone with Jessica’s first, rather than throw a centre guard (that could be removed).  Couple of peels then trade hits and a blank is the result.

The 9th was simply poor execution (those guards aren’t completely “free”, you still need to make them).  In the 8th, they could have made a play in the rings with Beth’s last shot.  The peel was a conservative play, ensuring Heather would have a shot for one.  Given the set-up of the house, I don’t blame her.  If they come around to the button, KOR has a tap and now a steal is very likely.  If they try to tap the top red out, they may leave the shooter in front of the other two yellows, covering their own tap.  If KOR makes the draw from the other side to the button, again it’s a heap of trouble.

10th end: 3-2 CAN, KOR with Hammer.  CAN top four, KOR throws a corner, then CAN with tight centre guard.  KOR sits beside CAN rock, overlapping slightly, CAN taps and sits top eight in front of both stones.  KOR plays tap on CAN stone from the other turn, lays second and third. CAN plays nice soft hit (even ticking the guard) and sits two top four foot frozen. 

KOR plays runback and manages to guard their own, sitting second. 

CAN attempts the runback and makes the peel.  After a time out and discussion with their coach, KOR plays a tap to sit second, shooter sitting in front of CAN shot stone and third, behind the corner guard. 

Beth attempts a corner freeze, little heavy but CAN sits two.  KOR makes hit and rolls towards the corner.  Heather attempts freeze and, like Beth, taps and rolls toward centre to sit two.  KOR makes the double and manages to sit 2, CAN a close third at the back eight. 

CAN chooses to freeze in front of shot stone and KOR then makes the tap for two and wins.

Canada looked in good position sitting two in the top four after Jessica’s last, but an end changes quickly.  Korea’s peel removes a CAN stone and guards their second shot. Beth’s raise attempt was missed and the danger begins.  Canada could instead perhaps have placed another guard and played more aggressive, but that would still leave options for Korea to score two. I did not like the final shot call by Heather and would have preferred an attempt to tap and roll off the shot stone, behind a cover.  Granted, an extremely difficult shot, but the freeze that was called left a fairly simple tap for two.
Key observations:
  • In the 8th and 10th ends CAN was unable to get the rocks into favorable positions.
  • KOR strategy was much less conservative (or boring) than it would appear.  They placed a corner guard in the 6th (after a CAN centre) and again in the 7th when one down.  They threw up a centre guard in the 4th when up one.    KO played a draw to the side in the 1st through 3rd ends and again in the 5th end.  This strategy worked in the 1st, 2nd and 5th due to half shots by CAN, and failed in the 3rd (single for KOR).  
  • To force an aggressive game, you can’t hit and roll out, you need to bury your come arounds and you can’t put free guards in the house.
  • CAN only had hammer for the 4th and 8th ends.  Without hammer, when faced with draws to the open by KOR, they hit twice and attempted come arounds twice.  Some other options: throw a second guard (very aggressive) or corner freeze (slightly less aggressive).  Don’t really fault their choices, but they failed to execute in three of those ends.
  • And the rematch for the Bronze?  Strategy started similar (draw to the side in the first end by KOR), but scoreboard and different missed/made shots resulted in a more aggressive contest, won by Canada. 
It’s my opinion Canada’s strategy was “aggressive enough” in the 3-4 game, and shot results and scoreboard (Canada unable to tie with hammer until 8th end) were a greater factor in the resulting low score.

The Finals

Only got to watching the finals between Sweden and the Swiss this evening (24 hours later).  The Mad Men premiere took precedent last night.  For anyone who has a Tivo, it still has the best (and smoothest) fast forward options and provides the ability to watch 3 or more hours of anything (golf, football, curling, the Oscars) in under 30 minutes.  

Some observations on this game. 
  • In the first end, Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott calls the first rock into the rings and Sweden’s skip and lead stone Margaretha Sigfridsson hits and stays.  After the Swiss hit and stick in the top eight foot, Sweden attempts corner guards, which the Swiss proceed to peel (and Sweden puts them back up) until Sweden’s third finally hits the rock in the house. Mirjam could have opted to sit two up to thirds final stone, but never wavered from her strategy.  Granted, I don’t follow a lot of International Womens curling (I keep hoping for the PPV channel), but is this a common approach?  And I heard Korea was conservative.
  • In the second end Sweden puts up a corner guard that is “free”.  Ok, I’ve seen this game before.
  • Down 2-0, a good call and great shot in the 4th end by Mirjam.  Facing a Swedish stone biting the eight foot off to the side, she instead chooses to draw around a guard at an attempt to take 2.  Executed perfectly and, after Margaretha misses the run back attempt, the Swiss draw for two points.
  • The Swiss, down 4-3 with hammer, choose to blank the 7th end after Sweden comes into the rings with their first stone.  I previously wrote about this strategy from the 2010 Brier here when a similar situation occurred in the round robin and finals with Howard and Koe.
  • Lots of team discussions in the 9th end.  Do Vic, Linda and Russ like to remain quiet when the teams are talking to benefit the Swiss and Swedish viewers? 
An entertaining back half of the game with 5 great finishing shots, including the final tap and roll for two by Mirjam Ott for the win. 

Only two more major events to go!  Of course, I mean the Mens World Championship and the Last Chance Bonspiel in Hibbing, Minnesota

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Where am I?

I'm in Saskatoon at the 2012 Tim Horton's Brier.

I've been blogging at The Curling News.  Keep reading me there all week and then look for a CWM recap in the near future.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Scotties Recap and Brier Preview

Scotties Recap

Congratulations to the Heather Nedohin rink from Edmonton.  A fantastic effort at the Canadian Women’s Curling Championship, aka The Scotties.  They beat both Manitoba and BC twice on their way to victory.  Despite playing well, they started 1-3 and nearly every game became a must win. 

The Saturday night Semi-final game which started only two hours after the Alberta win against Quebec ended with a touch of drama.  Tied with the hammer 5-5 in an extra end against Jennifer Jones from Manitoba, it looked as if Heather’s final draw slid a fraction deep. From the TSN camera, it appeared the Manitoba stone was closer to the pin.  The measurement took place and Alberta had the point by what appeared to be a few millimeters. The lesson, don’t ever trust those overhead cameras

Heather wins her second Scotties, the first as a skip.  Since her win as third with Cathy King (then Borst) in 1998, a few changes have taken place.  She married Dave Nedohin, a swarthy Winnipeg transplant who throws the stone almost as well as she does. If only she’d hyphenated, Godberson-Nedohin would look great on the back of a Team Canada jacket, no?  Add in motherhood to the mix, raising two girls while your husband wins a few of his own major events, and she may have begun to wonder if it would ever happen again.  Well done Heather.  And now, let’s look at a couple of strange decisions.

In the Semi-final versus Jennifer Jones from Manitoba, Alberta is leading 5-4 without hammer starting the 9th end.  Common practice is to play aggressive, towards the centre of the house, in an attempt to force your opponent to one and get hammer coming home.  You might even steal and, likely at worse you might surrender two and have hammer coming home one down.  Of course, you could also give up three.   

Heather chose to put her first rock in the rings, tempting Manitoba to hit and play out for a blank end.  What do I think of this?  In the men’s game, this is a horrible decision.  Top men’s teams win 75-80% when tied with hammer.  The chance to go from 60% to 80% is worth the risk of a possible drop to 40% if you surrender a deuce.  Also, a three is less common occurrence.  

In women’s, a team with hammer tied in the final end wins only 70% of the time.  However, one up without hammer is still 60%.  If Heather chooses to be aggressive in the 9th, she is attempting to gain only a 10% winning percentage.  If she could steal it jumps to 85%.  The risk, however, is a drop to 40% if Jones scores a deuce or 15% if they manage to score three.   

Looking at historic stats Jones scores threes about 10%, deuces about 25% and gives up steals about 15% of the time.  These are suspect as the data size is not very large and the variance of their competition is likely substantial (ie.  they likely score more points against weaker teams).  If we use them for an analysis, and assume no blank if she’s aggressive, Heather is facing this:

W (blank) = 60%

W (aggressive) = (.1)(.15)+(.25)(.4)+(.15)(.85)+(.5)(.7) = 59%

So, it looks almost equal.  What appeared to be a strange decision is actually fairly close.  Let’s adjust for Alberta being a stronger team, reduce Jones’ chances of a three or deuce and increase Heather’s chance at a steal:

W (aggressive) = (.07)(.15)+(.20)(.4)+(.18)(.85)+(.55)(.7) = 63%

The number still only goes to 63%!

I’ll admit I was dumbfounded by Heather’s decision and thought it was the wrong decision.  The numbers show if wrong, it’s only barley and one could argue that the reduction in variability, especially given the importance of this game, is worth a few percentage points in some rough math analysis.  

Well done Heather and congratulations on not only winning the Scotties, but stumping the CWM guy!

Now why you put two rocks in the rings in the 10th end is a question I can’t answer with math.  I cannot understand the strategy but expect you have a good explanation.  Maybe it was not the original intent but an adjustment after the first rock came only to the top twelve?  Since TSN always misses the first 2-3 shots of every end, viewers may never know.

Other notes:

I need to ask the CCA if coaches are required to sit in a specific spot (I expect that is the case).  During the odd ends, including the critical 9th and extra end, coaches walk the length of the ice, eating into a 90 second timeout.  This is comparable to a basketball coach coming down from the 15th row and missing half the team’s timeout.

2012 Saskatoon Brier Preview

Kevin Koe of Alberta versus Glenn Howard of Ontario, the rematch.  Most people will be expecting this to be the final game to determine the 2012 Brier champ on Sunday, March 11th.  Gushue and Fowler are the next closest followers with Cotter and Jacobs also possible contenders.  Anyone else would be a surprise and perhaps this will be the year to have one.

Howard has a dominant record over the years, but most recent battles have been very close games, including a tight battle during the 2010 Olympic Trials and a great Thursday night game at the 2010 Brier, written about here  The final game of that 2010 Brier was one of the best ever, with Kevin drawing to the button to defeat Howard 6-5 in an extra end.  Koe's Alberta rink became the first and to this point only team from the 3-4 game to win the Brier since moving to the Page Play-off system in 1995.

Gushue has been knocking at the door for several years.  Last year his Newfoundland-Labrador squad ended the week in 1st place but failed to make the finals and had to participate in the inaugural Brier Bronze Medal game.  Perhaps he wants a rematch against Howard and a chance to replay the 7th end of the 2007 Brier finals, written up here:
Rob Fowler’s squad from Manitoba has big event experience as a team and some past Brier appearances as well with Stoughton (Rob) and Burtnyk (second Richard Daneault).  It appeared to be pre-destined that Mike McEwen would reach his first Brier and be a heavy favorite.  Fowler may be able to coast under the radar for a few days, but I expect them to challenge at the end of the week.

There are web sites out there that have Brier lines.  The site has some match-up bets for teams.  One I like is Koe to have a better record than Gushue as -140.  That’s roughly 58%.   Manitoba -130 against Northern Ontario is another attractive line.  Please wager responsibly and don’t consider any of my advice as an excuse to lose your hard earned money.

I will be “running back” to Saskatoon next Sunday to Thursday for the Brier.  Anyone who searches me out and buys me a beer will get more great gambling tips.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mens Provincial Results - Jeff and Kevin go missing

After an unexpected hiatus, we had some Men’s Curling on TV again.  The fate of televised Grand Slams stills appears uncertain, but we’re not here to discuss our chance to watch great curling in front of empty seats, we’re here to discuss the respective Provincial Playdowns to qualify for next month’s Canadian Championship, the Brier.

Of the Big Three teams, Martin, Howard and Stoughton, only Howard was able to win his Province of Ontario.  Both Stoughton and Martin were not even able to reach their respective finals.  To put this in context:

It was 2005 the last time none of these skips were in the Brier.  Middaugh (now Howard’s third) won Ontario that year, Ferbey came out of Alberta and Randy Dutiaume was the surprise winner from Manitoba.  Since then, these three teams have competed together in the Brier 4 times in the last 6 years.  Only Burtnyk winning Manitoba in 2008 and Kevin Koe, winning it all when Martin went to the Olympics in 2010, spoiled the party.  I’m not about to stick a fork or knife in Jeff or Kevin just yet, they both have a few more years to go.  But if we didn’t believe it before, we now know they are heading towards the twilight of their careers and Canada will soon be looking for its new champions. 

And wasn’t Mike McEwen suppose to be the answer?  Not this year.  The McEwen squad lost their third Manitoba final in as many years, this time to the Rob Fowler squad.  Kevin Koe beat Brock Virtue (possibly the best Religious Porn name of any curler), in the Alberta finals.  

Gushue is back by way of sending in four box tops from his Lucky Charms, and the host province has a guy named Scott Manners.  Appears Scott, based in Lloydminster, is one of those lucky curlers who can go “both ways” in his Brier attempt, and chose Saskatchewan this year.  Good choice.

“Welcome Back” Cotter (does this get used a little too much?) is the winner from BC.  Brad Jacobs returns from the “should it still have one” provincial spot of Northern Ontario.  That other Koe (Jamie) is coming down from the North, and Murphy (NS), Odishaw (NB), Gaudet (PEI), and Desjardins (QUE) round it all out.

My early prediction is a Koe-Howard final but after this weekend, I don’t know if I’d be willing to bet the favourites.  Perhaps this will be Gushue’s time to break through with a Brier win.  He’s been in contention most every year and lost a close final to Howard back in 2007.  I’ll be there for the week so if you are a fan of CWM and plan to attend, please buy me a beer.

SHAW cable did another great job of covering curling this weekend.  I managed to watch or record all the games and noticed some interesting things:
  • Kudos to Manitoba for moving to talking time versus straight time clocks.  Why does it take so long for Curling associations to figure out what is a clear improvement and then make a change?
  • James Kirkness (third for Willie Lyburn) discovered that wearing your sister’s glasses make you play better.
  • Was Kevin Koe and team that strong or was Brock Virtue’s squad just flat after beating Martin for a second time?  Either way, Alberta will be a tough out in Saskatoon.
  • Cotter won a game against Pierce that mixed great shots with some not even close to great.  In the end, it was a fraction of an inch that decided the game on the final shot. 
  • Rob Fowler still looks like he should have been on TSN today playing for the Canadian juniors.
  • Speaking of Juniors, Alberta took both Men’s and Women’s this weekend.  Third year in a row a Province has swept (Saskatchewan last year and Ontario in 2010).  What happened to the Buffaloes?
  • Possibly the best game of the day wasn’t on TV.  Kevin Martin bowed out in the semi-finals but fought to the finish.  Trailing 7-3, Kevin took 2 in the 7th end and then stole in 8 and 9 before Virtue took his single with hammer in the 10th.
Some intriguing situations from the Manitoba semi-final between Willie Lyburn and Rob Fowler. 
4th End.   Tied 1-1, Fowler with Hammer.  Lyburn seems uncertain how much risk to take.   Third James Kirkness faces this on his last shot of:

Fowler is Yellow

They take some time of the clock discussing and agree to throw a guard.  They fear Rob’s team executing an angle raise on a yellow stone and sitting three.  Third for Fowler Allan Lyburn (Willie’s older brother) just ticks the guard thrown by James and now Lyburn faces nearly the same set-up on his next shot.  They deliberate again (perhaps they should have talked about this while Fowler’s team played their shot) and now decide to hit the yellow in the top eight to sit two.  This will then leave their stone on the button wide and open with Fowler having two more shots and an open centre to still attempt to score his deuce.   Willie’s rock hangs out and actually peels the red corner guard, but does luckily manage to remove the back yellow stone.  Rob is able to capitalize and score his two points.

Why not try the guard on Willie’s first shot?
After 4 ends, Win percentage is as follows:
1 up without hammer = 58%
2 down with hammer = 25%
3 down with hammer = 13%

Lyburn is most likely conceding one or possibly still two by not guarding.  He will leave his shot open and Fowler can play a hit and roll.  If Rob makes the shot, Willie will have to draw around the corner and, if he makes it perfect, likely concede a single, though the red corner (which he inadvertently removes) could make Rob’s final recovery shot for one more difficult.  If Rob gets the single, Lyburn is at 42%.  I may have preferred an aggressive approach here at a steal attempt, if only because there was still a good chance for Rob to score two.  The fear of course is if he plays the guard, a perfect angle raise by Fowler could give Willie no shot on his last and likely mean the game is over before the half-way mark.   

7th End.  Lyburn down one with hammer, 4-3.  He faces this on his first shot:

 Fowler is Yellow 

Willie and James discuss their options.  They could choose to play to the open side and likely score their deuce to go up one.  They instead choose to tuck one behind their stone that’s half in the top eight foot.  This is an attempt to try and score three at the risk of being forced to one or even bringing a possible steal into play.   

This call is a poor decision and it comes at a critical point in the game.  The problem I see with the call is you have too small a chance at three points.  If Willie makes a perfect shot, biting top four, Rob is likely to peel one of the Lyburn’s stones out and concede the deuce.  A simple shot he is unlikely to miss.  So, in order to get three, Lyburn actually has to slightly miss his shot, to entice Rob into a draw.  If Lyburn comes right to the tee-line, Rob may choose a freeze and now they are forced to a single. If Rob does not make it perfectly there may be some chance at a three, but still a high chance for a deuce and a half shot by Willie could mean a single or even a steal.

Win percentages after 7 ends:
1 up without Hammer = 61%
2 up without Hammer = 81%
Tied without Hammer = 36%

As enticing as it appears to attempt a three and have an 81% chance, Lyburn brings in the possibilities of a force (36%) or even a possible steal (19%).  I much prefer the draw to the side and most likely a deuce.  The one defense I'll make for Willie's call, his shot stone was still partially top twelve and there's some chance he may have made a decent draw but still left Rob a chance at a roll behind cover to sit one, thus negating a deuce.  The counter to this would be to play a tap or split on the rock at the top of the house.

I wonder what Rob wanted them to play?

As it turned out, Willie was heavy and came to the back twelve.  This allowed Rob to draw back eight foot.  Lyburn then has the option to draw for one (36%) or attempt a VERY difficult tap - which to me  appeared three was not in play and a steal or single point appeared most likely.  Willie has too much weight for the ice and misses everything, resulting in a steal.  I believe they should have drawn for one here but it’s the skip’s call if he believes in a shot was there, I just didn’t see it.     

After a force to one in the 8th, Lyburn is down one without hammer and two ends to play.  Fowler is then forced to a single in the 9th.  Willie faces an open hit for two in the tenth to force and extra end but rolls too far.  Fowler goes on to defeat McEwen in the final and will be a strong contender in Saskatoon.