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Friday, March 8, 2013

Thursday Night at the Brier

Fantastic slate of games tonight last with plenty to play for.  Even the minor event, BC versus Nova Scotia, had pride on the line with the Bluenosers pulling out their first win, 9-6.  

This event has been bittersweet for Nova Scotia skip Paul Flemming.  In his 5 previous appearances, Paul has never had fewer than 5 wins.  His last two trips to Edmonton for a Brier produced a tie-breaker loss (after going 7-4) in 1999 and a loss in the finals to Ferbey in 2005.  It's been a difficult week for a team that has Brier experience, but just couldn't get any momentum going this week.  It also didn't help that their opponents percentages were nearly 90% against them this event.  

Quebec battled back against Ontario, after surrendering two early steals, but fell short 4-2 in the Under of the day.  Online gambling sites have moved many of the games from 12.5 to 11.5 Total points, meaning I'll likely have to eat Subway instead of filet today for lunch.  Menard dropping to 3 losses makes Friday play-off positioning more interesting.

Manitoba fell to Northern Ontario 9-4 in a must win for the Jacobs rink.  The 5 teams above Alberta with 3 or fewer loses don't want to fall back and possibly drop out of the play-offs or (perhaps worse) secure a date with Martin for a Saturday morning tie-breaker.

Speaking of Martin, Alberta had a difficult battle against Saskatchewan, with both teams exchanging singles until Martin cracked a three in the 8th end to pull out a victory.  Four in a row.

Alberta started with the hammer in this game, something they did not have early on in the week.  Hammer in the Brier for many years was pre-determined, then was determined by a draw to the button before the game.   The problem with this was what to do when both skips covered the pin.

Previously, teams would all complete a draw to the button at the beginning of the week (during the Hot Shots competition I believe, but I could be wrong) to determine ranking for tie-breakers (also used for seeding in playoffs at the end of the week). If both skips were able to cover the pin prior to a game start, hammer would go to the team which had the higher ranking in that competition.  Not surprising, Martin's team often won those competitions and were assured hammer each time Kevin was able to cover the pin.  In the 2009 Olympic Trials Kevin had hammer in 5 of the 7 games played.  In the 2009 Brier Martin had hammer in EVERY GAME.  A huge advantage and one that helped propel his squad to an undefeated record and his fourth Brier win.

Stats indicate at this level teams starting with hammer win almost 60% of their games.  This stat is misleading of course, as the top teams clearly don't lose 40% of the time against weaker teams when starting without hammer.  However, with two teams of equal strength (eg. Martin and Howard) hammer will have that type of significant advantage.  

The new process for determining hammer, removes the (somewhat unfair) advantage of the earlier competition and makes teams compete each and every game in case of both teams covering the pin.  Now, the first team throws until they get a measurement, regardless of how many times that takes.  Teams can throw in any oprder (in fact earlier this week Ben Hebert threw first for Alberta).  

In the Saturday night game between Manitoba and Alberta, each team covered the pin twice, requiring a third shot to determine hammer (won by Manitoba).  This process can take more time but it now requires teams to battle each draw, rather than have one poor shot at the beginning of the week hurt them for the entire event.  I've suggested with cameras and/or sensors they could measure from the center of the rock to the button, but this seems to be a fine alternative.  If it was based on feedback from 2009 (and I suspect it was) this could almost be called the "Martin Rule".  

I'd suggest they start showing these draws on TV (especially for 8 end games).  The outcome is very critical and fans should have a chance to watch.

Strategy doesn't always matter

Brad Jacobs - Northern Ontario vs Jeff Stoughton - Manitoba

In the 7th end, down two, Manitoba had to decide whether to try a difficult draw for one or an angle raise that could score two. It was a very difficult raise but the combination of the draw difficulty and the chance of scoring a critical deuce made the shot the correct call.  Also, there is a good chance Manitoba could score a single (which they did) from the raise as well.

An angle raise photographed on an angle

Jacobs leads 5-4 with hammer in the 8th end.  They have a rock sitting top four foot and Stoughton has been placing center guards while NO has been peeling them off.  Nothing else is in play.  On third Ryan Fry's first, Jacobs elects to play a draw to the face of his own stone, rather than peeling the guard.

This is an aggressive but questionable call.  If NO can score two, they go up 3 points and win 95% of the time.  If they score one they win 85% of the time. If they should instead play out for a blank (the likely result if the chose to peel) they win 86% of the time.  One perspective is that, if NO is highly confident in scoring a single, they are risking 1% in order to finish the game now.  The problem is that there is some chance Stoughton can steal and this would be a terrible mistake at this stage of the game (Jacobs' odds would drop to 67%).  If Jacobs blanks and retains hammer in the 9th end, a similar scenario will have him reach 88% with a single or 80% if they surrender a steal.  That's a 13% difference from a steal in the 8th.

In order for this to be the correct call, Jacobs needs to be certain that they do not surrender a steal more than 20% of the time.  It's not a big mistake and the numbers are likely fine, but, if we consider Game Theory and what your opponent wants you to do, Stoughton is elated that Jacobs has decided to draw and give him a chance this end.

On the shot in question, Fry was heavy and they had to bring his rock to the back eight foot.  Third for Manitoba Jon Mead then was able to make a tap and sit shot stone with two NO rocks behind the tee.  As often happens however, a questionable call, followed by a miss, and Northern Ontario ends up taking 4 points and sealing the victory.

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