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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.