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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.


  1. very good insightfull know your stuff. Especially about how some of the so called sportsmen act like children out there.

  2. I am interested in your opinion on the the two-hammers-to-one theory. Based on what you have said, it seems that there is no advantage to having one more hammer than the opposition. Being a math major, I am interested to see where your numbers are coming from and what sort of analysis you have done to come to this conclusion. I'm not disagreeing with you at all, however I would be interested to see the in-depth analysis. I have heard others who have also "done the math" and come to the opposite conclusion.